How to choose a home builder

Customer looking distressed as builder stands in the background looking worried.

When you’re having building work carried out on your home, there is a potential chance of damage to your home’s structure or its contents.

Questions you should ask before choosing a building contractor.

Improving and extending our homes rather than moving house has been a trend in recent years. Many people are choosing to stay where they are because it is usually cheaper to improve their homes than it is to move, and the stress of moving is taken out of the equation.

If you are looking to stay and improve or even extend, then you’ll need to be sure you have a clear vision of what you want. You’ll also need to feel certain you’ve commissioned a company that can deliver your vision within your budget, which means you’ll need to ask some questions of the companies you’re getting quotes from.

Note, it’s important to get quotes from at least three companies so you can gauge the cost comparison and gain a good idea of the professionalism of the builder you’re hiring.

Questions clients should consider asking builders before choosing them can include:

  • Who will be the main point of contact?
  • What is the timeline?
  • Do you provide warranties?
  • Will you be responsible for applying for building regulations approval?
  • Will you be on site every day?
  • Will you stick to budget?
  • Can I pay in installments?
  • Are you adequately insured in case anything goes wrong?
  • Ask to see references from previous clients
  • Ask for a written contract

Who will be the main point of contact for the building work?

Ensuring you have a main point of contact, and their contact details is important for accountability. If you are not happy with anything during the build, or need to discuss any part of the work, then you need to know who will manage your queries.

What is the timeline for the build?

If you have a date for completion that you’d like to achieve, then you’ll need to make this clear to the builder. The builder can then work on a stepped timeline of events that you can both agree on to achieve your desired deadline.

Obviously, the UK weather plays a part in how close to a deadline a project is, as many builders cannot work on outdoor projects if it’s raining.

The timeline of events should also include a timeline of costs, so you know at each stage what monies are due and what for.

Do you provide a builder’s warranty?

Building warranties are used throughout the construction industry for residential and commercial properties. They tell the property owner that the building work carried out has been done to a high standard that meets set standards.

A building warranty or an insurance backed guarantee provides protection for tradespeople and consumers. A builder’s structural warranty can be used to cover a vast range of construction projects, including new builds, extensions, renovation work, conversions, and one-off projects. So, when you’re looking to hire a builder, it’s important to ask if they offer a builder’s warranty.

Will the builder apply for building regulations approval, or do you need to?

Most construction work requires some form of building regulations compliance. It is important to gain approval prior to any work being started, so you should decide between yourself and your builder who will be responsible for gaining the approval.

Will you be on site every day?

This is something you can agree on prior to the work starting. What you need to know is that your project is going to be prioritised so it will meet agreed deadlines.

It’s important to be aware that there are certain rules for working hours. Where residential dwellings are concerned, the hours of potentially noisy works are usually restricted to:

  •  Monday to Friday: 8am to 6pm
  • Saturday: 8am to 1pm
  • Sunday and Bank Holidays: no noisy activities on site.

These times include the vehicles and plant machinery arriving and leaving the site.

Check with your local authority to be sure of the regulations concerning times of work.

It’s important to be aware that reputable builders are usually very busy, and you might need to wait for a few months before they will be free to start on your build. Some builders will work on projects that overlap, as one comes to a close, they’ll begin a new one. If a builder says they can start straight away, then this should be something to think about as to the quality of their work and their reputation.

Will you stick to budget?

The rising cost of materials and fuel may dictate the cost of the work. If you have a set budget ceiling, you need to make this clear at the outset. Ask your builder to agree to work within it and get the agreement in writing with a signature. See the written contract section further on in this article.

If you want to make changes to specifications of certain aspects of the work during the project, then you will likely have to renegotiate the overall cost of the project.

Can I pay in installments?

In 2020, a survey reported that 80% of builders said customers failed to ask for an agreed payment schedule.

Most building work is expensive, especially when it comes to building an extension. It’s common for a builder to ask for a deposit before they begin work, followed by agreed payment stages.

You can protect your initial payment or staged payments via a deposit protection scheme, which is when your money will be stored in a secure account until you and the builder are happy with the work.

As the consumer, you should ask for payment schedule because it ensures each party knows exactly where they stand.

Are you adequately insured in case something goes wrong?

This is a really important question, and one that could save you and your builder a lot of money and stress if something does go wrong.

Ask any trades professional you hire to prove their insurance credentials prior to agreeing to give them the work. It’s important to ensure your assets will be fully covered if something unfortunate happens such as accidental property damage or an accident that results in a personal injury.

At the very least, the tradesperson should be able to prove they are carrying adequate public liability insurance.

The builder may also confirm they hold contract works insurance, which is designed to protect building works in progress and covers the cost of re-doing work that is part of a contract if the work is damaged by fire, flood, or theft before the work is completed.

If something goes wrong and the tradesperson is not adequately insured, it could be costly for either or both parties. Read our article 'What happens if my builder isn’t insured, or is underinsured and something goes wrong?' to find out more.

Check with your home insurer

You should also check with your home insurance provider that you’ll be covered during the work. Your insurer may ask you to pay more for your insurance during work and after the work is completed. Your insurer may also ask which builder you are using and what insurance the builder has in place.

Ask to see references from previous clients

Reviews are valuable currency for all businesses that provide a service to consumers, and tradespeople are no different. Ask to read some customer reviews and, if you can, contact previous clients and suppliers of the builder to ensure they are trustworthy and that the materials they use on your project are supplied by a reputable supplier.

Ask for a written contract

Please be aware, that as soon as you’ve given a contractor the go-ahead you’ve made a contract with them, even if it isn’t written down.

Therefore, it’s important to get the contract in writing. If the building contractor doesn’t do what you’ve agreed, then a written contract can help you get what you paid for, or it can help you get some of your money back if you need to make a claim or pursue legal action.

A written contract doesn’t need to include lots of legal jargon, it simply needs to outline the agreed work:

  • Exactly what you are paying for, which can be referred back to the quotation.
  • Everything you have agreed upon with the builder, including timescales, materials, payment schedule, site clearance and tidying up, hire of required plant, insurance.

If you are still unsure, there is a very helpful article that expands on this blog on the Citizens Advice website.

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