Choosing the right builder for your new home
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When choosing the right new build specialist, there are some key issues you need to think about. In this article, we’ll take you through them step by step.
- Choose someone with lots of specific experience
- Choose someone you’d feel comfortable working with long-term
- Ask where the tradesman is usually based
- Be really clear about your timescale expectations
- Check they are able to self-certify their work
- Get a detailed quote from each tradesman you’re considering
- Ask about each tradesman’s charging structure
- Make sure the tradesman is a member of a new home warranty scheme
- Find out about other professional membership
- Ask who will actually be doing the work
- Check that a tradesman is happy to do follow-up work
- Let’s look at each of these in a bit more depth.
Choose someone with lots of specific experience
First of all, look for a tradesman who has plenty of relevant, recent experience: For example, a specialist who has built several of this type of structure before, using similar materials and to a similar projected timescale.
New build specialist Conor Finegan, of Micon Construction, has been a MyBuilder member since 2009. He emphasises:
The first question I would suggest a homeowner asks is - have you done anything similar before? Because there are a lot of people plugging for jobs who are, for example, painter-decorators - but who also say they do everything from garden fencing to extensions and even new builds. These are the people who haven’t necessarily got the experience - but will still take the work.
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Choose someone you’d feel comfortable working with long-term
As well as reading the feedback on MyBuilder, it’s worth asking to see photos of previous work, and to speak to one or two of a tradesman’s previous customers. That way, you’ll be able to find out what a particular building firm is like to have around on a day-to-day basis, over a fairly long period of time.
This is particularly important with large projects like new build developments, which typically go on for several months. For example, as well as being competent, were they punctual and polite? Did previous customers find that they cleaned up properly after themselves? How well did they resolve unexpected problems or complications? A good building firm should be happy to put you in touch with previous clients.
Ask where the tradesman is usually based
Another factor that becomes particular important on lengthy projects is a tradesman’s location - as Conor explains:
For a complicated project like a new build, you’d want someone reasonably local; you don’t want people coming in from two counties away.
That’s because they’re not going to be as responsive - for example if there’s a problem, or if something happens at the weekend, they’re just not going to be around and it’s going to be harder for them to manage the project effectively.
Be really clear about your timescale expectations
Conor adds that it’s also crucial to make clear any timescale expectations or priorities early on:
It’s worth discussing availability with the tradesman at a really early stage.
If a homeowner wants a project completed before Christmas, for example, the tradesman needs to be able to check all his guys are available to complete the project by the date. It’s really about seeing with your timescale expectations match.
Check they or their team members are able to self-certify their work
By the time you start thinking about hiring a new build specialist, you should already have used a designer (for example an architect and / or a structural engineer) to come up with the plans and ensure they comply with planning and building regulations.
When it comes to getting the work signed off, you don’t need to apply for building regulations approval if you use a tradesman registered on a competent person scheme. An installer (for example, of boilers or windows) who is registered with a scheme can self-certify that their work complies with buildings standards and can deal with building control issues, like objections.
So, ask the tradesman whether they - or their employers/sub-contractors - are able to self-certify their work.
You can check whether a tradesman is on a particular trade scheme on the Competent Person Register.
Get a detailed quote from each tradesman you’re considering
Ask at least three new build specialists to quote on your project, and get each one to provide a detailed written quote with all the costs broken down. It’s important that these documents can be compared like-for-like, and should include costs for all of the following:
- Labour - including the hire of any sub-contractors
- Any extra expenses, like site maintenance and security, temporary toilet facilities for the tradesmen, the removal of waste and the cost of scaffolding hire.
The quote document should also make clear the level of finish the specialist would be providing. For example, will they stop after they’ve built the main ‘shell’ and fitted the doors and windows? Will they be fitting a kitchen and bathroom, including appliances? Or are they offering to take care of absolutely everything, up to and including the final coat of paint?
Ask about each tradesman’s charging structure
Each quote you receive should also clearly explain the payment structure a tradesman would implement. If it doesn’t, make sure they add it to the document in writing, to avoid any confusion or disagreements later.
A reputable tradesman will never expect a customer to pay the full amount for a job upfront. However, a deposit before work begins - typically 25% or less of the total cost - is relatively common. This is particularly the case with big projects like new builds, where the cost of materials can be substantial.
Once work begins, the most common method of payment is an installment plan that sees you paying certain percentages of the total bill after various stages of the job are completed. Stages may typically include after the groundwork has been completed, or before the roof is added.
