Home Improvements for Beginners: How to Avoid Cowboy Builders
In recent years, more and more people have begun to purchase ‘fixer uppers’ for their first home. This is because it is often cheaper in the long run, and it allows you to customise the home to your tastes and needs perfectly. However, purchasing the ‘fixer-upper’ is simply the first step. After that, you need to think about the work that needs to be done as well as hiring the applicable tradespeople and builders. This in itself can present problems thanks to the rise of the cowboy builder. Keep reading to find out more.
What is a Cowboy Builder?
In essence, a cowboy builder is simply a builder, tradesperson or contractor that lacks the skills to perform the job properly. They are unqualified in one respect or another; they are either unable or unwilling to finish the job to the quality or standard that it should be. They often entice customers in with prices and promises that seem too good to be true – because they are. The work either doesn’t last, isn’t to the customer’s satisfaction or, in some instances, may simply never be finished. They also tend not to have the correct insurance or fail to secure planning permission. Essentially, they are to be avoided at all costs.
Be Wary of Deals & Amazing Prices
Firstly, as mentioned above, one of the most common tactics you can expect to see from cowboy builders is massively undercutting the other builders in the area in order to secure business by presenting the best deal. If you find yourself confused as to how they could possibly carry out the job on such a budget, then they probably can’t, or at least they won’t be able to do it to the standard that you desire. You should always shop around for several quotes in order to find the average price; any quote that then seems too good to be true probably is.
Waiting Lists are Normal
Great builders are rarely available instantaneously. This is because they are often booked up in advance with other projects. This speaks to their popularity and the standard of work that they provide, so do not be put off by a waiting list. That being said, this is not always the case; it depends on how you find the builders. For example, if you use the MyBuilder platform to post your job, the builders then come to you with their proposals. You can then see when they will be available for you, and they can also give you a rough estimate, although this might change when they visit your property.
Avoid Paying Huge Deposits
If a builder is asking you to pay a large deposit upfront before any of the work has been carried out, then this should be a red flag. Most reputable builders who have been in the business for a while will have enough cash flow to purchase the materials and start the job before they start asking for large amounts of money from you. Some of them do ask to be paid in stages as elements of the job are completed, and some do ask for a smaller deposit with the balance to be paid upon completion.
Establish a Thorough Vetting Process
Before you commit to any one builder, you first need to vet them. You should start by looking at their previous projects. Most businesses today have some form of web presence; if not, they should still have some form of brochure or portfolio of previous works. They should have a number of projects listed that span the years. If you can only find a couple of projects dated years previously, then you should avoid them.
Ideally, you should also find a builder that lists testimonials or can provide you with references. You need to find unbiased opinions and examples of their work. This then speaks to their business practices and the standards that they work to. You should also look the business up online to ensure that they have a registered business address and that they are fully accredited with the correct licences and insurance.
Always Read the Contract
You should always get a written contract. Cowboy builders are much more likely to not want to provide you with a written contract, instead assuring you that a verbal agreement is enough. It is not. Simply having a contract is also not enough; you need to read it to ensure that it encompasses and includes everything that you have discussed exactly as it was discussed. The contract should also provide an estimate for the cost of the work as well as a rough completion date.
The Bottom Line
Home improvement projects and renovations are often stressful enough without the added pressure of discovering that you have wasted your time and money on hiring a cowboy builder. Most of the time, using your common sense can help you to work out which builders are going to take advantage of you. However, they do sometimes seem credible, which is why you should bear in mind the above guide when it comes to hiring any tradespeople.