How to avoid disaster on a big building job

bigbuild 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

1 Comment

  1. Nicely laid out sound advice. The above is basic common sense and a good discipline.
    It's a practise that I think we all carry out, but verbally. Writing it down and reporting it using the notes as a reference shows a level of professionalism and dare that I'd like to aspire to.

    Chris Reeves
    Handyman Hero Kingston

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