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Guide to getting the builders in

Having decided to get the builders in for that long awaited extension or loft conversion, no doubt there’ll be a few questions you’ll need to ask like “where do I find a good builder”. And “How much will he charge”?  In the majority of cases, providing you use a reputable builder who has quoted the work correctly in the first place, the project should run smoothly, but disputes can still arise, so ensuring the stall has been set up correctly from the outset is essential to avoid unnecessary expense and stress especially if you fall out with your builder.

As Building Contractors and Project Managers, we know only too well what can happen when that relationship goes sour.  Often it’s simply a clash of personalities and a lack of understanding between a customer’s expectations and the builders need to complete the project as efficiently as possible but at the same time, providing good customer satisfaction.

Where do I find a good builder?

If you have never used a builder before, it can be a daunting process so a personal recommendation is a good start.  However, it’s not advisable to rely solely on say your friend’s recommendation without checking that builder out for yourself. Doing your own due diligence such as asking around, checking accreditations, insurances or even a Google search will help you make an informed decision. If you have an architect, they can often recommend builders but it’s important that never base your decision on price alone as it could work out more expensive in the long run.

Quotations & Estimates – is there a difference?

For many small building projects like replacing a door, quotes can be prepared very easily, for example, “To supply and fit a new 6 panel raised grain internal door with hinges, latch and handle – cost e.g. £130.00 plus VAT”, The price is fixed and will include the materials, the time it will take for the carpenter to collect the materials, drive to your home, replace the door, tidy up afterward and get to the next job. They are simple to price and the variance in cost between different tradesmen will be marginal as the rates in your area will all be comparable within a few pounds either way assuming of course your quote has been provided by a legitimate source.

With larger projects, the costs are far harder to predict because of the unforeseen work which can only be determined after the builder has started.  The cost of foundations and drainage for example are notoriously difficult to predict. So the work will either be priced on an estimated basis with lots of caveats attached to it which means the costs could go up, or, the quote may appear high, because the builder has more than likely factored that into his quotation which a less reputable builder hasn’t, in the knowledge that once he’s got the job, he’ll be able to add it in later on.

Surprisingly many people seem to think a quote and an estimate is the same thing but it’s important to understand the difference when you receive a price from the builder.  Many builders tend to prepare a very brief overview of what work they have allowed for and if they aren’t challenged early enough you could very well come unstuck with additional costs being added on after the build has started.

Even if you have clearly specified a quote, it’s imperative that you check the quotes in detail and do an accurate comparison to ensure every builder has quoted for the same items. Challenge your builder if it’s not clear and most importantly, ALWAYS get everything in writing and NEVER rely on verbal pricing. The less detailed the quote, the more chance there is of you being stung for extras and many builders have mastered the art of wording quotations to make it appear you’re getting a much better deal than you actually are.

Another thing to be aware of is “mistake”, where a builder has unintentionally missed off some important items in error.  The point to consider here is that builders are pricing up jobs all the time so it’s inevitable that mistakes can happen, but be warned, if your project has been under-priced and this hasn’t been picked up until the build is in process, don’t be surprised if your job gets put on the back burner to be fitted in and around other more lucrative projects.  Why is this?  Very simply, no builder wants to lose money so he is more likely to focus his attention on the more lucrative projects and fit yours in as and when. The other possibility with a less reputable builder of course is cost and corner cutting in the hope he can still scrape a profit from it.

Terms and Conditions

A good reputable builder should provide you with terms and conditions before he starts work. A signed contact isn’t essential but terms and conditions will at least spell out some of the most important obligations imposed on both parties and it’s important to read and understand them. Don’t be afraid to seek clarification on any term you don’t understand and remember that in many cases, you as the customer could be handing over thousands of pounds for work so it’s important to understand what you’re paying for or not as the case may be.

Accreditations – nothing is guaranteed but accreditations such as the Federation of Master Builders and Trademark will give you some assurance that your builders work has been checked before. All members need to provide professional references and recommendations and must have public liability / professional indemnity insurance in place which is advisable to request a copy of before you instruct your builder to carry out any work on your home.  Any reputable builder will be only too happy to provide a copy.

Qualifications for Gas and Electrical contractors– many builders will use Subcontract Electricians, Plumbers and Heating engineers. Reason being that it’s more costs effective to use them on a job by job basis rather than employing these trades directly so it’s not uncommon for your builder who might have quoted to change a boiler, but not be gas safe registered themselves, however, you do have every right to see a copy of the qualifications of the subcontractor being used to undertake your installation and any again reputable builder will have no problem sending you a copy of the relevant credentials. With us, every subcontractor we use must provide a copy of their public liability insurance and relevant qualifications before we let them anywhere near a customer’s home.

Should I be paying up front? – This is always a tricky one and whilst many of the larger companies (and potentially more expensive) will invoice you periodically on a stage by stage basis, many smaller builders simply don’t have the financial resources to be able to wait potentially 2 months from the start of a project before receiving their first payment and despite there being a lot of publicity about “rogue traders/cowboy builders” who will quite happily run off with your hard earned cash, there are equally many less advertised “rogue” customers who will simply refuse to pay (without good reason) leaving the builder high and dry with only the aggravation of a court case to contend with to try and recover his losses.  Therefore it isn’t uncommon for a builder to request stage payments upfront to cover the cost of materials and labour. Having said that though, the money you pay him must be quantifiable, if for example the build cost is £40,000, the project can be paid for in realistic stage payments and your builder should be able to advice what percentage of the project are for the foundations, how much is the main structure, roof etc., etc.  You would be quite right to question a builder who has requested say 50% upfront for an extension project unless, there are expensive materials with a long lead time that will need to be paid for before they are manufactured but again, this is something you should ask your builder.


Unforeseen extras are very common with any building project, this is what we call the “could you just” scenario, i.e., “whilst you’re doing that, could you just do this”?  These can add up significantly.  As the customer sees it, they may seem like 5 minute jobs without charge but from a builder’s perspective they can all add up to quite a large sum at the end of the job.  If it’s a small item which won’t take the builder long and doesn’t require materials, he may just do it as a gesture without charge? The problem is not knowing how much could if any, be added on at the end.  It’s therefore essential to get agreements all the way through the process and get clarity as to what will be charged for and what won’t as, a common phrase you may here from a builder is. “Sure we can do that, no problem” might be easily interpreted as, “Sure we can do that at no cost to you” only to get a shock at the end of the project when he hands you the bill for extra work.

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