Elisa Cook | Choosing the right builder

Choosing the right builder

There are no shortage of shows on television that depict rogue traders and bad builders.  In a recent survey conducted by Which?, only 52% of respondents said they trust their builder.  Maybe you know someone who has had the misfortune of a bad renovation experience.  Undertaking any kitchen work will require the skills of a good builder.  There are a great many good builders out there, so don’t let a few bad apples scare you. It certainly doesn’t have to be a bad experience if you follow these basic rules:

1. Get recommendations from family and friends on builders that they have used and also contact reputable trade bodies.  Word of mouth recommendations are very powerful.  Ask your friends and family to see the work that the builder has done.

2. Check the many on-line websites that recommend builders.  My personal favourite is Which? Local because only Which? members can add tradesmen rather than trade people paying to be added to a site.  I have found and continue to use some very good builders that I have found on Which?

3.  Whether you are doing a large-scale renovation where your architect has supplied you with a full schedule of works to forward to your builders of choice or if it is a straightforward renovation you are managing yourself, you will likely contact three – five builders to potentially take on your project.  Assuming they are interested in bidding for your project, you should arrange to meet them in person.  Builders that show up late for an appointment are inadvertently sending you a warning sign (unless of course they call in advance to let you know that they are going to be late). Good builders are builders in demand.  I’m always suspicious if a builder can start work right away. It is not uncommon to wait 3-4 months or up to a year for a good builder, so advance planning is required.  During your conversation with the builder, you should be asking yourself if this is  someone that I can easily communicate and work with.  Kitchen installation usually requires the involvement of other registered traders such as a gas engineer, plumber and a licensed electrician.  Good builders will arrange these tradespeople for you and their quote will usually include any cost for these trades.

4. At this stage, it is worth calling the local council to see if they maintain a builder black list. There are many many horror stories of people not receiving building permission or falling foul of council rules. Ultimately it is your responsibility as a homeowner to be in compliance with these rules. My advice is to be proactive with your council and be aware of the rules.  Non-compliance can be costly and it could ultimately become a problem when you sell your house.

5. The builder should provide you with a written quotation outlining what is included and what is not. Read the quote carefully as it may include material that is over and above the original quote. Good builders will provide a written guarantee of their work.

6. Once you have narrowed down your list you should ask the final two candidates to give three recommendations from previous clients that you can call. Pick two or three names randomly from the list and call them. Some people may be happy to meet you in person to show you the work that the builder has done and this is a great opportunity that should not be missed. Questions you should be asking: Was the work done on time? Was the work done on budget? What problems arose and how were they handled?

6. Any good builder should have liability insurance. You should ask to see his current certificate and ensure that sufficient coverage is in place and current.  It is worth contacting your insurance company to see what they also recommend here. It is also important to ask the insurance company if they require formal notification that you are undertaking building works. I would recommend that you do this in writing  and send any notification by recorded delivery. Not taking these proper steps could invalidate your home insurance.

8. After a price has been agreed it is normal to remit an initial deposit of around 15%. I recommend that payments be made in instalments after a milestone has been reached. For example, Phase II is completed when old kitchen is removed, Phase III is completed when plastering and electrical work is finished etc. I usually recommend five phases in any building project and retain 10-15% as a final payment that is to be remitted two weeks after any snag list is completed. It is also important before you remit the final payment to ensure you have received any electrical, gas or building certificates for the work completed. It is important to receive these and keep them safe as you will likely need to produce them when you sell your house.

9. It is important that you and your builder agree on what is expected of each party and what costs will be involved if a design change is necessary. If you change the design because you had a change of heart then it is fair that the builder will charge you an additional fee for making the changes. If the builder wants to charge more because the job was more complicated than expected then you should refer to the written quotation.  I always insist that any design modifications or price increases need to be agreed in writing to avoid any misunderstanding.

With my clients, I recommend that any design I provide is signed off by the builder before the kitchen is ordered. Any good kitchen design needs to be practical from a construction perspective and that is why the builder needs to verify the plan.

10. Most important of all – I repeat most important of all – is to sign a contract outlying the responsibilities. I personally find the Joint Contracts Tribunal contracts easy to understand and for £20 it offers you peace of mind with easy to understand language. I’d be wary of builders who don’t want to sign a contract.

Any building works are always going to be complicated and it is unreasonable that you should not expect some minor hiccups. Most conflict occurs when communication breakdowns. If you do your homework and plan in advance, most problems can be avoided.

I hope you have found this list useful!

If we end up working together I am happy to recommend a few good builders that I have used. Regardless of my recommendation I would always recommend that you still do your homework.

Disclaimer: The following list are my own opinions and should not be considered as legal advice. I would recommend that you consult your local council and seek professional advice should you have further questions or need further clarification.