An experienced builder is essential for any project, particularly when a homeowner's DIY skills go beyond the complexity of certain projects. Builders help prevent mistakes that can be costly and take a lot of time to fix.

Choosing a Qualified Builder

Hiring a well-trained and experienced builder is vital. To find a reputable and qualified builder, check to see if the builder is registered with a trade body. Trade associations and organisations include the Federation of Master Builders, the Guild of Builders and Contractors and the National Federation of Builders. Being a member of a trade organisation tells you that the builder is committed to professional development as well as service and quality standards.

Homeowners should deal with an established builder or company for their project. When researching potential builders, you should choose firms that have a local office and a telephone number. A reputable builder will have a VAT number, which will be shown on company letterhead and websites, or is available upon request. Avoid selecting builders that have pushy sales people and firms that require advance payments or cash payments. Look at Buildernet, the Federation of Master Builders' Find A Builder service, and the government-endorsed TrustMark to find good builders. You should also speak to family and friends for any recommendations.

Important Questions to Ask a Builder

When considering a builder, you should ask questions to understand their experience and qualifications. Some additional key questions include asking for references and examples of past projects, especially ones that are related to your project. You should also ask if the builder sub-contracts and for information about any sub-contractors. Sub-contractors should be registered and appropriately licenced. For example, any builder or sub-contractor should be Gas Safe registered if doing any works that involve gas. Ask for a detailed quote and details about payment schedules and method of payment. You should also ask about any warranties or guarantees. Builders must be insured, so you should also ask for proof of insurance and an insurance-backed warranty for the work.

Tips and Advice

Before meeting with potential builders, it is important to have a clearly defined vision for a project. Outlining objectives will help a builder develop an accurate quote and project plan that meets your design preferences and goals. Changing your mind once construction has started could be very costly, so it is important to be clear about what you want at the start. You should also get more than one estimate for the project and ensure that you are getting value for your money. A builder should be committed to bringing your ideas to reality, not pushing for their own vision.

When developing a project plan, suggest a phased approach and staged payments that are mutually agreed upon. The project plan and payment schedule should work for both you and the builder, not just one party. Clearly defining milestones and stages, as well as when payments are due, will help minimise any conflicts or misunderstandings during and after construction. If there are any issues with the finished product, withhold the final payment until all work is complete and any problems are resolved. A reputable builder will want to leave their clients satisfied and will not have issues with this approach since they often rely on referrals and recommendations for their business to grow.

Once a builder or construction company has been selected, draw up a contract. A contract is especially important when the project requires substantial work, such as building a new house, extension, loft conversion or other major project. A contract will outline roles and responsibilities, fees and payment schedules, mechanisms for settling disputes, and other important details. Speak to a solicitor about drafting or reviewing a contract provided by the builder before signing anything. If a contract is not drafted, request that all specifications and estimates be provided in writing before agreeing to any work.

If Something Goes Wrong

Occasionally, there are issues that arise during a project. It is important to speak directly with the builder when you are not satisfied with a project's progress or quality. Avoid speaking with any tradespeople working on the site and resolve issues directly with the builder. When an issue is unresolved, submit a complaint to the builder in writing. If problems continue, seek advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau, your Local Authority's Building Control, a trade organisation or association, or a solicitor.