Could you be a victim of cowboy builders?

This summer's alternating bright sunshine and massive downpours have been a huge boon for builders. We have spent hours in the garden looking at the state of the roof and the cracks in the back wall. Then we're been chased indoors by the rain to watch the growing damp patches and the dripping ceilings.

But when you call in the experts, there's always a risk of falling prey to the cowboys. In the last three years alone there have been 2.5 million disputes from those who have been ripped off by the rogues. So how can you be sure you're not falling foul of the cowboys?
Research by Which? found that one in five people who have used a builder have faced some sort of problem, and the experts all have their experiences.

Peter Coling, Professional Services Director at Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward Chartered Surveyors says one of his recent clients agreed to buy a conservatory from a nationally advertised company. However this company sub-contracted part of the building work to other suppliers and the quality of the work was so poor that the job needed to be aborted. It took expert help to fight the company for the return of the cash that had been paid, and at that point the family decided they couldn't face having a conservatory built at all.

Coling suggests five steps to protect yourself.

1. Always seek competitive quotations from contractors and don't employ any who cold call.

2. Always check that contractors are members of the relevant trade associations. So, for example, anyone replacing a boiler needs to be 'Gas Safe' registered, otherwise you may have problems insuring your property.

3. Never, ever accept a quote for a large project without first seeing examples of a contractors work. Any competent tradesman should willingly give names and addresses of satisfied customers who, if genuinely satisfied, will show you the work and give a firsthand endorsement.

4. Ask contractors for an insurance-backed guarantee of the work. The key to any good job is preparation and if this is lacking the work will not withstand the test of time. You want to avoid work that looks superficially good but which crumbles shortly afterwards.

5. It is imperative that you do not pay a contractors for any work or materials up front but only upon completion of the project, or in agreed stages, to ensure the quality of the workmanship meets your expectations".

Of course even then you won't be entirely protected against the unreliable upheaval that having the builders in always seems to cause. However, it should limit the risks, and should at least save you from spending the rest of the summer vulnerable to whatever the British weather throws at us.

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