I’m a construction expert – here’s how to spot if a cowboy builder is ripping you off | The Sun

COWBOY builders can easily turn a dream project into a nightmare – ruining your construction plans and eating up your treasured budget.

With botched work costing Brits £1,600 extra on average per job, it's more important than ever to know the red flags of a shifty merchant – so you can save yourself a lot of hassle as well as money.

There are a few key things to look out for to make sure you aren't being ripped off by a dodgy workman.

Michael Holmes, a property expert for the London Homebuilding & Renovating Show, which takes place Sept 30-Oct 2, has revealed how to spot a cowboy builder and ensure that your renovation hopes aren't ruined.

If it seems too good to be true – it probably is

Everybody loves finding a bargain – but when it comes to building projects, having some scepticism can help you avoid a dodgy deal.

"You’re right to be suspicious if they’re too cheap or too available" said Michael.

"Reputable builders are usually booked months in advance and charge according to the value of their work and expertise."

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Usually, you'll need to cover the cost for any design work and of any deposit agreed in the contract terms up front.

Then the payment for the rest of the project is made in stages.

"These will come at regular intervals – weekly, fortnightly, or monthly depending on the scale and duration of the project," said Michael.

"If they also request a large downpayment, know that this is not normal practice."

Do your research

Putting your property desires in the hands of someone you don't know can be daunting – and doing your own due diligence could make or break the project.

"Check the builders’ recent credentials, previous projects and recommendations" said Michael.

There are some critical questions you should be asking before pulling the trigger:  Is their business fully registered? Do they have satisfied clients that can vouch for them? Do they have an online presence?

You should ask to see the Contractor's Insurance Policy Certificate – and ensure they carry sufficient cover for your project.

"Established builders would look after all these aspects," added Michael.

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Put it in writing

For a cowboy builder, the lack of a solid contract is an ideal situation – allowing them to skimp out on costs, dispute deadlines and argue over price.

"Be sure to put everything in writing and sign a building contract" warned Michael.

This could be a simple contract designed for homeowners to administer, or a more formal one such as those offered by JCT (Joint Contracts Tribunal) if you have a professional contract administrator representing your interests.

Michael said the most important details to make sure you include in any contract are:

  • How much the project will cost
  • When it should be completed
  • What the work entails
  • A retention only released after the project is completed and all defects corrected

Michael added: "Make sure you inform your home insurer about the works and adjust your insurance accordingly."

If you are moving out or building a new home, you can also take out your own additional self-build or renovation insurance to be fully covered for damage to the building works and site risks such as employer's liability and public liability.

What to do if you fall foul of a cowboy builder?

Unfortunately, tales of rogue traders are all too common and many homeowners are left out of pocket and with a big mess or dodgy work left behind.

We have previously looked at how to spot a dodgy tradesman – and revealed Britain's rogue trader hotspots.

If a rogue trader comes to your home offering to carry out work, you can phone 101 to report them.

If you've fallen victim to one, you can report them to Trading Standards. Citizens' Advice has an online form to help you do this.

Trading Standards will decide whether to investigate based on the information you give. Even if it doesn't, it may keep the details you've provided in case others complain about the same company in the future.

You could also try taking the firm to a small claims court if you've been left out of pocket, but you run the risk of being left with the court costs if this doesn't go in your favour.

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