Things I wished I’d asked before hiring my Builder/ Bricklayer/Roofer


Things I wished I’d asked before hiring my Builder/ Bricklayer/Roofer

Finally coming up for air after an arduous 6 months building our extension we pondered our recent experiences. Whilst we found some wonderful people to work with namely our Groundworker Karl, our Scaffolder Dan and our Roofer Ken, we’ve also had some horrible experiences with dishonest, alcohol dependant, money grabbing and feckless bricklayers and a very unpleasant carpenter and roofer team who seemingly didn’t get on at all and who front-loaded payment stages and then left us in the lurch when they got to a tricky part of the job. 

How to make some sort of negative into a positive we asked ourselves? Surely all of this could go into a new article?  We came up with "Things I wished I’d asked (and demanded an answer to) before hiring my Builder/ Bricklayer/Roofer etc”

What are our Top 5 Questions for potential tradesmen?

  • What hours will you work and do you go out for lunch or eat in your van? Behind this is the need to find out whether they will spend lunchtime in the pub and come back sleepy with a full bladder.
  • Do you have your own tools (as you’re not borrowing ours)?
  • Do you drive? We’ll never forgot the bricklayers who did 2 site visits and who we were about to hire until they let slip that they came on the train. Which left us wondering how they were going to bring a cement mixer, angle grinder and other tools and pick up supplies whilst here.
  • Do you have more than one company - all doing the same kind of work? If so this is highly suspicious and probably a way of dodging bad reviews when looking for new work as they simply use another company name. Also watch out for 5 star false paid for reviews left under by a fake profile.
  • Why can’t I find you online? Again this is probably a way of dodging bad reviews

Our customers have as usual provided their own gems for this article and here they are:


“I must say "we've all been there". Only recently we hire tilers to tile the kitchen, they did it in stages, one visit 2 weeks before Christmas and then when we badgered them, the final visit at the end of January. Needless to say, we had an unfinished kitchen for Christmas. They broke a light fitting whilst they were here (kept that a secret). There seem to be some outside lights missing (broken?) they also kept that a secret.  They also used the patio table to cut the tiles and by the time they had gone, there was a cloud of white dust surrounding the patio area and the table/chairs. It still wont come off. The day after they finished the job, they requested payment. I wish I had waited a little longer to pay them because since then I have noticed a number of areas which are unfinished. They seemed friendly and chatty but used that to cover the mistakes etc.


  • Don't get too friendly with people working in your home. 
  • Don't leave them unattended for too long. 
  • Don't pay them straight after the job has finished, wait a few days to examine their work properly so that you can call them back if need be.
  • Tradesmen, hard to find but if you do find a good one, keep him.”


"I'm currently living very closely next door to a 'renovation project' that was intended to be 'flipped' and sold on. The builders/tradespeople arrive at 8am, chat (with coffee in hand) until 8.30am, have a break for half an hour minimum at 10.00am, break for lunch at 1.00pm for at least an hour (sometimes more) and start packing away at 3.30pm, to leave (bar one or two of them) by 4pm. Boy have I learned from watching this happen! I will ask any future tradespeople, how many breaks they take, the duration of said breaks and I will ensure I am on-site to check!!! The 'project manager' from next door is never there and until last week (5 months into the build, I'd never seen him!) Lesson learned and I can only thank my lucky stars the project is not mine!!"


“The only advice I can give is to use someone who is local and also comes to you by recommendation from folk who have used them. Also to ask where they have worked and to go and look at it. 
Most of the work we have done on our Victorian house has been done by us. The sheer cost of painstakingly restoring trashed features such as lathe and plaster ceilings is stratospheric !  “


"Our suggestion is obvious and simple, yet strangely often overlooked. Ask a ton of questions and get everything in writing. Discuss your requirements clearly and follow up with a written list of the requirements. Then request a written estimate and make sure it is detailed. Labour? Cost of materials? What are the hours? What is the expected completion date? If the job goes over the deadline what is the daily rate? Establish what happens to the old fixtures and rubble that will build up in piles in the garden - is that yours to remove or will they take it away? Put it all in emails and save them in a folder so if things go awry you will have a written record of your verbal agreements. And don’t forget to take pictures of the before, during and after. These will be extremely valuable should you end up needing to take legal action. When our little Victorian cottage kitchen refit went pear shaped it was the email and photographic record that made our case open and shut."


