Original article by My Architect Advisor - the online resource for people who are about to undertake significant and expensive building projects.
Probably one of the most critical elements on any home project is to employ the right builder. When I speak to people about how successful their projects have been it often tends to be determined by the success (or not) of the builder. Get a good one, and people tend to be very pleased with works to their home. Get a bad one, however, and it tends to end in recriminations, poor quality work and delay. It’s therefore imperative you get this bit right, no matter who you have supporting you. Unfortunately, there are never any guarantees that you’ve found the right one and it’s only towards the end of the project that you can be really sure.
The problem is anyone can call himself or herself a ‘building contractor’ even if they have no qualifications or little experience. There is a somewhat negative view in general of builders, probably fuelled by various TV shows and horrific stories but the fact is that cowboy builders are thankfully in the minority.
You also need to do all you can to be a good client. Remember that builders also have their fair share of difficult clients; those who change their minds constantly, demand additional work for free, delay payment and generally muck them around.
There are a few different ways of running a project:
• Employ a main contractor to do everything
• Directly employ separate trades and either manage it yourself or have someone else manage it for you
• Self build the whole thing
Many people go down the main contractor route so here are some tips to finding and employing them:
The first tip is not to employ your friends, a mate you met in the pub who’s a friend of a friend or someone unknown from the yellow pages. This could turn out to be a very bad mistake. If and when things go wrong then this strategy is a recipe for disaster. Avoid it at your peril!
If you have an architect, project manager or surveyor, it’s likely they will have worked with builders in the area that they can recommend, and this is a good place to start. They can also help you search and determine the right type of builder for your project.
You could speak to your Local Authority building control officer/inspector/warranty inspector as they may also be prepared to give you 1 or 2 names of local builders. These will be guidance only as they are not allowed to make recommendations. Speak to your Local Authority.
You can also speak with local estate agents, although they often tend to know smaller scale builders that deal mainly with maintenance and can sometimes charge higher prices. But they may have a recommended list they are prepared to share with you.
It’s also worth looking at the builder’s boards along your local streets. This still remains one of the most rudimentary forms of builders advertising their services. If you see boards, it’s likely the builder is proud of their work and is looking for more, which is a good sign.
It’s also likely that friends have had work done and can recommend their builder (or not as the case may be). Remember that your project may be very different from work they have had done and they may have different expectations than you, but this can be a good a place to start.
There are various trade federations but it is important to remember that trade federations do exist for the members and sometimes the requirements for joining are not that demanding. Do proceed with caution and check that contractor’s memberships are current.
Ideally you want to have a list of 4-5 builders to ensure you get some competitive tendering. Quite often builders decline to tender (and often at the last minute) so having enough to start with is important.
Sarah Williams, RIBA, has been helping clients for over 25 years, designing and delivering their projects, which range from small extensions/renovations to multi million pound residential, commercial and institutional buildings.
You can find Sarah at Grand Designs Live ‘Ask an expert’ stand.