16 Dec 5 questions to ask your builder before instructing them on your refurbishment
Builders are just like any other professionals – there are lovely guys who can’t do enough for you, who employ their experience to keep costs low and their innovative minds to solve any challenges you face along the way in order to give you exactly what you were hoping for, or more. And then there are the other guys, the ones you’d want to avoid, those with far less experience than they’re telling you, who cut corners to boost their profits and who you won’t see for dust after the build has finished because they have no interest in pedestrian things like snag-lists and customer satisfaction.
So, imagine you have one of those two builders standing in front of you now. How can you know which one he/she is? It’s not easy, but it is important because one will do their best to ensure that your home is refurbished to the highest of standards, whereas the other is likely to quote you less, cost you more and leave you in the lurch.
The best way to pick a builder you can trust is to get a recommendation from family or friends, someone they’ve personally used. Next best is if they know somebody else who could recommend a builder they’ve used. But, whether the builder standing in front of you has come by this route or another, the following five questions should always be asked of them to give you that little bit more peace of mind when choosing the right one to refurbish your home.
1. Can I have that quote in writing?
It really does not matter how nice your builder seems, asking for their detailed written quote for your refurbishment work just make sense. It’s partially a trust thing and it’s partially to avoid the risk of misunderstandings which could cost in arguments, strained relationships and money. The first of these is ‘trust’. As we said, there are plenty of ‘the other’ kind of builders out there, happy to quote you a surprisingly low figure to get you hooked with a plan of escalating those costs when unexpected issues are ‘discovered’ on your project. Then there are genuine misunderstandings. These are possible with perfectly honest builders (though any builder worth their salt would automatically provide their quotes in detail and in writing), where a verbal quote is forgotten about, miscommunicated, or you as the client think they meant they’d include something they didn’t intend to. This just causes confusion. Beyond asking for the quote in writing, it’s also important to determine the rigidity of these costs – ask what could result in these costs changing along the way, what the chances are of costs running over (because there are genuine reasons why these might on some jobs), what challenges they expect to face, and will any of these challenge mean there’s a risk that cost will escalate?
2. Can I see your insurance documents?
As someone not in the building trade you might worry about this being too intrusive a question, but don’t. Builders know that they should be fully insured for the work they do, so that any damage they may cause to a property or the people working or living in it (however unlikely that may be) is fully covered. We also know that clients may ask us for this documentation, so we have it with us all the time in one of our vans. Look to make sure that the document is still valid (look at the date), make a note of the insurer and policy number and if you are even the slightest bit worried about how genuine the document is, then feel free to call the insurers and make sure that the policy is valid and active.
3. Do you have any references I can see and speak to?
I’m going to say something a little controversial, but oh so obvious – unscrupulous people make things up. A testimonial is easy to fake, but a good builder will be proud of their work and those they ask to be their testimonials will be satisfied with the homes the builder has created for them and will be more than happy to tell you about it. So, ask your builder for their references and ask to speak to these customers – those conversations could be very enlightening…
4. How long will the work take and how will it disrupt our lives?
In the same way as it’s important to get your quote in writing, it’s also important to get a schedule in writing. Though it is also vital to appreciate that there will always need to be a little reality tolerance attached to it, because things do occasionally take a little longer due to weather conditions, material deliveries and other things out of a builder’s control. However, having a realistic schedule to hand will give you an idea, as the build progresses, whether they are on schedule, an early warning signal if things start to slip without any decent explanation. This schedule will also help you builder to explain when the noisiest, messiest and most disruptive portions of the refurb will take place so you can make suitable arrangements.
5. What guaranties/warranties do you offer?
This is all about peace of mind: how can you be sure of the quality of your builder’s workmanship and their promise to come back should any issues arise? This comes in three stages: 1) their references – have you spoken with them to ask how they were about coming back to deal with snags and issues after the build was over, 2) their commitment to handle latent defects – what do they promise about coming back to deal with cracks as plaster dries or as a result of movement for example, and 3) warranties and guarantees – what do they offer on their work to show both pride in and responsibility for their craftsmanship?