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Don't Move, Improve: How to Avoid a Cowboy Builder

26 February 2021 | Knowledge Hub

Written by: Sarah Hastings

As part of our 'Don’t Move, Improve' series, we want to fully arm you with everything you need to know when carrying out work on your house; from how much work can cost, to fitting, to avoiding those pesky cowboy builders – they’re not always easy to spot, but after reading this article, you'll be far more prepared.

Here’s a few things you may want to look out for or consider before committing to the work being carried out;

knock, knock...

They may knock on your door, ask for work and usually, they have no recommendations or references.

If the builder is acting cagey about previous jobs or won’t let you see any examples, then this is a tell-tale sign they are a cowboy builder and is probably because their previous work was shoddy or incomplete. 

You should avoid this if you can; it’s not always easy to ask these types of builders to leave, especially if they are standing on your doorstep, so we would recommend telling them you will contact them if you’re interested but don’t agree to a call back or give them your details because they can be persistent!

you get what you pay for...

A cowboy builders’ prices are enticingly low. They don’t say ‘you get what you pay for’ for nothing. Usually, low prices mean a low standard of work, especially in the building industry. 

Make sure you get more than one quote for the work so you can at least compare their prices to others in your local area. If all of the other quotes are in the same ball park and there is one that is extremely low, then this builder may be using seconds, rejects or faulty products. If you have not agreed to this, then we would suggest going with one of the other builders to avoid having the work redone or repaired in the future!

no contract, no deal..

A cowboy builder will not want any form of contract signing. As this is legally binding, they will not be able to justify their shoddy or incomplete work in front of a judge and will therefore have to pay up! 

This is not to say that all builders that don’t produce a contract are cowboy builders but if you want to be extra careful, draw something up yourself. Any self-respecting builder will have no problem signing if they intend to complete satisfactory work.


upfront payments...

Most builders will not expect you to pay for the work until it is complete. You may be asked to pay a deposit to secure the booking but if you are asked to pay for the quote in full before the work has started, then you are more than likely dealing with a cowboy builder.  

Never pay for something in full before the work has been carried out. Once you have handed over the cash, the builder can then leave the work incomplete or to a shoddy standard because they’ve already been paid! Cowboy builders don’t care what state they have left your property in, as long as they get paid.

what's health & safety?

A cowboy builder has little to no regard for health and safety. A laid-back approach and lack of precautions could mean serious injury or harm to you and your family or the ever-changing workforce. As the homeowner, you could be liable for any injuries that happen on your property so if you see something dodgy, speak up! 

Find out where responsibilities lie from this article by Real Homes;

never ending list of jobs...

If you have hired a builder to complete one very specific job, but they keep finding other jobs around the house or coming across large, expensive problems then they are probably a cowboy builder trying to swindle you out of more money. This is likely to have a massive impact on your bank balance and your stress levels! 

We would suggest you stand your ground when they insist on more repair work and if you are at all concerned, speak to another builder for another opinion.

If you have come across any of this behaviour and you are struggling to sort it out between yourself and the builder then try reporting the activity to your local trading standards office

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