Life coach

Timothy Barber
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I’m thinking of adding an extension to my house, but have never dealt with building contractors. Where do I start? Tom, 26, analyst.

WHEN it comes to hiring reliable builders, the best thing you can do is get referrals from people you trust. But you’ll want options. Tiffany Walker of Ten Lifestyle Management ( recommends the website, a government-backed organisation listing trade association-accredited companies. To help you choose, you can ask potential contractors to put you in touch with former clients to show you previous projects. You can also visit sites of current work. “If the guys are sitting around, the van’s battered and everything’s untidy, you can steer clear,” Walker says. “And if the company says it can’t put you in touch with its clients, avoid.”

Katie Shapley, director of concierge company The Organisers (, says: “Don’t just ask if they have insurance – you need to see the documentation, and call the insurance company to ensure validity. Also ask about their financial situation – you don’t want them going bust during the job, so find out if there’s work in the pipeline.” Get everything in writing at the beginning – companies with anything to hide will withdraw.

When you invite companies to tender, Tiffany Walker says avoid simply picking the cheapest. “That may just mean they’ll be adding other costs on later. Go for a middle quote, and make sure that any changes from the original quote get written down, agreed and signed off before they’re carried out.”

Make sure you have all your planning permissions sorted out – don’t simply rely on the say-so of the builder. Speak to the planning officer early on – it’s better to have your plans rejected now than after something’s been built. “Also have the neighbours round and show them what you intend,” says Shipley. “If there’s a disagreement they may be able to help you improve the plan to both your satisfaction.”

Depending on the size of the work you’re having done, you’ll pay between a quarter and a third of the cost as a deposit up front, and pay the rest in stages – and make sure you hold back 5-10 per cent for snagging. “It’s crucial you have a clear schedule and contract detailing what the stage payments are and when they’re due,” says Walker.