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Over the course of our “Big Builds Week”, we shared advice for both homeowners and tradesmen on how to manage bigger projects. Today, we’re going to share advice about working with builders featuring Sarah Graham, from Cranleigh in Surrey, who used MyBuilder to revamp her old-fashioned two-bed bungalow. The job was completed by Dale Cochran, who specialises in extensions, restorations and refurbishments, and loft conversions.

working with your builder

Sarah’s refurbishment spanned the entire house: she wanted to add a flat-roofed extension, re-model the bathroom, convert the dining room into a third bedroom, and install a wide deck that would border the back of the house. Sarah wanted an open-plan home that was well-lit and would have a contemporary aesthetic. Going a step beyond just initially communicating her vision to him, she worked closely with Dale throughout the course of the project. To push the project as close to the open-plan and well-lit ideal that Sarah wanted, Dale installed oak bi-fold doors that opened the house onto the deck, and a roof lantern over the kitchen that flooded the interior with natural light.

how to make your home well lit

Dale has been using MyBuilder since 2009. His love for working on extensions and refurbishments began when he was traveling in Australia, where many of the houses are single-story, making him the perfect person for Sarah’s job. His advice for other homeowners looking to refurbish older properties is:

- Don’t write off bungalows as retirement properties, they can make fabulous family spaces.
- Adding clever details like the oak bi-fold doors and lantern light can open the property up to a different market sector.
- Involve your builder early on, it will save money and time in the end.

Sarah’s project was not a short one: it lasted from January until June, probably because the project met its fair share of inevitable challenges along the way. Here are some lessons both she and Dale learned about being flexible with a big build project.

Nature will interfere

challenges of building an extension

Her house was built on clay, which got heavy and waterlogged over the course of a wet winter. But Dale stuck to schedule and went right ahead, even though the excavations for the extension footings kept filling with water. The shell of the extension was eventually completed by March.

Plan ahead but prepare for surprises

getting planning permission

Dale was involved in the planning process too, even though Sarah had hired a technical architect. At first, they didn’t think they needed planning permission because the work fell within permitted regulations. But they had missed the fact that a small extension had been built on to the bungalow previously, which left the new extension outside permitted square footage. Not to mention, when they submitted their plans in the end, they found that the flat roof in the was larger than the planning authority allowed.

You may need to go above your budget

budget for a big build

Sarah’s house is deep with long corridors, which is why it was having well-lit rooms was such priority for her. Dale decided that they replace the originally-proposed French windows that would open onto the garden from the kitchen with floor-to-ceiling bi-fold doors which would allow more light. They also decided against using a PVC skylight as planned, going for a more expensive aluminium and reflective glass lantern light. Both these features pushed Sarah over her original budget, but she was comfortable with these changes because they ended up distinguishing the house from other bungalows of a similar type.

In the end, this project worked because of the extensive communication between Sarah and Dale and the way they collaborated from start to finish. What’s your big build story? Share it with us in the comments below.

And if you’re looking to hire for a big build that has yet to be completed, find the perfect tradesman in your area by posting your job!


Read Related articles here: What type of tradesman should I use?

As business grows, many tradesmen make use of subcontractors to tackle bigger projects. But with your own reputation on the line, it’s easy to be reluctant to allow other people on your job. MyBuilder spoke to some tradesmen to find out the steps they take to ensure continued growth while keeping their reputation intact.

What are your views on subcontracting? Please leave your advice below.


Trust is key

Finding the right subcontractor is all about trust; you need to know they are a professional who can complete the work in a timely and efficient manner. A lot of subcontracting work becomes available because it requires skills outside of your knowledge. For example, we often hear from carpenters who move into bathroom fitting, but need to employ a plumber and electrician to complete the project.

Sometimes you won’t be able to judge the quality of someone with a different trade from you. Employing someone just because they seem knowledgeable isn’t enough. You need to be sure they will reflect positively on you. You could say you are in a similar position to a customer when they hire a tradesman.

Finding the right subcontractors

Recommendation is a great start, but not always possible. Neil from NMW Building Services has two sons in the trade, so he’s confident of their skills. While he is in a fortunate position, you might not be able to judge the competency of someone you’ve met during the course of your travels.

Even if you know someone pretty well, it doesn’t hurt to ask them for qualifications. You know how important specialist knowledge is, especially for certifiable trades like electrical or gas work. The last thing you want is a gas cooker installed by somebody who isn’t Gas Safe!

You can also ask for references. This is something we recommend homeowners do. Anyone worth their salt will be only too happy to show off their previous work. While this may feel a bit uncomfortable, remember that you will ultimately be responsible for any job they do for you.


