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How on earth to choose a builder? Getting confused

(27 Posts)
Littlepicklehead Fri 10-Oct-14 14:40:51

I have been trying to get quotes off a number of builders for our rear extension.

I have found them through various means, recommendation, local forums, FMB website, checkatrade (though I'm a bit wary of this one).

They have varied hugely in price and in the way the quote has been given

The ones we have had personally recommended and I've seen work in progress and completed, v cheap but a verbal quote only. NO flashy website or anything, and I just feel a bit wary though can't place why.

We've had others that have gone into lots of detail on the quote, but the price is massively different on each one. These are a variation of recommendation (but I haven't seen any previous work) and FMB. I'm still waiting for some of these quotes to come back.

Then another guy, who came round this morning, personal recommendation from a colleague of my husband. Seemed very thorough when we discussed everything, really personable chap, can start in our timeframe, great! We discussed formal contracts, staged payments, insurance etc so all sounded above board. Then he said we can pay VAT if we like or pay cash if not confused. I mean obviously I don't want to pay it as it's a lot of money, but that sounds super dodgy to me? Before he said that I thought we had found our man, now I'm worried.

How do we make the decision? I'm so worried about getting it wrong, but we can't pay the top end scale of the quotes we are getting as we just don't have enough money (quotes range from £35k to over £100k). AS it's such a huge variation I'm at a loss really.

It's hard as the recommendations are from acquaintances rather than v good friends and I just want to ensure as far as is possible that nothing goes wrong.


sacbina Fri 10-Oct-14 15:57:14

whereabouts are you?

I invited a number of firms to quote and whittled it down from there, but not based on price. anyone who tried to sell was out, as was anyone who didn't listen to what I was asking or telling them. after a few bad experiences you get a feeling

my current builders are fan-bloody-tastic. I couldn't praise them enough. I'm in west London

Littlepicklehead Fri 10-Oct-14 16:01:47

I'm SE london Sacbina, perhaps you could pm me their details?

I'm struggling to know how to whittle down to be honest, I had the best gut feeling with the last guy until he mentioned vat.

I don't get it though they are a big company who have done commercial projects, built schools etc. so the vat thing has really confused me

sacbina Fri 10-Oct-14 16:09:46

not sure they'd travel to SE London, they work 7.30/8-5.30, 6 or later, and 6 days a week.

had experience with loft conversion builders who lived a few miles around the north circ. they were constantly late and getting on the road before the traffic. there's always traffic!

I straight away liked the fact that these guys broke down approx costs in front of me, there was no withholding numbers, and have been upfront about everything throughout.

I would go local and trust your instincts

Marmitelover55 Fri 10-Oct-14 16:15:04

If you feel uncomfortable about the vat then I would still go with this builder but pay the vat. It's only the cat on their labour you would save anyway as you will still pay vat on materials.

Pinkje Fri 10-Oct-14 16:20:14

Who does your architect recommend? You could ask a chartered project manager (sorry but I forget the name) to advise in choosing the right builder for you. A friend's husband offered this service to us but think you might pay around £500 - £600.

Littlepicklehead Fri 10-Oct-14 16:23:47

Our architects recommendations aren't available for 6 months (we really do want to start sooner than that).

I suppose the vat thing has made me question whether they are honest? Unless I've misunderstood and there is a legal way to not pay vat (in which case why would you?)

nikki1978 Fri 10-Oct-14 16:23:49

The vat thing isn't a big deal. Lots of people do that. He has given you the choice so it is up to you. If he seems good go with him and pay the vat. I would pay cash personally.

MrsTaraPlumbing Fri 10-Oct-14 16:31:29

It is difficult.
Problem with personal recommendations is is that those people have a fairly limited experience.

Personally I would use anyone who passed the tough scrutiny to be on the Which Trusted trader website.
I run a business myself and we are on this site.
A trading standards officer makes a personal visit and interviews the person who runs the business for a couple of hours. They look at all the paper work. Check terms and conditions. Check in great detail that a company is working to the letter of the law. They take a random selection of customers to contact for references.

No other organisation has such a high level of scrutiny.

