12 tips to help you avoid cowboy builders

Andy Stevens / 09 April 2015

Here are 12 tips to help you spot a potential cowboy builder and make sure your building work at home is completed by reputable and professional builders.



Spotting a cowboy builder before deciding not to offer them the job is the best scenario, of course. After all, prevention is better than cure. These 12 warning signs will make it easier to spot the rogues.

1. The builder is in a rush to do the job. While you don't want a builder who deliberately takes a long time to complete a job, neither do you want a builder who is keen to get the job done in a hurry, or who regularly knocks off early during the project.

2. The builder insists on cash payment. A big no-no, which gives you little comeback should the builder fail to complete the work or do an inadequate job.

3. The builder insists on cash up front. You should only pay for services once the job is satisfactorily completed, or in instalments at every stage of the project if agreed in advance - and in writing.

4. The builder gives you a dirt-cheap quote. What may at first seem a tempting, money-saving offer could have a sting in the tale, either with shoddy work or hidden costs further down the line. Remember: you have to pay for quality.

5. The builder fails to offer you a written estimate. When you're spending a significant amount of money, you want to know exactly what you're paying for. And also it gives you the option to shop around for different quotes from other builders.

6. The builder refuses to sign a contract agreement or produce any paperwork. Another bad sign, which gives you no hard copies to fall back on, while leaving you in a weak position legally if things go wrong.

7. The builder refuses to agree or discuss timescale for completion of the building work. A trustworthy professional will have enough experience to know within reason how long a job will take - and share that information with you.

8. The builder is not VAT registered. Another alarm bell - no building company would operate in this way. Sole traders may not be VAT registered if their work does not take them above the threshold for compulsory VAT, but it is unlikely any company taking on large building projects would not be.

9. The builder cannot provide written references. Ask yourself: do they have the necessary professional experience? Or what have they got to hide?

10. The builder has no landline telephone or registered business address. Landlines are less of an issue in this mobile age, but a builder with a registered business address gives you somewhere to contact should things go wrong.

11. The builder is unknown in your area. Should you suspect a cowboy builder, ask around - and ask if anyone has had any work done by the builder, and was it completed to their satisfaction.

12. The builder is ill-prepared for the job. Professional builders will have all the necessary tools and materials to complete their work. A cowboy builder may intend to muddle through with inadequate equipment - so be on your guard.

Looking for a builder? Read our tips for finding a reliable builder

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.