10 essential tips on how to avoid a disaster when employing a builder

1 – Ask friends & family

There is nothing better than getting a recommendation from a trusted member of the family or close friend. However make sure the work the builder is being recommended on is similar to the work you require them for.

If you are undertaking a larger project you may have already employed an Architect to do the designs. Ask them to advise on builders they have worked with before for similar projects.

2 – See examples of their work

If you were to buy a car you would always do plenty of research and take it out for a test drive. Chances are you will be spending significantly more on the building works so you need to check what you will be getting from a builder.

The best way you can do this is by going to see other projects completed by them. This will give you an idea of the quality of their workmanship and give you a chance to discuss with their previous clients how they performed. This gives you an invaluable insight to how the builder works.

Remember, when your project is finished allow other potential clients of the builder to come visit you.

3 – Tender Process

You should always get more than one builder to quote for the works. This is called going out to tender. Ensure you provide all the builders that are quoting with exactly the same information so you have directly comparable quotes.

Ask for a breakdown of the costs so you can see how much the key areas will cost, you can then look at where you may be able to amend the specification or scope of work to reduce costs if needed.

Don’t always go for the cheapest price. Like with most things you normally get what you pay for! The cheaper price may mean they need to cut corners to get things done quicker and cheaper. They also may not have allowed for everything and try to increase the price at a later date.

4 – Detailed information

When you are preparing the drawings and specification to go out to tender try to provide as much detailed information as possible. The more information you can provide the more accurate the builders quotes will be and there will be limited price variations during the construction due to previous unknowns. For example, the types of fittings and finishes can have a significant impact on the amount of hours labour to fit them and so increase costs.

5 – Sign a contract

A contract benefits both the client and the builder. It refers to drawings and information for what is to be built, for how much and by when. This means everyone involved knows exactly what is expected.

If the builder tries to claim more money for “extras” you can refer to the contract drawings to clarify if it is an extra or not. It also means the client cannot try and sneak changes in that cost more!

6 – Use specialists

A lot of builders are competent at more than one trade. However if you have a specialist task ensure you employ the right person for the job. If not you could end up with a substandard finish or worse something possibly unsafe and dangerous.

If you are employing a main contractor to oversee the whole construction works they should bring in specialist sub-contractors to work on the project in the key areas. If you are project managing ensure you find the right person for the task and if needed check they have the correct qualifications, experience and insurance.

7 – Never pay upfront

I am still surprised when I hear people are paying their builders before they have completed the work. Never, ever pay for the work until it is completed and you are happy with it. If you pay them beforehand they have no incentive to finish the work and you leave yourself at risk of the project dragging on for much longer as the builder is on other jobs. If a builder asks for money upfront, politely decline and find another who won’t.

On larger projects you can arrange a staged payment with the builder. This normally involves paying for the percentage of works completed at the end of each month. Make sure if the builder is asking for 50% of the money that they have completed 50% of the work. This sometimes can be unclear, ask your Architect to confirm that they agree with the amount of work completed in respect to the valuation from the builder.

8 – Retention

If you are undertaking a larger project you can normally include a retention as part of the contract. This specifies a small percentage of the building costs that you retain throughout the stage payments and release at the end of the project or a few months afterwards.

The percentage is often around 3-5% and covers minor issues that need rectifying once the main building works have been completed. This can be anything from faulty electrics to correcting substandard finishes etc.

9 – Insurance

Ask your builder to confirm the amount of public liability insurance they hold. This insurance will protect the builder against injury or death of third party persons, or damage to third party property, from incidents arising relating to the building works. For example, if a passerby was to be struck by a falling brick when walking past the site, the builder might be held liable for compensation and legal fees. The same would apply if an item hits a car or other property. If the builder was not insured the client / property owner could be liable for any claim so it is all ways prudent to check.

10 – Communication

Good communication between the client, builder and Architect is key to a smooth running project. If you are ever unsure on anything always ask, do not presume one thing as others may have presumed something different. If you notice something you believe to be an issue mention it straight away. It may be nothing but best to get it clarified and not run the risk of the problem getting bigger.