How to Choose a Trustworthy Builder for Your Project

Finding a builder is easy, but finding one with the skills and experience to complete your job without ripping you off is another matter.

Most landlords have had to deal with the mess, incomplete work and disappearance of a rogue trader during a buy-to-let refurbishment.

Our guide explains how to hire a builder, including how to quote for the job, what to include in your contract, how to agree to fair payment terms - and some tips on spotting a rogue.

To put some numbers on the problem, Citizens Advice handles around 50,000 complaints about builders yearly. At the same time, the trade association, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), reckons dodgy builders cost homeowners around £10 billion a year.

Picking a builder

Choosing a reliable builder comes down to looking at their previous recent work and any testimonials from customers.

Many builders have a Facebook or Instagram page with images of their work. Don't forget to check the dates so you are looking at their most recent jobs.

Testimonials are only worthwhile when there are lots of them, as they are easy to manufacture by family and friends. Be wary about stacks of excellent reviews - everyone makes mistakes, and the lack of criticism should trigger an alarm.

If you do follow up on a testimonial, here are some questions to ask:

  • Did they arrive on time?
  • Was the site kept tidy?
  • Who cleared the rubbish?
  • Did the work end on time and to budget?
  • Did they book and manage other trades?
  • Was the job completed to building regulations?

Confirming a builder's qualifications

A builder is not like a lawyer or doctor. There is no formal building qualification and no years of study, and anyone can start a business calling themselves a builder, kitchen fitter, plasterer or tiler.

Ask your builder if they have a Construction Skills Certification Board (CSCS) card. This card shows they have passed a training course but doesn't confirm which skills they possess.

Some tradesmen, such as heating engineers and electricians, need official accreditation to prove their competence, such as heating engineers and electricians.

To try to outlaw the cowboys, numerous trade associations work hard to foster a good image for their members. However, in the end, they are private clubs and often put their members' interests ahead of their customers.

The accreditation process could be better, but it at least gives customers a starting place when choosing a reliable contractor.

Where to look for a builder

Several online offerings and trade associations try to separate the good builders from the bad. Most work similarly - the builder pays to be listed and is vetted by the website. However, vetting is stricter on some sites than on others.

You remain the builder's customer if you source a tradesperson from one of these sites. The website can attempt to intervene if there is a problem but cannot force the builder to put things right.

Here are some of the most popular sites:

  • - A website for homeowners to list their building jobs. Builders fire back quotes, and the customer rates their performance when the work is finished.

Go to the RatedPeople

  • Checkatrade - A website that works in a similar way to Ratedpeople. Search for tradespeople or a quote online.

Go to Checkatrade

  • Federation of Master Builders - A trade association for small and medium-sized building businesses that checks out members before allowing them to join.

Go to the Federation of Master Builders

  • Gas Safe

A national register of engineers qualified to work on gas installations and cannot legally work involving gas if they are not on the list.

Go to Gas Safe


One of several bodies that supervises the competence of electrical businesses and one of the few that allows members to issue electrical safety certificates.       

Go to the NICEIC

  • Trusted Traders - A database of builders managed by Which? Magazine. Onboarding includes a credit search, face-to-face visits and promising to work to a code of conduct.

Go to Trusted Traders

Builders and insurance

Builders do not need special insurance. They can opt for a  voluntary liability policy to cover compensation for injury or damage, but many do not bother.

Ask to see their liability cover before they start work - and phone or email the insurer to confirm the cover.

Rogue builders have been known to apply for cover. They then cancel the policy a few weeks after receiving a cover note or policy certificate so the business appears insured when it's not.

Paying a builder

This is the point where landlords should protect their interests.

Insist on a written contract on headed notepaper that gives the name and address of the business carrying out the work.

The contract should include a work schedule, clauses clearly stating who does what and the cost of the job. You can also add a section about confirming the business is insured.

Generally, the contractor will ask for a deposit - typically 30 per cent of the total cost. Agree to stage payments but retain the final payment 30 days after completion to allow for snagging and clearing the site. Include the cost of materials in the quote.

Watch for scams. Rogue builders set up, and crash limited companies once a customer hands over a large sum of cash. Once this happens, getting money back is impossible.

Trusting a builder

Despite the warnings above, most builders are reliable professionals who complete their work without a problem - it's just the few that give the trade a bad name.

However, this means protecting your property and money when dealing with every builder, no matter how pleasant and efficient they may seem.

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