Finding reputable builders

Avoid cowboys! Be wary of doorstep salesmen who claim to have noticed a problem and offer to fix it for a (often cash) sum. Also watch out for headed letter paper that shows a mobile number but doesn’t give an address.

Membership of a trade association is not a guarantee of a reputable builder but is an indicator, and most associations operate some adjudication/mediation service if there is a dispute over work. If neighbours have had similar work done, they may also be able to recommend a reliable contractor – or even tell you who to avoid! Don’t be afraid to ask an apparently appropriate builder to put you in touch with previous customers.

Depending on the specialisation, membership of a trade association, such as the examples listed below, should indicate reliable standards. Adverts in Yellow Pages often highlight the appropriate association. Do pick the right expert for the job!

  • Buy With Confidence - Trading Standards Scheme
  • Federation of Master Builders
  • National House-Builders Council (for new homes, major conversions/extensions)
  • Guild of Master Craftsmen
  • Gas Safe Register (Gas Installers)
  • ECA (Electrical Contractors Association)
  • NICEIC (National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting)
  • IoP (Institute of Plumbing)
  • National Council of Roofing Contractors

Remember that you need to be clear with your builder about what work you want. It can be useful to get two or three written quotations, but be aware that estimates are only a guide to the final price. If you get a quotation, it is legally the most that you can be charged.  Look at your quotations carefully - make sure that you know whether or not VAT is included and what work is included, so that you are comparing like with like.  Does the quotation specify exactly what work is going to be done, and do you agree with it?

Enquire whether the builder will be doing the work directly, or contracting it out and ask for proof of public liability insurance.

Before work begins, agree the start date and an approximate end date.  If you haven’t got a written quotation setting out exactly what is to be done, write out your understanding and ask the contractor to sign it to acknowledge their agreement. If you add things later, or change your mind about anything once work begins, it will cost more money. If you do change or add things, you should put the changes in writing and ask for a costing for the extra.

Don’t pay for the full job up front. It may not be unreasonable for a small contractor to ask for money for materials before he starts, but beware of requests for more than that. For larger jobs, you can agree a schedule of staged payments. However, always withhold some money until the job is completed and you are satisfied.

If you have a problem with a builder, Trading Standards may be able to help - for further information and contact details, please visit our Trading Standards section.

With larger projects, you may need either an architect or a surveyor to help you. Their professional bodies are the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) or the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). Contact these organisations to find out exactly what their members might be able to offer you, and to find members in the local area.