Expert Q&A: Builder disputes
Q What should I do if I fall out with the builders?
A decent builder is like gold dust – so they say. But is a good builder really so difficult to find? Common complaints about building work range from contractors not turning up when they say they will, jobs taking longer than agreed, sloppy work or the use of sub-standard materials, or the builder wanting more money for work than you’d agreed, or thought you had agreed.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 says work should be carried out with reasonable care and skill and, where there is no fixed timescale in the contract, should be completed within a reasonable period of time. At the end of the day, you should never feel bullied into paying for work that you’re not happy with. But many of the problems that people experience could be avoided if they took a few simple steps before work commences:
1 Be prepared. Make sure you have discussed in full and allowed for everything that needs doing, including any jobs that other contractors may need to do – for example, alterations to wiring or pipework.
2 Take references. The best way to find a builder is always by word-of-mouth recommendation. If you don’t have one (and perhaps even if you do), ask to see examples of any prospective builder’s most recent work and talk to any former clients offered as referees. 3 Expect the unexpected. Even in the simplest of building projects you are likely to find there is more to it than you at first thought º the work will take longer, be more complicated and involve one or two ‘hidden’ costs. Make sure you make contingency for this in your budget.
4 NEVER pay for work up front. A trustworthy builder with a healthy business should be able to afford to pay for building materials themselves and recoup the costs once the work is finished.
5 Offer to pay for add-ons. Avoid the urge to ask your builder to, ‘Just do “X” while you’re here.’ Fixing that dripping tap or that extra bit of plastering is the thing that will make your builder run over time, and builders really hate that!
6 Get it in writing! A contract may seem like overkill with smaller projects, but is essential on larger jobs. Whatever your plans, always get a full quote with a breakdown of what it includes – needless to say, a few notes on the back of a cigarette packet is not enough.
1960s hit song may have been about moving a piano, but sitting down for a cup of tea is definitely the best course of action in the first instance. Don’t think you need to do this alone if you don’t feel comfortable. If there is an architect, bring them along too or, failing that, a friend could prove an equally valuable referee.
If you feel your builder has not been doing things properly, an early conversation gives you the chance to express your concerns, and for the builder to voice theirs. Before the meeting, think about what it is exactly that you are unhappy with, and give the builder an opportunity to resolve the issues raised.
Don’t be surprised if the builder has a few gripes of his own, too! Be honest with yourself – Have you made payments on time? Have you changed your mind a little too often? Are you obsessing over tiny details and questioning his competence? Remember, this is a two-way street, and you may need to rethink some of your own behaviours too, before you can move on
Hopefully a nice cup of tea and a chat will be sufficient to clear the air. But if things go sour and the relationship ends up breaking down completely, what can you do next?
Should I litigate?
If a job ends badly (or not at all), you can take your exbuilder to court to ask them for a refund in respect of any part of the work they have done that you were not happy with, as well as any additional costs you’ve had to pay to get another builder to put that work right. You may also be entitled to compensation for any other financial loss you have suffered as a result of their poor-quality work.
If court is the only option, always get professional help. A rogue trader will know their way around the system and will quickly run rings around you. That said, best advice is to avoid taking action through the courts as legal costs can quickly swallow up any award. Add to that the fact that, if your builder is in financial difficulties, then the chances of any award being honoured are slim, and it makes for a thoroughly slow, stressful and exhausting experience.
In all circumstances, unless the amount in dispute is more than a few thousand pounds, the sensible choice may simply be to chalk it up to experience and find yourself a new builder.
make sure you’re clear about all of the work