How to avoid cowboy builders

We’ve all heard the term ‘Cowboy builder’, but when you’re looking for work on your home how can you make sure you don’t end up with one?

Here are some tips to help you get a tradesman you can trust:


If you have friends that have had work done that they are happy with ask them who they used and check out the finished work yourself.

Cold callers and leaflets

It’s very common to see unqualified builders, or ‘odd job men’ knocking on doors and telling home owners they have loose tiles on their roof, or the guttering needs repairing. Don’t be fooled if this happens to you. Simply thank them for pointing it out and say you will get it checked out. You can then ask a reputable firm to check this for you. Ignore leaflets offering unbelievably low rates, they’re usually sent by cowboy builders.

Qualifications and registrations

Most builders federations have criteria a builder must meet before being allowed to become a member. The Federation of Master Builders for example has membership criteria that includes:

• A minimum of 12 months trading history.
• Will have undergone a job in progress inspection.
• Will be inspected on completed jobs every three years thereafter.

Always check a tradesman is a member of the organisation they say they are. This can easily be verified online.

Check any references they give you

Whilst many builders will have written testimonials and references from previous customers it is always a good idea to ask for previous customers telephone numbers. If you call a customer you can ask questions a written reference may not answer such as:

• Did they complete the job on time.
• Was the price quoted the price you paid.

Never pay up front

You should only pay when the work has been completed. You may be asked to pay a deposit, but this is usually only when specialist materials are required for the project.


This is really important and you should always ask to see a builder’s public liability insurance before they commence with any work on your home.

Meet them

Lastly, but arguably most importantly, be sure to meet with your builder and have a good chat. This will help you to get a feel for the type of person they are and whether they seem honest and trustworthy. It’s likely that they’ll be spending a good amount of time in your home, so it’s important that you get on with them!

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