Working together

Once the subcontractor is onboard make sure they know the ground rules. Do you hoover the house at the end of the day? They should know that. What’s the rules for using the loo? Enforce your rules in a tough but fair manner. Kerry Chapman, a MyBuilder roofer, operates a refereeing system. Two yellow cards or a straight red and his subbies are off the job.

You also need to keep up your communication with the homeowner. They want one key point of contact and that’s likely to be you. Too many cooks can derail a project so any projects decisions should be agreed between yourself and the homeowner. If a subbie wants to make changes, make sure you know about them beforehand.

It’s often the case that a plumber who has come in to help with the kitchen then gets asked to do additional work down the line. You need to make clear that you are not responsible for any ongoing relationship after your project is completed. That’s if you are happy for this to happen at all.

Use MyBuilder

Finally, if you want some extra peace of mind why not hire through MyBuilder? A lot of tradesmen use the site because they trust the review system and enjoy the ability to leave feedback. MyBuilder tradesman Jack O’Riordan says, “I wouldn’t want to use someone from the yellow pages because it could make me look bad. If I use someone off MyBuilder there is accountability.”

There are many potential upsides to branching out into project work. More variation and the stability of long-term projects are just some of them. But bigger jobs come with bigger responsibility. Make sure you are confident with everybody who is working on your project. You never know, you might make a few new friends!

We’d really like to hear you experience of working with subcontractors. What are your tips for a good working relationship? 


Read Related articles here: Finding the Right Builder

Neil of NMW Building Services has been a member of MyBuilder since 2012. Since then he has won 30+ large jobs including extensions, loft conversions, garage conversions as well as lots of smaller kitchen and roofing jobs.

Originally from from the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, Neil moved down to London when he was 20 years old as he found all the work was down here. “I got my apprenticeship and came down to London for work.” He told us.

Since starting out he’s had his own business, and has even built ten houses on his own from scratch in Scotland – which he says people down south often don’t believe!

Both his sons now work for him. “My youngest one started at Christmas and then the older one, a month ago. The younger one starts college in September for a three year plumbing course but will still work for me.”

We visited Neil and his sons on a garage conversion job in Sidcup. He was finishing up and it was looking good. Neil won the work because he had done a smaller job for the customer a while back. It was a mechanics garage and they decided to go full force with an extension after being impressed with the job Neil did previously.


Using MyBuilder for bigger jobs

“We’ve done quite a few big jobs through MyBuilder. I’ve done one garage conversion. I’ve had four or five extensions so it’s been good for me.”.

“I’ve even been given a £100 voucher to go to Chapter 1 in Farnborough from a homeowner on the site who was over the moon with the work I did for him.”

I asked him if he still takes on the smaller jobs. He said he feels it’s important to still do them even when you’re doing the big ones. Neil still does the occasional cat flap!

“The small jobs still count. You build relationships and trust with customers. You never know what other work they might want down the line.”

“Our customers keep coming back, so we’re obviously doing something right.” he exclaimed.


How has the building game changed over the last few years?

Before MyBuilder most of Neil’s work was through word of mouth and recommendations, he had never done any advertising. He decided to get online as it’s how people find builders these days he thinks. Especially as the competition in London is rising.

“Two years ago we knew who all the builders were, you’d see their vans on the road, but now there’s hundreds of brand new vans plastered with whatever name and you think ‘where’s he popped up from?’.”

Luckily for Neil, the competition doesn’t faze him. Despite a dry spell earlier in the year, Neil’s years of experience coupled with his new internet presence have bagged him an extension job to last the rest of the year.


What would you say your top tip to win a job is?

“We will always offer advice to a customer about an extension or larger job.” said Neil.

A lot of builders are not happy to have long conversations about the homeowners needs of a job before they’ve spoken to planning permission or the council, but Neil sees that as part of his job to educate and inform the customer. It works for him, as he says they often go with him.

“I also write a very detailed quote at the beginning of every job. I price everything myself so it’s listed out where all the money goes from start to finish. From footings to the initial build, costs are broken down to the last screw. It takes me roughly two weeks to price a big job for a quote. There is a lot of work involved, but if you do it properly and honestly, you won’t lose money. The customer will not be surprised with any hidden costs later on which can cause distrust. A homeowner just wants to know where their money is going.”


How did you find the start of MyBuilder?

Neil did a couple of smaller jobs at first but was soon winning the big ones.

