How to Avoid Rogue Tradesmen and Cowboy Builders

Rogue tradesmen…cowboy builders…whatever you want to call them, they’re out there, and they’re after one thing – your money.  We’ve all heard the stories about people falling victim to scammers, and you’d think by now we would have managed to avoid them like the plague. But spotting them isn’t always as easy as we like to think. Because cowboy builders can be powerfully persuasive.

Think about it… a friendly “professional builder” knocks on your door and tells you he’s working in the local area and he has noticed that some aspect of your property needs urgent attention. You listen to his fancy slang and jargon, feeling all warm inside and grateful that this kind “professional” has taken it upon himself to let you know about your “problem”. He then becomes even more helpful by offering a fantastic quote to fix it. And it gets even better – he tells you that you won’t even have to pay for materials because he already has some left over from another job!

How generous!

Is this a scam?

Can you see where we’re going with this? It can be hard to spot a cowboy builder because they seem so polite and caring.   In other words, it’s difficult not to trust them.

Fortunately, we’ve been in the trade a long time, so when it comes to cowboy builders, we know a red flag when it starts flying.

Red Flag # 1: They Call on You

Be suspicious of anyone who comes to the door offering manual labour. The PropertyHeads Tradesmen Blacklist has hundreds of examples of “door steppers” preying on the elderly and sometimes even returning time and again until life savings have been taken. Do not fall victim to anyone offering to carry out any work that you haven’t asked for – no matter how genuine or attractive the proposition may seem.

Always remember two things:

1: Genuine, reputable builders do not need to knock on doors to find customers – they already have them.

2: Good-standing tradesmen do not go around offering to carry out work at cheap prices out of the kindness of their hearts. Good businesses run on fairness, honesty and top-quality work, not favours.

Red Flag # 2: They Ask for Money in Advance

The alarm bells should start ringing if a builder asks for payments upfront – even if the arrangement seems acceptable. Only pay for materials when you have seen that they have arrived on site and always arrange a detailed payment schedule with your builder/ tradesman.

Red Flag # 3: They Won’t Provide Written Records

Always ask for copies of contracts, invoices and receipts, and be suspicious of any builder who refuses to provide them. It’s also a good idea to obtain a record of insurance, too as well as checking whether the builder has a landline number and is registered with Companies House. A builder who has nothing to hide they will have no problem in giving you copies of the paperwork and company information.  

Can they provide all the paperwork?

Red Flag # 4: You Have a Bad “Feeling”

If something doesn’t “feel” quite right, then it probably isn’t. If something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. (You get where we’re going with this!) Trust your instincts. If you feel something is “off” with your tradesman or they’re not acting in such a way as you would expect them, your gut is probably trying to tell you something. 

Red Flag # 5: They Don’t Have the Answers

Cowboy builders talk a lot of jargon which can make them appear as if they know their trade inside out. But can they give you straight answers to simple questions? One of the biggest characteristics of a rogue trader is an inability to give direct answers, such as being unsure of how long a job will take or not having the right tools for the job. If you’re left baffled by long words and fancy terminology, yet your simple questions are left unanswered, you are probably dealing with a scammer.

Remember that the reason so many cowboy builders still exist is that they’re incredibly good at fooling innocent people. They’re persuasive; they’re convincing, and they’re darn good actors. But now that you know the warning signs, you can get the upper hand and protect yourself, your property and your finances.

Before you even consider hiring a tradesman, make sure you check at least two credible references and ask to inspect previous work/ speak to former customers  if possible. Do the basic checks like making sure the builder has a landline phone, an address and is registered with Companies House.  And of course, always, always get a trusted word of mouth recommendation. The easiest and most reliable way to do this through PropertyHeads Professional Search using our vast database of UK tradesmen, where we can provide you with credible traders known by your trusted contacts.

Published: 4 February 2019

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