Red flags to watch out for when choosing a builder

Hi Kieran. My partner and I recently received planning permission for our forever home, and are now in the process of appointing a builder to build our house.

We are generally happy with his quotation so now it is more by way of a background/sanity check before we proceed to the next stage. What about the things we should ask this potential builder before we commit further?

What should the builder be able to provide by way of peace of mind to us in terms of his quality of work and indeed professionalism? What insurance/warranties should be in place? What accreditations should a builder have? Are there any red flags?

Mark and Mags, Carrigtwohill

Hello Mark, Mags. Many thanks for this great question.

Hiring a builder is of course a massive step and, without doubt, one of the most crucial appointments in the building of your new home. He or she will be instrumental in many of the key day-to-day on site decisions, many of which will be behind the scenes but will fundamentally affect the quality and your enjoyment of your new home — so you really do need to get this right.

The other issue here is that there is no real qualification required to become a builder, which is very unfortunate. So let’s run through some key steps to ensure your chosen builder is reputable and likely able to professionally deliver your new home.

What is their background?

Firstly, even though there is still no formal qualification to become a builder, many housebuilders are in fact carpenters. The benefit of coming form a carpentry background is that they will likely have a good working knowledge of most aspects of building, particularly from blockwork onwards.

Kieran McCarthy: How long has their company been established and how many people have they working?

Carpentry is also a very detailed and precise trade, so an individual who has studied and trained as a carpenter will likely possess some of these traits, and should inject this fine focus and attention to detail into the building and finishing of your new home — so certainly, ask the builder what his background trade is.

What about their business?

Next, I would ask him a little more about his company. How long has it been established and how many people has he working with him? Who would be running the day-to-day operation on-site (likely to be either the builder himself or his next-in-command)?

If it is the builder, he will likely have other day-to-day commitments too so he won’t be on-site all day so there is a limit he can achieve on his own.

If it is his second-in-command, then this is generally more efficient — as long as the builder himself calls regularly (once or twice a week).

How busy are they?

The next key question is how busy is the builder? If he or she is quiet in this climate, you need to ask yourself why.

Many builders’ greatest fear is running out of work so they take on too much and the clients can suffer in terms of quality and missed deadlines.

Many builders’ greatest fear is running out of work so they take on too much and the clients can suffer in terms of quality and missed deadlines.

The construction industry is very busy at present so a quiet builder could be a sign of a hidden issue.

On the other hand, many builders’ greatest fear is running out of work so they take on too much and the clients can suffer in terms of quality and missed deadlines, so you really need to get a sense of how many houses a builder builds in a year and how many he has under construction at the moment.

Can we get references?

I would seek to speak to a previous client or two. It is all very well for a builder to say he or she can build four houses a year, but if those four clients were unhappy with the service and professionalism they received, you will likely fall foul of the same issues.

You could ask them what was the builder like to deal with, day to day? Did he always return calls?

Did he always follow up when required? How was his accounting on the job? Was the site always kept tidy and safe? What were his crew like? How were neighbours handled during construction? What was the quality of the finish like? Did he stay on budget and on schedule? Would you recommend him or her to a friend?

This might seem like a long list, but these questions will flesh out the real deal from a charlatan.

In recent times, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) has created a register of builders who have had to qualify to join Construction Industry Register Ireland (CIRI). These builders need to apply to CIRI to be included on this register and these builders and their key personnel need to adhere to a strict annual continuous professional development programme.

And insurance? Warranties?

Most builders now will have employers’ and public liability insurance, and builders who work with architects regularly will likely have builder’s all-risks insurance.

In terms of the overall build warranty, this depends on how the project or contract is set up. In an RIAI contract and in most similar (eg Law Society of Ireland) contracts, 12 months tends to be the industry standard, but a good builder should give you years more in practice as it is his (or her) name and reputation you will be relying on at this stage and, after all, these are key questions another young couple might be asking you when they look for a reference for this builder for their new home build.

  • Civil engineer Kieran McCarthy is founder and design and build director with KMC Homes.
    He is a co-presenter of the RTÉ show, Cheap Irish Houses.

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