How to Deal with Builders

How To Deal With Builders

diy problems

This article informs you about how builders think.

Ignore it at your peril!

Definition of building…
The attempted manipulation of malevolent, inanimate objects.

Definition of a builder…
Some poor sod who was away, the day the proper jobs were handed out.

So you think you know builders?

By far the vast majority of builders are friendly, honest, dependable blokes who want to do a good job they can walk away from with no recriminations. Some even manage to do a job they are actually proud of, (now and again).

What they won’t be though is business school trained. Most builders simply started working for themselves when they were in their late 20’s and
thought they had acquired most of the practical skills they needed. Their ability to organise their business is a different matter. That just sort of evolved as they went along and in many cases is still far from perfected.

If your builder is rubbish at phoning you and his quotation takes too long arriving, and if it reads like he wrote it at ten o’clock at night its because he probably did! It is very likely he begins his admin. in his back bedroom office after he’s had his tea and put his kids to bed and had a little snifter to make the days problems go away!

The right approach

So, how do you deal with this fault ridden but very necessary individual. Firstly don’t foul up before you even meet him.

It is very important indeed never to forget that he will be judging you and his impressions will be reflected in his price. That doesn’t mean he will reduce it if he likes you, that will never happen. However, if he perceives you to be trouble, he
will increase it, often drastically and maybe, if you are a nightmare, he will just walk away.

Nightmare clients are ones who, before he has even quoted…

  • Treat him like he’s primeval slime from the nasty working classes.

I’ve been asked to wait in the car while they finished their lunch, when I arrived at the time they told me to!

  • Make unreasonable demands.

When quoting for a roofing job, I was given a list of do’s and don’t’s ( actually it was all don’t’s) We weren’t allowed in the house, or to play radios, take our shirts off or interact with people in the street, (idiot speak for, I suppose, suggesting to passing young ladies that we would like to dine with them at Quaglino’s and perhaps later, take in a show).

I once watched a couple who obviously hadn’t discussed the job
at all before I arrived, turn their differing opinions into a full scale “Apocalypse Now” screaming match. Neither gave a damn that I was there. I just walked out and for all I know they’re still at it!

Questions to ask

So you have decided to disguise your contempt for the duration of his quotation visit.

The following list is stuff you really should ask him prior to his quotation. I don’t suggest you hit him with it outright though. Try and wheedle the info out of him. There is I’m afraid, a very fine line between what he will perceive as reasonable requests and the moment when he starts to back away from you in horror holding up a crucifix.

  • Does he give a free written quotation (not an estimate)?

Make sure he gives a written fixed price. An estimate is something very different indeed!

If he tells you that this is impossible because of potential unforeseen problems, ask him to include these in his quotation with prices for each one should they occur. He can’t object, he brought it up!

If he can’t work out what they might be, then he doesn’t know his job.

Or tell him to include the hourly rate he will charge (per man) to undertake this unforeseen work. He must also show you invoices for any “unforeseen” materials he had to buy

By the same token, tell him you will expect to pay this same rate for the “ Oh, while you’re here, you couldn’t just fix this back door for me could you” scenario, which believe me, you
will spring on him!

  • Can he give names of references?

  • Does he have Public Liability insurance and will his quotation state this?

  • Does he give a guarantee and what is its duration?

  • Does he charge VAT, does his quotation state his VAT number?

  • What will his projected start date be? Try and pin him down to a start date. Tell him he must phone you at least the day before, when he realises he won’t have a hope of keeping to it, which he won’t!

  • Will his quotation state all the materials that are to be provided by him and separate those which may have been agreed to be supplied by you?
  • Will his quotation state that all waste materials will be removed from site?

  • Will his quotation state that he will leave the house tidy every evening? (Not spotless, obviously, he’s a bloke, but tools and materials moved out of the way etc.)

  • Will his quotation state payment procedures? This is important, you both need to know and agree to, the progression of any interim payments and when final payment is expected.


Never pay anything up front. If he has no money to buy a few materials for a weeks work ask why? (Metaphorically of course)! He’s got plastic hasn’t he, why has he no local accounts set up?

However, if he’s just arranged for £1000 of materials to be delivered on your driveway AND he’s made prior arrangement for interim payment with you, then that’s different.

Try and keep some money back for at least a week after the finish date. All longish jobs have annoying little problems that will require the builder to come back and solve them. (snagging). Make sure that this “retainer” is enough to make sure he
will return, or at least it will pay for another builder to come and sort them out.

  • Will he require to use the house facilities?
Do his men know how to use and clean the loo after they’ve used it?

  • How long does he anticipate the job will take?

Trust you instincts

Right you’ve told him what you want and he’s gone away to prepare his quotation.

Price isn’t everything. Peace of mind is
almost as important! What about the man himself?

Did he arrive on time, were his hands reassuringly mutilated through years of knocking chunks out of them, did he take time to advise you, had he a pencil behind his ear and a nose like blind cobblers thumb, was his name Bert?


Were his hands covered in gold sovereign rings, had he double parked his brand new 4x4 outside with his hard faced wife inside. Was he in a slick, snake oil salesman’s suite with gelled spikey hair, was he ridiculously brown and called Jason?

If the latter, I assume you gently prodded him out of your house with that barge pole you keep conveniently behind the front door.

Even for a small job you really want to know he’s established. If you have a written quote you will know he has commitment to his work, his address, his
land line phone number, whether he charges VAT. Etc. All this will boost your confidence just that little bit!

Cowboy Clients

Some people are just plain bad, they set out to defraud, there’s nothing can be done to prevent this. A builder has very little recrimination in these cases. He will realise too late what has been going on right in front of his eyes and know he’s been had.

Court action against a “professional” is destined to be protracted and expensive. A man can be broken by it and if a builder tries to literally undo his work, he then risks a criminal damage claim which he will loose as well.

Some people however, possibly because they have half a dozen synapses that just never got joined up, genuinely can’t come to grips with a situation.

The hard truth

Remember, the builder has seen it all before. If he tells you something you don’t want to hear, it’s not because he just can’t wait to have a shouting match in your kitchen, which results in you throwing him out half way through a job still owing him £500. It’s because it’s the truth!

I once couldn’t lay a concrete greenhouse base because the forecast kept predicting rain. This went on for a week or more and of course on some days it
didn’t rain. The client couldn’t understand that once cancelled in the morning, the mixer wagon then couldn’t just turn up when it turned out fine later on. In the end I told them I would lay the concrete tomorrow no matter what the weather, so long as they took responsibility for the outcome. Obviously that was a “no go”. They sacked me and I never got paid for the preparation work, or the skip.

My point is here,
I wasn’t making it up. I wanted to lay the stuff as much as they did. Much as I hate to say this, it’s you the client who is very much in charge. Builders are seriously out on a limb, having to keep you happy, very often through gritted teeth until the glorious moment when you deign to pay up.

Good luck.

The Building Sheriff

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