The Federation of Master Builders

Find a Builder: How to Choose a Builder

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Starting Your Search

Whether you are building a new home from scratch, carrying out renovation work or having a new extension built, you are going to need to find a builder to carry out the work. But just where do you find the best builders for your project?

Our handy guide takes you through everything you need to know about finding a builder or tradesperson, plus how to get good quotes, tips on your contract, and what are fair and reasonable payment terms.

How to Find a Builder?

It’s one thing to find a builder and quite another to find the right builder for you and your particular project. You need to seek out building firms that are accredited and that have the right insurances and experience of the type of work you need doing, who can deliver your project for the right price, and whom you feel you can trust and get along with.

To find a builder you can trust:

1. Ask for Recommendations

Do you know a friend or family member who lives in your area, or a neighbour whose recent building project has left you seriously impressed? Ask them for the details of their builder. Using a recommended builder from a trusted source is one of the best ways to begin your search.

2. Use an Online Find a Builder Tool

Our Find A Builder tool is free-to-use and enables you to search for Master Builders in your area. Our members must pass a rigorous vetting and independent onsite inspection process to join the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). Regular independent inspections ensure high standards are maintained and our free Dispute Resolution Procedure is a phone call away should you ever need it. See the 'Why a Master Builder...' section below for more on how our members can help you.

3. Look Around Your Local Area

Who hasn’t subtly kept track of a building project in progress in their local area, wondering what the outcome will be? If you’ve been impressed by the results, then don’t be afraid to ask the homeowners which builders they used and whether they were happy with the work.

4. Ask Other Trades

If you’ve used any other trades for projects on your home in the last few years – an electrician or plasterer perhaps – and have been pleased with their work, why not ask them for any trusted builder contacts?

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How Do I Know If a Builder is Reliable?

A great sign of a reliable builder is that they are more than happy to show you examples of their previous work and can provide testimonials from previous customers. Ask to visit their completed work and speak to their clients. If they refuse, then you have to wonder why. When visiting past projects, ask the clients how they found the builders to work with:

  • Did they communicate clearly, frequently and politely?
  • Were they punctual?
  • Did they stick to their commitments?
  • Did they flag delays and unforeseen problems openly and early?
  • Did they deliver the project on time and on budget?
  • Did they minimise noise and disruption?
  • Did they manage the other trades effectively, if required?
  • Did they keep the site tidy?

Of course, you should hire a builder who has solid experience of the work you are expecting them to carry out — an office refurbishment is quite different from a bathroom renovation or new kitchen. Any good builder should also be able to demonstrate a sound, up-to-date knowledge of current building regulations.

Builders’ Qualifications: What Should I look For?

There are no formal builders’ qualifications that builders should possess in order to call themselves ‘a builder’. Some builders may be able to show you a CSCS card (issued by the Construction Skills Certification Scheme) as proof that they have the appropriate training and qualifications for the job they carry out on site. There are also qualifications such as a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in construction that can point to a builder’s knowledge of their trade.

Certain trades such as electricians and plumbers must have particular qualifications. For example, if you are using a plumber to fit a gas appliance, such as a cooker in your new kitchen, then ensure that they are Gas Safe Registered. When having electrical work carried out you should choose a contractor who is registered with a Competent Person Scheme, such as NICEIC or ELECSA.

Another way to ensure your builder is a good fit for your project is to check whether they are a member of a reputable trade association, such as the Federation of Master Builders. Always ask for proof of membership and for true peace of mind contact the trade association directly to confirm. You can find out if somebody is a member of the FMB using our Check A Member tool.

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Why a Master Builder Offers Peace of Mind

FMB Master Builders are committed to high standards which is why they are proud to be part of the UK’s largest construction industry trade association. On joining, members are professionally vetted and independently inspected to ensure they meet the high standards expected of a Master Builder. We ensure members meet our quality and safety criteria by:

  • Conducting an independent inspection of the builders’ work on joining as part of the membership application process.

  • Professionally vetting their trading history, credit history, public liability and employer’s liability insurance.

