When I was a trainee architect, I remember bemoaning the difficulty of knowing if the contractor you’re working with is cutting corners. It’s a common fear, especially if you’re not experienced enough to know what you should be looking out for. The concept of the dodgy builder is so ingrained in our collective conscious that it’s an easy assumption to jump to, justified or not.
The architect I was complaining to told me I was lucky; when he was starting out, in the post-war building industry, materials were so scarce he found contractors trying to pass black-painted newspaper off as damp proof course!
Fortunately we’ve never had that experience. The contractors we’ve worked with have all been very professional, but if reality TV is anything to go by, the cowboy builder is alive and kicking to some extent.
Feedback from the contractors we’ve worked with highlight this bad image as a barrier to good relations with their clients.
“Having suspicious clients that are mistrustful from the outset can set a difficult working relationship for the entirety of the project…Creating a successful team means having a trust and respect for the people you’re working with.” - George, GJ Design & Build
A recent report by the Federation of Master Builders suggests that this bad image is damaging the industry as a whole and they want to do something about it. Their solution is to launch a licensing programme for all types of construction work carried out by contractors large or small.
“Licensing the UK construction industry would provide a means of barring and removing from the industry those who are shown to be incompetent or who undermine standards as a matter of course. Licensing would provide a much higher level of assurance to consumers and improve quality and safety.” - Licence to build, A pathway to licencing UK construction, July 2018 FMB
“Creating a successful team means having a trust and respect for the people you’re working with.”
Over 70% of small businesses surveyed for the report felt that a licensing scheme would lead to better quality and professionalism and we have to agree. For the sake of homeowners who have been duped by incompetent or criminal builders, and for the hard working contractors who are wrongly placed under suspicion, this would be a positive step forward.
However, even if the industry agrees this is the right way forward the idea will need a bill in parliament which may be some years ahead. In the meantime, what steps can home renovators take to ensure they’re working with a good contractor?
1. Check a Trade Association
Check if they are part of a trade association such as the National Federation of Builders (NFB) or Federation of Master Builders (FMB). Members are professionally vetted and independently inspected on joining and can offer a warranty on their work. Both associations offer a find a builder service where you can also check if the builder you’d like to use is a member.
2. Check they are Trust Mark Registered
Trust Mark is the only Government-endorsed scheme for trades in and around the home. It awards voluntarily registered firms with Trust Mark accreditation after thorough vetting and on-site inspections to ensure the firm is raising industry standards. Its three cornerstones of quality for registered businesses include good trading practices, good customer service, and technical competence.
3. Use personal recommendations
A friend or relative that can give you an honest account of working with a contractor and forewarn you of their strengths and weaknesses will set you in good stead for working on site.
4. Ask for References
Make sure you ask for references and see example projects. If being shown around a property make sure you speak with the owners to get feedback on their experience of working with the contractor in question. A good looking project isn’t worth the stress if the contractor was difficult to work with!
5. Check Past Reviews
Check reviews on online platforms such as Trust a Trade, Houzz, or Which. Do your homework and be aware that not all reviews may be legitimate.
6. Check Companies House
If you’ve found a contractor you’d like to work with check with Companies House that they are who they say they are. Here you can also carry out a Web Check to check their financial history; each document costs £1 and will let you know if they have recently been in financial trouble.
Finally, rest assured that rogue traders are the exception. A little care and these simple checks can help you to avoid the cowboys and choose the right builder for you and your project.