How to choose the right builder for your new home?

New Builds

How to choose the right builder for your new home?

When choosing the right new build specialist, there are some key issues you need to think about. In this article, we’ll take you through them step by step.

  • Choose someone with lots of specific experience
  • Choose someone you’d feel comfortable working with long-term
  • Ask where the tradesman/helper is usually based
  • Be really clear about your timescale expectations
  • Get a detailed quote from each tradesman/helper you’re considering
  • Find out about other professional membership
  • Ask who will actually be doing the work
  • Check that a tradesman/helper is happy to do follow-up work

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Choose someone with lots of specific experience

First of all, look for a tradesman/helper who has plenty of relevant, recent experience: For example, a specialist who has built several of this type of structure before, using similar materials and to a similar projected timescale.

New build specialist Conor Finegan emphasises:

“The first question I would suggest a homeowner asks is – have you done anything similar before? Because there are a lot of people plugging for jobs who are, for example, painter-decorators – but who also say they do everything from garden fencing to extensions and even new builds. These are the people who haven’t necessarily got the experience – but will still take the work.”

Choose someone you’d feel comfortable working with long-term

As well as reading the feedback on Helpers.ie, it’s worth asking to see photos of previous work, and to speak to one or two of a tradesman’s/helper’s previous customers. That way, you’ll be able to find out what a particular building firm is like to have around on a day-to-day basis, over a fairly long period of time.

This is particularly important with large projects like new build developments, which typically go on for several months. For example, as well as being competent, were they punctual and polite? Did previous customers find that they cleaned up properly after themselves? How well did they resolve unexpected problems or complications? A good building firm should be happy to put you in touch with previous clients.

Ask where the tradesman is usually based

Another factor that becomes particular important on lengthy projects is a tradesman’s/helper’s location – as Conor explains:

“For a complicated project like a new build, you’d want someone reasonably local; you don’t want people coming in from two counties away.

“That’s because they’re not going to be as responsive – for example if there’s a problem, or if something happens at the weekend, they’re just not going to be around and it’s going to be harder for them to manage the project effectively.”

Be really clear about your timescale expectations

Conor adds that it’s also crucial to make clear any timescale expectations or priorities early on:

“It’s worth discussing availability with the tradesman/helper at a really early stage.

“If a homeowner wants a project completed before Christmas, for example, the tradesman/helper needs to be able to check all his guys are available to complete the project by the date. It’s really about seeing with your timescale expectations match.”

Get a detailed quote from each tradesman you’re considering

It’s important that the quotes you’ll receive can be compared like-for-like, and should include costs for all of the following:

  • Labour – including the hire of any sub-contractors
  • Materials
  • Any extra expenses, like site maintenance and security, temporary toilet facilities for the tradesmen/helpers, the removal of waste and the cost of scaffolding hire.

The quote document should also make clear the level of finish the specialist would be providing. For example, will they stop after they’ve built the main ‘shell’ and fitted the doors and windows? Will they be fitting a kitchen and bathroom, including appliances? Or are they offering to take care of absolutely everything, up to and including the final coat of paint?

Find out about other professional membership

It’s not essential for a new build specialist to be a member of any particular trade body. However, professional membership does indicate they take their profession seriously – particularly if it’s an organisation that requires them to adhere to certain standards – so it’s worth checking.

Ask who will actually be doing the work

Ask the tradesman/helper who comes to quote on your project who will actually be doing the work. Will he be ultimately responsible for the build, heading up a team of permanent employees? Or will he be subcontracting the work out?

Many good new build specialists subcontract out certain tasks – this is not necessarily a problem. But as Conor emphasises, it’s important you find out the extent to which work will be outsourced – and crucially, who will be taking responsibility if there are any issues:

“We’ve got all our own crew – but what we find with other subcontractors is, they take the work but then they sub it out to other crews – and they’re just taking commission on the work. And then, of course, the client isn’t actually dealing with the person they gave the job too.

“I can personally vouch for the competence and trustworthiness of everyone working on a job I take on – and I am responsible for sorting out any issues that do arise. There are certain trade areas in which we don’t hire permanent staff; for example electricians. But even then we use the same subcontractors again and again, so we know them and trust them.”

Check that a tradesman/helper is happy to do follow-up work

With a large project like a new build, there can be complications and issues which don’t become apparent until after the project is completed and the tradesmen have left the site.

It is, therefore, a good idea to choose a tradesman/helper who specifies that he will be happy to return to the property and resolve any snags that arise in the weeks following the build. Some tradesmen/helpers will put this assurance in writing, in the contract they provide you with.

It’s common to arrange a retention payment – typically between about 2% and 5% of the overall cost of the build – which you as the homeowner keep until final sign-off on the project, to ensure the tradesman/helper finishes the job to standard.

Some tradesman/helper are willing to wait up to six months to receive their retention payment (to cover the period during which any post-build complications typically present themselves) so do ask what a tradesman’s/helper’s attitude to retention payments is.

It’s also a good idea to ask about their attitude to follow-up work and snagging when you’re talking to any previous clients.

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