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Appointing a builder

Cowboy builders are legendary. Stories abound of construction nightmares like a three-day job that took six months to complete. There is no comfort in being victimized in this way; one way of avoiding the cowboy builder is to do it yourself. However, if the job is beyond your own ‘do it yourself’ capabilities then you can use some simple project management techniques to employ a competent builder who will do a good job at a competitive price.

Find two or three builders who agree to your terms and then send them your tender package. Shop around for the right ones; you need a builder who is appropriate for your project. Try to see a sample of the builder’s work. Ask for references to check the quality of past work before making a decision. Talk to people who have used a builder you are considering. Don’t forget to ask, was the work completed on time? Were there any unexpected costs? Were the builders punctual and tidy? These things add up to a job well done.

Find out if the builder has the right experience, not all builders are competent at everything and are they available to begin when you want. Will they agree to staged payments for work satisfactorily completed, with the final payment paid after the work is properly finished? Will they itemize the invoice so you can see exactly what you are paying for? Will they accept a clause for failure to complete the work on time? Will they agree to independent arbitration should there be dispute? Get these answers in writing.

After you have done your homework and have the names of two or three potential builders then you should send them your tender documents. As you are expecting things to be put in writing, you should, in turn, put in writing what you want quoted. This will ensure that everybody gets the same information and when you compare the quotes you will be confident that they are quoting ‘like for like.’

When you have accepted a quote from a builder then put it in writing and formalize the contract with a start and end date. Include the expectations of builder performance, behaviour and noise on site, how the builder will be paid and what monies will be held back.

Rarely pay for work in advance. If there is a problem, you are unlikely to get your money back. A deposit to cover the cost of materials can be negotiated. Be wary of doing business with anyone who knocks on your door and tells you they are working in your area and has noticed that your roof or any other exterior part of your home needs urgent attention. They are unlikely to be legitimate.

Using sound project management techniques can greatly reduce your risk of failure, disappointment and extra costs incurred by the cowboy builder who looks to corral and hog-tie whatever he can.

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By Chris Potter

Chris is the owner and founder of Chris Potter Associates. He is a highly experienced construction professional with experience as a contractor and consultant quantity surveyor and project manager in the UK and Caribbean construction markets.

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London. N1 7GU

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