Five questions to ask before hiring your builder

You’ve worked hard to set money aside to improve or extend your home. But before a spade is put in the ground, you need to round up your prospective builders-to-be and ask them some probing questions. These five questions will help you find the right match for you and your project.

Question one to ask your builder: Can they do it?

Ouch! It may sound a little rude, but it's important to get a builder who has done this type of project before. There's no use hiring a contractor who specialises in commercial offices to come and build your zero-carbon dream home! Always ask for references and, if possible, visit past projects that they have completed. Take the time to go and see them and the quality of craftsmanship.

Question two to ask your builder: Do they want to do it?!

No-one likes to turn down work, so it’s important to check that your builder has the capacity for your project. A reluctant contractor at the first meeting never bodes well as it usually means they are already maxed out on current projects.

Ask what else they have on at the moment and try to get an idea of the type of projects they like working on. Are they working on bigger projects and yours would be considerably smaller? If so, they are unlikely to give your project the attention it needs as it won’t be their priority.  

Question three to ask your builder: How is their team set up?

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Try to determine who you can expect to be working on your project. Questions to ask here include: Who will you deal with on a day to day basis? Will there be a foreman or is your builder the main man? Do they employ tradespeople themselves (roofers, plumbers, electricians) or use sub-contractors? Will your builder be working on more than one project at a time? 

These questions are key because you need to feel comfortable with whichever team you go for; depending on the size of the project, they will be in your home for anything from a few months to a year.

Question four to ask your builder: How long do they think it will take?

Builders tend to be wonderfully optimistic about timings at this stage, so if you are moving out during the works and renting another property, make sure you add another month or so to the timeline.

If you are planning to stay in the house during the works, confirm that they are happy for you to do this. Ask how much additional time it will add to the program (it will add time to the program) as this will give you a sense of HOW optimistic your builder is!

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Question five to ask your builder: How do they communicate?

Try to go for a builder whose communication style matches your own; do they check emails on their phone or are they more traditional and like you to call them? When setting up the first meeting, did they respond quickly? This will be a good indicator of how they will communicate during your project.    

You will be speaking to more than one builder (or should be!) so asking the same set of questions will give you a good benchmark to judge them against. And don’t forget to take notes! The essential thing is to find the right builder for you, which may not be the same one your neighbour used, so doing your research upfront will lead to a more successful project in the long run.

Are you about to start work on site with a builder? Read our article Should I stay or should I go about why it might not be the best option to try and ‘live in’ while your house is being extended or improved. 

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