4 questions to ask before choosing a builder

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Whether you’re adding an extension or introducing a loft conversion, you need to be sure that your home is left in a safe pair of hands when you need repairs or improvements completed. Your builder needs to be skilled, trustworthy and dependable, and you should never risk hiring someone you’ll regret. If you’re at all uncertain, there are a few questions you’ll need to ask any prospective candidates to help you decide whether they’re the best person for the job.

Are you properly insured?

Any mistakes or unexpected incidents can lead to serious damage, whether to your property, the builder themself, or someone else in the vicinity. For example, insurance providers Tradesman Saver warn that “tools could break windows or hit a vehicle” while “unsecured construction materials may blow away and hit [members of the public]”. This is why you should never hire someone who doesn’t have adequate protection. There are two types of insurance that are particularly important — public liability and employer’s liability. The first covers compensation and legal fees for personal injuries and property damage caused by construction work, while the second is paid out when an employee makes a claim against the building business. Employer’s liability is also a legal requirement if your builder employs other workers.

If they can’t produce certificates proving they are insured for both, it’s not in your best interest to take the plunge. As Citizens Advice Bureau warns, hiring a contractor who lacks appropriate cover or experience may leave you out of pocket, as you will be forced to pay for repairs or, more severely, “go[ing] to court and pay damages and legal fees,” in the event of injury.

Do you provide written quotations?

Building work doesn’t come cheap so it’s essential you obtain a quotation in writing to see the total costs. This is distinct from an estimate, which — verbal or otherwise — is not a binding agreement, and can easily be changed. A quotation confirms the price of the project, clearly highlighting and detailing any aspects subject to change. As per this example, the document must detail the costs of all labour and materials, outline a clear project schedule including all major milestones, and the terms and conditions of the job. A formal quote also provides you with an overview of the job from start to finish, allowing you to consider the time span and price before you hire. Receiving this in writing is crucial, as it means that you can refer back to this agreement to ensure your builder is working to the terms they set.

Can you offer me references?

Even though most businesses today rely on online reviews to attract customers, you can’t guarantee that these words of praise are genuine. In fact, there are 55,000 fake Facebook reviews posted every month, while 82% of consumers read a fake review in 2019. Regardless of the feedback your potential builder has received online, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and ask them to provide details of credible references. Ideally, they’ll share contact information to other homeowners for whom they’ve done jobs. However, if they’re unwilling, or cite confidentiality as a reason not to do this, statements from the suppliers they use or business owners they’ve previously worked with can also help verify your builder’s credentials. Looking at photos of their previous work may also help put your mind at rest, though you should ask for recent images of their older jobs if possible, which will allow you to see if any faults have emerged over time.

How will I pay?

Though a third of homeowners pay for home improvements in cash to avoid VAT, it’s a bad practice to follow — requesting cash upfront could be the sign of a scammer or a poor-quality builder who simply wants to pocket the money before you find out. This also leaves you in a weak position if any disputes arise, as you won’t be able to prove when you paid them, and how much they received. A recorded bank transfer is the safest option, while credit cards are also suitable, though less commonly accepted by construction workers due to the extra charges they have to cover. Reputable builders will be confident in their ability to do a job, and should be willing to take payment in defined stages throughout the project. Make sure you retain roughly 10-20% of the total cost, and only make your final payment once the work is completed, and you’re happy with the result.

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