There are thousands of building contractors out there. While most of them will be do a fine job, how can you tell the good from the bad? How do you spot a cowboy builder and avoid hiring them so that you don’t end up with a half-finished home and a second mortgage to put it right? It’s easy to be fooled by smooth-talking builders. You have put a lot of time, effort and money into making your new home or extension come true, so don’t fall at the final hurdle of finding the right contractor to bring it to fruition.

With a little bit of effort and research you will find the right builder for your project. To help, we have put together the top 8 things to look out for to weed out the cowboy builders:

They turn up on your doorstep looking for work

If a builder turns up on your doorstep telling you they have spotted a problem they can fix for you or are ‘working in the area’, don’t fall for it. Reputable builders don’t operate this way, they find work through recommendations and are usually booked up in advance.

They have no references or accreditations

Can they show you examples of previous jobs that they have done or put you in touch with past clients? If not, steer clear. Any decent professional will have no issue in sharing details of their work with you and their references are their best selling point for potential new clients.

Are they a member of a trade association such as the Federation of Master Builders or the government’s Competent Persons Register? Don’t be afraid to double-check if they say they are.

They have no business address

While we are not expecting them to have shiny offices in the centre of town, they should be a registered business address. This means having being registered with HMRC. Ask for proof of this and check it out if you have any doubts.

Their prices are very low

If it sounds too good to be true, then it simply is! If the price is very low, they either lack the experience and expertise to price it correctly or are expecting to make it up by finding ‘problems’ or ‘additional things that need to be done’ as they work on your home.

If you are not getting a formal quote, including a breakdown of each element of the job and the cost of materials and labour, then you are not dealing with a professional.

Similarly, if they aren’t charging VAT it could be a sign that they are dodging the tax man. Take that as an indication that they won’t hesitate to cheat you out of your hard-earned money as well.

They ask for money upfront

No builder should ask for money upfront. As a business they should have enough float to cover any materials that they need to get started. A reputable builder will put in place a work and payment schedule that you can both follow to keep the project on track.

They won’t sign a contract

Without a contract you have no way of referring back to an agreed schedule of work, timetable for completion and agreed fee. Cowboy builders use this as a way of running off with your cash, consistently finding new things that need to be done, identifying so-called unforeseen problems, or even saying they never agreed to certain things or to a price! If they are not willing to prepare and sign a contract, don’t hire them; they’re unlikely to stick around long enough to see the job through.

They have no health and safety policy

Construction sites can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing or don’t have the right safety precautions in place. Attention to health and safety is a legal requirement, so they should be taking it seriously. If they can’t tell you what their policy is or how they ensure the safety of their crew, your family and the public outside your property, they are not the right builder for you.

They don’t carry insurance

Any construction professional worthy of their trade should have professional indemnity and public liability insurance in place. While they may be optional, in our mind they are absolutely necessary. What if something goes wrong or somebody gets hurt? How will they put things right or compensate you if the worst happens?

Want a second opinion?

We have been working in this industry for 27 years and know what the signs are, so why not let us help? Our job is to make sure your new home or extension is built exactly how you want it to be. All you have to do is ask and we’ll help make it happen. Call us on 0208 306 5110 or drop us a line at and we’ll take the next step together.