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How to choose a good builder

How to choose a good builder

6 Ways to avoid hiring a cowboy

By Angelique Ruzicka

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How to choose a good builder

6 Ways to avoid hiring a cowboy

By Angelique Ruzicka

, |

3 min read

A home renovation can be exciting, but it can also be a stressful process because there’s a myriad of things that could go wrong, especially if you hire the wrong builder.

To save costs, homeowners will sometimes negate their due diligence. But this can end up costing homeowners more in the end.

‘Some homeowners fail to do their due diligence prior to hiring a builder. Once you have signed on the dotted line and paid them for their services, the process of getting out of the agreement can be time consuming and costly,’ warns Brendan Michie, attorney at Hammond Pole Attorneys.

So, if you’re prepared to do the groundwork what exactly should you do to ensure that you end up with reputable experts working on your property? Avoid hiring a cowboy builder by following these six tips

1. Make sure you have a budget

It’s not unheard of that building project can go over the agreed amount and that doesn’t mean that it’s because you hired a cowboy builder.

These days, this can be because of supply issues, but someone going extremely over budget could mean that you have hired a cowboy. It’s important to evaluate what you’re being told and to factor in what the contract terms and conditions were.

You’d also need to factor in any delays or breakages which can happen during home renovation projects and keep tabs on invoices as you go along,’ says Graeme Steen, chief operations officer of

Steen adds: ‘The general rule of thumb is to add at least 10% to your budget – just to be safe and ensure open lines of communication throughout the project.’

2. Cheap doesn’t always mean ‘best’

It’s tempting to cut corners by buying the cheapest building materials, but this may not always be the best thing to do for your home or to ensure that the end product results in a quality finish.

A cowboy may lure you into buying the more expensive materials. However, equally, there are reputable contractors with years of experience that know what they’re doing.

3. Check your builder’s references

A professional builder would have good references to hand that are easily available. However, a cowboy builder may be cagey about referrals or delay in giving them to you. Be sure to follow up on any referrals, ask the right questions and insist on getting more than on.

4. Avoid cash jobs

Cowboys typically ask for money upfront – usually the full amount. They may cite reasons like needing to pay for materials upfront or that they are low on cash flow. But the danger is that if you pay all your money at once, they could make off with it or start the job and not finish it properly.

When it comes to the professionals though, it’s not uncommon for them to ask you to pay for materials, such as paint and plaster, upfront.

‘You can save yourself a lot of headaches down the line if you ask your pro what specific products they prefer and get those. Quality is the key to a successful, long-lasting home renovation,’ says Steen.

Get receipts for everything, particularly if your builder has bought the materials.

5. Put together a contract

Get it all down in writing in a secure contract that is signed and understood by both parties. A verbal agreement or one based on a handshake is not good enough.

Don’t give up all the money upfront. Rather construct a payment plan and get the builder to agree to do the work in stages before the next set of lump sums are given. A good, reputable builder should agree to this.

A legal agreement in writing could help a long way if you were to take any matters to court.

6. Insist on seeing the builders NHBRC certificate

The National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) announced in December last year that it is currently piloting an online services platform for builder registration and renewal applications. This means it will be easier for builders to ensure they are up to date with their registration.

The NHBRC encourages homeowners to exercise caution when dealing with contractors, developers and builders by ensuring that they verify builder registration legitimacy of new certificates by visiting the NHBRC’s builder verification portal. Here you can check if a builder is legitimate by entering their registration certificate or company name.

The NHBRC says that during the pilot phase the usual certificate and e-certificates will continue to be issued until it’s all rolled out nationally. ‘We also intend to expand our offering in the next 18 to 24 months on this platform to include more of our products and services such as enrolments, inspections, and consumer complaints,” says NHBRC CEO Songezo Booi.

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