Lawyer ripped off by builders: builds her own home


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A lawyer has built her own home from scratch, after being ripped off by cowboy builders. The builders destroyed her bungalow and left her homeless and £160,000 poorer.

It shows just how these criminals can destroy people's lives.

Fighting back

Carol Sullivan, a 50-year-old lawyer from Kempshott in Hampshire, had employed builders to turn her bungalow into her dream home. Instead they left her with a nightmare, after taking the money and wrecking her home.

The Daily Mail reported that the cowboys knocked down the exterior walls and built new ones. They were starting to build on top of the walls when a cold snap hit and the mortar started falling apart. Sullivan checked and they hadn't used enough cement. They had also put in failing foundations. Because the work was so poor she had to knock the whole thing down and start again.

She managed to turn the situation around with an incredible display of determination. She went on a bricklaying course, carpentry course and a plumbing course, and built the home from the ground up. She installed her own underfloor heating and luxury kitchen, and did everything apart from the roofing, screeding and plaster work.

She spend an additional £180,000 on top of the money she lost to the builder, but her home is now worth £1 million.

Protect yourself

It's a shocking story, but Sullivan is far from the first person to fall prey to cowboy builders. A study by Which? found that an incredible 2.5 million people in the UK have had a dispute with a cowboy builder in a three year period. The most common problem was poor quality work. However, people also had problems with builders who disappeared, missed deadlines and damaged the property.

The researchers found that two in five people were left out of pocket, with a quarter owed at least £500 and one in ten who were left £1,000 poorer.

Citizens Advice has released ten tips on how to spot a cowboy builder. They say that alarm bells should ring if:
  • The builder offers a particularly cheap quote
  • They are unwilling to put the quote or estimate in writing
  • They won't offer you a contract - or won't sign it
  • They don't offer references
  • They are keen to start straight away (often because they like to do a number of jobs in an area and then move on so they can't be traced)
  • They will not tell you the business address and landline number so you can check them out
  • They are not in a trade association, or they claim to be but they are not
  • They claim to be part of a reputable company, but they're not. It pays to check out claims like this with the company concerned
  • They ask for money up-front - a reputable builder should be able to cover the cost of materials and only ask for payment after they have at least completed a significant proportion of the work
  • They don't charge VAT. If they earn below a specific level then they don't have to charge VAT, but it can be a warning sign
  • They only accept cash. This avoids a paper trail - which you may want to rely on if things go wrong