How to hire a builder and other tradespeople

how to hire a builder

Wondering how to hire a builder and other trades? If your answer is “Just go on the apps and choose the first contractor available”, then we have news for you. There are 7 rules you should follow, so are you ready for them? Then let’s go…

Want to know how to hire a builder or another tradesperson? You’re not alone. Getting an excellent trade to work for you can be a tricky task, but we have 7 handy rules for you to follow. They’ll ensure that you’re hiring the best person for the job.

Find a reputable tradesperson

Sure, we all know about the apps and sites available (Rated People and Checkatrade among them), and they can be very useful. But have you heard about the TrustMark scheme? It’s a government-endorsed quality scheme and non-profit which audits and licences tradespeople. TrustMark providers commit to government-approved regulations, so you’re granted greater protection and assurance.

How to hire a builder and other trades through TrustMark? Just go to the Homeowner section of the TrustMark site and type in your postcode and the kind of trade you’re looking for. However, we have noticed that most of the companies have no reviews on the site, which brings us to our next point…

a woman trying to find out how to hire a tradesperson
Check out the TrustMark scheme website to find a reputable licensed tradesperson. Photography: iStock.
Need to hire a builder or another trade? Do your research

Once you’ve found no fewer than three TrustMark-accredited tradespeople or companies you’d consider hiring, it’s time to do your research on them. If they have no reviews on the TrustMark site, check their reviews on Trustpilot and Google Reviews. However, if they still have no reviews, ask them for three references from homeowners who they’ve done work for, and photographic examples from those jobs. If they’re a decent and reputable tradesperson or company, they won’t mind you asking for these. And if they object, then you’ll know you don’t want to hire them.

In addition, not all tradespeople hold qualifications, but electricians should be qualified. So ask to see proof of their qualifications and confirm these with the awards body, if possible.

Lastly, how long have they been going? How much work have they carried out in this time? Do they have a website and social media profile? This is important in establishing whether they’re a fly-by-night operation or not. You don’t want to entrust work on your home to people who could just disappear if problems arise.

a tradesperson wearing a yellow tool belt
Once you’ve found a tradesperson, do your research on them (yellow tool belt optional). Photography: iStock.
Evaluate their quotes

It’s the cast-iron law of These Three Rooms that you should get at least three quotes for any building or renovation work. Don’t just accept a spoken estimate though, make sure the tradesperson provides you with a quote in writing. Then ask: does that amount include VAT? Does it include both labour and materials? And do you accept credit card (preferably) or bank transfers? (We would advise you not to pay in cash. Not only is it unlikely to be declared to HMRC, but you’ll have no proof that you paid the tradesperson should problems arise.)

When you compare the quotes, it’s natural to want to choose the cheapest tradesperson. And clearly, if you don’t have the budget for a high quote, then you can’t use that person or firm (though it’s always worth explaining this and asking for a discount).

However, it’s best to consider every point raised in this feature when deciding who to hire, not just price. It’s better to pay a little more for higher quality work from a reliable and trustworthy tradesperson than less money for the opposite.

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money illustrating that it's best not to pay in cash when you hire a builder
It’s best not to pay in cash, because then there’s usually no hard evidence that you paid. Photography: iStock.
Check they’re insured

Before committing to hire a builder or other tradesperson, check that they hold public liability insurance. That way, if anything goes wrong with the work, you’re covered.

Also check your own home insurance policy, because it’s not just the work itself that’s a consideration. There’s also the chance that your home is at greater risk of a break-in if it’s more accessible or uninhabited while the work takes place.

If you need to take action against the tradesperson, having legal cover is invaluable, so it’s definitely worth adding this optional extra to your policy. Also add legal expenses cover while you’re at it, just in case the tradesperson gets injured on your property and takes action against you.

It’s also good form to let your home insurer know you’re having building work carried out in case some aspect of it invalidates your home insurance policy. It’s worth telling them and getting the go ahead for sheer peace of mind.

a man checking his home insurance policy while wondering how to hire a builder
Check your home insurance policy. It probably won’t be full of complicated graphs. Photography: iStock.
Don’t pay them upfront

A reputable tradesperson won’t ask for the full amount upfront, and you should never pay it. It’s common for tradespeople to ask for an upfront cost for materials, and it’s acceptable to pay this, but you shouldn’t pay for labour until the section of labour being invoiced for is complete. Negotiating a payment plan that both you and the tradesperson are happy with is important, and this should be included in the contract.