Other tradesmen may prefer to be paid on either a monthly or weekly basis, to cover their material costs and ensure they can pay subcontractors and employees.
Vasile Ghinda of V Ghinda Builders specialises in building projects in south-east London, and has a fantastic MyBuilder customer feedback score. He explains his approach to charging:
I like to sit down with clients and make a schedule with them, with the timetable of what the build should be like, and a payment schedule to go with it. I like to have the first payment after the foundations are in place. Having it established in advance means it’s fair for the tradesman and the client - everyone knows what to expect.
Never pay the full amount until the work is completed and you’ve inspected it all.
Make sure the tradesman is a member of a new home warranty scheme
You should check that any tradesman you’re considering is a member of one of the several new home warranty schemes that exist in the UK. Conor explains why:
For a new build, you’re going to need a warranty from one of the warranty suppliers. For example, NHBC, CheckMate… there are a few. It’s essential to get that sorted, because you won’t get finance for a new build unless you have a warranty in place.
In that respect the builder you use does need to a member of one of the main warranty-providing bodies - in order to make sure a warranty applies.
Probably the best-known new home warranty scheme is the Buildmark scheme, run by the National House-Building Council (NHBC). The NHBC maintains a register of builders of new houses, and builders on the register must be able to show that they are technically and financially competent and agree to abide by the NHBC Rules and Standards. These cover technical requirements and guidance on practical design, suitable materials and quality of workmanship.
NHBC technical staff examine homes at the design stage and carry out inspections at key stages of construction. The Buildmark scheme covers homes built by NHBC registered builders for ten years once the NHBC has certified them as finished.
Find out about other professional membership
It’s not essential for a new build specialist to be a member of any particular trade body. However, professional membership does indicate they take their profession seriously - particularly if it’s an organisation that requires them to adhere to certain standards - so it’s worth checking.
Some of the main organisations new build specialists might be members of include:
Federation of Master Builders (FMB): The UK’s largest trade association for the construction industry, all members are inspected by the body and expected to uphold standards and follow a code of conduct. There are different levels of membership, with the highest, Build Assure, offering the option of an insurance-backed building work guarantee.
Guild of Builders and Contractors: Members of this body who become a “Trusted Member” have to demonstrate three years of trading with customer and financial referees, and abide by certains standards such as providing written contracts and clear payment plans.
Guild of Master Craftsmen: Covering a variety of trades, each full member is assessed in person by the Guild to ensure they are reaching high standards of work. The Guild also provides a conciliation service for disputes between homeowners and member tradesmen.
National Federation of Builders: Members must provide business and financial references, have public liability insurance and adhere to a code of conduct. Although it does not offer a guarantee against work, it operates a complaint procedure.
Ask who will actually be doing the work
Ask the tradesman who comes to quote on your project who will actually be doing the work. Will he be ultimately responsible for the build, heading up a team of permanent employees? Or will he be subcontracting the work out?
Many good new build specialists subcontract out certain tasks - this is not necessarily a problem. But as Conor emphasises, it’s important you find out the extent to which work will be outsourced - and crucially, who will be taking responsibility if there are any issues:
We’ve got all our own crew - but what we find with other subcontractors is, they take the work but then they sub it out to other crews - and they’re just taking commission on the work. And then, of course, the client isn’t actually dealing with the person they gave the job too.
I can personally vouch for the competence and trustworthiness of everyone working on a job I take on - and I am responsible for sorting out any issues that do arise. There are certain trade areas in which we don’t hire permanent staff; for example electricians. But even then we use the same subcontractors again and again, so we know them and trust them.
Check that a tradesman is happy to do follow-up work
With a large project like a new build, there can be complications and issues which don’t become apparent until after the project is completed and the tradesmen have left the site.
It is, therefore, a good idea to choose a tradesman who specifies that he will be happy to return to the property and resolve any snags that arise in the weeks following the build. Some tradesmen will put this assurance in writing, in the contract they provide you with.
It’s common to arrange a retention payment - typically between about 2% and 5% of the overall cost of the build - which you as the homeowner keep until final sign-off on the project, to ensure the tradesman finishes the job to standard.
Some tradesman are willing to wait up to six months to receive their retention payment (to cover the period during which any post-build complications typically present themselves) so do ask what a tradesman’s attitude to retention payments is.
It’s also a good idea to ask about their attitude to follow-up work and snagging when you’re talking to any previous clients.