How to choose a builder

7 min read

Published 28 Aug 2020

 

A photo of some building work in progress on a kitchen.
acro props holding up the house during the Contemporary Copper Kitchen Remodel

So, you’ve been thinking about making some changes to your home and have talked it over (endlessly) with anyone who’ll listen. You know how you’d like the end result to look, you’ve got your finances in place and you just need someone to make all your dreams a reality. Time to sit back and let someone else take control now, right? Sadly, no. You need to find a good builder who understands your vision, your wishlist and can make it all happen on time and on budget (or as close as possible). In the world of renovations, getting the right builder is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. There are three major topics to consider when searching for the best team to turn your ideas into reality.

#1 - TIME

A photo of a walnut clock on a sage green wall.

Begin searching for trades well in advance of any work starting. It takes time to find a good builder and they are usually booked up with lots of projects in the pipeline, so be prepared for the process to take time, and that you’ll probably have to wait for them to be available.

Recommendations are the best way to find a builder or tradesperson, as you can ask the person recommending them all the questions you really need answers to, like - do they clean up after themselves? If you don’t have a strong recommendation from someone you trust who will tell you the truth, ask the builder if you can go and see their past work. Be aware that this might take some time for the builder to arrange as understandably some past clients might not want strangers tramping through their homes. Again, allow enough time for this in your schedule.

Be aware that once the work has started, timeframes will slip for all sorts of reasons (not always the fault of the builder - these days materials can be in short supply or it might be that they’re waiting for a decision from you on which colour grout you’d like). Work can often take longer than expected, and even with the best plans in the world, there can be issues which no-one could have foreseen, such as the walls being so wonky that a lot of prep is needed before they can be tiled on. My advice would be not to add to the pressure on yourself by trying to get it done for a specific deadline like Christmas or a family party. And don’t do the classic ‘Grand Designs’ move of starting building work and then getting pregnant.

#2 - PLAN

A set of construction plans for a bathroom.

A good first step is to make sure you discuss your plans in detail with your spouse/partner/others living in the home before you invite a builder to quote, so you can be as clear as possible with your needs/wants and make sure you all agree. The last thing you want is to have a ‘discussion’ with your other half about whether to knock a wall down in front of the builder - it’s a waste of everyone’s time and will make it more difficult for your builder to navigate what you actually want. 

Make a detailed plan of the work you’d like to be done before presenting it to the builder for a quote. Include everything you can think of, with as much detail as possible, as the more detail you include, the more accurate your quote will be. Try to think of all those little things like light switches and sockets and the style you’d like - there’s a big difference in price between the bog standard white ones and screwless flat plate chrome ones with USB ports.

Don’t assume the builder will understand what you have in mind - say ‘oak staircase’ and you can bet that everyone comes up with a different image. You might want sleek oak treads with simple square spindles, and the builder might be imagining an oak handrail with glass balustrade. There will be a price difference, so it will affect the quote, plus you won’t get the finished look you want. I’d suggest you gather some pictures together which you can show the builder when discussing the work. It will really help them to see what you’re after and will help them to quote more accurately.

Whilst we’re discussing differences in style, not all builders will know about everything that’s currently on trend or will know how to do everything that you’re asking for. It’s not a builder’s job to stay on top of current home trends (although some do) and they will more than likely offer you style solutions which their previous customers have asked for. Try to do some research into what’s involved in getting the look you want, so that you know what you’re asking your builder to do. Some things will require more thought or planning, such as deciding not to add skirting boards to your newly plastered walls, so make sure that you have a builder who is willing to explore ideas and won’t give you a flat ‘no’. 

#3 - BUDGET

An excerpt from a budget spreadsheet.

 

So, onto the really tricky bit - money. How much will it all cost? A good start would be to ask around your friends and family to see what similar work has cost them in the recent past (it’s no good comparing work which was done ten years ago). Try to get three quotes from three builders so you can compare them, even if this takes some time. You need to get a detailed written quote from the builders so that you can compare each quote like for like, and remember to ask about things like the cost of rubbish removal, who will decorate the finished walls, will they clean the property during and after the work, and how will your belongings be protected when the builder’s team are working. 

That said, builders will usually give you a ballpark figure at the first meeting, as they are often quoting several jobs at once and not all of them will materialise into actual paid work. If you’re happy with the general ball park figure and are considering hiring them, then arrange another meeting for a more detailed quote and discuss specifics.

You might have decided to get a loan or borrow against the value of your home to fund your design dreams. This can sometimes cause a problem - you can only borrow so much or the loan amount will be dictated by the level of repayments you’re comfortable making, so that’s how you set your budget. It’s a completely understandable way of doing things, but if it doesn’t take into account the actual cost of the work you want to do, then it’s not very helpful. This is another reason for being very specific with your plans before asking for quotes for the work.

Once you have your quotes, if it starts looking like you can’t actually stretch to that completely glazed extension you’re dreaming of, then it’s time to either find more money or scale back the project, and there might be some hard decisions to make. It’s worth remembering at this stage that it’s essential to allow 10-20% of your budget for extras and unforeseen costs, so that you don’t run out of funds midway through the project.

When it comes to finally choosing your builder, it might sound obvious, but don’t just opt for the one with the cheapest quote. Choose the builder whose work you like, who you feel you can communicate well with and whose quote is the most detailed, as that will set your project up to run more smoothly. It’s also important to ask about how any extra work or materials will be charged for (including any additional labour). You need to agree with your builder that these things will be discussed with you before they are done, as they will be added to the final bill.

One final word on money - remember to discuss payment terms before starting the work. Most builders will need a deposit to pay for materials up front and will usually want payment in stages depending on the size of the project. Agree with your builder that there will be one final payment to be made after the work is completed to make sure that you are happy with everything and that those finishing touches are done properly.

Of course, you could always hire an interior designer to take care of all the planning and hassle for you, but I think that might be another blog post...

The kitchen when the building work was finished.
the finished Contemporary Copper Kitchen (from the same angle as the first pic)

 

Welcome to my design blog, where you'll see posts about anything from my current interiors obsession, to the latest fabric and wallpaper collections, and 'how to' guides for all things interiors related. I love colour and pattern, architecture and old buildings, and I especially love the moment when you see something so beautiful it makes you take a sharp intake of breath. Happy reading, and if you have any questions, or would like to chat about anything interiors related, please use the contact form to get in touch. Thank you, Louise

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