How to Find a Builder You Can Trust

Updated on January 21, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I write about employment issues, ways to earn money and how to get best value when spending it.

Do you trust your builder?
Do you trust your builder? | Source

Improving Your Home is a Big Project

Undertaking a large home improvement project can be scary. It’s a lot of money to spend and for most people the skills involved are out of their comfort zone. They have to rely on professionals to price the job and tell them exactly how much work is involved. Unfortunately, there are many conmen out there, ready, willing and able to take advantage of innocent and vulnerable citizens. These tricksters inflate the work schedule, exaggerate the cost of materials and put obstacles in the way of completing the job.

How to Find the Right Builder

1. Ask friends and family for recommendations.
2. A good builder is a busy builder – be prepared to wait.
3. See what tradesmen are working in your neighborhood.
4. Ask for references and follow them up.
5. Check registration with building trade bodies.
6. Get a detailed written quote.
7. Agree payment schedule and penalties for delayed completion.

Tips on Where to Find a Reliable Builder

1. Get Recommendations

If you ask the right questions, friends and family will share their experience of a particular builder. The key questions you should ask (and hopefully get some honest answers) are as follows.

  • Would they recommend this tradesman? If not, there’s no need for any further questions, go find another builder!
  • Was the standard of work as expected? Is the finished job to a high standard?
  • While work was in progress, did the workmen tidy up at the end of each shift? Were they polite?
  • Were there any unexpected and unexplained delays to the work?
  • Was the quote comprehensive and accurate, or were there lots of additional extra costs?
  • Was payment made at appropriate points in the job or was money demanded upfront?

2. Be Prepared to Wait for the Right Builder

A question often asked when it comes to choosing the right tradesman for a project; is it best to wait for your 1st choice to become available, or should you get the work done now by someone else? There’s no easy answer to this dilemma.

A good builder is busy because he has many satisfied customers. You know that he completes a quality job. My view is that it’s worth waiting for the right person to carry out the job as you will be living with his workmanship for many years to come. However you may be under pressure to get the work done quickly. If so, make sure you’ve covered all the other points listed in this article to regarding finding a reliable tradesperson.

The video below talks about the issues you need to think about when choosing a builder. Think about what you are asking your builder to achieve. Is it a high quality build, cost no object, or are you constrained by a limited budget? Consider your timeline expectations, do you need to have the work completed by a particular date? These are factors that will affect your final choice of tradesman.

What to Look For When Choosing a Tradesman

Are you happy with your builder?

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3. Look Around Your Neighborhood

When you’re driving around or walking in your local area, keep your eyes open for any work that your neighbors are having done. Most builders have their trading name painted on their van or they will place a board with their company name outside the property they’re working on.

It’s polite to speak to the homeowner first and ask them if you may have a word with the workmen. Ask the foreman for a business card and mention to him the type of work you are wanting a quote on. Notice whether the other workers are concentrating on the job or whether they’re fooling around and not taking their work seriously. If you like what you see, you can follow up with a phone call to the boss to arrange for a visit to quote for your job.

4. Follow Up References

A reputable builder will be able to give you a reference. They won't mind you asking for one, but make sure you follow this up by contacting the referee. Fraudsters may give a random name and address hoping you won't check it out. (They know that most people don’t bother.) Ask the referee if you can visit them to see the standard of workmanship on the completed job.

Qualified electrician installing a wall socket.
Qualified electrician installing a wall socket. | Source

5. Check Membership of Building Trade Bodies

Some builders display logos on their website to indicate they are members of expert trade bodies. Often these memberships require a tradesman to have demonstrated specialist technical competency linked to legal safety standards. These are in trades such as gas installation or electrical installation. Because of their value, fraudsters may pretend to be a member of these organizations when they are not. You should always check with the trade body’s website that a builder who claims to be member is still registered with them.

In the US, electricians and gas installation engineers are licenced on a state by state basis. The Better Business Bureau has full details (

In the UK, the regulatory trade body for electrical contractors is NICEIC ( It is a legal requirement for gas safety installers to be registered with Gas Safe (

6. Get Everything in Writing

You may not see the need to get a detailed written quote as you have chosen a great guy to do the work. What could possibly go wrong? You may be right, but you may not! Having workmen on site for weeks is a stressful experience and can lead to frayed tempers and misunderstandings. It’s better to get details clear when both parties are calm and are in a cooperative mood.

The biggest disagreements arise over what should be paid and when. So, you should agree a payment schedule before the work starts. You also need to set out what penalties will be imposed if there are unreasonable delays to the job being completed.

Useful checklist from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
Useful checklist from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). | Source

* Don't get into a routine of making them tea and coffee. And don't feed them, either.

* Establish which bits of the house you don't want them to go into. If that means a Portaloo, so be it - you can always use it too.

* Every time you pay them money, write the amount on a piece of paper and get them to sign for it.

* Get their mobile phone number and ring it the moment they don't arrive at the promised time.

* Don't buy them seasonal gifts. It just encourages them to extend the job.

— "How to Treat Your Builder" The Independent (UK newspaper)

Are You a Reliable Customer?

It’s easy for a customer to get frustrated at bad service. Untidy workmen, appointments not kept, work done badly, the list is endless. But have you ever put yourself in the shoes of your builder? Many of them are small traders. They rely on the money they receive from this job to tide them over until the next one. Your payment will pay for the raw materials to complete their next job. Their available credit may be small and then … … they have a nightmare customer. Someone who picks fault with everything or who pays late or (even worse) doesn’t pay at all.

The video below shows what happened when one UK builder lost his cool. His awkward customer was refusing to pay for work done, so he took a sledge-hammer to the site and retrieved as much of the building materials as he could. At least that way, he said, he could reuse them for a customer who’d be willing to pay for his work.

Builder Demolishes His Work After Pay Dispute With Homeowner


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