"On small projects you need a much larger retention, as that is the only leverage you have over the builder at the end of a project.

2.5% on £100k simply isn’t enough to get the builder out of bed, so we increase the % retentions. 

We also remove contractors from site much more quickly that we used to. Once our gut feeling tells us things aren’t going well, they usually aren’t. And with a healthy retention, an early change of personnel will give you a good chance to complete things without too much financial slippage."


“Ask for references that you can and will call.  Make sure you're asking for more than one.  Make sure they're local.  Ask for pictures of past jobs.  My husband always takes pictures of his work in progress and when it's done.  It's a nice way to make sure that hey, they really ARE doing that work!  He has them on his phone, which is a great way of knowing that HE did that.  
Hire contractors that have worked for other people you know and trust if at all possible.  This is really the best way, hands down, over any website on the internet. Don't trust all online references, they're easy to fake and the guys I know are hardworking men who have been in the business for 2-4 decades, but none of them really has an online presence.  They're too busy working!  Besides, have you ever seen the hands of a working man?  They're rough and gnarled from years of using them.  Typing usually isn't a forte for them.
Watch for contractors that won't give you an estimated proposal bid IN WRITING.  Most of them will take a couple of days to get that bid to you at the least as they figure up footage and costs.
Do they have insurance?  This is important in case something goes wrong on or with the job.
Make sure you tick off the list of what you expect done at what point before you release another payment and do not deviate.  Be specific.  There need to be clearly set goals and deadlines.  If these are not met, no matter the excuse (barring very bad weather or an injury), then do not make the payment.
Realize that the first payment you make to most contractors is likely for materials and labor costs.  The contractor usually doesn't make any kind of profit for themselves until the very last payment.  So that last payment is crucial to the honest contractor, and they will do their best to make you happy.
Expect delays if you're in an area that has four seasons.  Never think that brick or concrete can be laid or poured in rainy, snowy, or extremely cold weather.  Extremely is under the freezing mark for two weeks or more.  Some things, like roofing, can be done in colder weather, but even that has limits.   On the other hand, expect that getting a contractor in the spring or summer months for a large project may take more time than you think.  There is a great shortage of skilled tradesmen and they do get swamped with work once the weather gets better.  The sooner you request a bid and a set date for a job if the bid is accepted, the better off you'll be.  So asking in winter isn't a bad thing at all.  


“Builders can be brilliant or useless. On extension/renovation work in my experience mostly useless. That is because anyone can say they are a tradesman even if there only experience of building work is watching a B&Q advert on TV.  Its not a Nationality thing because you can be just as incompetent if you come from Poland or Peckham. Stupidity knows no boundaries. If you're lucky and you look hard enough, you may find guys who can do a decent job. I'm pleased to see you did find a few good guys for your works.

Questions to ask;

Can you give me the phone number of 3 similar jobs you have completed recently. ?

If the response to this question is negative and you reach the point of despair you can always try;

Have you ever actually done a job like this before? 

Don't ever pay for works up front. Don't pay a deposit to hold your slot in the builders schedule. Don't buy materials on behalf of the builder. What are you going to with all the materials you have left over in the end?  The quantity and risk and discount are builders issues , not yours.

If you have any doubts, the following statement might help. 

I can only bank transfer money as i don't ever handle cash ( all cowboy builders will now walk out )“


“We too have been having work done but on our house: some of the best we’ve come across are things like;

Example 1 - builder trying not to finish his work and claim extra money for it

Builder (at the beginning of the job): yes of course everything existing will be tied in to the new extension and made good.

Me (at the end of the job after the builder saying they’re finished): why isn’t all the existing building tied in to the new extension?

Builder: that’s extra

Me (red faced): you’re not getting your 20% final payment then

Builder (strangely calm): we’ll be back tomorrow and stay until it’s finished off

Me (1 week later): thanks. Here’s 15%, I’m holding 5% back for 2 weeks because I can

Builder: can’t argue with that 

Example 2 - after the roof of our house was taken off in November they thought it would be fine to not cover it up with sheets leaving it exposed. It rained, a lot. The entire 1st floor ceiling was drenched with water coming through every light in every room. The builder tried to repaint the ceiling sometime later but they were ruined. Then we discussed:

Me: so the ceiling plaster needs to come off according to your decorator as it’s lost it’s integrity

Builder: more paint will do the trick

Decorator to builder: did you put a dehumidifier in like I said to?