  • Enforcing our Code of Conduct which includes providing written quotes and contracts, complying with health and safety regulations, upholding standards, communicating diligently, ensuring guarantees, warranties and certificates are passed on to clients, and leaving your home clean and tidy with waste properly disposed of.

  • Finally, as the ultimate back-stop, our members and their clients can access our government approved disputes resolution service. The service is free and means we provide assistance to help get the work back on track should that be needed.

Discover the Master Builder difference

 

"I would recommend Create to others because they care about their work, which is exceptional, but just as importantly, they care about people. They know that ultimately they are making homes for people to be and live their lives and they work hard to achieve this. For me, they have created a home that makes us feel secure, calm and happy – just thinking about it makes me smile."

Testimonial from a client of Master Builder Create for You Limited

How Many Builders’ Quotes Should You Get?

You should always get a minimum of three quotes from builders that have been recommended to you by a trusted source.

Never go with the first quote you get from a builder — quotes can vary by hundreds of pounds in some cases and the cheapest quote is not always the best option either. Thoroughly check what is included in the price, for example is painting and decorating included? If you are having a kitchen or bathroom renovation, does this include costs to remove the old cabinetry? Make sure the quotes enable you to make like-for-like comparisons as well, and query elements you don’t understand.

Another positive side-effect of taking your time to get three quotes is that you’ll be able to talk to different builders, tap into their experience as you walk through your ideas, and get a feel for whether you can build a good working relationship with them. 

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How to Get Realistic Builders’ Quotes

To make sure you get an accurate quote from your builder, provide them with as much detail as possible about your project. To be confident that the quotes reflect the price you will end up paying, your tender documents should include:

  • A concise brief that lays out the details of what you do and do not want.
  • Plans or drawings suitable for Building Control purposes.
  • A full specification of the requirements of the project.
  • A list of who will be expected to do what i.e. will you be project managing, hiring trades and ordering materials? Or do you want the builder to do this on your behalf? 
  • Details of planning permission requirements and/or restrictions.
  • Anticipated timescales.
  • Any site access issues you know about.
  • Tricky site conditions if known.

You can pay an architect or house designer to produce planning drawings. Alternatively, many Master Builders offer design and build services and can create plans for you. The ‘design and build’ service can often help you to better understand the full costs of your project from the outset, as opposed to paying for architectural drawings that you may not be able to afford to build.

Always ask whether the quote includes VAT and whether there are any other costs not mentioned — it can also help to ask your builder to separate out their costs for labour and materials.

Be upfront about your budget too. If the builder walks away then it’s better that it happens before the work begins. Remember that quotes should always be written and not verbal. FMB Master Builders will provide written quotes as a standard part of the service.

Make Your Expectations Clear 

It’s important to choose a builder who shares your vision, and who you feel comfortable with, because they will be in your home for an extended period. Even when you’ve made your choice, you still need to be crystal clear on what you expect the end result to be. Before signing the contract (see below), make sure you’ve discussed key issues such as:

  • Who orders materials.
  • Working hours on site.
  • Noise levels.
  • Site tidiness and waste disposal.
  • Use of facilities.
  • The timeline.
  • Payment plan.

It’s important to foster a feeling of mutual respect and trust from the start. This is a relationship that works both ways and you’ll get the best from your builder if you can work collaboratively and discuss their opinions and recommendations.

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Do I Need a Contract with My Builder?

You should always enter into a written contract with your builder so that everybody involved in the project understands what has been agreed. A good contract can reduce the chance of confusion or disagreement, and provides peace of mind for you and your builder.

