How To Find The Right Builder? Learn How To Avoid Cowboy Builders

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When you invest in a property, no matter what size it is, you want to get everything right and on time. And, at a certain point, you might wonder: “How to find the right builder”?

We’re here to share with you our experience.


Where to find a right builder?

How to know if a builder is reliable?

How to avoid fraud?

Some things you need to know before working with a builder

What happens when something goes wrong?


Where to find a right builder?

It’s important to find a reliable and professional building team to work on your project. There are a few options to do so:

1. Ask for recommendations. Ask your architect, family members, friends, and people whose opinion you trust to pass you a contact of a builder they would recommend.

2. Search online. Go to local websites, forums, and social media groups.  Thoroughly read the reviews but be aware of who leaves them. The reviews must be credible.

No secret nowadays that a company can just pay a copywriter to generate a good review. Please, be aware of this.

Find the right builder

How to know if a builder is reliable?

1. Make a background research

You just found a good candidate for a job. What’s next? Make sure you do a full company check-out of the following aspects:

  • When was the company founded? A company founded recently can be professional, but it will not have enough projects in a portfolio to show. It also might not have the relevant experience, as well as the customers’ feedback.
  • Check information about the company’s directors on Companies House. All limited companies in the UK must register with Companies House. A company, that provided publicly available information, is more transparent and reliable.
  • Try to find a builder with the relevant experience and completed projects. If you’re going to build or convert an HMO or co-living space, but a builder has no projects of this typology in the portfolio, the whole process can be more complicated because of the specifics.
  • Who are they working with? See who are the partners, subcontractors, and suppliers and be sure they are trustworthy.
  • Pay attention to whether their email domain shows the company name or it is just a standard one, like gmail or yahoo, more suitable for personal use. Such a small detail is important. It’s more professional and convenient to use a corporate email.
  • Check their website and social media. How the information is structured, and what reviews and comments people leave there.
Find the right builder

2. Check the qualification

Before appointing a building team, you might check its qualification, registration, affiliation to trade associations, and relevant certificates. For example:

  • Check the approved traders on your council’s website;
  • Ask a builder to show you a CSCS card;
  • Call the organizations a builder is affiliated with. Check whether this information is correct and whether the builder is a bona fide member.
  • We recommend getting the insurer details from the builder to check if the insurance is still operating.
Find the right builder

3. Interview

After you did your initial due diligence on the company and you assessed that the builder looks credible, it is important to meet the candidate either face to face or via a conference call.

During the meeting, you will be able to appraise how professionally he and his team behave and if overall there is good chemistry.

You will need to liaise with him and his team for months to come, so having someone you get along with helps reducing the stress of the whole process.

Ask as many questions related to the scope of work and previous experience as possible.

Ask to provide photos of the completed projects or visit the locations.

And ask for the clients’ referrals. We recommend talking to the company’s clients to see whether they’re satisfied with the job.

How to avoid fraud?

Even if you have followed all the previous steps, unfortunately, there still might be a risk of fraud. Being careful with the financial part of the deal helps to protect yourself from scammers. What would we recommend you to do?

1- In general, construction works are subject to 20% VAT taxation apart from a few exemptions. HMO, for example, is subject to a 5% VAT.
If you notice that a builder is charging 20% VAT on your HMO project, you can kindly ask him to reduce it.

2- Get the VAT number of a company and check if this is valid by calling the HMRC VAR Helpline we have to replace VAR to VAT.

3- The quote should contain the cost of the materials, the labour cost, and the VAT.

4- Get a written estimate, costings for the job, and a time frame for each stage of the work.
Watch out: rogue builders offer unusually low quotes and suggest starting work immediately. A good builder normally is busy enough and doesn’t start less than in a few months down the line.

5- A contract must contain the scope of work, specifications, deadlines, and payment schedule. Having a contract improves your legal position and it’s essential to a business transaction. If a builder says the contract is unnecessary, it’s a bad sign. Cut the deal right away.

