How to Find a Builder and What to Ask
Whether you’re knocking through a wall, building a house extension or planning a loft conversion, having building work done in your home is a big deal: as well as the financial outlay, you’ll live with the results for years to come. Before you hire any to do the work, it is important you know how to find a builder that’s reputable, in order to avoid any shocks or unexpected twists to your project further down the line. It’s not wise to just base your decision on how much you’ve been quoted, as you may end up having to pay extra if the work needs to be fixed.
Check out our top tips on how to find a builder, and discover what to ask to ensure that they’ve got what it takes to transform your home for the better.
Choosing a company that has years of experience is usually a good way of ensuring that they can complete the job to a high standard. This also means that these builders will have worked on a variety of different projects, so they’ll be able to foresee potential issues more easily.
Your chosen builder should also have brick and mortar premises that you can visit – a sign that they’re experienced and well-established.
What do you trust more – the sales patter of a stranger, or a good word from a friend? The best builders and tradespeople rely on word-of-mouth for a large proportion of their work, and for good reason – recommendations like this are more powerful than any amount of marketing.
Speak to your friends and neighbours and ask for names: if they’ve been in your position they can give you the low-down on the best local builders around (as well as steering you clear of any rogue traders you’re better off avoiding).
Local knowledge and past projects
Any company that is proud of their work will be keen to show it off; checking their website for galleries or case studies is a good way of helping you find a builder. Additionally, this will allow you to see if the company has undertaken work similar to your plans, giving you an idea of what the finished results could look like for you.
If you’re going with a company that you’ve never heard of before then it’s a good idea to ask for references. A reputable builder should have no problem with you contacting their previous customers if they did a good job; resistance or hesitation may be an indicator of poor workmanship.
Maybe there’s a house you’ve always admired in the local area, or a loft conversion project in progress a few streets away. The proof is in the pudding – so if you like what you see, there’s a good chance the builders responsible could do the same for you. Ask the homeowners if they can give you the name of their builders (and also if there’s anything about the build that they weren’t so happy with).
Ask previous customers:
- How were they to work with?
- Did they complete the job to the standard you expected?
- Did you experience any unexpected problems?
- What was the quality of work like?
- Was the communication and customer care as you would expect?
- Did the work finish on schedule – within 8-10 weeks?
- Did the contractor escalate costs without justification?
- Were they respectful and tidy – including considerations of noise etc? You could even drive past a few of their existing sites to see if they are tidy operators.
- Any other questions pertinent to your needs, including snagging and providing certificates when signing off the project.
Compare and contrast
Don’t just go with the first contractor you speak to: we recommend seeing at least three different builders and getting quotes from each of them. And while the cost is important, it’s not the only thing you’ll need to find out, in order to make the best choice for you.
- How long will the project take? What happens if it overruns? In a typical shower-soaked English summer, what steps will the contractor take to ensure that your home is watertight whilst the roof work is carried out?
- Who will carry out any specialist tasks that need doing, such as plumbing or electrical work? Do you have the expertise in-house or will you sub-contract the work? Check their accreditations and certification: NICEIC approval for electrical work, Gas Safe registration for gas work and Velux or FENSA credentials for windows.
- Are you a member of any trade associations?
- How long have you been in business?
- What experience do you have on this sort of project?
- Do you have any client testimonials?
- Do you offer a guarantee?
- Are you fully insured to carry out the work?
- Ensure they have public and employee liability insurance and ask for a copy. Although most legitimate companies detail their guarantees and insurance on their websites, it’s also worth exploring just how far their guarantees and insurance go in covering your own project. Do guarantees include construction materials, labour and quality of work – so if problems arise you can be assured that the company will rectify things? Does insurance include unexpected events which might occur during the build, such as extreme weather conditions, damage to other parts of your property, or accidents that might occur with any equipment used or stored at your home?
- Can I have an itemised quote in writing?
- What disruption are we likely to have when the work is taking place? What will you do to minimise this?
- Can they help you with any party wall or relevant notice(s)?
Arranging a site visit
Once you’ve eliminated some contractors and identified a short-list of potential professionals, it’s important to get at least three companies round for a site visit and a quote.
Site visits are important to help identify all aspects of your project and will inform both design possibilities and the costs involved. For example, a site visit for a loft conversion can identify whether a water tank needs to be moved or whether extra head-room is required. The site visit also provides a good opportunity to check measurements and the condition of the roof and rafters, to allow realistic thinking about the design type, finish and likely costs.
When you meet with each company, take note of:
Payments and quotes
Most reputable companies buy materials “on account” through builder’s merchants, so they should not require “money upfront” for materials. However, some reputable professional companies do offer payment plans which may require a small deposit. Any quotes should cover all aspects of the project – so if anything is missing, do check so that you know exactly what is and isn’t included. There should be no hidden extras, but you would be wise to check with each company about possible contingency budgets.
Each contractor making the site visit should:
- Provide a fully detailed quote.
- Take the time to go through it with you.
- Answer all questions clearly.
- Not pressure you in any way.
Ask about who will be doing the work so you can ensure that it’s the company’s specialist team, not outsourced individuals. Remember to also ask to meet with the project manager. If the company doesn’t have one, then think again whether this is the right company for you.
Make sure their teams are long-term members of the company. If not, you can’t be sure that previous work will be any guarantee of a good job on your project.
Those face-to-face meetings with each of your potential companies are when you should be asking specific questions about your renovation project.
Think about the following:
- Is your property in a conservation area and will it involve additional planning consent?
- Who is responsible for liaising with building control so that if you decide to sell your property in the future, you will have the relevant paperwork?
Costs and payments
A good building company will be upfront about their fees, going through the quote with you and explaining exactly what is included. If the tradesman is woolly about costings then this could lead to unexpected costs further down the line. When following our tips on how to find a builder, you should also be wary about handing over money before any work has begun, particularly if it’s a large sum.
Before you make any payments:
- Ensure they guarantee the price won’t escalate unless you add finishing items such as built-in wardrobes.
- Ensure the stage payment process has maximum 10% deposit and the stage payments give you peace of mind. The payments should not exceed 20%.
- Check they have an underwritten 10-year warranty guarantee in case they cease to trade.
- Make sure you have a single point of contact for all questions and support. Although most companies do use mobile numbers, these should be offered as well as a dedicated landline number and premises address. If the company offers a mobile number but no other point of contact, then this should raise questions about the legitimacy of this company’s practices.
If you follow our simple steps on how to find a builder, you will be working with a trusted business and should feel less anxious about your project.