Top five problems with builders revealedWhich? reveals common problems and how to fix them

16 June 2012

More than a quarter of Which? members who have used a builder in the last year experienced problems - here we reveal the top five.

We asked Which? members to tell us about the problems they had experienced when using a builder.

Watch our free video to see the top five problems Which? members experienced, plus expert advice from Which? Legal Service lawyer Joanne Lezemore on how to cope with them:


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Video transcript

Getting building work done can be really quite difficult. If things go wrong it can be very costly and it can be quite personal with the builder being in your house. In fact it's the second most complained about category of all to Consumer Direct in 2011. Sixty five thousand complaints across the year.

Second only to second hand cars. We asked Which? members who used a builder in the last year to tell us about the problems they had. 850 told us about all the issues they'd encountered. And here are the top five with advice from Which? Legal Service lawyer Joanne Lezemore, about what you can do to get yourself out of trouble.

First, at number five: poor communication. When you have a builder working for you, most of them are very proud of the work they do. And if there's a problem they want to put it right. Far too often, what happens is people may see things are going wrong. Don't say something and then may say it when the job is complete or when it's a mammoth task to put it right.

Speak to your builders. Always try and keep a good relationship. Be open and honest. So if there is a problem, tell them what the problem is. Also be clear about what you want them to do about the problem and how you want them to put it right. If you're unfortunate enough to find that you're in a position where you've only got a telephone number or you've only got a name and you're having trouble communicating or getting hold your builder, contact your local trading standards.

Because very often your local trading standards officer may be able to contact them on your behalf and then force them to contact you or at least force them to give you all of their contact details.

At 4, rubbish being left behind.

It's not implied into a building contract that rubbish will be taken away, so what you want to do is find out who is going to be responsible for the rubbish. And even if the builder is going to be responsible for the rubbish, depending on the size of the work, find out how they're going to actually dispose off the rubbish.

Will is be a skip on your drive, or in the roadway, or is it something you're going to have to be looking at for three weeks before it's actually disposed off. At three, a poor quality job.

Tell the builder clearly, this is the problem, this is what I expect and get them to confirm in writing, preferably, how they're going to put it right, when they're going to put it right. What you don't want to do is, if you see things are going wrong, allow it to continue, and then find that you've got a huge dispute at the end.

The other thing is, especially if you're having some sort of stage payments in a contract. If you're not happy at a specific stage, don't pay it. The worst thing you can do is pay someone by way of cheque, and then try cancelling the cheque later, it can cause huge problems, not only because it would be deemed you accepted the work, its also very hard to defend in court a cancelled cheque.

At two: the cost was more than the original quote.

There's two things here. First, before even going into the contract make sure that you've got written down by way of quote all of the work that is going to be undertaken and how much that is going to cost. The reality is that there is not much difference between an estimate and a quote, but generally it's deemed a quote is a fixed price this is how much it is going to be.

An estimate gives you a rough idea so it can go up, so always try to get the quote.

And at number one the most commonly
experienced problem - timing issues. Jobs taking longer than planned, work starting later than planned, jobs not being completed on time. First of all this is something that even from the outset that there's two things.

One, you need to be realistic of how long things are going to take. But also you need to find out from your builder how long something is going to take and actually have it within the quote that the work will be completed within a certain amount of time. And what you can do, even at the outset or during the contract is do something that we call making time of the essence.

In other words, saying to your builder, "You've had so many weeks, you told me it was going to be this amount of time. It's reasonable for you complete in another two, I'm going to make time is of the essence, and if you don't complete it at that time, you're going to be in breach of contract."

So those are the top five problems Which members have experienced.
But there are other very important things to look out for.

Never make payment up front.
It's ok and it's acceptable to agree to stage payment. This is a relationship built on trust and the builder has to to trust that you're going to pay him as much as you're trusting that he's doing the work. Stage payments should be set out clearly in writing as to the amount of the payment and what is to be completed within that time and always make sure that there's sufficient amount at the end to cover any snagging works.

Verbal contracts have been going on for hundreds of years.
The problem is, if there's a dispute and you're asking a judge to decide, he or she has only got the evidence in front of them and one word against the other.

Therefore you should always try and get a contract with your builder. The contract should set out all of the work going to be carried out, the price, when payment should be, and any other core terms. Make sure you've had the opportunity to read those terms before you actually agree to them. If things start going wrong, the first thing consumers need to do is sit down and discuss things with the builder where you can.

And don't ever think that just because you're unhappy you can say to the builder, like that's it, go away, I don't want the work completed, because then you may find that you're in breach of contract.

When doing your research, head to Which? Local, where you can read reviews of hundreds of builders posted by Which? members. Or to get expert legal advice go to :

As well as Which? Local and Which? Legal Service, you can get more information and advice on how to use builders and other trade people from

Top five problems with builders 

The top five problems that Which? members experienced when using a builder (Which? Connect survey of 5,028 members, April 2012) are:

  • Timing issues
  • Work cost more than original quote
  • Poor quality job
  • Rubbish was left behind
  • Poor communication

When things went wrong and members had to pay to get them fixed, our survey found the average cost was £532. So it's no surprise that Consumer Direct had nearly 65,000 complaints about home improvements in 2011. The only sector that got more complaints was second-hand car sales. 

Which? members can read the full article in the July 2012 issue from the Which? magazine archive.

Typical building costs

We asked building industry expert Roger Bisby to help us define a list of common building jobs. These range from the large to the small - from a new conservatory to repairing cracks in a wall. 

We then asked builders from our member recommendations site Which? Local to provide typical prices for these jobs. You can find the full list of prices in our guide to tradespeople costs. 

The full article 'How to avoid building nightmares' will be published in the August issue of Which? magazine next week. If you're not a Which? member, you can sign up for a trial for £1.

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