Your contract need not be an expensive legal document, and in fact the FMB supplies jargon-free contract templates to members. These contracts are fair, easy-to-understand, and can be readily adapted to your project. A good builder’s contract should include:

  • Details of all parties that the contract involves and main points of contact.
  • A concise summary of the works to be carried out.
  • Important documents to be referred to (the agreed quote, your specification, schedule of works, plans and drawings, and planning permission requirements).
  • Details of who has responsibility for which elements of the building work.
  • Details of certain requirements put in place by building control, party wall agreements, the planning department, building regulations and any service providers.
  • Site facilities, parking provision, health and safety requirements.
  • Full details of the agreed price — including rates for extras and overruns.
  • Start and completion dates.
  • Payment terms and retention conditions. Many contracts also cover what will happen in the event of an overrun — a pre-agreed rate of ‘liquidated damages’ is a good idea. This refers to any estimated losses that a homeowner may suffer if the work overruns (such as rent if they have had to move out, for example).
  • Warranties and guarantees that have been pre-arranged.
  • Insurance details — who is providing what?
  • Site restrictions.
  • Details of how changes to the project will be documented and how any disputes will be resolved.
  • Any additional conditions, such as insolvency, overruns due to weather conditions, etc.
  • Expected standard of work. A good contract should state that work must be carried out to the expected standard. This can include things such as the materials to be used and the expected finishes. Your contract should also include a section on how things will be put right if they are defective and who is responsible for this.

How to Pay Your Builder 

Your written contract should include details of how much your project will cost, and a schedule of payment. It is usual to split the payments up into stages for big building projects and extensions. Make sure that each stage has been completed before paying, and that the work has been approved by building and warranty inspectors if necessary.

You should also agree to the amount that you will hold back as retention until you are happy to sign off the work – often 2.5%-5% of the total.

Some subcontractors, such as electricians and plumbers might require payment in two stages — on completion of first fix works and on final completion of second fix.

Payment by bank transfer, cheque or credit card are all good, but avoid cash. To protect yourself against cyber crime, you should also check the bank details directly with your builder. It would also be sensible to transfer a small amount of money in the first instance to ensure it is received before transferring any large amounts.  

Should a Builder Ask for a Deposit?

It is quite common for builders to ask for deposits before starting a major job — this is to cover materials they need to order, subcontractors’ fees and equipment. Naturally deposits are usual on bigger jobs rather than small home improvement projects.

Requests for deposits vary. A 10% deposit is reasonable but do not pay more than 25%. You should probably walk away if you’re asked for 50% or even more upfront.

If you have asked for any made-to-order elements, such as timber windows, you should expect to pay a deposit for these, too. Ensure you get receipts for all deposits paid.

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Final Questions to Help You Choose the Right Builder

Once you’ve found at least three builders whose written quotes you are happy with, be sure to ask them the following questions before making your final decision:

1. Do They Have Insurance?

Always ask to see certificates, including one that shows public liability cover. FMB members will have had to show us proof that they have the correct insurance before becoming a member. You can also contact FMB Insurance to ask about what warranties you can take out as a homeowner to protect your property while building works take place.

2. Are They VAT Registered? 

Whilst not a necessity, a builder who is VAT registered can offer another level of assurance. Any builder who offers to waive VAT for cash payments should set a few alarm bells ringing — tax evasion is not something you want to get into.

3. When Can They Start?

Good builders are often fully booked for a few months in advance. Plan ahead and ask your preferred builder when they can start. 

4. Do They Have a Team of Trusted Trades?

Many Master Builders can project manage for you and bring in good local trades from their network, saving you time and hassle. Decide if you want your builder to take overall control, or to manage particular parts of the project, and make it clear who’s responsible for other trades required on the job.

5. What Happens When the Work is Complete? 

Confirm when you can expect to receive any required certificates, warranty documents and product instructions. Diligence here is another sign of a thoughtful builder. Make sure that your builder will walk through the project with you on final completion and that they’ll come back to fix snagging issues such as faults and problems that you spot after the work is done. An agreement to address snagging issues should be outlined in your contract.  

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Find a Builder 

A good, reliable and trustworthy builder will be happy to meet these standards and to work with you so that your project is the best it can be.

Going through the process outlined above is the best way to ensure you pick the right builder for you and to avoid communication issues and even disputes further down the road. FMB Master Builders subscribe to these principles and have committed to them through our Code of Conduct. You can find a Master Builder near you using our Find A Builder tool.

Read our helpful guides for more tips and how to work with your builder successfully.

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