I thought I’d be helpful for once and stick this up in response to this thread.

I am temporarily at the wheel of the family building firm and have been in and around construction in various guises (from being briefly on tools, to managing projects and now in management itself) since I got out, and it’s what most of my family do so although I am certainly no expert I feel comfortable passing on a few tips to hopefully allow at least one person to avoid dropping themselves in the proverbial.

First things first, like with all projects the commissioning/tender process remains the most important, it is in this stage that you are considering your financial threshold and you are also starting to finalise exactly what it is you want. The old adage that three quotes will do unfortunately holds little water in the current climate. A realistic five or six quotes from a cross section of the industry is needed, (small/large firms, local, regional ect) there is always a tangible difference shown buy a large amount of quotes, remember, you are not putting anybody out by doing this, it is one of the most competitive markets in the U.K. and the constant fight for work is evidential by the amount of time I spend standing in peoples gardens in the pissing rain with a tape measure and a cold wet. (It is also worth remembering that the cheapest cost isn’t always the best option, in some cases it can end up costing more). Nine times out of ten every job you survey has either already been priced up before or after you are done and dusted, with a decent initial survey (dependant on requirements) taking up to a couple of hours to discuss and complete. Once you’ve settled on a builder consider the following;

1. How long have they been in business?

•You need to know this for a number of reasons. Are they swerving tax? Are they registered at Companies House? If it’s a ‘man and van’ type operation is he VAT registered? The reasoning is that if someone effectively checks out after you make the necessary phone calls then it’s a fair chance that their approach to work will be as conformant. Suffice to say you shouldn’t rule out a firm that checks out but is just finding its feet as you generally find that when a collective of trades who feed each other work find themselves able then a natural progression is to link up officially.

•Also by carrying out checks you run the chance of uncovering any less than agreeable information on said builder which can influence who you finally instruct. Punch the names into Google and see what you can ping. Remember though! It’s the experience of the individual that matters most, I’d let an eighteen year old Joiner throw windows and doors in all day but wouldn’t have him throwing up timber frames without supervision.

2. Insurance, Qualifications and References.

•All three are paramount. For instance one click on our website shows a guarantee of all, our insurance details, a description of the wide range of trades our lads are not only competent to carry out but who are qualified to do so and a few RECENT references along with story boards of projects that are not only successfully complete but some that are on-going.

•It is pure semantics; it allows anyone considering us to at least form a positive opinion before even picking up the phone to discuss their thoughts and ideas. In terms of insurance you need to physically see their type of cover, even the smallest jobs, if done sub standard can have a detrimental effect on other parts of your property, sometimes these chains of events can leave people in deep shit with no way out but to pay more money to rectify after getting a tablet from the insurance companies. If a contractor refuses, swerves or avoids giving any of the above three then politely decline.

•Assess them visually too, it’s a busy day to day job either on tools or off but it takes little effort to turn up at someone’s property or business looking presentable and carrying the right equipment. Look at the van, is it clean? Is it marked up? Does it look serviceable? Turning up in a Range Rover and suit may make me look reputable but doesn’t prove in any way that I am competent; a lot of clever cowboys show a lot of front by doing this and then rock up to a job like the Clampetts in a battered minivan. Last month I met with a Facilities Manager who was looking to have a spare office turned into an all singing and dancing staff breakout area, on my way in I saw another chap leaving who had trod mud through the reception area, was in filthy coveralls and who was barking into his phone like a madman. The Facilities guy then told me that this builder had turned up sans measuring tape but ‘paced it out with his feet and wrote the measurements on his hand’, suffice to say we have been awarded the job.

3. Costs.

From day one this issue should be discussed regularly once the work has been commissioned. I cannot stress enough the golden rule;

•NEVER PAY UPFRONT! There is absolutely no need to part with cash until the work is satisfactorily completed. If the builder doesn’t have an account somewhere then it’s safe to say that there is an underlying issue which gives you cause to avoid. I have friends who don’t have an account due to unavoidable issues with finance from failed companies, they make use of mine and others credit accounts, although a high degree of trust is involved it still means that no one is being asked to stump up for work that hasn’t been started.

•If you wake up one day mid build/improvement and decide you wish to tweak or change the agreed works then quite rightly this should involve more cost, by simply applying the same principles (consult, agree plan, agree cost, add to contract,) as done with the initial project then you can’t go wrong 

•Until an agreed written contract is signed with YOUR terms heavily specified do not allow works to begin! For the minimal legal fee you have to pay it goes some way to protecting you and your property throughout the project.

•It is also possible to ‘pay’ the money to a representative third party which indemnifies against someone cutting and running, a shitty trick pulled by too many contractors who then bounce off a job, go bust and re-start the next day.

You are inviting people these people into your homes, into your lives. The imposition of having works done can bear a lot of stress on people and a good builder will impact as less a footprint as possible on your familial routine. It’s also YOUR project, ask, ask and ask again! Whether they are block paving your drive or throwing up a three storey extension it is your home and life that this is impacting on, don’t lock yourself away in the front room only to reappear with the brews every few hours.

I could go on all day with ifs, buts, and whys and why not’s but if you get the feeling you’re being fucked, then you very probably are, the trick is having things in place to prevent this happening, I know some utterly ruthless bastards who have gotten very rich on the back of people that trusted a cheeky demeanour and some quality patter, they are though fortunately in the minority.

In short trust your instincts and take an hour out of your day to check, check and check again.
I would concur with all of the above, the only addition I'd recommend for the slightly larger jobs is the provision by the contractor of a programme of works, this way you know who should be on site and when. It also allows you to manage both finance stage payments which can be added as milestones and progress. Hold regular meetings with your builder to monitor both. Remember to factor in an element of retention into the contract which will only be paid on the satisfactory close out of any snagging issues, 15% of the overall cost is about the norm.
i am in shock at the breadth of knowledge and general all round quality shown in your answer
now be a good chap and put the real JRIII back on the keyboard eh?

and Juan, next time don't leave your PC unlocked
else someone will come along with a sensible post and ruin your rep
I don't get this; its not rude or aggressive, has not moaned about STABs and has not made me laugh.
Que passa?
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