Finding a builder in the over saturated London building industry can be a daunting task.  With so many unqualified rogue traders out there posing as professionals, it can be difficult to know where to start when looking for a builder or a contractor. According to Which? Members in April 2012, just 52% of people said they trust builders (based on a survey of 1,006 people).

So how does one find a reputable, trustworthy builder? It’s important to ask as many questions as possible and to make sure your builder can provide you with a list of references and qualifications. For smaller home projects it’s possible to find a builder yourself – for bigger projects, we would recommend you find a company that has done the legwork of finding the builders themselves. Ardesia Design has its own team of experienced, qualified, PROFESSIONAL tradesmen, from painters and decorators, electricians to plumbers, plasterers to joiners. Therefore, not only do we offer a design service, we also act as contractor and project manager. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort putting together our team – here are some things we learned in the process to help you if you ever need to find yourself a trustworthy builder.

Find your builder; don’t wait for him to find you:

Be very wary of builders who arrive at your door offering to tarmac your driveway or replace your windows. Often there is no work to even be done but these builders will convince you to carry out expensive renovation works for too much money. A reputable tradesman has no need to go door to door peddling his trade, he is too busy working! Getting work done this way will most likely result in expensive bills to another tradesman to undo and redo the work of rogue traders.

Finding your builder:

So if you can’t just sit at home and wait for the good tradesmen to come to you, where do you look? The Internet is a good resource, especially websites like The Federation of Master Builders (FMB), TrustMark and rated people. Here you can find recommended builders and see the feedback others have left for them. However, it can still be difficult to wade through the hundreds of available builders on the Internet. Our best suggestion would be to ask your friends and neighbours, colleagues, or anyone you know who has recently refurbished their home, who they used and who they would recommend. Most reputable builders don’t need to advertise – their work will come in by word-of-mouth recommendations.

Builder References:

It’s important to check the references of the builder you have chosen. Ideally, you will use a builder recommended by someone you know – if possible, it’s worth asking if you can see the work that the builder did first hand. Email or phone references can easily be faked so it’s always best to see previous projects and let the work speak for itself.

Builder Qualifications:

Qualifications to look out for are NVQs and HNDs in construction. And check that your builder can demonstrate awareness of health and safety issues – this is critical for any construction project. The builder should have copies of certificates of their qualifications to show you.
Ask to see a copy of your builder's insurance certificate to check it won’t expire during the time they are working on your project. There are three things that you need:

- Public liability insurance in case someone gets hurt on your site
- Cover in case there is damage to the rest of your property, so they re-do the work or are insured to pay others, such as decorators
- Cover in case the builder goes bust or has an accident, so you can pay someone else to finish the job.

It may seem a bit silly but always check that the basic information is available to you: is their VAT number and company number available to you, is everything written on company letter head, is there a contact telephone number, registered address and email address?

Quotes and Schedule of Works:

Before your builder can quote on your job, they should visit the site and discuss with you in detail what needs to be done. A good quotation should show a Schedule of Works (a list of the items to be completed) and separate labour and materials costs. If the labour cost does not show the number of days a job takes to complete, your builder should be able to justify this when asked.

Contracts and Guarantees:
Make sure you always use a contract. It goes without saying that you should never sign anything you haven’t read and make sure that you understand everything in the contract. The contract should set out the work that is to be done, the estimated timeframe, the payment schedule and what happens in case there is a dispute. The builder should ideally guarantee the work for a period of time and this should also be included either in the contract or as a separate documentation.

Use Your Designer:

If you’re going to be investing your hard-earned cash on a refurbishment project, it’s not worth scrimping on the quality. It’s true in this industry that you get what you pay for and we would strongly advise our clients to let the designer take care of finding the right builder. The designer is likely to have a good relationship with a number of builders – or, like us, they may have a trusted team that communicates well with each other. The risk with hiring builders that don’t know each other is that they won’t communicate well and therefore, more costly mistakes are likely to happen!
Nonetheless, it’s still worth asking the designer to see the details of the builder or contractor that they choose, to see their previous work and qualifications. You also have the right to ask the designer to obtain a number of quotes from a few different builders – always make sure the price you are receiving is competitive! Make sure the tenders you receive are like-for-like – there’s no sense in comparing a reputable contractor to a one-man-building team because the price will clearly be different (as will the quality, most likely).
In the case of Ardesia Design – we are in constant competition with other contractors in the area so our price is tested on a regular basis so we know we are competitive. We’ve never had to hire another contractor to do the works because we know that the team we have put together is the most cost effective, efficient and professional team we could ask for!

Paying your Builder:
Never pay for all the building work upfront – there should be an agreed schedule of payment so that payments are made in smaller sums throughout the building works and ideally only at the end of specific ‘milestones’, when you have checked that the work has been completed to your standards and specification. Sometimes an advance may be required at the start of larger works but this should only be to cover the cost of materials and agreed contract or design service costs.

The Client’s Responsibility:

Now that you have found yourself a reputable builder, what can you do yourself to ensure that things rung smoothly?
-       Be clear in what you want. Make sure you discuss in detail what you want from your renovation, what your budget is and the timeframe for the works.
-       Understand that changes can cause delays and sometimes mistakes. Once you have discussed with the builder and with the designer the overall scheme and layout and other building works related points, try to make sure you are happy with the details when building works start. A small number of changes are likely to occur naturally in any case but the client changing their mind too often is the reason for delays and costly mistakes.
-       Communicate often with the builder. This way you will avoid letting problems build up and get too far to be easily fixed. If problems arise and cannot be sorted out by speaking to the builder, get further advice from a solicitor, the Citizens Advice Bureau, Trading Stanrards, Building Control or Trade Association.

However, if you have followed our guide well you should be in a good position working with a reputable company and not encounter any problems! Fingers crossed!