I asked him if he was happy with his spend on the site “You get your money back. Every extension on My Builder is £25-£30 so by the time you go and see it and price it, it’s costing you £200-£300 in time, but you still get it back. It’s just part of the deal.”

He feels strongly that pricing in the middle works for him. If you go in too low people wonder why, but homeowners usually choose a tradesman who has priced in the middle range.


Advice to other tradesmen?

“Be on time. Keep the sites clean, keep the customer happy and you can’t go wrong.”

Neil also completed a Hero Project on MyBuilder where he fixed a roof for free. She had a hole in her ceiling – he told us “you could see the moon through it!”. He believes it pays in the long run to go the extra mile for people and do something nice every now and again.

Congratulations to Neil and we hope he continues to build many extensions through the site!

If you’d like to hire a tradesman like Neil, post a job on MyBuilder today.


Read related articles here:
Hiring a tradesperson for a big build
D.L.Builders – David Lowndes is July’s tradesmen of the month

While we usually hear of great results from homeowners, there are times where a building disaster can strike. The fact is; the bigger the job, the more chance of problems during the project. Frustratingly, the reasons are usually simple: miscommunication, timekeeping issues or basic aftercare.

We met with Neil of NMW Building Services, a trusted extension builder of 30 years, to ask his advice on making sure big jobs run smoothly. I also caught up with our customer service team to share their experience of avoiding a building disaster.


Contract and thorough quote

Before any work begins, make sure you create a written contract at the beginning of every job, signed by both parties.

Technically, verbal agreements are legally binding. But if something goes wrong later on down the line, it’s impossible to prove what was said. To save any conflicting opinions, make sure you follow up any verbal agreements in writing. This way you can be assured that both parties are aware of what you both agreed from the start.

Neil gets his contracts drawn up through the Federation of Master Builders which includes guarantees. “It protects the customer and it also protects me if they don’t pay up. It’s there for both of us.”

Neil also explained his process regarding quotes “I write a very detailed quote at the beginning of every job. I price everything myself so it’s listed where all the money goes from start to finish. From footings to the final build, costs are broken down to the last screw. It takes me roughly two weeks to price a big job for a quote, there is a lot of work involved. But if you do it properly and honestly, you won’t lose money. The customer will not be surprised with any hidden costs later on which can cause distrust.”

He told us that some builders tend to hide or add on costs once the job is won. You can end up losing money as a tradesman if you don’t calculate a job properly at the beginning. As well as causing friction with the customer by adding fees, a tradesman can end up screwing themselves over financially.



Always let a customer know if you’re running late. People are generally understanding as long as communication is kept open. If you tell a customer you are coming back, give them a date and a time. Don’t be too vague as this can cause confusion on the homeowner’s part.

Huw from our service team recently spoke to a homeowner who said the tradesman told him “he would be back”. A week passed and he hadn’t returned. The customer thought he had bailed. When we contacted the tradesman he said he was on another job for a week and was planning to return the week after. Clearer communication could have prevented bad will.


Site diary

Neil keeps a site diary documenting what he has done at the end of every day to let the homeowner know what has happened. Even a once a week round up is useful and the customer will appreciate the effort and organisation. It’s also good written proof of the project’s progress.


Communication and honesty

However you are communicating, ensure important responses have been received. If emailing, ask for a response by way of acknowledgement. Take advantage of communications through the MyBuilder messaging system, if it goes through the site there is solid proof of who said what and it is clear what messages have been sent or received.

“If you’re honest at the start with your breakdown and contract then you won’t hit the customer with hidden extras. Resentment and distrust begins to form if you do this. It’s always best to be completely honest.”

Working on a large project, it’s likely that at some point one of you will have a bad day. If there’s a heated situation, stay calm and if in real life – walk away. If it’s through email or phone, don’t respond hastily – sit on your response for a while and be rational about the situation.



it’s essential to keep receipts for everything, especially materials bought for the job. Copies of any receipts should be given to the homeowner.

Our customer service team recently heard a conflicting story of whether a homeowner had paid a tradesman £5000. When we asked the homeowner why they had no receipt they said they “couldn’t find a pen”. This situation could have been easily avoided if a simple receipt was asked for and written out. Without proof it’s one word against another.


Payment schedule

It is a good idea to create a payment schedule. Set out the work that the customer should expect to be done before each payment. While all tradesmen are different, Neil says he doesn’t take his first payment until the footings are laid. The remaining payments are then staged.

Cash flow can be an issue for smaller businesses. Asking the customer to pay for materials upfront is a possibility. It can also make them feel at ease with parting with money further down the line.


