/ Home & Energy

Don’t be haunted by nightmare builders

According to our recent survey, more than a quarter of Which? members who used a builder in the last year had problems. And when they got a tradesperson in to fix them, the average cost was a whopping £532.

I personally wasn’t surprised by this. I know lots of people who’ve had building nightmares. At the mild end of the scale, some people experienced poor finishing – wonky tiling and windows painted shut, for example. At the extreme end of the scale, the wrong interior wall was knocked down – thankfully not a load-bearing one.

When things go wrong…

Unfortunately we can’t all have cowboy-builder-hunter Dominic Littlewood hiding in a van outside our house, ready to pounce if things do go wrong.

But there are simple things we can all do to deal with building traumas – and avoid them in the first place. We’ve uncovered the five most common problems that customers experience and have asked our Which? Legal Service lawyers for expert advice on how to solve them.

1. Timing issues: To avoid timing issues, such as work starting late or over-running, either include timings in your contract, or agree them with your builder, in writing if possible.

2. Cost more than original quote: Agree a fixed price wherever the extent of the work can be determined in advance, and ask what rates you’ll be charged for work that can’t be priced.

3. Poor quality job: Picking a good trader is key. But the Supply of Goods and Services Act says that all building work must be carried out with reasonable care and skill, with materials of satisfactory quality that are fit for purpose.

4. Rubbish left behind: Agree at the start – preferably in writing – who is responsible for getting rid of rubbish.

5. Poor communication: Make sure you’ve got more than one way to reach your builder – preferably phone number and address – and remind them that services must be supplied within a reasonable amount of time under the Supply of Goods and Services Act.

It’s not all bad news for builders

Despite numerous people experiencing problems along the way, clearly there are many good builders out there. Which? members who’ve used one in the last year were actually pretty satisfied overall with the builder they chose.

Builders got an impressive 82% customer satisfaction score, which when put against the other sectors we looked at is very good (utility companies got a dismal 47%).

My top tips are: make sure you offer your builder plenty of tea and biscuits – the small things in life can make a big difference too! I’d also say that it’s a good idea to know your rights from the start – get as much agreed up front and in writing if possible, to avoid too much debate later down the line. Have you got any tips of your own to avoid building pitfalls?

Brian Mitchell says:
8 January 2017

As a former apprenticed electrician, heating engineer and public school buildings maintenance engineerfrom 1959 to the early 70s , when we all had pride in our work and couldn’t be dishonest; it has been my recent unfortunate experience that NHBC, FMB and others are just clubs for cowboys – get a bucket and trowel, references (from your sister in law, grandmother and that nice lady up the road), and pay the subs and you’re a professional and can put their logo on your paperwork and van. Most are either incompetent or dishonest. I have also learned not to go anywhere near a new build from maybe late 1970s.