Look for a builder who will work with the building standards surveyor, and understands the building standards system. Make sure these services are included in the estimates you agree, and that all the necessary paperwork is in place.
Before work starts
Contact Planning and Building Standards to check what permissions are needed. If your home is listed or you live in a conservation area, check if there are restrictions on what changes you can make.
Ask builders about their other customers - good professionals will be happy to give these references.
Make sure you have a proper contact, not just a mobile phone number. Find out if they are members of any trade organisation and check their membership at the following sites:
Budgeting, quotes and specifications
Make a list of everything you would like to have included - this will help when you ask for quotations.
Get several written quotes - be cautious of low quotes or builders who can start immediately, or work on a cash basis. Compare these item by item - not just by the overall cost. Check that VAT is included in the final cost. Set aside some money for unexpected problems. Include costs for labour and parts in your overall budget.
Agree who will be responsible for purchasing items and making sure they arrive on time. If you do need to purchase items, shop around.
Contracts and agreements
Check who is expected to carry out the legal requirements (you or your builder). Draw up a written contract with an agreed timetable. You can use the Federation of Master Builders' free contract.
Clarify what you consider to be the end of the project. Make this clear at the start and put this in writing.
Take out insurance before work begins.
Hiring a trader
If you are hiring someone you haven't worked with before, the following may help:
- be prepared - look for a trader well in advance of when you'd like the project to start
- ask friends, relations, or neighbours to recommend a tradesperson who has worked for them
- ask trade associations and organisations for a list of members in your area
- ask your chosen firms to give you a written quotation (that is a firm price rather than an estimate)
- make sure the quotation includes VAT; also check if there is a call out charge, and how much you would have to pay
- get a firm date for starting and finishing the job
- get details of the work or the contract in writing
- have a relative, friend or neighbour there to support you
Remember that you have a right to cancel, and that the trader needs to give notice of this right before work begins.
Ask the tradesperson for his/her name, address and telephone number.
What not to do
- don't be pressurised into having work done on the spot by someone who knocks on your door - take time to think and ask them to call back later
- don't pay money in advance, if possible - even if you have decided to pay in stages, pay only for work that has been done
- don't make the final payment until you are completely satisfied with the job
Good communication with your builder is vital.
Explain your ideas. Meet regularly to discuss progress. If you're unhappy with the work, talk to the main person, not just a team member or subcontractor.
To ensure that building projects run smoothly:
- agree a single point of contact
- have regular on-site meetings
- raise issues as they arise
- check that you are paying for the work that has been completed
- check that Building Standards has signed off key stages of the work (these are identified as part of the warrant approval)
As work is drawing to a close, review your notes on what you agreed would be considered the end of the project. Be clear about when you need to make the final payment and what it covers. Keep a list of items that are outstanding to form your snag list.
After the work is done
If you feel that the work has not been done to a satisfactory quality, you have a right to withhold a reasonable amount of money until problems are put right. If the trader appears reluctant to talk to you, seek advice from Citizens Advice.