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Choosing a good builder

In this month's blog, Ben tackles the subject of how to choose a good builder.

There's lots of advice about how to choose a builder, but not very much that I can see comes from a builder! This subject really interest me and I invest time into finding out why we won and why we lost projects. Much of the time it comes down to cost; "so and so was cheaper by £100 so we went with them". Our savvy clients won't need telling that cost isn't everything, but even if it is the most important thing for you, you still need to make sure it really is the best cost, here are a few tips for you to make sure that the cost you are being quoted is the most realistic cost;

1. What type of price is it? Is it a quotation, an estimate or a schedule of work? Whichever it is, it is unlikely to be a fixed cost. This doesn't mean the builder is necessarily going to charge you lots of extras once the job starts it simply means he doesn't have x-ray spectacles to see all the things in your home that are hidden behind walls and he can't easily predict everything you may want from the building after one short meeting with you. A builder that asks you lots of questions and takes the most notes will likely be the one who gives you the most realistic end cost. I often use the motto "tendering selects the biggest idiot" but it need not if you do your homework! Many good builders will include the things that the other builders have left out but will definitely need doing. As a general rule of thumb, the more detail they give you, the better the builder is likely to be. One lump sum at the bottom of the quote is not good enough, you need to see a breakdown of what s being done with the supporting text otherwise how can you tell what they have remembered to include? There are more detailed tips on types of prices builders provide on our website here.

2. What type of builder are they? The market is full of people that call themselves builders but look closely and you will find the vast majority of them are actually a tradesman with one skill who then subcontracts everything but his own trade to other trades people. Now in itself this needn't be an issue if they are all good people, but how can you find that out? You need to ask lots and lots and lots of questions, ask them who does the electrics, or the plumbing etc. Ask them how long they have worked with them. Ask them how many similar jobs they have done before. If they squirm or can't give you detailed answers, you probably don't want them working in your home.

3. How will they be paid? Don't be afraid to talk about money, it's very British not to, but if you're about to spend large sums of money with somebody you've never meet before, you've got to be certain they will do what they have said they will do and for the prices they have quoted. One problem that has emerged for consumers during the recession is VAT avoidance. At 20% it's a huge chunk of anyone's budget so some smaller companies have been developing ways of avoiding paying the right VAT. One new favourite is that the builder asks the client to pay each tradesman directly as they are smaller companies which stay (sometimes illegitimately) below the VAT threshold. This is an absolute minefield and should be avoided at all costs. Firstly, you are left with no single guarantee for the works, a good builder will supply all his staff and any subcontractors all under their one banner and you will then have one point of contact should anything go wrong. Secondly, it creates a potential insurance disaster. If you had the misfortune of having an accident, fire, collapse, subsidence issue or any other peril that prevented your project proceeding or worse, caused it to be razed to the ground, you would need one point of insurance. The VAT scam way means you will have to chase each individual insurer for your loss if one of them causes a problem on site, you can imagine I'm sure, how often this leaves people without full reimbursement for their loses. Thirdly, this style of management actually needs management! It's not just a case of ringing up Bill the plumber and telling him you want the bathroom done, all the various trades need to intermingle and work well together and to a schedule. This schedule needs to be flexible and therefore needs to be overseen by an expert who will communicate with all the relevant parties and identify the pitfalls before they become problems. Without this type of management, even the smallest projects can become the biggest headache!

I hope some of the tips come in handy, the important thing is to take some time to make the right decision. Don't rush into building works. A good builder will add value to your home and make it a nicer place for you to live. A bad one could potentially change your life and your bank balance forever!

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