So how the hell do you find a builder?!

Well, to be totally honest I’m not sure I should be advising you (though you can learn from our mistakes) but in the spirit of openness I’ll also tell you what happened to us – have a look at my next post).

I’m not sure whether it is harder to find a builder in London, but it certainly seems that way. Up north, my parents have a builder, a plumber, an electrician, joiner, roofer etc etc on tap. In London, I think that it’s just much larger and the population are more transient and so builders can just be (sorry to any reputable ones reading this!) more shit and get away with it as they don’t build a local reputation.

I’ll write a full post on when builds go wrong but in short, the builders that we chose immediately re-contracted our work to a subcontractor who hadn’t agreed to the pricing structure or timeframe and then ran out of money, stopped paying them and stopped our build.

I’ve removed the name of the builders because they’re BEYOND shit!

So, I had (and still have) a few rules regarding builders that I think are super crucial:

1. Recommendations: try to get local recommendations; the best type of builder to find is one that you have a number of proven recommendations for and if you can do that locally it’s even better as you can chat to your neighbours and go and see the work. This can be tricky but a few options are:

  • Local notice boards (or virtual ones) like the app ‘Next door’
  • Websites like ‘find a builder’ can also be ok as you can post your job on there and see recommendations (we’ve used this since for things like alarms, plumbers etc but I didn’t know about it at the time)
  •  You can also have a look around the local area – have a look for signs of builders and knock on people’s doors or post a note through. I’ve ended up chatting to people on trains that had overheard me on the phone moaning about the build and even gone to see someone’s place plus I’ve done the same for others– people are happy to help generally (or show off their home!)

2. More is more – you need to get numerous quotes, I mean around 10 ideally from a range of companies. This is something that we really struggled with, it was beyond difficult to get a detailed, broken down quote from builders. It doesn’t need to be fancy and typed up but it does need to have sufficient detail that it’s clear what you’re paying for and you can challenge it once you’re in the build (see my next point!). The range of quotes that we got was huge, from £40k to £160k so you need a good number of quotes to gauge what might be a good deal

3. Detail is your friend: make sure that the quote is broken down into detail, try and get this done line by line or by area, I’ve put a picture of ours below (with the £ omitted because I’m inherently English and thought that posting about money might be uncouth). Don’t be afraid to push on this, essentially you need to have enough understanding and transparency that when you are in the build you have something to go back to. We found that most builders were reticent to give a detailed breakdown, this might be because it’s a lot of effort to pull together a quote but also because it might be convenient to be a bit less transparent so that things can be added on (sorry again nice guys)

This is an example of our quote (sorry the picture is so poor, I’ll pop a better one on soon) but as you can see it’s fairly detailed!

4. Don’t be afraid to challenge: the building industry is competitive so don’t be afraid to challenge the quote and costs as well as any additional extras that may have been put on! If you’re still really unsure about your quote you can get a quantity surveyor and they can break down every element of the build for your so you can see line by line (or brick by brick) what it will cost – it will cost you though!

5. The proof is in the pudding: speak to previous clients of your preferred builder and go and see work that they have done already. This is my biggest regret – we asked to do this and always said that we would but then when it came down to it, we didn’t. I don’t even have a decent reason apart from that the bloody builders seemed so professional and that the one place they offered was ages away but seriously – I can’t stress enough how important it is!

6. Swot up:

  • Have a look at the company on google, facebook and insta to see whether you can find anything out about them in terms of recommendations or complaints
  • Look on companies house, the reason is, if someone sets themselves up as a limited liability company then runs into financial trouble then they can fold the company without becoming bankrupt themselves. You basically just want to look up your builders names and see whether they have had multiple companies that keep folding, if they do – avoid them like the plague!
  • Check whether the builders are registered on the federation of master builder’s website – essentially, builders on here are ratified by the FMB and have to adhere to certain standards to remain on there (in reality, I’m not too sure how much use this is but I’ll let you decide!)

7. Get the legal shiz done: make sure you have a contract in place – again, if anything goes really wrong it can be tough to sue a builder or to use the contract from a legal perspective but its definitely worth having it in place because (hopefully) that’s a rarity and it’s good to have terms agreed at the outset and be open about them. Often, the builder will have one themselves but if they don’t you can find them online too; remember to check on: 

  • What happens contractually if they don’t fulfil the contract
  • The terms for you getting out of the contract – you want to know what your out is if you need one 
  • An odd one but check what happens with things in your home that are removed – our contract said that the builders could keep everything (which we then changed!)

8. Ways of working: agree upfront the way you’re going to work day to day, this includes:

  • Who will be doing the work, are they doing it or are they contracting it out? If they’re contracting out the actual build then you should meet the sub-contractor and make sure they’re across the job and the financials – our subcontractor had never even seen the job when we started and we had never seen him!
  • Who will be project managing the build day to day? If you don’t have someone doing this then you won’t stick to schedule, the simple things such as ordering bricks, windows etc have a lead time and if this isn’t managed then there will be delays

9. Dollar dollar bills y’all: set out a schedule of payments before you sign the contract – you have to protect yourself as much as possible here. You should set out when you will be making payments and you should tie this to the contract and the quote really. You definitely need to make sure that you pay in small stages – I’ve heard horror stories of people having all of their money stolen! You should also make sure that you keep a retainer behind until you have sign off from all of the relevant people as you need this from people like building control, the electrician etc or you haven’t got a certified house (and can’t sell it without them!)

10. Reality check: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is! Just remember, the cheapest quote isn’t always the best, the builder who looks the most professional isn’t always the best choice so do your research before pulling the trigger and good luck!

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