“The Builder is not a toy” – Avoid being ripped off.


 I’ve had some bad experiences with builders, it has to be said. You can always tell when you’ve had workmen in the house: huge fingerprints, no milk, endless dust and foot prints. So here are a few ways I’ve learnt to start off the right way and in the back my mind i hear my granny say: The Builder is not a toy.

1.     Get design ideas from a Architect, and Interior Designer, you may not have thought of everything. Tradesmen don’t design, they’ll offer design advice, but it tends to be based on what easiest to for them build.

2.     It is best to use a professional schedule, which creates parity between your quotes, limits the cost overruns and sets the minimum standard.

3.     By using Detailed Drawings, Specification and Schedules you can form the basis of a good contract. This will limit construction confusion, and minimise the daily questions.

4.     It’s just not enough to “Measure twice, cut once”. At the minimum, you should tender with 3 main builders and several sub-trades for each section of the work. Choose the middle price, never the lowest. Tender with 5 get 3 prices. Tender 2 get 1.

5.     Tender with builders who are busy and recommended to you. Go and see their work. Waiting for the right busy builder is always better than rushing to use the first and cheapest available. Remember tendering a £60-300K should take 2/4 months to get prices and agree a price.

6.     Have construction consultant check the contract documents before signature, and then with a few site checks, you can limit the potential arguments and make a better job. By using a JCT Homeowners Contract with ‘Builders’ [Roof or Damp proofing or Canopy etc] Design you will have a firmer agreement where less design liability is placed on your shoulders.

7.     Try and choose builders with a neat letter head, VAT numbers, and personal address. Check out any claimed memberships, always get references, and go and see his work.

8.     Never ever pay in advance, or give a deposit. Pay for work and materials as they arrive to help the builder get started.  Use your schedule to estimate the percentage of work completed, and pay promptly by cheque.

9.     Try not to change you mind, as ‘change orders’ confuse builders. Make decisions in advance, late changes cost more, and constant changes create frustration.

10. By arranging a formal builder’s site meeting, you will be able to take minutes, and coordinate the business of building. Do not email the builder every day with one sentence, one instruction, one change. Follow up a weekly meeting with a single list of revised agreements and comments.

11. As each job is completed agree to pay in stages up to 90-95%, paying the remaining 5%-10% some 6-12 months after completion, you will know whether the roof is still leaking. 

Now that I follow these basic rules, I find that my building site life is much easier. My ultimate goal is to have the perfect drawings and support documentation so that our customers only need to ask their builder one question… “is that one sugar in your tea?”

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