How to avoid being caught out by a rogue trader




Looking for a reliable tradesman for your new home, but worried about getting caught out by a cowboy builder? Here are the warning signs that should set alarm bells ringing.

If you’re about to move into your new home, you’ll probably have quite a few jobs that need doing. 

While you might fancy yourself as a bit of a dab-hand at DIY, you should be careful about tackling jobs beyond your current skill-set. 

When it comes to more ambitious tasks, such as electrics and plumbing, or bigger building projects, often the way forward is to call in the professionals. 

But before getting a builder to come to your home, you need to research carefully. If not, you risk being underwhelmed, or worse, ripped off by a rogue trader. The end result could be a bodged job, endless delays, or even unfinished work. 

With this in mind, you need to be on your guard. 

Six things that should set the alarm bells ringing:

1. Cold calling

Be wary if a workman knocks at your door and claims that work needs doing. Cowboy builders are renowned for drumming up trade by insisting you need work carrying out (that you probably don’t). 

Cold callers will typically offer to do jobs such as trimming trees, fixing roof tiles, clearing gutters or installing double glazing. But don’t fall for the patter – no matter how persuasive. Reputable tradesmen will not cold call. 

2. Someone who claims they are working nearby 

In some instances, dodgy operators will claim they are working on a house nearby and that they have materials left over that they could use for your home, such as tarmac for your driveway. 

Once again, treat such offers with suspicion – especially if you are given the hard-sell. The work may be done to a poor standard – if at all – and you could end up out of pocket. 

3. A builder who says he can start straight away

The best tradespeople are often booked weeks – or even months – in advance. If a tradesperson says they can start in the next few days, this should raise a red flag. A good builder is usually a busy builder. 

4. A builder who doesn’t offer a fully itemised quote

Be on your guard if you’re not offered a fully itemised quote – or if the quote doesn’t give much detail. This could mean they plan to charge far more than originally suggested, or claim that they never agreed to do certain work. 

5. A tradesman who cannot provide an address and landline

Be wary if the only contact details you are given is a mobile number. Only proceed if a tradesman can give you a company address too. 

6. A tradesman who insists on being paid in cash

While the offer of a discount for a cash-in-hand payment may be tempting, this should set alarm bells ringing. Any reputable operator should be able to provide a business account for payments.

Also, be on your guard if a builder asks for cash upfront, as this may be a sign that they are unreliable or untrustworthy. 

Poor practices to watch out for once you’ve chosen your tradesman

  • Dodgy builders who increase the cost of a project midway through

  • Poor workmen who leave work unfinished

  • Builders who use poor quality materials or products

How to avoid falling victim to poor practices

Always insist on a written contract. This should include things such as:

  • Start and completion times and time-scales for specified jobs.

  • Hours of working.

  • Materials and products to be used – and what will happen if any of the work or materials show defects after the work is complete.

  • Payment terms.

  • Clarification on what will happen if extra work crops up once the job has been started – and what this will cost.

  • Methods of waste disposal, including the location of any skips.

  • Details of how the premises will be secured while work is in progress.

  • Catering and lavatory arrangements. 

What to do if you think you’ve been ripped off

If you think you’ve been conned by a dodgy tradesmen or cowboy builder, report them to Trading Standards. 

Tips to help you find a tradesman you can trust

  • Compare several quotes to determine a fair price for the work that needs doing.

  • Look for workmen who belong to accreditation schemes such as the Government-endorsed TrustMark, scheme or the Federation of Master Builders. With TrustMark, tradespeople are required to sign up a strict code of conduct. With the FMB, members must pass a strict vetting process and workmanship must meet a high standard.

  • Check out Zoopla’s partner, Plentific, where you can compare reviews for builders, electricians, plumbers, carpenters and painters and other tradesmen from previous customers – along with details of their qualifications and experience. All professionals listed also carry an insurance-backed guarantee.

  • Always ask for references from previous customers. A reputable tradesperson will be happy to supply them. Try to speak to former customers face-to-face or over the phone.

  • Look for reviews online. A quick search could reveal negative reviews and posts made by previous dissatisfied customers. Try searching the person with ‘complaint’ and see what comes up – you may be surprised at what you find.

  • Check out the workman’s credentials and ask to see evidence of qualifications. For example, anyone working on gas appliances should be Gas Safe registered, while anyone electricians should be NICEIC or ELECSA registered.
  • Pay by card if you can, as this will give you additional protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act if you end up needing to claim money back.

  • Check if your workman is adequately insured. You need to ensure any tradesperson carries full insurance that will protect your property. Also check for public liability cover. Read more at: Is my tradesman insured? 

You might also be interested in...

Moving soon? Move smarter with our interactive checklist, the Zoopla MovePlanner.

  • Save money
  • Save time
  • Reduce stress