Finding a trusted builder

Some people find the idea of employing a builder stressful, so here are some tips to make the process easier. If you hire an architect or surveyor, they can help you find a builder, and can supervise the ongoing work.

How do I go about looking for a builder?

  • Ask friends, family and colleagues for recommendations. Word of mouth can be the best form of recommendation.

  • Do your homework. Find out as much as you can about a builder before you agree to go ahead with any work.

  • Only hire a contractor who's a member of a recognised trade organisation such as the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) - you can find their members listed on the Find A Builder website.

  • Don't hire anyone you don't trust. If you don't feel comfortable about a company or individual, find somebody else.

  • Don't let yourself be pressurised into taking someone on. Remember that you'll be employing the builder, not the other way round, so you call the shots. If you're not sure about anything, buy yourself some time by saying you'll think things over and get back to them if you want to go ahead.

  • Shop around and get prices from at least three different builders. Remember that an estimate is not the same as a quote: an estimate is just a rough guess, whereas a quote should be in writing and is binding. Remember, the cheapest quote isn't necessarily the best quote.

  • Don't be intimidated by jargon. See 'understanding jargon' below for more information on how to tackle this problem.

How can I make sure the builder is right for the job?

  • Ask your local building standards department if the builder has done any work in the area before, and if there have been any problems.

  • Ask for references from other clients. If possible, speak to people who've had similar work done, to find out how satisfied they are.

How can I avoid problems?

  • Insist on a written contract - you can download a sample contract from the UK Planning website.

  • Make sure the builder gives you a timetable for the work and a guaranteed completion date.

  • Try not to make too many changes to the original plans. If you need to make changes, always confirm them in writing.

  • Check that the builder has third party liability insurance, to cover them if they cause damage or injury to anyone whilst working on your property.

  • Ask for a warranty for the work, in case there are problems later on. The FMB's MasterBond warranty, for example, costs one and a half per cent of the total cost of the work and protects you for 10 years.

What about payment?

  • Ask about payment arrangements. Will you have to pay anything before the work is completed? If you need to pay in stages, make sure each stage is clearly outlined, and don't pay until each stage has been completed satisfactorily.

  • Don't make the final payment until you've received a completion certificate from the council.

  • Never agree to pay cash without a VAT receipt - you won't have any comeback if things go wrong.

What if I live in a listed building?

If you live in a listed building, you'll need to employ a builder who specialises in traditional building skills, to ensure that the new work blends in with the character and style of your home. Historic Scotland and the planning department can help you find a suitable builder, and you can also use the Find A Builder website for this.

How can I get my head round the jargon?

Builders (and other people such as joiners) sometimes use technical language that can be difficult to follow if you're not familiar with the trade. They're not necessarily trying to confuse you but it can make you feel a bit helpless. It also makes it difficult to understand what work needs to be done to achieve the result you're looking for.

The Trustmark website contains a useful glossary of words and phrases that are commonly used in various trades. The site also contains helpful hints and tips including:

  • what to do in an emergency

  • what to do if things go wrong.

If you need housing advice, contact us for free.

Last updated: 11 October 2017

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

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