The key to a successful project is thorough preparation. You have the drawings prepared for you by your architect and structural engineer. You’ve spent some time preparing the proper specification, which reflects all the work you’re planning to have done. You’ve made sure that your project is straightforward, well-structured and easy to understand. These steps are important not just for your own use, but also for the person who will make it all happen – the builder.
Now, how do you make sure that you choose the right builder for your project?
Ask For Recommendations
To start with, you should ask your friends or colleagues if they have a builder they would recommend. This is the obvious first step – word of mouth can be the most reliable referral available. However, I would recommend not stopping there, and taking extra steps to find an excellent candidate for your project. The recommended builder may be overloaded with work, and might not be available in a reasonable time frame. Alternatively, his circumstances might change, and his performance may not be the same quality as it used to be. I have heard some sad stories about builders who came highly recommended, but still let some customers down by not delivering the work that was agreed and expected.
Furthermore, only considering a single builder is inadvisable – to get the right idea of how much your project might cost, and to better decide which builder you want to work with, you really need to compare a few. The general rule of thumb is 3 – 5 candidates.
Nowadays, our first instinct is to check online – searching Google for builders in your area is a good first step to take, particularly if you don’t have any friends or colleagues who can make recommendations.
If you see a company on the first page of the organic search, this suggests that the company takes care of their website, ensuring that it is properly optimised. Take a good look at their website, paying particular attention to their pictures and testimonials – really spend some time going through it. If you like what you see, this builder clearly takes care of how his business is represented online; this means that the builder probably takes the same care with everything else he does.
Check Builders’ Accreditation Websites
Another way to look for a reputable builder is by using builders’ accreditation websites. Again, take the time to go through the testimonials and the website carefully.
Check the Building Company with Companies House
A further check you can make is to see whether the building company that you are considering has been declared insolvent in the past. You can do this by checking their company number in the Companies House registry. Using the registry, you can check how long the company has been trading, and if the owner of the company has been declared bankrupt in the past; if they have, this should be a red flag, raising a lot of questions about the company’s reliability.
Check Builders Currently Working in Your Area
If you drive past a high-quality construction site, do not hesitate to stop, as this is an excellent opportunity to find a good builder to carry out your project. Consider calling the builder and asking him to show you around. If you see a well-organized construction site, where the workers wear hi-vis vests with the company logo and the appropriate safety equipment, this indicates that the owner of the business takes care and pride in what he does, and can be trusted to pay attention to the details.
Builders Without a Building Company
If you see a van or site without any company logo or details, I would recommend being very cautious when dealing with that builder. The same applies if the builder does not have a website, or is not accredited. This suggests that the builder does not care much about his reputation – it will be much harder to hold such a builder responsible for his work and actions.
Starting a company and creating a logo and website is not rocket science – nor is arranging the vans and the building site, or taking care over the company details. This is the first thing a respectable and professional builder does, and failing to do so is a sign that you may not wish to work with this builder.
Arrange Visits With Builders
After you decide which local builders to consider asking for quotations, the next step is to get to know them better by arranging for them to visit to your house to make their assessment.
Send the Drawings and Your Specification
Before arranging the visit with the builder, you should send him the drawings and your specification. A well-organised builder should familiarise himself with the drawings and the specifications. Having done so, he ought to ask related questions during his visit. This would be a good indication of a builder with a thorough approach – precisely what you are looking for.
Allocate at Least One Hour for the Builder’s Visit
You should allocate at least one hour for each builder’s visit – and please do make sure that you don’t schedule multiple builders visiting at the same time.
Each builder requires their own time to assess the project – exactly how long will depend on their personality and attention to detail. A builder with more experience and attention to detail ought to spend more than an hour asking you questions, giving his advice, taking pictures, making notes, tell about building contracts and checking the relevant dimensions.
See How Punctual the Builder is
See how punctual the builder is. If for some reason he is late, or cannot come, he should make sure that he informs you of this. This is a good indication of whether the builder respects their client’s time.
Ask for References, and Visit One of Their Completed Projects
During the meeting, you may wish to ask the builder to show you one of his recently completed projects or provide you with contact details for some of his recent customers. Three such contacts should be enough to gain a reliable picture of the builder.
I strongly recommend visiting one of his recent projects if possible. This way, you will be able to look at the finishing touches and fine details for yourself, which are impossible to judge by looking at the pictures.
Do Not Take Any Shortcuts On this Preparation Stage
Avoid taking any shortcuts during this preparation stage. Spending a week or two closely examining your participating builders will save you considerable amounts of time and money in the long run, as you will find the right builder the first time.
Attention to the Details is Key
You may have noticed that I’ve mentioned the phrase “attention to the details” quite a few times. A builder with the “attention to the details” attitude should apply the same approach not only to the cosmetic stages of the project but to the structural steps as well. A house renovation project is always full of surprises, and is a complex combination of very different jobs; you, therefore, need an experienced builder who pays attention to the details in order to find efficient and effective solutions to the surprises and problems that often arise as a project progresses.
Here are some details to look for which will help to judge if the builder has an eye for detail:
- Look at the line between the wall and the ceiling – is it entirely straight, or is it wavy?
- Look at the line between the skirting board and the floor – is it a straight line, or are there gaps with different sizes all over the place?
- Look at the painting finish on the walls and around sockets and switches – are there smooth and continuous surfaces and nicely finished paint textures, or are the surfaces rough in some places? This means it has been painted without the proper preparation.
- Look at the tiling – are there neat symmetrical lines against corners and units, or are there small asymmetrical off-cuts in the corners? These could have been avoided by carefully planning the layout of the tiles.
- Look at the silicon around bathroom appliances and kitchen worktop – is there a correctly chosen silicon color which runs with a nice sharp line, or is the color unmatched and the line just smudged with a finger?
- Look at the sockets and the switches – are they in one line and levelled or not?
- Look at how the radiator pipes meet the wall and the floor – is there a good finish there?
This list is not exhaustive, but I’ll stop there, as otherwise we could be here all day. However, following this guide should help you check whether the builder has a sharp eye for finishes or not.
Ask About Availability
Once you are satisfied with the builders you have spoken to, you should ask about their availability.
If your desired builder is not available to start your project straight away – as often happens with residential projects – it would unwise to compromise on the builder you have chosen in order to start your project quickly. To avoid being put in this situation, I would recommend asking this question when you first meet the builders so that you leave more options for yourself.
Allow Two Weeks to Collect Quotations
After you have met all your chosen builders and learned as much as you can about them, it is time to get their quotations.
There are two ways in which builders prepare their quotations.
- The first is that they do their own calculations.
- The second is that they use quantity surveyor services, sending them all the details and paying them a fee of a few hundred pounds.
Either way is appropriate, but only if all builders do their price using the same specification. As mentioned previously, this is the best way to avoid any house renovation disasters.
It should take between half a day to an entire day for the builder to calculate and prepare his quotation – this is if we are talking about a project such as a full home renovation with extension. If the builder is busy, with another quotation to prepare in his pipeline, he will schedule yours in a week’s time. Using a quantity surveyor service should take roughly a week – but again, this will depend on their workload.
I would recommend allowing around two weeks to collect quotations from builders.
- Pay attention to how quickly each quotation is sent and how neat it is – this is good indication of future communication
At this stage, I would pay attention to which builder sends his quotation fastest, how detailed and neat his presentation is, and how willingly he makes any necessary corrections.
After following these steps, you should have a much better understanding of which builder you would like to go with.
Good luck with your building project!