Advice to follow when employing a builder
14 Mar 2023
Building a house or having an extension built is probably one of the most expensive things you will ever do so it is worth taking care when you choose your builder.
Following an increase in the number of complaints about building work in the county, Northumberland County Council’s Public Protection Trading Standards team is offering some advice on things you can do to try and make sure the job goes as smoothly as possible.
Be clear about what you want Write a detailed description of the work that needs to be done as far as you understand it before talking to builders. The more specific you are, the greater your chances of getting an accurate quote for the work. There is also less chance of any misunderstandings occurring between you and the builder.
Nothing beats a good personal recommendation. Do you know someone who is pleased with similar work they have had done? Will they let you come and have a look at it? Talk to them about what went well and any problems they had?
Placing requests on social media may not always get genuine results and it could be the builder responding, their employees or their friends.
Get references Ask how long the builder has been trading and what experience they have in the type of build you are after. Get three references and ask to see recent examples of the builder’s work if possible. This is better than just getting written references which might not be genuine. Don’t be afraid to speak to the homeowners to find out how the business interacted with them before, during and after the build.
Check their trading history Check the history of the company or individual. Consider checking whether any County Court Judgements have been awarded against them particularly any that remain unpaid. The Registry Trust website www.trustonline.org.uk will provide details for a small fee. A simple internet search on their name may also yield interesting information.
Check qualifications Ask if the builder is a member of a relevant trade association (e.g. Federation of Master Builders) and see copies of certificates.
Check whether the builder has insurance Check that the builder has insurance cover and that it won’t run out while they are working. The builder should have public liability insurance which is needed in case someone gets hurt on site. They may also have cover in case there is damage to your property, they go bust or have an accident, so you can pay someone else to finish the job.
Check if you need planning permission Before you start any building work, contact your local authority planning department to enquire about planning permission. If you don't get planning permission where needed, you'll be breaking the law and you may be required to pull the building work down.
Check if your work needs to meet building regulations Some building work requires a building regulations application. It may be worth employing the services of a qualified Architect or Building Surveyor, depending on the type of work being undertaken.
AGREEING THE BUILDING WORK
Get three written quotes. Make sure these are quotes and not estimates. An estimate is a rough price which could change. A quote is an exact price which can’t be increased later without your agreement.
Get a written contract If it's a large or complicated job, when you are ready to commit, make sure that there is an agreement in writing for the work that will be undertaken and that this is itemised as to the costs of materials and labour.
This may seem very formal but reputable builders will understand that it is important that you are careful about such a large investment.
Agree costs and how long the job should take Agree as much with the builder as possible in advance to avoid problems later on. It's best to get this agreement in writing.
Agree a fixed cost, or daily rate of pay, and the number of days the job is likely to take. Make sure you're clear how many hours work a builder will do a day for the price quoted.
Businesses that are good at their work are likely to have a full schedule and be booked up for some time, therefore you may need to book them in and wait. There may be genuine reasons why some builders say they are able to carry out the work quickly but there is no harm in being cautious.
Don’t pay upfront before the job starts. Don’t make payments upfront that cover more than the cost of materials for each stage of work. On bigger builds, your agreement should include a payment plan that sets out the intervals at which work will be completed and when instalments will fall due. Never be pushed into making early payments.
If things go wrong. If the business was to go bust, then be prepared. Prior to contracting make sure you know who you are dealing with. Is the business a sole trader, partnership or Limited company? Get names and addresses so you know who you can sue if things go wrong. If a business was to go bust, then it may not be easy to pursue them.
By making even a part payment on a credit card you do get extra protection under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. However, if the contract is for over £30,000 the finance company will not be liable because it is above the limit of protection.
If things do go wrong with building work or you experience problems with a builder, you should report this to Trading Standards via the
Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 08082231133. If a business is in Northumberland or you are resident in the county, you can also contact the county council’s trading standards department on email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Northumberland County Councillor Colin Horncastle, cabinet member for Public Protection said:
“Residents who are getting building work done are parting with big sums of money and need to know what to do to protect themselves. Our advice to people would be to always use a reputable trader, preferably someone who has been recommended by a friend or relative, take your time before making a decision and get several written quotes before agreeing to have any work done.
“Never agree on the doorstep to have work carried out and don’t be tricked into thinking you’re getting a good deal in return for payment in cash or an immediate start to work.”