Google the words “self build” and “ builder” and you will quickly find a plethora of stories about costly and delayed builds. This alone can make you rethink starting a self build project but when you have your heart set on a creating a dream home, you can either accept the risk or ensure that during the planning stage you undertake as much research as possible to choose the right builder for your self-build. Being prepared with questions to ask a house builder and taking the time to check and double check responses can and will stand you in good stead to minimise those risks.
Much like finding an architect, choosing a builder will be one of the biggest decisions you make with your self build/bespoke home. So with over 15 years experience in home building, we thought it would be worth sharing the questions we’d ask when hiring a house builder.
10 Questions to Ask A House Builder
#1 Are you insured and can you provide documentation?
Don’t just presume that all builders have the correct insurance in place. They need to have cover that protects them against property damage along with personal and public liability; this will protect you and the general public in the event of an accident or injury.
All reputable and professional builders will be more than happy to show insurance documentation so that you can ensure it covers the type of work you are hiring them for. You may even find this on their website or in marketing materials.
#2 How long will it take to construct my home?
Current workload and general availability will factor into how long it will take to complete your self-build.
If they are available to start right away this may signal that they aren’t in demand and worth spending more time on references (see below), whereas lengthy wait times and several jobs could signal being overstretched.
Using your specifications, your builder should also be able to provide you with a schedule which will keep you in the loop and help you understand which tasks will be completed at what times. This is not only important for project managing the build but is key to making decisions around payment releases.
#3 How and when can I make changes or upgrades to the building during construction?
While it can cost more money to make changes on site compared to the planning stages, you will want to understand the process of making changes or upgrades during the build.
Will there be formal points where you can be walked through the progress? Will you have a regular schedule in order to stay in the loop on progress and review any issues that arise so that you can make changes quickly?
Find out what their policy is and ensure this is put in writing.
#4 How will I pay for your services?
If a builder requests large amounts of cash upfront, then alarm bells should ring. If their business is struggling to manage its own cash flow there is an increased risk of work not being completed.
Paying upfront can also take away your ability to agree staged payment based upon completion of work. This is standard with most bespoke home builders and allows you to ensure that there is an incentive to correct any niggles and ensure that all work is completed 100% to specifications.
#5 Are you VAT registrated?
You cannot benefit from zero rating for VAT on materials for new build, or most of the VAT concessions on renovation work if the builder you hire is not VAT registered
#6 Do you subcontractors? If so, which ones?
If your builder regularly uses subcontractors, they should be able to provide you with a list of those that they use. If they continually switch between subcontractors, it will be hard to verify references or check against references that are being provided (different teams may have built those homes).
In addition you may wish to ask:
- Who will be your one point of contact for the build? How much time will they be onsite and when will they be available to liaise with you. The last thing you want is to be communicating with several different workers who may not be able to make decisions. This will be even more difficult if subcontractors are being used.
- What process and policies are followed to select subcontractors?
#7 Can you provide references?
Along with an understanding of how long the builder has been in business and feel for number of properties that they’ve built, you will want to obtain references and ask if you are able to visit and talk to them directly.
If you have specific requirements in your building specifications, ask for references for similar builds. Having a builder who is experienced on working on your type of property is more than beneficial.
While you will be able to find reviews via their social media sites and website, talking directly to previous home owners will enable to ask about the builders themselves too:
- do the builders turn up on time?
- are they polite?
- did you have regular meetings with the site manager/boss?
- what are their labourers and trades like?
- did they clear up after themselves and keep the site tidy?
- was the project was brought in on budget and on time?
- were there any extras or hidden costs?
If you do find anything that concerns you, then do speak to the builder and ask what happened in that situation. There may lessons learnt from that situation and it's worth asking to ensure you have all the facts before discounting them from your selection.
#8 Do you offer a warranty?
A good contractor will be able to explain whether or not they offer warranties and what specifically this covers including services and materials. They should also be specific about the time period that this covers too.
You will want to be clear about what is covered by the builder themselves versus manufacturer’s warranty so make sure this is listed out separately.
A good builder will ensure that they articulate this in writing to ensure you are both agreed upon the specifics.
#9 Can you give me written confirmation?
You’ll have noted from the above questions, we have regularly asked whether they could be put in writing.
Verbal conversations can be misinterpreted and leave both parties at risk, so do ensure that written estimations are provided including:
- Rubbish disposal
- Cost of materials
- Completion date
- Payment Terms
- Safety and security requirements; and
- Anything else you can think of during discussions!
#10 What other details do you need from me?
Our top tip would be to not worry about asking too many questions up front. Take your time to ensure that you are happy that you have enough information to complete the tendering process.
A professional builder shouldn’t be surprised by your questions and in fact, it should help tick off several questions they should have for you as part of their own due diligence.
If they are an experienced home builder who is invested in ensuring you have good communication and as little as possible issues on site, they will have several questions for you too.
Regardless of whether the builder has come highly recommended from friends or family; meeting and interviewing as many builders as you can will add significant value to your self-build process.
Firstly, it will help ensure that your specifications and tender documents are clear, as each builder should question you on the detail. Secondly, you will get a feel for their ability to communicate; if they are providing a quote with little interaction there is potential that this could be a problem during the build too.
When it comes to building your dream home, you want to be 100% confident in the builder you are trusting, so do personalise the above questions to fit your build. And enjoy!
We'd love to hear your views:
We’d love to know if you found these questions helpful:
- Are there any other questions that you want to ask before selecting your builder?
- If you’ve completed your self-build, then what was your experience during the tender process?