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Case Study - How to get on with your builder

Case Study - How to get on with your builder

If you are about to embark on an extension, loft conversion or general building project, it will be important to create a good relationship between you and your chosen builder.  You will be working together as a team.  A good relationship will help to bring about a good result with your project.  A bad relationship is unlikely to have a good outcome.

General tips are as follows:

Who are they?

Before you start, make sure you know who you are talking to.  If your builder is a relatively well-known local company then fine, but if not, the first thing to ask for is identification. 

Finding reliable builders

Ask them to show you their driver’s licence which will have their picture and their address.  Otherwise ask to see a passport and a recent utility bill to confirm their address. 

Look out for fraudsters

It is unlikely that you will be dealing with any fraudsters but always be wary.

Before you start, get it in writing

Don’t expect to get a signed contract that covers everything.  However, make sure you do get a written agreement of what you want and a spreadsheet showing a detailed breakdown of cost estimates.  Are you going for a fixed price contract or are you going to work on an estimate basis?  There are advantages and disadvantages with both.  Make sure that you understand what type of agreement you are going for.

Learn everyone’s name

Once builders and contractors start turning up on site, make sure you learn their names and always address them on a first name basis.  If you think you are not very good at learning names then you need to address this.  It is not difficult. 

Working with Builders

When you first meet these people, ask them their names and write it down.  Then learn each name.  If you want to have a successful project,  learning people’s names is the most important thing to do.  This should be your highest priority.

Tea and Coffee

Make sure that it is easy for the builders to get their cups of tea and coffee.  My builders had their own kettle and cups.  Each night I would give their cups a good wash and in the morning I would put out some milk in a cold box for them.  On hot days I bought fruit juice and kept it cool for them.

Something goes missing

A building site tends to get fairly chaotic and occasionally things will go missing.  If you find something has gone missing, make sure you do not say anything to any of the builders or contractors that might give them the impression that you think they have stolen it.  It is very unlikely that they will steal anything.  If they think that you think they are thieves, then you are not going to have a very good relationship.  Don’t allow a misunderstanding like this to occur.   If something of yours does goes missing you can be fairly certain that it will turn up later.

Clean up everyday

Consider cleaning up as much as you can.  Cleaning up is one less job for the builders and it is never top of the list of things that they want to do.  If you clean up regularly the builders will see that you like to have things just right and they will probably keep this in mind while they make progress with their work.

Talk to the builders regularly

While my house extension project was underway, I was very lucky to be there the whole time as I was working from home.  Every few hours I would make a point of getting up and speaking to the builders.  I would not be progressing their work.  Instead I would just ask how it was coming along and I would ask if there was anything I could help them with. 

Getting on with builders

On quite a few occasions we would get into a discussion about different ways that things could be done.  There might be a quick way that would be the lowest cost but there might be an opportunity to spend a bit more time (and money) but get a better outcome.  I could then let them know my preference and the builder could then get on with it.


During the project you will probably find that lots of your friends visit and have a look around.  If the builders are present, make sure you introduce everyone.

Express your gratitude

All the way through the build I made a point of letting all the builders and contractors know how much I appreciated their good work.  These were all skilled people and their work was always to a high standard.  Never treat anyone as though they are a second class citizen.  Always treat them as an equal.  And most of all, keep in mind that people always work better if they know they are appreciated.

Reliable Builders

Over ordering building supplies

It is impossible to predict exactly how much materials will need to be ordered for a project.  You will find towards the end of the project that you have a pile of various unused materials sitting on your lawn.  Some unused bricks, roof-tiles, cement bags etc.  This is normal.  Do not make a big issue of it.

Make Recommendations

If your builders are doing a good job, make sure you recommend them to any of your friends who might be looking for a builder in the future. 

Trusting Builders

All builders need to be continually looking for their next work.  If you can help them, they will be very grateful.  If they are listed on any websites, make sure you give them good feedback.

Always pay instantly

All builders will have had a few bad experiences of disorganised customers who were slow to pay their bills.  They will probably also have had a few bills that remained unpaid.  It is very important that you quickly develop a feeling of trust between you and your builder.  Being late to make a payment is possibly the worst thing you can ever do.  For materials delivered and for work completed, always pay the invoice instantly.  Do not wait 30 days.

Finding good builders

Avoid paying for things in advance

Some builders will ask for large advance payments, saying that they have to pay the suppliers and the workers.  You should avoid getting into this situation.  It is not a good idea to part with money when you have not yet received what it is that you are buying.  Make sure payment terms are understood and agreed before you appoint a builder.  In general avoid appointing a builder if he is expecting large upfront payments.

Article written by JJ Heath-Caldwell