Decent aftercare is part and parcel of completing bigger jobs, you can’t ignore a customer 6 months down the line. To a customer, dealing with any snags is part of the service. When finishing a job Neil told us he leaves £500 from the last payment with the customer.

“We collect it after 3 months. If there’s a crack in a wall or whatever, there is £500 to go and fix it basically. It just means the client has peace of mind, knowing that if anything goes wrong there is £500 sitting there. Providing everything is fine, and usually it is, after three months they pay up and that’s it. That’s our guarantee.”

If you’ve been reluctant in the past, we hope these tips help give you the confidence to take on bigger jobs. Already well experienced in the bigger trades? We would love it if you shared your advice in the comments below.

If you are looking for to hire a local tradesman to take on a big build simply post a job here!


Read related articles here:
Working with builders
Hiring a tradesman for a big build

Building a home is a lifelong process, because our needs change in conjunction with our lives. These reasons for change differ from person to person, but the process to bring about that change is surprisingly similar.

If you’re thinking of building an extension or converting your loft, remember that the process is a long one, full of logistics, full of expenses. But if you keep some things in mind as you begin planning a big build, your project should progress successfully.

building an extensionAre you ready?

A big build will take months to complete, even if specified otherwise. If your project is a new build or extension, you will need to hire an architect and a project manager, and if it’s a loft or general conversion, you may need to hire a structural engineer. Finding these people takes a while and once you do, you’ll need to invest time in communicating your vision to them.

It’s generally advised not to skimp on hiring an architect or draftsman to help you plan your build. As Justin Upton, a loft conversion specialist from Phoenix Construction and PM Services, shares:

“Not many builders would be overly confident in providing you with a fixed price for the work if there is insufficient information on the drawing. I have tried time and again to explain to potential customers that a little extra spent in the early stages will save money in the long run.”

After you have a plan drawn up, you may need to apply for planning permission, which will involve filling out an application that takes up to eight weeks to process. After you get approval, you will need to check that your proposed build complies with building regulations, a separate process that comes with its own fee and an officer coming to your home in stages to check up on the project.

All this work is just pre-production. Once the build kicks off, you may have to rearrange furniture and adjust your schedule to accommodate the work that will be going on. Make sure that you’re at a point where you’re absolutely ready to put in the time and energy a big build requires. If you work full-time, consider taking a couple of days off, or speaking to your employer about taking time away from the office in case you want to periodically check in on your home. Make sure you’ll be in the country and if not, make arrangements to have someone else on call.

In short, think carefully about your life schedule. If you have a lot of other things going on, consider postponing the big build, as going forward with it right away might stress you out.

getting your loft converted

Talk to your neighbours

You should inform your neighbours of your project before it commences. You don’t necessarily have to seek their permission for noise or for something else that might physically affect them, but different councils have different rules. Make sure you check what is and isn’t appropriate etiquette in your area. Either way, it never hurts to be considerate!

On that note, be thoughtful when designing your project. If you’re building an extension, for example, have you considered that it might block the light to your neighbour’s patio? It’s not just the noise of your project that may upset your neighbours—they may not appreciate the way your structural changes affect them. Think things through carefully, and give them a chance to approve your plan once you’ve decided what it’s going to be.

No such thing as too much information!

There’s a lot you can do before hiring a builder to make sure that they are right. Most builders on our site have plenty of feedback from previous customers. These reviews are detailed and there completely for your benefit! Read them carefully and try hiring a builder who has received reviews for work similar to the project that you want done.

Once you’ve shortlisted builders and are in touch with them ask for the contact information of their recent customers so that you can contact them for references. Ask for pictures and if they are willing and live nearby, pay them an in-person visit. Evidence of a builder’s previous work is the best way to see what their standards really are. After that, double check any accreditations listed, ask for proof of address, check bankruptcy records, insolvency records, and/or for CCJs. Set up a time to talk to all your shortlisted builders: share your questions and if their answers aren’t satisfying, reevaluate their competency for the job.

new builds

Know what you want—and communicate those expectations

When you’re hiring a builder for a big project, make sure you visualise what you want the finished project to look like. Do you want windows? Do you want spotlights? Communicate this to your builder before hiring them, so that they know what your expectations are. Many builders will complete the structural work for you, leaving you to hire window-fitters and electricians once the basic work is complete. You need to decide, together with your builder, what you would like them to complete. If they’re going to see your project through from start to finish, ask them who they subcontract and what their process of hiring these subcontractors is.

