How to Spot a Cowboy Builder

How to Spot a Cowboy Builder

Ignore Door Knockers

'I was just passing by and your thingamabob is wonky/your nick naks are loose/your roof looks unstable!'. Reputable tradespeople don't go knocking on doors like this. This is a classic hustle, the Nigerian prince email of the construction world. Tell them you’ll take a business card and close the door.

Asking for cash or upfront payment

If a builder asks for cash or to be payed upfront, that can be a red flag. Cash in hand is not just a cheeky way to beat the taxman. It also means there is no proof that they ever did the job. It is wiser to pay by card and ask for a receipt.

Sometimes smaller builders will ask for a portion of payment upfront, to cover the cost of materials. This is ok, but this should be mentioned in the contract that you both sign. Which brings us to our next sign of danger…

They are unwilling to sign a contract

This gives them the freedom to lie later on about what you agreed. It is always advisable to get a contact. There are plenty of sites online where you can download a contract for building jobs.

Unwilling to give a reference

This should be easy for a reputable tradesperson to give you. It's just a matter of contacting someone they've done good work for. To be really careful, ask for two references and ask if you can see the work for yourself rather than speaking to them on the phone. State in writing that these references cannot be family members.

The price is too good to be true

If the price is much lower than the quotes you got from other tradespeople, ask yourself why? Are they planning on using cheaper materials than they should? Will they leave the job unfinished? Or perhaps they plan on surprising you with a host of extra costs for all the new problems they ‘uncover’ while doing the work.

This last reason is why it’s important to get a detailed quote at the start of work, and have them do the same again for any new costs that spring up.


We hope you found this helpful, and of course, share it with anyone who might find it useful. We consider this a public service announcement.





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