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How to spot a cowboy

Cowboy builders are very much in the minority, but they are out there, so how can you protect yourself. Treat them with suspicion if they:

EVADE giving you references or details of previous jobs

OFFER you a 'cheap' deal for cash-in-hand.

SUGGEST you can avoid paying VAT for cash

CONFUSE you with jargon and complicated explanations

INSIST that a written contract is not necessary

SAY they can start tomorrow (a good builder is usually busy)

CAN'T give you costings because 'things may change'

LAUGH when you suggest showing them plans

GIVE you a surprisingly low quote

CAN only be reached by mobile and don't have an address on their card

ASSURE you the details are their problem and you don't need to worry

KNOCK the opposition

One sure-fire way to avoid cowboys is to use the Safe Local Trades's Find A Builder service, or to look for the Safe Local Trades logo - the sign of building quality - on builders' vans, stationery or advertising. Whatever you do, follow our simple guidelines for choosing and working with a builder, click here.

Whatever you do, follow our simple guidelines for choosing and working with a builder,

Ask for references and talk to previous customers. A good builder will provide you with credentials and references, so try to visit previous jobs similar to your own.

If the builder is a member of a trade association, check the membership criteria - and make sure they really are a member, rogue builders have been known to falsely claim membership.

Get estimates from two or three different builders. Be clear about what you want done and ask for a written specification and quotation.

Avoid adding to the job or changing your mind halfway through - it will usually cost more and cause delays. Confirm any changes you do make in writing - the Safe Local Trades has a variation form for this purpose.

Use a contract - the Safe Local Trades has a Plain English contract for small building work.

Agree any staged and final payments before work starts.

Avoid dealing in cash.

If any problems arise whilst work is in progress, or you are unhappy about anything, talk to your builder right away.

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