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Contractors - how to choose a reputable one

When choosing a building contractor you should consider your choice very carefully and you are advised to check them out before employing them. If you employ a good reputable building contractor in terms of price, reliability and workmanship, the potential for problems will be greatly reduced.

How do I choose a reputable building contractor?

  • Get recommendations - ask friends, family, neighbours and relevant trade associations if they know of reliable contractors who have experience in the type of work you are after. Check out any supplied written references and that it was your contractor who actually undertook the work. A contractor with a reputation to preserve is more likely to be around if you have problems later.

  • Find out if the contractor is a member of an appropriate trade association and check that they are with the association. A list of trade associations can be found in the rear of the local Yellow Pages - not all associations are reputable. Check them out also - look for ones with strict joining criteria, codes of conduct and clear complaints procedures. Some may offer forms of contract, protection schemes and warranties.

  • Look for the TrustMark - a scheme introduced by the Government in January 2006. This scheme covers all building trades, this means the traders have passed the checks needed for membership. To find a member near you visit www.trustmark.org.uk, or ring 01344 666 104.

  • Choose established contractors with premises you can visit and ask how long they have been in business - if things go wrong you should then be able to contact them. Ensure you have addresses and details of the contractors if you need to contact them in writing. Remember, telephone numbers are easily changed, leaving you with no way of contacting them.

  • Check the contractors out - ask if there is similar completed work that they have carried out that you can view. Make sure you speak to the previous customers for their comments, were they happy with the work? Was it started and completed on time? Was the final bill in line with the estimate?

  • Always obtain at least three quotations for the works, and ensure these are in writing, with a break down of works to be undertaken.

  • Do not make assumptions about quality of fixtures and fixings to be supplied, that is kitchens, bath suites, doors and windows, electrical provisions and so on. If you have specific requirements, ensure the quotation includes reference to them. This also helps in obtaining comparable quotations.

  • Check the quotations carefully, compare like-for-like and examine what the contractor is providing for in the price. Don't always assume that the cheapest is the best. Good contractors who refuse to cut corners will seldom be able to compete on price with those that do.

  • Agree payment terms before the work commences - be careful on upfront payments - ensure you know what you are getting for any upfront payment. It may be difficult to get monies back. Contractors offering cash / VAT free deals are not easily tracked down if things go wrong.

  • Consider paying, where possible, by credit card - this gives you extra protection if the work is not satisfactory, because you may be able to claim for compensation from the card company.

  • Be clear from the outset exactly what you want the contractor to do and then stick to it -changing your mind too often will probably prove expensive.

  • Once you agree a price and start date, get a written contract and make sure you understand it and agree to all of it. Seek professional advice if you are unclear of any parts of it.

Try to get as much as possible in writing, for example:

  1. Exactly what is included in the estimate (or preferably quotation).
  2. When will work start and how long will it take.
  3. What payments will the contractor expect from you before the works are finished.
  4. On what basis you will want to agree any increase in cost (before the money is spent).
  5. What arrangements will the builder make for your safety and convenience as works proceed.

If your contractor will not supply a contract, consider drawing up one yourself.

Consider suitable forms of standard contract - examples of which can be found at:

JCT (Joints Contracts Tribunal) Building Contract for home owner/ occupier, which can be obtained from:
Construction Industry Publications
Email: sales@cip-books.com
Telephone: 0870 078 4400
Address: c/o BTB Mailflight Ltd, 2B Viking Industrial Estate, Hudson Road, Bedford MK41 0QB
Fax: 0870 078 4401

  • Agree, at the beginning, to withhold a final payment until you are fully satisfied the works are complete and the Local Authority Building Control Surveyor has issued the required Completion Certificate.

  • Ask about insurance - make sure your builder has up-to-date public liability insurance.

  • Never let your contractor start works without checking with the Local Authority Planning and Building Control that all necessary approvals have been obtained. Also ensure that all conditions imposed on the Planning and Building Regulation approvals are addressed before work commences.

  • Finally, ensure you obtain your Local Authority Completion Certificate, which will be required for any future house sale.

What do I do if things go wrong?

  • Complain: give your contractor a chance to put things right. If you are still unhappy, put it in writing with a resolution deadline.

  • Consider withholding payments - but check the contract you have with the contractor.

  • Keep a diary recording all telephone calls, conversations and events. Take photographs of any work you are unhappy with, recording the time and date taken.

  • Get advice - speak to the Trading Standards Department, Citizens' Advice Bureau, consult a solicitor, engage a Chartered Building Surveyor, or other suitably qualified professional person.

  • If the contractor is a member of a trade association, speak to them, they may offer an arbitration scheme.

  • Speak to your Building Control Surveyor, who may be able to assist on health and safety issues.

Useful contacts

  • NFB (National Federation of Builders) offer free advice, leaflets and builder-finding service.
    Telephone: 0345 057 8160
    Website: www.builders.org.uk/find-a-builder

  • The Federation of Master Builders offer free advice, leaflets and builder-finding service.
    Telephone: 020 7025 2900
    Website: www.fmb.org.uk

  • Trust Mark - Consult Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) for members near you.
    Website at www.trustmark.org.uk/
    Email: info@trustmark.org.uk
    Telephone: 01344 666 104