Important questions to ask a main contractor when building your own home

VELUX advisor and contractor in the attic.
One of the biggest decisions when building your own home is choosing your main contractor. Along with the architect, they play a huge role in bringing your self-build vision to life.

Here are some key considerations when deciding on a contractor:

  • Get quotes from at least three main contractors so you can compare them closely. Give them as much information about your plans and specifications as you can so their quote is accurate.
  • Make sure they are experienced in your build type, from materials and structure to working within your timescale
  • A personal recommendation is gold from someone you know and trust that worked with a contractor through the whole process.

When you have your candidates, here are some important questions to ask when hiring a contractor:

Are you accredited?

To make sure you’re working with a reputable company check that your build is a member of either the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) or The National Federation of Builders (NFB). These organisations have stringent membership criteria and a code of practice, including solvency and safety, so membership is a good indication you’re dealing with a trustworthy professional. Check that their membership is current.

 

Key takeaways
  • Check that the builder is fully insured and is a member of either the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) or The National Federation of Builders (NFB).
  • Speak to previous clients and ask about the entire experience, from communication to quality of the finished build
  • Ask to see case studies of previous work and visit a build in progress to get a sense of their way of working

Can I see some finished builds?

A good builder will be happy to show you examples of completed projects. Ideally, ask to see one that is similar to your planned build. It’s also good to look at any local projects in progress to get an idea of their quality of work and what shape a “live” building site is in.

Can I speak to any past clients?

This is one of the most important questions to ask a contractor when building a house. For an honest appraisal their work, you can’t go past speaking to a previous client, and a good builder won’t hesitate to put you in touch. You can ask the client about the whole experience, from planning to completion. Some good questions include

  • How was the communication?
  • How were issues dealt with?
  • Was the work delivered on time and on budget?
  • Would you recommend this builder to a friend?
"A personal recommendation is gold from someone you know and trust that worked with a contractor through the whole process."

Do you have insurance?

It’s a legal requirement that builders have at least public liability insurance. You can look out for this on their website, but all good builders will be happy to show you their certificates. Check that the insurance covers them against property damage as well as personal and public liability.

Do you use subcontractors?

It’s common practice for a main contractor to use subcontractors. For peace of mind, it’s a good idea to check the references of any subcontractors just as thoroughly. Simply ask the main contractor for a list of who they would use.

How will I pay?

If a builder asks for payment up front this is a massive red flag that they are not managing their cash flow or at worst, not a reputable choice. Good builders will agree terms of payment in writing before work begins. Most commonly this is a schedule of staged payments, such as when groundworks are satisfactorily completed or when the build has been made watertight. This payment model incentivises the builder to keep the project on schedule and helps you with your cash flow too. You can align these payment stages with any structural warranty inspections, and stage release points for your self-build mortgage.

How will we communicate during the build?

Put this one high up on your list of questions to ask before hiring a contractor! Regular and clear communication between you and the builder is essential for keeping the project running smoothly. Here are some good questions to ask potential candidates:

  • Who will my point of contact be?
  • How often will I get progress updates?
  • What is your response time for queries?
  • What is your process for communicating and actioning any issues that come up?
  • What’s the process if I want to make changes or upgrades during the build?

 

Ask for their communication policies and processes to be provided in writing.

How long will the build take?

How long your build takes will depend on the capacity of your contractor. Be cautious with a contractor who says they can start right away or finish super quickly - it may be a sign they’re not in demand or their standards are not as high as you’d like. A long wait for availability could mean they’re highly popular… or not great at time management. This is why it’s essential to check those references and get a proposed timetable of works as part of your quote. The best option is likely to be someone who gives you a doable schedule and realistic finish date.

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