Another reason to be careful when communicating at the beginning, is because if you don’t mention the little things you want tweaked until later, they can charge extra. You can end up paying a lot more this way without realising it. Our tradesman of the month, Neil of NMW Building Services, an extension builder of 30 years, shares how miscommunications in the beginning of the building process can be super frustrating for builders later on:

“Many builders tend to do extensions but don’t include everything in it. If a homeowner asks for skirting, but if skirting isn’t on the original quote then it’s an extra cost. That’s when things fall apart for us, because the client thought everything they wanted was in the original quote, whereas for us that’s not the case. Some builders that have cheaper quotes don’t include skirtings and architraves and that sort of stuff. They may be doing this just so their potential customer thinks they’re cheap and so they can win the job. But then all those extra costs pop up later. It’s always best to clarify what the quote actually includes before making a hire.”

Draw up a payment contract

Always ask for a fixed quote rather than an estimate before you hire and as Neil mentioned above, beware of quotes that are too low. After that, draw up a payment contract so that neither you nor your builder are under any illusions. Try to avoid paying a large deposit and arrange instead to make payments in instalments. If your builder is going to purchase the materials required for the job, make sure to ask for receipts. Most importantly, make sure you keep the relationship professional at all times.

Prepare for an epilogue

Some of the most frequently asked questions we get for the big project categories on our Ask a Tradesman forum are from homeowners after their projects have been completed. Sometimes a loft conversion done in summer might prove to be too cold in winter, or a new build might develop the odd hairline crack. It’s worth talking to your builder about potential after effects of your build and to prepare yourself for these.

Are you looking to hire for a big project? Find a local builder here!


Read related articles here:
How to avoid disaster on a building job

We recently announced the winner of our garden makeover competition. We don’t usually get to watch tradesmen go about their jobs, but for this time the MyBuilder team got to be flies on the wall as a life-changing garden transformation unfolded. Here’s what we learned.

Before landscaper Chris Gilbert started digging up the garden that we transformed for Nicola Machin, he drew a picture of what he wanted it to look like. As a former illustrator, he enjoyed visualising the completed project, treating the garden like an unfinished sketch that he would paint in with dirt and grass.

Garden makeover plan from our landscape gardener Chris

The plan that Chris drew for Nicola

Most people don’t realise how much creative energy tradesmen spend before going about the jobs they get hired to do. With Nicola, Chris knew that he had to design a garden that would be accessible for her daughter, Ellie. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus and epilepsy, wheelchair-bound Ellie needed a garden that would make playing outside as easy and enjoyable as possible. Since Nicola is a single mother with two daughters, the garden had to be simple and self-sustaining, nothing that would require expensive or time-intensive upkeep. With this in mind, Chris came up with a garden that had ramps and evenly placed slabs over which Ellie could easily wheel herself around. Because Ellie loves planting seeds and flowers, he placed raised planters so that she could garden comfortably from her chair.

Transforming your garden with a makeover

Nicola’s garden from start to finish

After the process kicked off, Chris adapted as he went. The original deck he drew was supposed to be elevated, with ramps on either side. But as he started working on the garden and interacting with Ellie, he realised that it would be easier for her to navigate a deck that was level with the rest of the garden. Identifying and responding to the needs of a homeowner is the key difference between a good and great tradesman. Watching tradesmen get invested in the lives of the homeowners they work with is one of the reasons we love running the competitions that we do.

Andrew Greenhill, who worked on Jon Mason’s (2013’s competition winner) garden, gave his project the kind of attention and care that Chris gave his. Since Jon had difficulty walking after suffering from a stroke, Andrew made sure the garden was easy to move around in. But because Jon loves to garden, he laid foundations that Jon would be able to develop himself. He also promised to check in on Jon from time to time, giving him tips and advice about how to continue growing his garden.

There’s so much that you can’t learn about a homeowner from a written job brief. It’s only when you enter their home and speak to them that you begin to understand what their needs and wants are. Another reason we love working closely with Chris and Andrew was that we got to see firsthand the small and crucial ways in which home improvement can impact someone’s life.

Planting seeds in your garden

Ellie and Nicola planting seeds in their new garden

Nicola told us that despite how much Ellie loves to play and socialise outside, she can’t always do so. After all, the local park doesn’t have a playground that is accessible for children with disabilities. And whenever the family gets invited to go to barbecues they have to decline, because their friends’ homes aren’t disability-accessible either. Now that her own garden is no longer the unkempt jungle that it once was, Nicola can start hosting her own parties. It will be the first time that Ellie can interact with other children within her own home and, hopefully, the first time that she’s not singled out.

Do you have a home improvement story that left an impact on your life? Share it with us in the comments below.