6 Tips for Avoiding Building Disputes

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Home renovations are stressful. Not only do you have to make big decisions about transforming your property in a way that makes it more functional, beautiful and valuable, but you’re also faced with the prospect of having your daily routine disrupted for several days, weeks or even months. On top of it all, there’s the worry about things not going to plan – what happens if a cowboy builder leaves your home in a mess, with work that is poor-quality or unfinished?

1.Choose a builder wisely

Choosing the right contractor is often half the battle. Do your research and seek recommendations from friends, family and neighbours to find a builder or decorator that can complete your project to a satisfying standard. Check online reviews for any glaring warning signs, too.

The Federation of Master Builders recommends preparing a brief to help you pinpoint exactly what you want and, of course, getting quotes from more than one contractor before starting. Look at the cost breakdown they provide to help you understand who is going to deliver your project without cutting corners.

2. Draw up a builder’s contract

If you are working with other experienced property professionals (such as surveyors, solicitors or architects), have one of them draw up a simple building contract so that you and your contractor can clearly see what is – and isn’t – being agreed to. This minimises ambiguity throughout the project and provides evidence and recourse if things go off-plan.

3. Stipulate clear timings

Does your project have a time-sensitive nature, or are you and your builder both trying to fit work into busy schedules? Put timings into your building contract, including a contingency for unavoidable unforeseen issues causing delays.

“It is not uncommon for property owners to find themselves in dispute with a contractor or other party, due to the quality of building work, timelines of construction or contractual compliance. Building contracts are incredibly detailed and even seemingly minor disagreements can escalate into substantial disputes.

Acting as expert witnesses, a Chartered Surveyor should examine the building(s) in question to prepare a written report appropriate to the dispute.  In addition to investigating the dispute and preparing a detailed report to record the findings, they should then provide any required documentation for Court presentation to represent the client.” SSJ Chartered Surveyors

4. Agree upon waste management

A surprisingly common cause of building disputes is related to clearing rubbish from the work site. It can be an expensive and time-consuming part of the process that often gets overlooked – at least until your contractor leaves and you find a mountain of building debris left in the garden or takes valuable old materials you had intended to reuse.

Avoid this by discussing rubbish removal with your contractor before the project starts. They may charge a fee for taking it to the skip, or you may be able to negotiate a discount if they want to reuse any materials that are in good condition. Alternatively, you may be happy with them leaving it on-site. Whatever you choose, get it in writing.

5. Keep communication easy and open

Being able to contact your builder (and vice versa) is essential for dealing with problems quickly and effectively. Make sure you have at least two ways of getting in touch with each other during the day and in the evening. Email is important for corresponding in writing, while phone numbers are good for instant contact. Fixed addresses are also useful.

Stay in communication throughout the project, so you can have confidence in how it’s progressing and your builder can resolve unexpected problems or queries as soon as possible.

6. Confirm the price beforehand

Don’t get stung by a huge bill or allow costs to escalate out of control during the project. Instead, before work starts, confirm a fixed price wherever possible. For items that do not have a fixed cost and are difficult to determine in advance (such as labour), agree an estimated cost and a fixed rate of pay.

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What if it all goes astray?

Under the Consumer Rights Act, you are entitled to the goods and services stipulated in your contract, so, even if a contractor leaves your home in a state that is unacceptable, you do have a few options.

Firstly, get in touch with your contractor as soon as you think there’s a problem. Agree on what the issue is, how the contractor can resolve it and the date they will come and complete the remedial work. Get this agreement in writing – even if you discuss it verbally, follow it up with an email. If the contractor fails to show up or does not complete the work to a satisfactory standard, contact them again to agree on a final deadline for completion.

As they are now in breach of contract, it is reasonable to expect them to attend your home as a priority. Make it clear that if they do not, or cannot, complete the work then you will be hiring a new contractor and claiming the costs back from them.

Escalate the matter

If you still cannot get a response from the builder, find out if they are a trade association member. If so, the association may have a dispute resolution scheme to help you find a satisfactory solution. If not, you will have to take the matter to Court. To do this, you will need to gather evidence, such as photographs of the poor workmanship and a professional inspection by another builder or surveyor – known as an expert report. Bring an itemised receipt of any work that you have had completed by a new builder or decorator.

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