Apart from that I would be looking for:
My gut feeling are they professional (good) or just slick salesmen (bad).
Are they members of any professional organisations?
Have they been trading in your area for many years?
Do they offer to out you intouch with other customers?
Do they mention specific qualifications they hold?
A detailed quotation in writing - is essential.
Ideally further terms & conditions in writing?
If the badger you to commit to having the work done whilst they are in your home then that is a big NO NO - send them packing.

Littlepicklehead Fri 10-Oct-14 16:40:48

Thanks MrsTara that's really useful.

The one I like has an ICIOB qualification (member of CIOB?) and seems to have other construction and heal and safety accredixations. Also offered to show other work if we like the quote. Been trading a long time. I haven't had the quote yet but it will be a formal written quote.

So all sounds good so far. Interesting views on the vat, I did a quick google search after he left and consensus seemed to be it was dodgy, especially in having security if problems arise. But if we have a contract then we would be protected?

Argh confusing!

sacbina Fri 10-Oct-14 16:58:02

and 6 months is nothing to wait for a good builder. a good builder will and should not be available in the short term, they should be busy

Marmitelover55 Fri 10-Oct-14 17:01:03

We had to wait 7 months for our builder - well worth the wait smile

Littlepicklehead Fri 10-Oct-14 17:01:32

Is that definitely true though? Some of the larger companies have many teams and are able to mobilise more bodies if needed (this is what I have been told) so they have varying number of jobs at any one time?

We were supposed to be starting the build last weekend but lost our builder, so I'm hoping we can get a decent builder slowly sooner than late spring. Absolutely need to trust them though!

Littlepicklehead Fri 10-Oct-14 17:02:00

Not sure where that 'slowly' came from

ContentedSidewinder Fri 10-Oct-14 18:34:13

I went off personal recommendation from a very picky person, she was a friend of a friend. Viewed that build half way through. But knew of other builds he had done just didn't realise they were his at the time he was doing them. He was also a special police officer in his spare time so I felt more comfortable with that too.

Had gave me a written estimate with a breakdown of his labour, supplies and details of which companies would be supplying the stuff.

My builder wasn't VAT registered because he earned under the limit but this was because he invoiced me for his labour for the week so daily amount x 5 and I paid that as a bank transfer. He ordered stuff and I paid the suppliers directly, so builder's merchant, cement delivery, and any other trades eg plasterer, electrician, plumber.

I chose him because he listened to what I had to say, didn't push any particular idea of his onto me, and didn't make me feel stupid. Trust your gut instinct, the builder will be in your life and in your home for the next X months so you want to get it right. The builder was absolutely amazing, turned up every day, finished the job on budget and was tidy!

I have recommended him on here to other MNetters but we are in West Yorkshire and he is booked for the next 7 months. A decent builder is worth waiting for.

InsertUsernameHere Sat 11-Oct-14 01:07:23

'Interview' the people that have given the recommendation. Was the price they quoted the price they paid? Did they listen? What happened when they found something unusual? Did they stick to time scale. Did they come back and fix snagging. Do they miss having them about?? (Like someone said above - there are some fab builders - I miss mine, paid what they quoted, finished on time, not fazed by anything, and are happy to pop back to sort things). I would wait for a good builder. Just because one can start sooner doesn't mean the job will be finished any sooner - just in the same way as the lowest quote is not always the cheapest in the long run.
Re: VAT there is a big difference in my mind between a builder that is legitimately not VAT registered and you still pay by bank transfer and somebody you pay in cash. You want it all above board, in case heaven forbid you end up in court over the build.

Kahlua4me Sat 11-Oct-14 01:16:13

Personal recommendation is a good place to start and also how you feel shot the person.

Offering to do the work as cash without VAT sounds very dodgy. Especially as he had just met you.

Another place to try is your local council. They have a unit called Buy with Confidence, and all the trades on there are vetted thoroughly before being on the list. It is run through Trading Standards.

lavenderhoney Sun 12-Oct-14 16:58:01

My builder choose mesmile I asked around and found one lovely chap who was too busy and he sent round another buildersmile really good at everything, and a bit cheaper.

