Expert advice - questions to ask your builder
An extension or renovation project can be an extremely emotional time, particularly in the midst of all of the dust and mess when you can't quite see the end of the project! A lot of planning and preparation will help to make the process go as smoothly as possible, and part of the planning is finding a reputable builder for your project who shares the same vision as you. Once you have chosen your builder, it is so important that you both have an understanding of how the project is going to run and who is responsible for each stage.
We chat to Dominik Wielgus, Managing Director of Black Oak Builders, who shares with us the questions to ask your builder before starting your project.
1. Can you give me references?
This is one of the most important questions to ask when choosing your builder - ask for plenty of references, photos of previous jobs and to speak to current and previous clients.
"Not only do you want to speak to previous clients but you want to visit current projects on the ground and see the work in progress. This is so important as you can easily call a reference who could be a friend of the builder." advises Dominik. "Ask the clients what the builder is like to deal with. Ask all of the awkward questions including how they handle the situation when things go wrong."
If the builder doesn't have a project to show then alarm bells should ring - any good builder should be working on at least one project at any one time!
2. Are you insured?
In the unlikely event that something does go wrong with the build, you need to make sure you will be fully covered and protected. A credible builder will have employers' liability insurance, contract work insurance and public liability insurance.
"Make sure your builder is fully insured and ask to see the actual certificate from the insurance company - don't just take their word for it!" says Dominik.
3. Do you use subcontractors?
Not all builders will carry out every task and it's common for builders to subcontract some work such as electrics and plumbing. "If your builder uses subcontractors, you need to know if they are certified. Ask to see proof, like Gas Safe ID Card for plumbers or ECS or NICEIC ID cards for electricians." says Dominik. "Also ask whether the subcontractor has their own insurance or whether they are covered by the company's insurance? Again, it's so important to see the documents from the insurance company."
4. Will you project manage the work?
Some builders will fully manage the project from beginning to end, including working with the architects, building inspectors and order all of the materials. Be very clear at the start with your builder who is project managing the job. If your builder is not project managing, chat about how he likes things to work and who will be responsible for each part of the process.
"If your builder isn't project managing, be very clear on who is ordering materials and when they should be on site. Also ask if they will give you their trade discount if you are ordering the materials." advises Dominik. "Your builder should be able to give you a programme of works, even if it's just a basic outline of what will happen when i.e. start date, when foundations will be excavated, when walls will be erected, roof done etc. It should also be indicated when the building inspector will be visiting. Remember, this is just a guide and things will probably move a few days back and forth, but will give you a picture of the major steps."
5. How often should we meet?
You should agree with your builder how often you meet on site to manage both of your expectations. This is especially important if you are not living on site during the build. You should always make yourself available for any calls that the builder may have so that a situation doesn't escalate and the wrong decisions are made.
"How often you need to meet will depend on the stage of the project but it's worthwhile agreeing what you both see as reasonable." says Dominik. "At the initial stage you only need to meet weekly or fortnightly. Towards the finishing stages you should meet more regularly as there are so many decisions to be made and it's you who will be living with the decisions."
Many homeowners go on holiday when the build starts to avoid the disruption. "We upload photo's daily to a Dropbox account when the client isn't around - that way they can see the progress!" explains Dominik.
6. Do you offer a guarantee?
Ask your builder how long they guarantee their work and what the guarantee covers. "We guarantee our work for 12 months and check in after 2 weeks from the end of the project, then after 3 months or just before the retention is due. Finally we check in again before the 12 months is over to make sure everything is as it should be and if needed can be rectified under our guarantee." says Dominik.
Any good builder will want to ensure that they have fixed any issues before the end of the guarantee. With a large renovation or extension, even the very best of builders will have to come back and fix some snags and issues.
7. How many projects do you work on at any one time?
Builders must be able to manage their workload whilst making sure they are constantly busy and are able to sustain their business. "It's important that your builder can give the attention to your project and they don't spread themselves to thin." advises Dominik. With 16 employees, Dominik takes on 3-4 projects at any one time, depending on the size of the project.
Published: January 2, 2020