Before you hire a builder - what to ask
A big part of our surveyors’ job is to be out on site each day checking the progress of building projects, offering advice and checking the work meets the building regulations and will be safe for you to live in. We come across literally hundreds of builders a year and like any industry, standards of work can vary from those who will go the extra mile for their customers to those who will try and cut corners if they think they can get away with it.
If you are about to embark on your own building project we hope that this list of questions to ask potential builders will help you employ the best quality builder for your job.
How long have you been in business?
Employing a builder with an established track record and experience is definitely worthwhile. Can they show you paperwork proving how long they have been in business?
Have you done similar jobs to mine before?
Always make sure they have worked on similar projects to yours. You don’t want to be their test project! If you are considering a loft conversion for example builders should be able to give you examples of their work and it’s a good idea to ask for some contact details for past customers too. Make sure you actually speak to these people and politely ask whether they would be willing to let you see the finished work. Happy customers will usually be more than willing to show off their new build and give you valuable insight into what it was like to have builders in their home.
Do you operate from a fixed address?
If they don’t have a registered address this should ring alarm bells immediately. Individual tradesmen should be able to provide you with a home address, but a building company would usually have a business premises/yard to store materials and equipment.
Can you give me trade references?
Asking for trade references from suppliers is another way to verify the legitimacy of a builder. These will help prove the financial stability and management skills of the builder. Another good question to ask is how long they have been with their bank? If a builder switches banks frequently it may be a sign of underlying issues or deception.
Are you VAT registered?
It is good practice to look for a builder who is VAT registered. The VAT registration threshold for 2019/20 is £85,000. If your builder isn’t registered than he can’t be doing much work each year. Also, beware if a builder suggests you pay cash to avoid VAT!
Do you provide written estimates and quotes?
A quote should always be provided in writing and be properly calculated - broken down to include all aspects of the job they are quoting for. Never accept a verbal quote. When you receive your quote, double check it includes everything you asked for, a date of completion, security and safety on site, catering and toilet arrangements, how rubbish will be disposed of, water and power supplies, working hours. When you get to the stage of hiring your builder we would suggest you ask for a written contract to be provided before work starts to avoid any possible misunderstandings later on.
When can you start my project?
It may not always be the case but if builders can start straight away it could suggest they aren’t busy. Why? It could be a genuine reason such as a cancellation or it could be that they aren’t getting recommendations from previous customers. (Which is how good builders will tell you they get most of their work.) You should however be realistic about your ideal start date and will need to discuss this with your builder. A reputable builder is likely to have a busy order book and pushing for an early start date may not be feasible. If yours is a larger job, a project plan including a timetable of works will help you keep track of timings.
How many jobs are you running now?
This will depend on the size of the team. If the business is large enough they may be running two or three sites at once. You would normally expect them to have one or two foremen overseeing the day to day running of the projects to make sure work stays on schedule as far as possible and is up to standard.
A small builder who prefers to run one project at a time is likely to have a hands-on approach and be concentrating on your project alone. However, beware of small builders who take on too much work as you may find time spent on your project or the quality of your build suffers. Be wary of using casual labour too as this could be more detrimental than beneficial to your project as you have no measure of their standard of work beforehand.
Do you offer a guarantee for your work?
Not many builders offer more than a verbal guarantee and if they do it would only be valid for as long as they remain trading. You can however purchase a ten-year warranty that covers building work at an additional cost to you. The Citizens Advice website has more useful information about employing builders and contracts here.
If you’d like to discuss your project in more detail, please get in touch.