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Construction Workers Looking at Roof

How to choose the right builder

Knowing where to find a builder is one thing, but how can you be certain that the builders you find are the right ones for your project? Choosing the right builder can be one of the most critical decisions in any project as they will be responsible for delivering it smoothly, safely and importantly; on time and on budget.

If yours is a commercial building project, whether an extension or fit out, then it is important to select a building company with experience of commercial building services. This is because commercial building projects are subject to a range of additional legal requirements and paperwork which a domestic builder may not be familiar with but which you will ultimately be responsible for! Builders with commercial backgrounds will be experienced in preparing the broad range of necessary paperwork and be able to provide the additional management required. However, the right builder will not necessarily need experience in your specific sector as long as you have employed a competent designer to put together a full detailed package of drawings and specifications providing all the information needed.

Home extensions are altogether much simpler construction projects to manage but can be very intricate and will require a builder that is understanding and aware of the home owners requirements and wishes whilst being able to carry out building services in a safe and professional manner.

One of the best ways to ensure that a building company is appropriate is to check their previous projects to see if they have experience carrying out construction work similar to what you need. You will need to ensure that the builders you shortlist are of a suitable size and scale to be able to deal with the services you need. A small home extension can easily be undertaken by a small sole trading builder whilst a new build development may be better suited to a larger sized building company. Work on larger developments such as large infrastructure projects will require the services of the largest building companies and developments including work on tall buildings or specialist projects will benefit from suitably experienced specialist contractors.

In other words, just because you already know a builder, this does not necessarily mean that they will be an appropriate choice for your project. If you have an architect or designer dealing with your project then they should be able to help with recommendations and to assess the suitability of a range of builders.

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How to avoid building disputes

Translating designs from paper can be a difficult task and lengthy process. There are lots of opportunities for grand and expensive mistakes, especially for the in-experienced. If your designs are not down on paper then it becomes almost impossible for your builder to translate exactly what you want and a building dispute is almost bound to arise at some point during construction.

Building disputes can occur for a number of reasons, such as building over-runs, fluctuations in price and disagreements over quality. However, most building disputes occur as a result of mis-communication with the builder. It is important to be absolutely clear on what you want from the builder and that the builder makes it clear exactly what is being built. Having full plans and details prepared for a building company will ensure they know exactly is expected. Disputes may be raised from neighbours too, normally around the working times or practices of your builders. Some local authorities, or legal agreements, set restrictions on when building work can be executed so be sure builders are fully aware of things they can and cannot do.

It is well worth appointing experienced building professionals to help mediate contracts with builders (such as a Contract Administrator). They will be able to explain the effects that unforeseen building works can have on cost and timescale.

But what should you do if you do have a dispute with your builder? The exact course of action may vary depending on the nature of the dispute but you should always seek advice firstly from a construction professional. They can assess the nature of the dispute and help form a suitable course of action. They will speak to all parties and try to resolve any issues.

Many people are not aware that most building disputes can be resolved without the need to appoint solicitors. The Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act makes provision for a process called ‘Adjudication’ which is often the primary method for resolving building disputes. Adjudication is regulated by a strict timetable that ensures decisions are made quickly, often within 1 month. The process is designed so that building disputes that occur in the middle of a build can be sorted out with minimal impact. Adjudicators are independently appointed officials with experience in the building trade and their decisions are legally binding.

All building contracts should provide provision for either party to seek adjudication. This means that, for example, a home owner can raise a dispute over the quality of work and likewise a builder can raise a dispute over non-payment.

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Builders Association

Entering into a contract with a builder

The purpose of a contract is to protect you and the builder by stating each persons obligations to one another. Any agreement between two parties to execute building works in return for remuneration, whether it is verbal or written, constitutes a contract. Verbal contracts are not recommended, these can be easily misinterpreted and are difficult to prove in a court of law.

Due to the volume of information and the complexities involved in most construction projects it is always advisable to enter into a formal written contract with your builder, this turns a builder into a contractor. Comprehensive design drawings and schedules should form part of the contract documents, as well as a full breakdown of the builders quote. These all help to define exactly what is expected of your builder and represent what you’re paying the contractor for. For commercial projects, such as an extension to your business premises, the contract must also protect your business from any breaches or construction delays.

Many builders will offer to draw up the building contract but you should be aware that they will write it to benefit themselves. There is nothing to stop you taking the time to write up your own contract, but your builder is not duty bound to sign it. There are a range of construction industry standard contracts for different types of building projects so the most effective method is usually to appoint an impartial ‘Contract Administrator’ who can select a fair and unbiased construction contract appropriate to your project and then administer its terms. This ensures that the interests of both parties are protected and will also allow for a degree of flexibility appropriate to the nature of building.

Drawings, details and schedules should all form part of the contract documents. Although these may be designed by an architect or designer they may not themselves be party to the contract. Many designers will offer to work as a Contract Administrator – ensuring the terms of the building contract (and their designs) are followed.

As building works are carried out there is often a need to amend the details of the signed contract, including the drawings etc. these changes are known as ‘Contract Variations’. This could be a request by the builder (i.e. because a particular fitting is no longer available); or by the client (i.e. to add another TV); or as a result of an unforeseeable event or problem (i.e. because ground conditions require foundations to be deeper than expected). Variations can result in fluctuations in cost and completion time so need to be tracked and monitored very carefully.

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Avoiding rogue traders

The key reason for government schemes and the formation of trade associations, such as the National Builders Association, has been to help consumers avoid the risks of inadvertently appointing a “rogue trader”.

Rogue traders may sometimes appear unannounced at your home suggesting that you need your roof looking at, that they spotted cracking on some brickwork or that your chimney is in dire need of re-pointing. Normally, these “builders” will try to identify an area that is difficult for you to see clearly for yourself and present a frightening anecdote of what may happen if you do not take on their building services. In the case of these cold callers the best advice is often to tell them you do not buy services at the door and that you want to get opinions and prices from a range of building companies.

Ensure that builders are happy to communicate in writing. Verbal instructions can be difficult to prove but written conversations provide security and clarity to consumers and builders. Whilst you may not be sending letters to your builder they should be happy to provide you with their address. Any building company not willing to divulge this type of information should be approached with caution. Similarly, avoid any builder that is unable to provide a range of references.

Although not mandatory, builders may be able to show that they are part of the Government-endorsed TrustMark scheme, a quality mark for builders and other repair, maintenance and improvement professionals who are vetted (part of trade associations). Not all trade associations require their builders to be part of this scheme but regardless, a builder who is will display an additional level of professionalism. In either case, at all times you should double check that each builder you shortlist has current and sufficient liability insurance, adequate experience for the scope of your project and is willing to work under a contract with clear payment terms. Any reputable builder will be happy to (and often suggest) working under a contract which protects everyone’s interests and you should be wary of any builder that is unwilling to work under even a basic building contract.

Perhaps the most important rule is when it comes to payment. Never pay the full amount of money in advance of completion of the work, even if you are told the money is required for materials. Instalments are a welcome compromise as some trades and building companies will require a steady flow of income in order to cover business payments to suppliers and sub-contractors. Finally, be wary when a builder asks to be paid only in cash as you have very little protection against loss. Instead consider bank transfers or credit card payments as these offer security, protection and a way to identify who and where money has gone to.