Working with a builder

Now you’ve checked whether you need planning permission or other approvals and started the process of getting your project off the drawing board and actually built, you can start to look at who you want to employ to construct your project.

So how do you find good builders?

Personal recommendations from people you know are a great way of find reliable contractors. Ask around or have a look on ‘Check a Trade’ which provides honest feedback from previous customers. Contractors themselves should be happy to give references from previous clients and may offer to show you examples of their finished work.

Keep in mind that good builders are often busy, so get in touch well ahead of time when you have a set of signed off drawings that can be priced from. The Federation of Master Builders estimates that almost half of UK builders require up to four months’ notice before they can start new work.

Make sure you use someone who is competent and ideally a member of an approved trader scheme, and is the right kind of contractor for the size of your project. Do some research into the company background to make sure they are legitimate especially if you’ve got their details from a flyer or a door to door enquiry. The Which? magazine has a Trusted Trader scheme that only endorses builders that pass their assessment process. Carry out the relevant checks if they will be dealing with electrics or gas work. If your project needs building regulations approval, your contractor should be in a competent person scheme, and you can check on the register here.

It is advisable to interview more than one contractor in person before you make a decision. This gives the opportunity to discuss the project in detail with them and ask any questions you have about the build. This will give you a comparison between a small number of prospective contractors, and it will also give you an idea of what they are like at communicating, how they will approach the building work and any concerns you have can be discussed before you begin work. If there are priorities and key timescales you want to meet, let them know now so they can be planned into the quotation and programme.

Whilst you might consider hiring separate consultants for individual elements of the build to save money, having one point of contact through a main contractor takes a lot of stress out of the project and could be worth the slight extra margin they add to the separate trades to coordinate everything. They are usually good project managers and will make sure that the right people are on site at the right time.

Quotations

Do not rely on a verbal quotation from any contractor. Make sure you get all price breakdowns along with the scope of work being quoted for in writing. This gives you more detail to make a comparison and reach a decision. 

Try to avoid estimates and get a fixed quote for as much of the project as possible. As we touch on in the budgeting article, if there are too many elements not costed up front, staying within your budget is in danger. Be wary if one quote comes in considerably lower than the others, this may mean they are not quoting for exactly the same work.

Make sure all quotations include:

  • your scope and everything that you want done

  • a fixed total price

  • a breakdown of the work needed

  • a breakdown of the time required, and how many days work the quote includes to meet the programme

  • a breakdown of the materials needed and associated costs

  • confirmation of who is procuring the materials

  • duration that the quote remains valid

  • whether VAT is included or excluded

Before agreeing to proceed with your preferred contractor, insist on a written contract and evidence of the relevant insurances they hold. When you agree to a quote, this is a binding agreement even if not written down. They cannot charge you extra unless both parties have agreed to any additional scope.


Insurance

Your contractor should hold the following insurances:

  • Public liability insurance - this covers you, your property and your neighbour’s property from damage.

  • Employers’ liability insurance - all contractors should have this to cover you and them if there are accidents on site.

Other insurance considerations:

  • All domestic projects must have a risk assessment carried out before work begins and may invalidate the contractor's insurance if it is not carried out.

  • If the insurance runs out during the build, make a note to ask for renewal evidence at the appropriate time.

  • Check there is cover should the contractor go bust and someone else will have to finish the project. And if there are sub contractors involved, do they also have the relevant insurances?

  • When the works are in progress, you should check with your own insurers whether your home or contents cover extends to building work. They may ask for a premium due to the higher risk of damage, and may ask to see evidence of the insurance your contractors holds.

Contracts

Insist on a written contract to protect you and your builder should anything go wrong with the build. Contracts are usually either a JCT (Joint Contracts Tribunal) or RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) one depending on the nature of the project and procurement route. Your architect can assist with selecting the right contract and to ensure that it is completed correctly covering all the required information including payment schedules, start and end dates and what happens should the project overrun, to protect both you and your contractor. Reputable contractors will not hesitate to put a contract in place, and will agree to a payment schedule.

There should be a 14 day cooling off period once the contract is signed on a domestic project.

A building contract will have the drawings and any schedules and specifications appended to it so it is absolutely clear what has been agreed to, and how it will be delivered.

During the build

Now you’re on site, communication is the key priority to a smooth running project. You may need to arrange the delivery of materials which will need to be communicated to your builder so they are on site when they arrive, or to let tradespeople in. The builder may have questions for you which need prompt responses in order to keep to the programme, so set aside time to answer their questions quickly.

As the builder asks you questions about the project, it’s a two way process so if you have any concerns with anything you see on site, talk to them as soon as possible to rectify it. Not speaking up at the time can have a knock on effect on the programme if things need to be revisited at a later date.

Any design or material changes either by yourself as the client or suggested by the contractor must be agreed in writing, and any increases in cost must be communicated and agreed to protect both parties.

At completion

There will be opportunities to rectify any issues at the end of the project during the snagging or defects period. List out what needs attention or walk around the property with your builder and agree on one comprehensive list of actions and timelines to achieve this, then give them the space to action what’s needed rather than champing at the bit to move into the property and get under their feet.

Once you are happy that the defects have, or will be resolved, it is time to make the final payment to the contractor, based on the agreement and fee that was agreed in the contract.