Builder to decorator: you didn’t tell me that

Decorator to builder: yes I did. You were there with me and the customers wife when I told you that

Builder: that wasn’t me

Me: I don’t care, it needs doing

Builder to decorator: you can share the costs with me because a dehumidifier wasn’t put in

Decorator punched builder. Discussion over. We got new ceilings.

The stories go on and on. Moral of our story is, we don’t trust any tradesman now, and we now ask for a full detailed written scope of works from them, we’ve checked it with them and made them tick each item off as they’re done and only paid for each item as we’ve gone along. “


“People who agree to do work but then don’t show up for weeks and then yell at you and don’t return the deposit because meanwhile you found someone else.
Roofers who open up your barn roof widely to the sky and then don’t come back because it is raining for a couple of weeks!  And who ignore your pleas for tarps to be put up!“


Lets end on a positive note...

We have had a few responses from customers who found wonderful builders and were left with a lovely warm feeling. Here are some of the recommendations. Please don't hire these people without thoroughly checking them out as you would any builder. The Victorian Emporium takes no responsibility for anything that might go wrong as experiences can be different from customer to customer.

Advanced Building Contracts - 07774 644823 Mick

Categories: Building work   Tags: bricks, roofing

Posted by Houghton - Apr 14, 2019 - 12:10

​Bad builders, tell me: I had a self employed scouse guy from a recommendation (so don’t always go on that one)

I found out later that the guy i had (down stair bathroom). His start time I found later was, when he left his own home (which was 30 min away without any stops), but following daily detour to the builders yard for a chat with the lads and a box of supplies / screws (on site 10am dinner at 12noon, leave by 3pm) = 5 hrs minus phone call time = I recon nearer to 4hrs work, but charged 8hrs or what can get away with that was before getting to the job (builders seem to have mastered the nack of making a job last longer than would normally take)

Be a good idea ask, when is their start time, ie plan to get on site? (the extra time will be added to your bill like mine was)

Moby, every time they get a call on the moby they stop work for a good 10-15 minutes or so, over the day your paying for them chatting to the next client, it all adds up (time is money)

See if can get a quote for job n finish rather that per hour ( though they prefer this way as can get more money out of you that way) .

You could always keep a record of times and work, see if it matches up with the bill, you may save a packet.

Posted by Gary Lawes - Aug 03, 2023 - 16:28

I am staggered by the number of people that employ builders/contractors without doing the very basics. Most people getting work done are good solid professionals, that know how to procure work in their daily work, so why are you so slack with work on your house. Don’t fret about the small issues over the times they work, the times they break etc. Just use/create an apropriate contract, there will be plenty of examples online. For pricing the work create a schedule, with a line item for every aspect of the work, break it down as much as you can and provide quantities, it is really not difficult, have a column for materials and a column for labour, ask the builder to price each line item. The line item would look something like this - Supply and fit 150mm high torus skirting to sitting room, including all suitable fixings - quantity 18m then columns for material price and labour price.
Then structure the payments on a monthly basis such that you only pay for the items that are done, each month, you go around the house with the builder and agree the extent of each line item completed. A column in the spreadsheet could capture this, i.e. Month 1, item 1 - 75% complete and calculates 75% of that line item. The spreadsheet can tally each monthly valuation and then subtract 5% as a retention.
When the work is complete TO YOUR SATISFACTION pay the contractor half of the retention, keep the other half back and pay upon completion of all snagging works, say 3 months, or 6 months for this work to be completed.
TIMESCALE - Set out, in your contract a start date and a completion date, then state that there will be a late completion charge of say £50 per day. The contract period can be discussed and agreed with the builder before signing the contract.
If the builder refuses to enter into this contract, you know you have just filtered out the wrong type of builder, a good builder will be just as happy to enter into this agreement as you will be, simply because there are just as many fraudulent employers as there are fraudulent builders (maybe more).