What to expect hiring a building contractor and helpful advice on what to look out for

BricklayerHiring a building contractor is necessary to make home improvements. However this process can be fraught with confusion in the absence of planning. Therefore we have put together this guide of what to expect when hiring a contractor and advice to help you avoid common pitfalls.

Word of mouth

The best way to source an honest, reliable and good quality contractor is to ask friends and family for recommendations.


Once you have made a list of potential building contractors, you should start identifying what you need to discuss with them. Ask if they take on projects of your size, if they can provide financial references, do they have capacity to do the work in your timescales, can they provide a list of previous, satisfied clients and if they employ staff in-house or sub-contract. When you are happy with the detail, call suppliers directly and their answers will give you a good indication of their attention to detail, reliability and how professional they are.

Face to face meeting

Good contractors should offer to come out and speak with you face-to-face. Don’t feel obliged to see every one, pick two or three and invite them round for further discussion. Use the face-to-face meeting to test whether or not you get along with the contractor. Building renovations are stressful therefore choose someone that you feel you can work proactively with when the going gets tough. Make sure that the person you meet will be the person overseeing the entire project, who you will be dealing with on a day to day basis.


Don’t be afraid to reach out to previous clients for a reference on potential suppliers.


A good contractor will prepare a bid detailing a break down of the cost of materials, labour and additional expenses. They should also detail mark up of all items so there is complete transparency of the amount of profit margin they are making on the project. A rough guide is that their profit margin should equal 15 to 20 per cent.

Things to watch out for

  • If a contractor asks for half the bid up front, they may have cash flow problems or be worried that you won’t pay the balance after you have seen the quality of the work. Aim to pay 10 per cent on contract signing, 25 per cent on three occasions throughout the duration of the project and the final 15 per cent when you are satisfied that the contractor has completed his work.
  • Ensure the contract details every step of the project including agreed payment schedule, proof of liability insurance, a start and finish date, materials and products to be used
  • Document the cost of any additional requests in writing, as changes are inevitable and you need to keep track of these additional costs to make sure they don’t spiral
  • Ensure the contractor will protect your property i.e. with dust sheets etc.
  • Clarify contact details including contact details for after hours
  • Clarify what kind of documentation you will receive on project completion e.g. copies of inspection reports, etc.

Mike Hampson is the managing director of Insite Properties, a building contractors based in Greater Manchester.

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