February 9, 2016

Avoid the cowboys and find a good builder

So you’re thinking of having building works done at home? Easier said than done; surely we’ve all seen Cowboy Builders? Here’s a compilation of what you shouldn’t be doing, and neither should your builder.

But seriously. Regardless of whether you’re considering new windows, a kitchen redesign or loft conversion, the first step is to find a reputable tradesman or building company that you can trust to do a great job. But how? Blindly stabbing your finger in a business directory is not recommended.
Here’s the intelligent guide to finding a good builder.

1.       Word of mouth
Good news travels fast. If there’s a good builder in the area, people will be falling over themselves to share his details. Ask your family and trusted friends to give you their recommendations. Word of mouth is a powerful advertising tool for any building firm; it’s real customers giving their honest feedback.

2.       Trade contacts
Think outside the (tool)box. Local tradesmen tend to know each other; they may have trained together and have probably worked together on a building site at some point or other. If you know a good plumber, ask him to recommend a decent electrician in the area, or vice versa. Ask a carpenter friend who to go to for a loft conversion; he may just know the best company for the job. Your gardener may know a bricklayer who is the perfect guy to block pave a driveway; a local plasterer may know of the best window supplier in the area… you get the idea.

3.       Internet search
Back in the stone ages there was Yellow Pages; now there’s Google. If you’re looking for a reputable, modern building firm to carry out home improvements, whether it’s replastering a ceiling or fitting a new boiler, there should be a company website that ranks well on Google. Search for your keywords (e.g. builders Wolverhampton, building extensions Birmingham etc) and take a look at the results on the first couple of pages or so. This should give you a good starting point.

4.       Website check
You now have a few possible names of building contractors that need bottoming out in a bit more detail. For each contractor, take a look around their company website – is it professional, informative, easy to use? Do they offer the services you require? What do their client testimonials say? Is there an office address and a landline, and any information about their business history? You want to make sure you weed out the fly-by-nighters right here and now. You may also like to visit the company Facebook page and read any customer reviews on there.

5.       Accreditations
Next, check to see if your prospective building contractor has the relevant professional accreditations or memberships. The Federation of Master Builders, Guild of Master Craftsmen, National Federation of Builders, Trading Standards, TrustMark – there are many organisations whose databases you can use to verify your builder’s credentials.

6.       Approval Schemes
Approved trader schemes and online recommendations are another useful way to assess a builder’s professionalism and, ultimately, provide reassurance to you that they are suitable to work in your home, whether they’re fitting radiators or decorating the hallway. There are many schemes out there - Trading Standards, TrustMark, Constructionline, Checkatrade, Buy With Confidence, Rated People are just a few to get you started.

7.       Shortlist
Based on the information you’ve been able to glean from your research so far, narrow your list of prospective building firms down to three (five at a push), then contact each of them direct. Are they approachable and easy to speak to? Do they sound competent? Ask for a (free!) home visit to discuss your building plans and get an idea of cost as well as lead times. Getting a written quotation is always a good idea. A word of advice: Do pay attention to how your prospective builder communicates with you. Does he come across as someone you can trust and do business with? If you’re not sure, move on.

8.       Decision Time
You now have all you need to help you make an informed decision. Many people will be tempted to choose a builder based on price alone, not realising that if you pay peanuts you may well get monkeys. A good rule of thumb is: if it looks too good to be true, it is too good to be true. Sure, all building companies operate in a competitive market, but price is only one indicator for what you should really be looking for: quality workmanship, reputable trading practices, reliability and good customer communication skills. If you’re lucky enough to hit the jackpot, all your home improvement troubles will be over for many years to come.

Article provided by Mike James, an independent content writer in the property industry – working alongside a selection of companies including GreylineConstruction, who were consulted over this post.