Help! Sort Out My Cowboy Builder!

Every so often we receive calls from property owners who are in a panic because of some form of bad experience with their builder. It often centres on poor workmanship, claims for extra payment or late completion of the project. These problems usually result from a lack of structure before accepting a quotation. It might sound rather simple but at the centre of so many disputes lies a lack of documentation, transparency and communication between the parties. Property owners often make the mistake of asking for quotations when they don’t really have sufficient detail or even know what they want. They expect the builder to know! The builder usually submits a quote which looks cheap, when in fact it is only an ‘estimate’ with many rounded figures providing an allowance when the real cost can be much higher. To avoid problems, it is therefore important to create transparent ‘tender documentation’ to have a clear understanding of what is included, or more importantly what is excluded from a quotation.

What about issues with poor workmanship? The true nature of the cowboy builder.

This can be down to either incompetence or cutting corners. Builder selection is very important, always ask about their history and see examples to make sure the builder is competent. Even so, make sure they are monitored to make sure no corners are being cut. Those with a keen eye will spot that only two coats of paint have been applied rather than the three required. If you find yourself in dispute with a builder, it is usually down to lack of documentation, quality control, transparency or communication. When we become involved with complaints against ‘Cowboy Builders’ we try to get each party to see reason, and reach an amicable solution, whatever that may be.

How do we avoid the cowboy builder scenario?

No matter how large or small the project, invest time and money creating proper documentation, ensure all design / specifications are sufficiently clear and provide a level of transparency to the builders’ quotation. Talk to the builder, tell them what you will and will not accept at the time of them working on site. Don’t let it stew for weeks or argue at the end. Tell them you are not happy and give them a chance to make things right. If you are considering a building project, no matter what size, limit your risks and ensure the correct documentation is created before asking for quotations. Never accept an ‘estimate’ always make sure the quote is a firm price for all known details and sufficient provisional sums are included for potential unknown costs. E.g hidden rotten timbers, poor ground conditions and extra excavation. Finally, consider appointing an expert. Professional fees are a necessary evil, but without a structured and controlled project your risks are increased and have potential to lead to litigation.

Produced By;

Gary Naftel BSc(Hons) MCIArb MRICS
Chartered Surveyor

The information in this Coffee Break article is intended for guidance only. The authors cannot accept any liability for any loss or damage which may result from the use of this article.