Choosing builders to work on your property can be a major decision. With the all too familiar TV programs highlighting the pitfalls of employing ‘cowboy builders’ a few simple steps can avoid the misery of employing the wrong firm.

There are a number of reputable building firms in and around the Cheshire region so whether it’s a new build house, extension or simple refurbishment your project shouldn’t be problematic.

Whatever your project, it’s essential that you make as many checks as possible. Here’s a list of some of the questions you may wish to ask:

  • What experience of this sort of work have you got? Can your builder supply three references of recent work and/or can you visit recent projects with him/her? (This helps to ensure that they are the person that worked on that project).
  • Can you provide a detailed quote for the work in writing? Some builders’ quotes can lack detailed information about the work and costs involved. Ideally you should agree a fixed cost upfront. Always agree a contingency plan should there be any problems during the build for unforeseen items and agree variation costs as you proceed.
  • Do you have insurance? Ask to see a copy of your builder’s insurance certificate and check it won’t expire during the time they are working on your project. Insurance cover you will need:
    • public liability insurance in case someone gets hurt on your site;
    • cover in case there is damage to the rest of your property;
    • cover in case the builder goes bust or has an accident;
  • When can you start work? You could get lucky and find a builder who’s had a cancellation and is ready to start in less than two months. However, for good builders, it could be as long as a year. Beware of builders that are ready straight away – this could be a sign of a rogue trader.
  • Do you have insurance-backed guarantees? Your builder should ideally guarantee his or her work for a period of time, and you should get this guarantee in writing. Check whether the builder will come back and do any necessary remedial work if there’s a problem, or if you would have the choice of getting someone else to do it.
  • Can I see your contract or a letter of agreement? You need to agree, by letter, one-page document or formal contract, what work the builder is going do, the payment stages and what happens if there is a dispute. If you do experience problems with your builder, it’s important to give them the chance to put things right.
  • When are payments due? Never pay for all building work upfront. As part of the contract draw up a schedule of payment for each stage of the work with the builder. Ideally, you should agree to release money only when each stage of the work is finished to the specification provided and to your satisfaction.
  • Are you a member of a builder trade organisation? Trader scheme memberships are worth noting – but they are only part of the picture. Organisations that builders may belong to include the Federation of Master Builders, the Guild of Builders and Contractors or the National Federation of Builders. These bodies don’t guarantee good work and are funded by membership fees. However, they can be an indication of a good builder’s credentials. Remember, less reputable builders claim to be members when they aren’t or after their membership has elapsed, so always check whether membership is up to date.

The government’s TrustMark scheme is designed to help the general public avoid cowboy traders. For further details go to