We should say that some builders might not honor the contract for smaller projects. Why? Because bringing a builder to court for a few thousand pounds is not worth it. You might spend a lot more money, not achieving a fair case resolution. That’s why it’s essential to find the right builder at the very beginning.

6- Avoid cash. Paying in cash increases the risk of being scammed, blackmailed, or involved in tax avoidance.
If the deal with cash payment doesn’t involve legal paperwork, the client is not legally protected. You will not be able to have a guarantee of work done or go to court in case of disputes.

7- Get bank coordinates, beware of suspicious financial channels (some builders prefer to be paid via specific card types which are typically used by scammers.)

8- Don’t pay a huge amount in advance. Transfer a small amount to check if the bank coordinates the builders shared are the right ones. Complete the transaction once the builder confirms the receipt of the amount. This helps to lose a lot of money if the scammers interfere.
A reliable builder will not ask for a deposit of more than 10%. It is quite common to negotiate 5% deposits on HMO projects with a construction cost of less than £500, 000.

9- Keep a record. If you talk to a builder on the phone or face-to-face, get it documented as well. If any dispute appears, don’t discuss it via social media; use email – this way you’ll have an official record of the issues.

10- Pay the installments after each stage is completed. Your architect can help you check progress on site and give you the green light to make the payments at each stage.

Some things you need to know before working with a builder

1- There are increased chances of finding rogue builders on projects with a construction cost of less than £500,000. The reason is simple. It is easier for them to walk away after receiving some money with minimal risk of going to court with the clients. It is quite expensive to go to court. And most of the time the clients wouldn’t do it as they risk spending more money and time than the chance to actually get some of their money back.

2- The builders will often try to do what is better and easier for them, not for the project. Your architectural team can help you keep your builder in line and stick to the project timeline.

3- Normally the builders lose interest in the job towards the end of the construction process because there is less money for them. They already got a good amount upfront. To reduce the chances for this to happen, we suggest awarding them with additional payments at the end of the job, if they finish on time and on budget.

4- Less professional builders usually don’t follow a timeline but find excuses to justify why they’re late. Not following a timeline can be caused by other factors, such as delays caused by suppliers.

You might carefully ask in the interview, before starting your project, how many projects a builder is working on at the moment. This will give you an understanding of potential delays. However, you can’t expect a builder to work only on your project.

5- The good builders are normally 20-30% more expensive. If you see a cheap service, remember that you might end up paying more, but in terms of delays, your nerves, and a headache it will bring to you.

What happens when something goes wrong?

If something goes wrong, you still have some protective measures in hands. Defend your rights through Consumer Advice, Trading Standards, Citizens Advice, solicitor, or HMRC.

Don’t forget to register any unsatisfying moments of a builder’s work to prove when it’s needed. With pieces of evidence, it’s easier to move forward to solve the situation.

In very critical situations, complain to the police or Action Fraud.


To find the right builder is just half the task. Going through the whole journey can be an actual headache. We hope that our recommendations based on our knowledge and experience will help you find the right builder more easily.

If you need any assistance, we’d be glad to help you and make any project easy and concern-free for you. Please, contact us or get in touch via our website. If you’d like to talk to an architect that’s successfully helped hundreds of people get planning permission across the country, please get in touch.

We invite you to our next live webinar: How To Find The Right Builder?

Picture of Giovanni Patania

Giovanni Patania

(Architect Director, Co-Founder)

Giovanni Patania is the Lead Architect and Co-Founder at HMO Architect and Windsor Patania Architects.

Originally from Siena, Italy, Giovanni worked as a Project Lead Architect at Foster+ Partners, designing Apple stores across the world,

An HMO Investor himself, Giovanni understands property thoroughly, both from an investor's perspective and technically, as an Architect.

With over 15 years of HMO development experience, working on over 150+ HMOs and a 95% Planning and Building Regulation success rate, Giovanni has the expertise and credentials to help you on your HMO journey."



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