If they don’t accept credit cards, tell them they can get a card reader inexpensively. For instance, a SumUp machine costs just £29. Add that you’ll pay more to cover the £29 and the 1.69% transaction fee. This is the best way of ensuring you can get your money back if everything goes wrong, as credit card companies are jointly liable if the standard of work you’ve paid for is unacceptable. If you’re thinking, ‘But that’s nearly £200 extra I’m paying on a £10,000 renovation!’, I’d say yes, but £198 is a small price to pay to ensure you get the entire £10,000 back if everything goes wrong.

If you can’t find a single tradesperson prepared to carry out the work who will accept this arrangement, then pay by bank transfer. However, though there’s proof of payment, it’s more difficult to get your money back this way, as banks aren’t subject to the same laws as credit card companies.

a woman paying cash from her wallet to illustrate that you shouldn't hire a builder by paying cash upfront
Don’t pay your tradesperson the full amount upfront, and it bears repeating: don’t pay them in cash. Photography: iStock.
Ask them to sign a written contract

One of the most important rules when you come to hire a builder and other trades is that you need a written contract. And, if they’re reputable, the tradesperson should want one too, as it protects both of you should anything go wrong.

So what should go in this contract? Well, you don’t necessarily need it drawn up by a solicitor, though of course it wouldn’t hurt. But at a minimum, it should contain the following:

  • The contractor’s name, address, email address, phone number(s), and also licence number, if applicable
  • Your own name, address, email address and phone number
  • The estimated start and completion dates
  • All agreements you’ve come to during your conversation. These should include but aren’t limited to: the issues the tradesperson is resolving; the estimated cost of labour and materials; your payment plan; and an agreement regarding what should happen in the event that one of you wants to cancel the job
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You actually have a contract if you have a verbal agreement, whether or not you’ve written it down and signed it. However, if the tradesperson later disputes this agreement, then a written contract becomes invaluable.

a tradesperson holding a contract as the homeowner signs it
A contract protects both parties. Photography: iStock.
Let them know you know your consumer rights

Lastly, before you hire a builder or another tradesperson, tell them that you know your consumer rights. But what if you don’t know them? Well, we’re about to tell you what they are, thanks to Citizens Advice.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 says that reasonable care and skill must be used while working. It also says your contract is breached if the work isn’t carried out in exactly the way that was agreed.

They can’t charge you more than they’ve quoted unless there’s a very good reason, such as:

  • they told you they’d need to do extra work, and you agreed to pay more because of it
  • it was clear that the price in the quote was a mistake – there isn’t a definition of this, but it generally means that most people would see this mistake

In addition, they can’t charge you more if their costs have gone up since they quoted.

More from Citizens Advice on how to hire a tradesperson

If you were given an estimate and the final bill is a lot more than what you were expecting, you can dispute it. (But hopefully you won’t only have an estimate, as this scenario is why we advised you earlier to get a firm quote.)

The final price should be ‘reasonable’. The law doesn’t state what ‘reasonable’ means, so you’ll have to agree it between you. You should consider:

  • the estimate you accepted
  • any changes, and why they occurred
  • anything that happened that was beyond the tradesperson’s control, such as inclement weather or the rising cost of materials

If you’ve had something installed and it’s been done wrongly, you’re entitled to get it fixed. Alternatively, you might be able to get a refund. For example, this could be if:

  • the installation isn’t where you agreed it would go, for example, if your new television is on the wrong wall
  • it’s dangerous or unsafe, for example, if you get an electric shock when you use a new plug socket

More from Citizens Advice on your consumer rights

If the tradesperson hasn’t fulfilled your agreement, they’ve breached the contract and you can ask them to fix the problem.

They should fix it within a reasonable amount of time, without causing you too much inconvenience. The law doesn’t say what ‘reasonable’ means, so you’ll have to agree it with them.

If they can’t or won’t fix the problem, you can ask for a partial or full refund – depending on how bad the problem is. You’ll have to come to an agreement with the tradesperson about how much you should get. A good way to begin is by suggesting a figure and explaining why you think it’s reasonable.

a man deciding whether to hire a builder
Hopefully your tradesperson will be this friendly when you tell them you know your consumer rights. Photography: iStock.

Now you know how to hire a builder and other trades, why not read our feature on taking on a renovation project in 2022?

Sources: KBB magazine (of course!), Citizens Advice, Sovereign Boss and Confused.com.

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