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Guidelines to get tough on cowboy builders

Follow checklist when developing your property


A builder and architect at a construction site

If working from home, make sure your business premises are clearly defined

Tough guidelines produced by Which? on how to develop your property should see cowboy builders run out of town.

With the property renovation market still booming, it can take from several weeks to a year or more to find a contractor who is available and has a good reputation.

That gives dishonest traders a real chance to take advantage of those who just can’t wait to get started.

The latest Which? essential guide Develop Your Property includes a list of questions that people should ask up front and advises that if a worker refuses to answer any of them, they should not be employed.


These include:

  • What qualifications have you got?
  • Are you a member of a professional organisation – if so, which one?
  • Can you provide a detailed quote for the work in writing, breaking down labour and material costs?
  • Can you supply three references of recent work and can I visit them with you?

If a builder can answer these satisfactorily, the next step on the ladder is to get estimates and quotes, such as a breakdown of major materials and labour charges, and then organise contracts including a recommended contingency plan with an agreement that workmen should check before they spend any money over the agreed amount.

Get a contract

The essential guide says that this is the one area where most jobs go wrong – because neither party takes the time to agree who does what, when and for how much.

Contracts are legal documents and are a good way of ensuring that things go smoothly.

Ideally, customers should get a contract checked out by a solicitor. It may cost a few hundred pounds, but for those spending thousands on renovations, it’s a small price to pay.

Kate Faulkner, author of Develop Your Property, said: ‘Disreputable builders can fool the smartest people. Often they are charming, enthusiastic and appear credible. The real conmen will also claim to be members of organisations, assuming this will not be checked, and some even produce fake ID.

‘Cowboys have been known to take the money and run before they’ve finished a job, or produce such poor quality work that it costs a fortune to get it fixed. So it’s worth taking the time to make sure you get one of the good guys.’

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