Simple guide for hiring a Builder for your home improvement project – for RecommendAsian


I have recently noticed the volume of posts on Facebook regarding negative experiences with a variety of builders. I wanted to help protect the PA network when any of you are considering carrying out works be they major or minor but are unsure of where to start and what to prioritise.

1. Have an initial plan for your works: Architects plans will make your vision easier to follow by your builder and their related parties. The more detail, the better the guidance for them will be. It will demonstrate that you mean business and will not settle for any shoddy substandard work. This will also give you a baseline indication of what costs will be needed. It would also be wise at this stage check whether any part of your works will need planning permission from your local authority and get applying for them as soon as possible.

2. Have a timeline for your works: Whether it’s a new bathroom or extensive renovation of parts of your home, make sure that you fix a time period that you want to job completed by. Extensive works will potentially require you and your family to stay off the premises as water/electricity and gas may have to be turned off and it may be unsafe for elderly or young children to be there during this time. So make the necessary arrangements to avoid any issues during the project.

3. “To Project Manage or not to Project Manage”?: Depending on the scope & depth of your planned works, it may be wise to engage a Project Manager to oversee the project and typically this may cost you 10-15% of the overall budget. Bear in mind, there will be aspects of the project that are contingent on you depending on how much autonomy/control you wish to hand to your builder. So if orders you make are late or do not arrive at all, the delays will mount up and result in missed deadlines.

4. Get multiple quotations: Contact a minimum of 3 builders (more if you have the time). Contrary to anyone telling you the cheapest is the best, this is a lie. You get what you pay for and taking the lowest quote will potentially cost you more in the long run. In order compare quotes, ask each builder to break down the cost of materials, labour, margins and other sundry expenses. Materials typically account for 40% of the total cost; the rest covers overheads and the typical profit margin, which is 15 to 20%.

5. Meet with the builder before any commitment to the job: Based on any phone calls or referrals, select your shortlist to meet for estimates and any further discussion. A builder should be able to answer your questions satisfactorily and in a manner that puts your mind at ease. NEVER AGREE TO ANY WORKS AT THIS STAGE. Also ask whether the builder will be using their own team or subcontracting out the work to a 3rd party, as this will have to be detailed in the contract you draw up.

6. Reference and validate your builder/contractor: This is a key factor in ensuring that you make the right decision on your project. It’s the difference between a work of art and a drawn out, stressful court case.

Ensure you check any qualifications they claim to have, do not take their or any one else’s word for it unless you can validate them. Same goes for any public liability insurances that they claim to have, this insurance will protect the builder against injury or death of 3rd party persons, or damage to third party property, from incidents arising relating to the building works. In a nutshell: CHECK ALL PAPERWORK IS IN ORDER & SIGNED BEFORE WORKS COMMENCE.

7. Arrange a schedule of payments: Never, under ANY circumstances pay for the work until it is fully completed, and you are satisfied with it. If you pay a builder beforehand, they have no incentive to finish the work and you potentially leave yourself at risk of the project dragging on for much longer especially if the builder is on other jobs. If you are asked for a high or unreasonable amount upfront, politely decline and seek another contractor who won’t demand this.

8. Get a contract agreed in writing: Have a document drawn up that details every step of the project: payment schedules; proof of liability insurance; a start date and projected completion date & any specific materials and products to be used (whether you or they supply them). The contract should agree on staged payments to the builder and make sure you obtain stamped/signed receipts whether you pay by cash, credit card or cheque.

9. Have a ‘retention’ clause: If you are planning a large project you can normally include a retention as part of the contract. This basically allows a small percentage of the building costs that you retain during your staged payments and end up releasing at the end of the project or a few months afterwards.

This percentage is often around 2.5 to 5% (dependent on value of the works) and will cover you on minor issues that may need sorting once the main building works have been completed. This could be anything from faulty electrics to resolving substandard finishing.

10. Check the final results before settling any balance at the end of the project:
With the proper diligence up front you need not worry about this. When you engage an experienced and reputable builder and pay a reasonable price on time, then you will not have to stress over this. My advice is work with your builder to ensure that they have all they need to complete works efficiently, to a high standard. You are a team and the success of your project depends on both of you communicating at every stage of the process.

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