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7 steps to achieve the Holy Grail: finding a trustworthy builder in London!

There’s certainly no shortage of builders and trades in London but finding a good one when you need one can be a needle-in-a-haystack job. Let’s face it, the building trade doesn’t have a great reputation in the capital, does it?

TV programmes such as Channel 5’s Cowboy Builders and BBC’s Watchdog and Rogue Traders are well known for exposing the worst offenders in the trade, while every householder in the land seems to have had at least one bad encounter they’re happy to tell you about over a pint.

So, what’s the secret? Expert builders, honest plasters, reliable plumbers, reputable electricians and tradesmen who take pride in their work must be out there somewhere, but how do you find them? Apparently, sourcing a good builder is one of the biggest causes of stress for anyone contemplating a building project. Is the quality of their work going to be any good? Will they turn up when they say they will? What are they like to deal with on a daily basis? Will they finish the job? Are they out to rip you off?

So, here’s a useful 7-step plan to help you achieve your goal of finding a trustworthy London builder.

  1. Ask family and friends

When in doubt, ask the people you trust most. Word of mouth recommendation is more powerful than you think. If you have friends who have had their garage converted, ask if they were happy with the builder who did the work. Has anyone you know had roofing work done? Kitchen redesign? New drive?

Whatever it is you are planning to have done, ask your friends and family if they can recommend someone. Most people will be only too pleased to offer advice about a recent building project. Of course, before you make contact with the builder, go round to your friend’s house to get a first impression of the quality of the work. Has the builder done a nice job? Good quality finish? Were they professional to deal with? If you like what you see, why not give them a call.

2. Consult your designer, architect or building surveyor

If you’re planning a home extension or other large project, other building professionals are likely to be involved. From architects to building surveyors, interior or garden designers, these experts are a valuable source of advice and information. They’ll have seen hundreds of projects completed over the years and will have a contact book full of trusted tradesmen. Why not ask for a recommendation for the best builder for your build?

What’s more, surveyors (such as Peter Barry Surveyors) and establish architects can often take on the role of project manager, professionally coordinating and supervising all the resources that go into the project with a view to achieving a quality result and, hopefully, exceeding client expectations. What you pay in additional contract or project management fees may save you in time and hassle further down the line, while giving you the peace of mind that a building expert is in charge of every little detail.

3. Look around the neighbourhood

Wherever you are in London, there’s bound to be a construction project going on nearby. One great way to find a good local building contractor is to take a look around your neighbourhood and see what everyone else is doing – and, crucially, who they’re using. If you’re bold enough, you could knock on the door and chat with the owners and/or the builders, and ask to have a look at the work they’re doing?

In any event, make a note (or take a picture of) any builders firms’ advertising boards outside so that you can check them out online when you get home, or make a phone call to find out more.

4. Contact your local planning authority

Every local council has a Building Control department whose job it is to ensure all building work in the area is done properly and complies with the relevant planning permission and building regulations. Building inspectors go out to site on a daily basis and will have come across a wide range of local builders, with a pretty good idea of who is a good one and who is a cowboy.

Not all planning departments will be happy to help out with recommendations but it’s certainly worth a try. A couple of friendly phone calls may be all it takes to come away with a list of builders that you know your local council will approve of.

5. Ask other tradesmen

The local building industry is a close knit community and chances are that most trades in the area know each other from having worked together on previous jobs. This gives them valuable insider knowledge of their peers’ strengths and weaknesses that you can use to your advantage.

Assuming that you have had a good experience with a local tradesperson – say, a plumber – in the past, why not make contact and ask if they can make a recommendation for a good builder they have worked with successfully in the past? Of course, if you’re planning a major project, it would help if you could offer your favourite plumber some work too!

6. Check out trade associations

Every reputable building company should be a member of an accredited trade association such as the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), the National Federation of Builders (NFB), the Guild of Builders and Contractors or the Guild of Master Craftsmen. Helpfully, each website has a ‘find a builder’ button with a seardchable database that enables you to find local member companies you can trust.

If you’re looking for a particular trade, there are separate trade associations and bodies for plumbers and heating engineers, electricians, roofing contractors, door/window installers, tree surgeons, driveway contractors and much more.

Finally, the government endorsed TrustMark is a Trading Standards approved scheme where registered firms are vetted, inspected and commit to working to government standards in terms of good trading practices, good customer service and technical competence.

7. Do some online research

The internet is a powerful marketing and research tool and, used wisely, can yield excellent results. Start by searching organisations such as Checkatrade, MyBuilder.com and Rated People as great resources to find a good builder.

Once you have a shortlist of builders, take a look at each company’s internet presence. What does the website look like? Are there any client testimonials and online reviews? Do they have a Facebook page, ideally with reviews from happy clients?

Finally, there’s no harm in joining an online forum that deals with property, renovations or home improvement queries. Why not ask for recommendations, or join a local Facebook group to get an idea of builders in your area? People love to provide feedback – especially if they’ve had a bad experience – so this may be a great way of being made aware of any cowboy builders operating in your neighbourhood. 

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