When you’re planning construction, you’ve got a lot on your mind – the last thing you want to worry about is whether your builder has skipped town or not. But that’s what happens to people every year at the hands of cowboy builders. These guys offer temptingly low costs and impossible promises, then leave behind disasters and unfinished jobs before getting out of dodge.
For those interested in protecting themselves from this unfortunate fate, there are signs to look out for. The following list will help you identify cowboy builders before they can squeeze your wallet.
1. They will be available immediately for work
An established business will have a fairly full schedule. If someone tells you he’s available for work tomorrow, be suspicious. Why isn’t he busy? Why doesn’t he have other customers to attend to first? It may mean he doesn’t have any customers. When you discuss scheduling with your builder, take the time to examine the dates presented to you. If the availability seems suspiciously convenient, it probably is.
2. They won’t have references to provide you with
A reputable builder can offer you names and addresses of previous customers; a cowboy builder will be reluctant to share that information with you, or refuse outright.
Further, a reputable builder’s references will check out. Always be sure to call and visit the references provided. Ask to see the work the builder completed, as well as inquire into the quality and timeframe of the work. If you can’t get anyone to show you an example of a builder’s previous work, assume there is no good example.
3. They will provide an exceptionally cheap quote
When looking for a builder, you’re probably going to shop around a bit looking for quotes. Don’t go with the cheapest price – that may be a cowboy builder, whose charges have nothing to do with the cost of your proposed project and everything to do with how much they can swindle from you.
Make sure to ask for an itemized quote. In the UK, some financial institutions provide an online app that helps customers determine what the going rate is for a building job. This can help you ascertain whether your builder is lowballing you or overcharging. Materials and costs should be explained, and a pay schedule should be created to either pay in installments or upon completion of the work. If they ask you to pay upfront, find another builder.
4. They won’t have a registration or license to show you
Always ask your builder to show their credentials. Many countries have national registries or organizations that builders are required to register with in order to be legally recognized and licensed. Look into the registration your builder should have, then check to see if he does have it. If your builder tries to offer any reason for not having credentials, walk away. Whatever the reason is, it’s not good enough to put your own property in jeopardy.
5. They won’t have a landline or address
A cowboy builder doesn’t lock himself down to any particular place as part of his strategy. If your builder can’t provide a landline number or a permanent address to contact, then he might have reason to stay under the radar. That’s not good news for you. Although landline numbers are declining in popularity, a lack of a business address is a big red flag.
6. They will ask you to pay in cash
Along with asking you to pay upfront, a cowboy builder will often ask for cash payments. This allows them to avoid paying taxes or registering the payment as income. It also prevents you from having a paper trail to prove that you’ve paid him. Never pay your builder in cash. A transaction with a paper trail is critical to protecting yourself in case of a shoddy or unfinished job, and provides you with the means to claim a refund.
7. They won’t have a clear timeframe for finishing the project
An experienced builder can give you a reasonable estimate for how much time your project will take, from beginning to end, including estimating what will be accomplished at what point.
If your builder won’t commit to a time frame or seems unsure or how long it will take him to complete a project, he either doesn’t have the experience to calculate it or isn’t intending to finish it. Get a timeframe in writing, and even after hiring your builder, remember to check the time frame to make sure that he’s following his own schedule.
8. They don’t have a history
If you look up your builder online, you expect to find some indication of his presence and history. Past customers will have talked about their experiences, registration for his business will be available, and information about him will be online. If your builder has none of these, definitely be wary. They could be offline, but it’s unlikely that any reputable builder has no online presence to back up his work.
9. They won’t explain the work they’re doing to you
A decent builder will take the time to communicate with a client about project expectations and requirements. Be sure to talk to your builder about what exactly will be happening during the project. What materials will he use, how will he construct, what does he need to do, what variables are still present?
If your builder dismisses your questions, refuses to simplify explanations and generally resists being transparent about his building plans, you may be dealing with a cowboy builder who’s hiding behind jargon to mask his credentials or ill intentions. Red flag.
10. They will refuse to sign a contract
Never begin a medium to large project without a contract, and consider a contract for a small project as well. A contract will lay out all the terms of the project, including payment plans, construction plans and timelines. These are all critical to have in writing. A builder who’s reluctant to sign a contract is trying to protect himself, but not you.
Contracts are mutually beneficial for customers and reputable builders. If your builder is afraid of contracts, he might just be a cowboy builder, and you should stay away.
Construction projects can be overwhelming, and it’s difficult to keep track of everything that can go wrong. You want to know your builder can handle his side of the job.
Featured photo credit: Dave Barker via flickr.com