Know who’s in your home
When finding a builder, go by recommendation and ask to visit the site he’s currently working on or a past renovation project. Ask for references but when you speak to people, make sure they’re not his friends and family! When using someone new, try them out on small jobs to begin with.
It’s perfectly acceptable for the builder you commission (who will also usually be the project manager) to bring in his own team of labourers to carry out the job, but check first how long he’s been working with them.
If you have any complaints about his staff’s behaviour speak up.
One of my builders recently brought in a labourer who seemed to be on a ‘cigarette break’ every time I saw him. I complained to my builder, who had a word with him.
Have a clear schedule of works
I always write a clear list, room by room, of exactly what I want to be done. The lead builder should then draw up a ‘schedule of works’ for you to approve. Be clear from the start how often they expect to be paid – weekly or fortnightly, for instance. Most will need some cash up front to buy materials of course. At the end of the job, write a ‘snag list’ of anything that’s unfinished or needs fixing. Always withhold some money (10-20%) until the works are complete as an incentive to come back.
It’s notoriously stressful having a houseful of builders, but even if there are times you feel like throttling them, always communicate clearly and calmly. Beware of mini add-ons too. Clarify whether you’ll be charged for the extra work you’ve asked for or if it’s being done as a favour.
Be prepared for constant decision-making. If you keep changing your mind about the fixtures and fittings you want, you’ll delay the project. A builder will go for mid-range materials usually unless you specify in advance that you want top-end or budget. If you’re renovating your own home usually you’d choose all the materials you want e.g. the tiles for your new bathroom, the work surfaces for your kitchen. Builders aren’t interior designers – you’d pay someone separately for that. But if you’re doing up a rental property you may have a regular builder you trust to make those decisions for you.
Offer early-finish incentives
If you’re working to a tight schedule, which is often the case if you’re letting out a property (or trying to get your kitchen extension done by Christmas) consider offering a cash incentive to finish early – and a financial penalty if they over-run. Good luck!