How to spot a Cowboy Builder

March 21, 2013

I’ve been watching a lot of Holmes on Homes, and Income Property on HGTV  recently and I’m flabbergasted by the shady quality of workmanship that goes on these days. I’m pretty sure there is an actual Cowboy Builder show on HGTV as well. When you employ a builder or a contractor, it places them in a position of trust – and when that trust is broken, it can have major financial consequences – especially as bad repair work may not be covered under home insurance policies. According to research from Which? carried out in 2011, rogue traders and bad builders left 2 in 5 people out of pocket in the preceding three years, with a quarter owed at least 0, and 1 in 10 claiming they had lost more than ,000. Follow these tips on how to spot a cowboy builder to make sure you don’t end up losing out.

Spotting a cowboy

Many of us think we can spot a shady customer a mile off, but cowboy builders are often personable, enthusiastic and easy to contact at the beginning, so proceed with caution if your builder does any of the following:

  • Refuses to accept a cheque, offers cash discounts or demands money up-front
  • Provides hand written documents with little information
  • Won’t provide a contract or refuses to sign a contract you give them
  • Provides a detailed quote and schedule but doesn’t stick to it
  • Offers a suspiciously cheap quote that’s out of step with the going market rate

What you should ask your builder

A good builder will be happy to answer your questions and won’t be offended if you check their credentials. When meeting with builders always ask about the following:

  • The length of time they’ve been trading
  • The experience they have of the type of work you need carried out
  • Whether they can supply references
  • Whether you can visit a recent project they’ve completed
  • How their quoting system is set out and whether they break down the cost of materials and labour within their quotes
  • Whether they’re working on other projects which could delay the start of yours
  • Whether they have insurance-backed guarantees or public liability insurance

Don’t let cowboy builders get away with it!

There are lots of reasons rogue traders and cowboy builders get away with doing a bad job and continue to work. To avoid falling into a cowboy trap, make sure you always do the following when hiring a builder or tradesman:

  • Make sure your builder belongs to a professional body or is an approved contractor
  • Get a detailed contract
  • Avoid paying cash
  • Get references and verify them
  • Be prepared to wait – a good builder is always busy!
  • KK @ Student Debt Survivor March 21, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    We’ve been really fortunate to not have to do any work on our house. If we did, I’d definitely ask for multiple references in addition to asking for a license. It stinks there are so many people out there trying to take advantage.

    • Maggie@SquarePennies March 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm

      Great to ask to see their license. It’s also important to get evidence that they are insured and bonded. Otherwise if they get hurt on the job at your house, you could be sued.

  • Nick @ March 22, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    We are building a house with a very established builder. Unfortunately, that doesn’t eliminate all of the headaches of building a home. We still have to check on the progress every day and bring areas of concern to our foreman’s attention. I’m convinced that most builders will get away with whatever you let them, just so it is easiest for them.

    • Maggie@SquarePennies March 24, 2013 at 3:45 pm

      That is so smart to check on them every day. I know someone who physically stayed on the site every day that her house was being built. The workers didn’t like it, but she prevented a lot of mistakes that way.

  • Ryan @ RLD Investments March 24, 2013 at 1:23 am

    I know what you mean Nick. It doesn’t matter who you are or who you go with, you’re never going to make it through the entire project without some headaches. That seems to go with the territory when it comes to building. As long as you go with a solid company, and they’ll do things like come out to fix the windows when they settle, it should be alright.

  • Maggie@SquarePennies March 24, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Excellent advice. Also be aware that sometimes they are not who they say they are. Sometimes after a big disaster, like a hurricane, fly-by-night contractors come in and buy out a local contractor that has a good reputation and good rating with the Better Business Bureau. You think you are working with a reputable firm, but they are just around for a short time. Try to find out if the firm was bought/sold recently to decide if you can trust them. Asking for references might help if you check them out and ask the name of who they dealt with. Ask at your local city hall for where you can check the records of sales of local businesses. And never pay in full at the start of a job. Pay a portion, like 1/3 to a half and withhold the last payment until everything has been finished to your satisfaction.

  • William @ Bite the Bullet March 25, 2013 at 8:00 am

    Good heads-up! The big reason they survive IMHO is they know all of us are looking for the lowest quote. Our problem as consumers is figuring out who the “reasonable, reputable” builders are, because nobody buys from a builder every week or month like from Target or Walmart, so nobody has more than a single transaction to base their opinion on. If there was a JD Power type of rating system for builders that would have been awesome…