I asked if he would do it for cash- perhaps he's giving you the option as you can't claim it back? just get it all documented and make sure he's got insurancesmile

arna Sun 12-Oct-14 19:17:12

How big is the job?

I would wait for a good builder and would choose to schedule it for spring personally. Ours was a 16 wk build from April to august - double storey extension, restructure and total renovation of existing house with some outside landscaping (patio and driveway). They finished early and we have had fantastic post project customer service for minor remedial works even 2 yrs + afterwards.

It's a huge amount of money to spend and good builders will be in demand plus they will not work for rock bottom rates if times are good and they seem to be at the moment. My builder is booked up nearly a year in advance at the moment.

Apatite1 Sun 12-Oct-14 23:41:43

Arna, is the builder in South London by any chance? If so, could you PM me the details? It's exactly the same things we need in our place as you've had done!

LL12 Mon 13-Oct-14 08:09:17

I know a kitchen fitter is different, but I have now learned that when choosing someone to do some work in your house, if they anything at all which you would consider inappropriate or rude before starting then go with your gut and don't use them.
I found a fitter that seemed fine, no air's and graces but fine, did the best quote, had good ideas and was the only one that itemised everything.
When agreed to use him but when I said that I was not happy to put thousands of pounds into his bank account the day before delivery of the units only on delivery the attitude started.
When I spoke to him on the phone later he said that I needed to "Grow a pair", this was the red flag that I should have taken notice of.
From day 1 he has been a rude lazy vile man, the 2 weeks he said the work would take was 3 weeks ago and God knows when it will finish, I refuse now to be in the house on my own with him. He has an attitude about everyone especially females.
I just want this man out of my house, so now at least I can give advise, don't choose anyone that is rude to you in any way.

Sorry about the rant

Littlepicklehead Mon 13-Oct-14 11:33:15

Yikes that sounds awful LL. we had a builder pull out but with hindsight there were a few warning signs like that so it was really a blessing in disguise. I hope you are finished soon.

Still waiting for some quotes to come back but I'm going to go with the ones I feel are most professional, best references and most detail, and try not to be swayed by when they can start.

Still confused over the VAT thing as he said we can pay by bank transfer, it would all be invoiced and contracted etc so doesn't sound like he's trying to make it untraceable. We're going to wait and see how much he actually quotes first and then discuss it in more detail with him.

Oh, and although the job isn't as mush as a two storey extension and internal remodelling, it's a rear extension which involves a lot of excavation, some hefty steels, and some internal work so it's not a small job

InsertUsernameHere Mon 13-Oct-14 19:34:29

re: Vat it might be that he is small enough that he is legitImately not Vat registered. A good sign he is not asking cash - need to get him to clearly say what the deal is. In order to stay under the threshold he might require you to pay all the separate trades. This may be tricky as they are less answerable to the builder, as when push comes to shove you are employing them not the builder.

Woozlebear Tue 14-Oct-14 07:22:20

Personally I think you're getting too hung up about the vat thing. It's not uncommon and IMO you're lucky to have found a reputable decent sized company who will do that. Usually it's smaller people and the larger cos get very sniffy at the suggestion.

IME it has absolutely sod all to do with their honesty and general decency in other respects. I think partly because they're not actually gaining much - the advantage is all the customer's.

If he says you can pay vat, he's obviously vat registered so actually the fact that he's giving you the choice means he's doing well at the moment. If business was slow he'd need every penny through the books.

If you feel that strongly that you should pay vat, pay it. Personally the fact that I am expected to pay it to renovate an otherwise uninhabitable house whereas the developers of new builds don't, makes me feel otherwise.

Woozlebear Tue 14-Oct-14 07:26:46

Op it sounds like you're confused about his motivation re the vat thing. Since he's given you both options, it's just that the job is obviously much cheaper in cash, so it might make the difference between you going ahead or not. So he's let you know that you could do it cash if that makes the crucial difference. That way, if that's the clincher for you, he wins the job and you win a cheaper price. If not, you can do it through the bank and forget all about it.

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