How to Avoid Cowboy Builders
We've all heard frightening stories about cowboy builders who claim to be professionals or experts. They charge a fortune for repairs and renovations and leave the property in a far worse state than when they started. Cowboy builders have also been known to impose additional unnecessary building work and use low quality building materials aside from overcharging for the entire construction. They pocket more money than the actual work done and have a tendency to leave jobs unfinished. You end up with an unfinished work and additional expenditure to rectify the bad job.
According to the Office of Fair Trading, UK home owners had incurred losses in the amount of 1.6 billion British pounds as remedial costs due to the unsatisfactory or substandard construction work done by unskilled and unreliable cowboy builders. As such, it is of primary importance that you avoid cowboy builders at all costs in any of your building ventures.
What are the warning signs you may be dealing with a cowboy builder? Cowboy builders are generally not accredited with any national trade association. But here are more telltale signs that you are in the presence of a cowboy builder:
- He normally knocks on your door and offers his services. He may even tell you offhand that your roof or your drive way needs work.
- He insists on cash only as payment for his services. He even reasons that payment in cash is better as you can avoid paying for state-imposed VAT.
- He does not have a valid business address and contact numbers. You can only reach him through his cell phone number and normally meets you at restaurants, in your home and never in his office when discussing work details.
- He tends to criticize rival builders and competition in the area.
- He initially offers you an unexpectedly low quote.
- He tends to speak in technical jargons and explanations and when you try to ask questions, he just laughs it off and insist that you should not worry or concern yourself about the details.
- He wants work to be done immediately even before any contract is formally signed.
- He does not give out references because he has none.
Guidelines for avoiding cowboy builders
Alternatively, you will be better off with a reputable building contractor to build your new house or do some renovations to your existing house. Follow these simple guidelines in selecting a legitimate and qualified contractor or building firm in the UK.
- Ask recommendations from trusted friends and family members especially the ones who have recently or not so recently hired the services of one. Do not pick out or call the first builder that you see advertised.
- Get quotes from several reputable builders. Give them the exact job requirements or the scope of work and specifications on building materials. It's important to ask quotes based on just one set of work order. Be clear about what you want done before even asking for a quote.
- The builder should have a valid place of business or an office. Contact number should not be limited to a cell phone.
- Make an effort to use members of recognized trade associations such as the Federation of Master Builders, Quality Mark Builders or the National Federation of Builders. This gives extra security should a dispute arise. Most associations and organizations perform checks on tradesmen before they grant or give them membership. While membership is not the all out indication of a good builder, it is still safer for a home owner to utilize their services than those fly-by-night cowboy builders.
- Ask for references and do follow them up. Do judge builders on past work or experience. Previous clients are one of the best gauges if a builder would be a reliable one. If possible, ask permission from the owner to inspect the work. Ask about work conduct, professionalism and the capacity to meet deadline. Ask about the experiences they had with the builder.
- Enquire about liability insurance. If they are legitimate builders, they would be able to provide one. If they are not covered by liability insurance, this may cost you more money if an accident should happen on your property. Most, if not all, cowboy builders don't have insurance.
- Make sure you have a written contract that that states what is to be done, the contract price and the mode of payment. It is also advised to include a retention which is part of the price that is due to be paid one or two months after completion of the work. This would allow you to dwell in your new home giving you enough time to determine any error or flaws that can only be discovered while living in the place for a period of time. The contract should also state the date of completion and should include a "time of essence" clause, which charges the contractor penalties if the work takes too long. A legitimate and reputable builder always provides a contract. He knows that it serves as a protection for both of you. If anything goes wrong or if a misunderstanding occurs, you and the builder can always refer to the contract to set things straight. Whereas cowboy builders would avoid as much as possible even drafting a contract.
- Avoid dealing in cash and never pay in advance before actual work even starts. Advance payments may be required where custom made materials need to be bought. Discuss mode of payment. Normally for most jobs, the builder will require payment at varying stages of the work or what others call progressive billing. If it is "labour only" requirement, the builder might request you to make payment as the job progresses. In any case, make sure you establish how much, when, and what the payments cover.
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"I would stress that people check, check and check again. My builder came recommended but has taken 12 months to do a 6 month job and used v poor materials. The stress this man has caused me just makes me so upset"
"ive had a builder who brought along his "apprentice" who instead of doing work here went next door to do their job"