Jayne Dowle

How to talk to your builder

How to talk to your builder
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Television has a lot to answer for. The terrible reputation of the building trade for one. But not all builders are out to wreck your house, rob you of your life-savings and leave you in need of rescue by Nick 'DIY SOS' Knowles, the slightly smug TV-expert builder who goes round making good the mess other builders have left behind.

Then again, not all builders are honest, trustworthy and committed to doing a good job. Inviting builders – or any of the associated trades such as plumbers, heating engineers, electricians or carpenters - into your home is a modern minefield, pitted with bitter recriminations and empty bank accounts.

Much of this could be avoided if people knew how to talk to their builder in the first place. This means treating him if not as a friend, then certainly not as your mortal enemy. He will effectively be living with you for weeks, so for heaven’s sake show him where the facilities are. A dedicated lavatory, appropriate tea and coffee facilities, parking permits and a clear policy on use of the radio are vital if domestic harmony is to prevail.

Show your trust. When he’s working, ask questions, but don’t manifest yourself ghost-like behind him in order to scrutinise the turn of every screw.

That said, make sure that when he’s doing your job, he’s doing just that. Nothing is more frustrating than a builder who turns up, puts in a couple of hours and then escapes in his van to finish pointing a wall on the other side of town.

If you’re paying for labour on a day-rate, rather than an overall price, this is doubly important. When you’re asking around for recommendations, enquire about such misdemeanours. Also, be clear about when you expect the working day to start and finish. And be available within this working day to inspect and offer feedback. This might mean taking time off work yourself, but if you want a knock-through open-plan living area with bi-fold doors onto the garden, something’s got to give.

Hold on though. We’re getting ahead of ourselves already. First things first. Obviously, you will want to follow up personal recommendations and have two or three companies round to discuss the project.

However, before you even think about talking to the bloke with the pencil behind his ear, talk to each other. An awful lot of couples decide on a huge job – let’s say a kitchen extension – without actually managing to agree the details in advance. They leave the bickering over the butler’s sink until the builder is sitting in front of them wondering if he is going to get home for his tea before 10pm.

A clear plan, with measurements, figures and ideally visuals of what you hope to achieve is a great help. Contrary to popular belief, the builder is not there to make you spend more than you want. What would be the point? If you run out of funds, you won’t be able to pay him for the work he does.

Ah funds. You’re going to have to discuss money. When you’ve made your choice, take refuge in a contract, which is advisable anyway. If your builder is a member of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) you can use their version, or try the Joint Contracts Tribunal which produces documents for domestic use.

As well as the schedule of work, the contract should set out what you are paying and when. For a sizeable job, such as a loft conversion, it is perfectly acceptable to undertake 'stage payments'. This means you pay the builder in chunks as you go along, subject to the work achieved being satisfactory.

Satisfactory. A word which brings with it more nuances than there are shades of white paint. It’s up to you to decide if you’re happy, but if you’re not, this is no time to be passive-aggressive. Disappearing on holiday without warning, withholding payment and sending terse text messages in lieu of face-to-face conversation is not the way to get matters rectified. Neither is allowing matters to reach such boiling point that you bring in another builder over the head of your original choice. This is never, ever a good approach and can lead to cement mixers at dawn. Sit down with your builder and tell him your concerns. If he’s any good, he’s probably spotted them already.

You might be wondering what qualifies me to speak with such authority on builders, clearly a most testing of topic. Well, I happen to live with one, so I get to talk to him every day.

Jayne Dowle is a freelance property writer