I'm a builder – 6 questions you should always ask to sniff out rogue traders | The Sun

A HERO builder famed for standing up to Cowboy Builders has offered advice to homeowners on how to avoid falling prey to their scams. 

Complaints related to Cowboy Builders skyrocketed by 31% between 2020 and 2021, according to new research from SGS Engineering.


But Graham Nash, who works for Pinnacle Builders in Morley, Leeds, has helped over 350 people who’ve been scammed by rogue tradespeople.

Speaking exclusively to Fabulous, he reveals the six questions customers should always ask builders to avoid being the next victim of Cowboy Builders.

1. Can you offer references?

Graham highlights the importance of vetting tradespeople as thoroughly as you can before you engage with them.

"Methods of doing this include checking the tradesperson out on Companies House, and by speaking to previous clients that they have done work for," he advises.

"You can ask if you can see their previous work to be sure that the quality of workmanship is to your requirements."

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He goes on to say that other tactics include checking the tradesperson’s social media (if they have one) and seeing what the comments on their posts say.

Graham adds that if you’re struggling to track down previous clients or they don’t seem social media savvy, any professional builder should be happy to provide you with references on request.

"If your builder isn’t willing to do this, it’s a strong indication that the work is outside of their capabilities or isn’t in their field," the builder points out.

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"When using trusted trading sites where most homeowners now seek their builder, you still need to vet that builder as some so slip through the net on their vetting system."

He adds: "It’s also worth noting that building companies that close down can re-register on these sites with no internal investigation."

2. Are you part of a Trade Association?

"Trade Associations help maintain good standards in the building industry," Graham comments. "Members must be vetted before joining, and they’re regularly monitored to ensure that they’re maintaining good working practises."

He goes on to say that choosing a TA member to carry out work should ensure all work is carried out to competent standard.

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But Graham warns that after asking your builder, you should always check if the builder does actually belong to the Trade Association.

"If he says he is and it turns out he is not, it means they’re dishonest and probably committing a criminal offence," he explains. "You can usually do this through the Trade Association’s website.     

"If a building company claims they are part of a trading association, make sure that their registration is up to date, or call the association to confirm."

He also urges people to make sure the builder has public liability or employee liability insurance and to ask for copy of this. 

"You can always call the insurance company to check whether the document is active," the builder adds.

3. Can we put this down in writing?

According to Graham, it's vital to have a full contract in place stipulating a breakdown of the work with which both parties are 100% happy.

"Building work should not commence until a detailed and fully agreed schedule is in place," he says. "If individuals haven’t worked with a builder before, they may be unsure of the etiquette with this, but it’s essential you have an agreement in writing from the start.

"Having an informal agreement can put you at risk of fraud."

The hero builder adds: "It's imperative you cover all aspects of the work within the contract to prevent surprises, including any additional work or unforeseen costs.

"Get the price in writing and confirm payment terms before work starts."

4. Why is your quote so much cheaper than other builders’?

Graham recommends always getting three or four quotes so you can compare a like-for-like quotation.

"A cheaper quote does not necessarily mean they’re not a good builder, nor does the higher price guarantee they’re the best," he explains.

"You must be clear from the outset what works need undertaking, so that all builders are pricing for the same works."

The builder warns that if they offer a very cheap quote or estimate, it could mean they’ve made a mistake.

A cheaper quote does not necessarily mean they’re not a good builder, nor does the higher price guarantee they’re the best

"Question their price as the builder may not be experienced enough to give accurate figures, or may look to give you the best price possible to entice you in," Graham advises. "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

"If you’re suspicious of how good of a deal you’re getting, ask them to explain the breakdown of their costings."

5. Can we confirm a payment schedule and method?

The builder says that every customer should be looking to leave enough money aside that they would be able finish the project with another tradesperson should their original option leave the job unexpectedly.

"If there is a breakdown of communication between the homeowner and the tradesperson, then the crucial factor is how much money has been paid by the homeowner," he explains.

"Stage payment will protect both parties. This is the payment of an agreed amount when an agreed stage of the project has been completed and should be determined by the size of the contract and the period of time to complete."

He goes on to say that it's common for Cowboy Builders to disappear when they have been paid a large sum of cash before completing the job.

"Making sure a stage payment schedule is in your contract can help you avoid this," he says. "Rogue traders will often say that they only accept cash, and this could be because they’re acting dishonestly and looking to avoid paying VAT.

"Make sure there is a retention at the end of the project for any snagging works. This should be paid when all works are completed, within a reasonable time frame."

6. Can we pause the work for now – I’m not happy with how things are progressing?

The builder says that even when you’ve asked all the right questions, some jobs can still go wrong.

"If you feel unhappy with how the work is progressing, make sure you address the situation with the builder as quickly as possible," he says. "The first time that it's flagged that something is wrong, and you aren’t happy with how the job is going, stop it there and then.

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"It's important to address the situation as quickly as possible to avoid a conflict later, which could result in you losing thousands of pounds."

He concludes: "A professional builder will listen to your concerns and make sure that you’re happy with the work they’re providing."

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