A Fistful Of Lies: How To Spot A Cowboy Builder

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Most of us have met somebody (or at least heard tales on the television) about cowboy builders. These are the people who ruin people’s dreams of a home extension, and leave them with a half-finished project and seriously out of pocket. Hopefully, you haven’t succumbed to one of those rogues yourself. But how can you spot them? Sadly, cowboy builders don’t wear a Stetson with a pair of sharpshooters at their side, so the telltale signs are not always so obvious. However, here’s some advice and some signs to look out for, that you will hopefully find useful:

They have no contact details

Building firms will have an address, contact number, and a website for you to peruse. However, should you be approached by somebody at your door offering any kind of building work, you need to be a little wary. For starters, most builders don’t tout for business door-to-door unless they are just starting up in the industry. If somebody does approach you, they need to have some form of contact details, preferably on a business card. If they don’t…tell them to get out of town!

They have no credentials

There are plenty of reputable window companies and firms who have accreditation and testimonials, but if there is no evidence of this with the ‘builder’ you have spoken too, then you need to be alert. Even a startup builder will have some form of reference to back up his credentials or at least a qualifying certificate. However, if they appear from nowhere with nothing to prove their worth, then they need to get back on their horse and head off to whatever place they came from.

They offer cheap quotes

You may be tempted to take up their offer of work if they give you a cheap quote, but beware! Quite often you get what you pay for, and if they are charging you very little, that may be indicative of the quality of their service and the materials they use. Always shop around for quotes from other places, and consider point no. 2 on our list before hiring somebody to work on your house.

They don’t offer you a contract

Paperwork is a bind, we know, but no builder in his right mind would forsake a contract unless of course, they are the proverbial cowboy we are talking about. The contract is for your benefit as well as theirs. If they don’t offer you one, then you can’t trust them. They might leave work unfinished, and you will have no legal right to sue them. They might also give you an estimate for the work to be done, but you are better off with something in writing, preferably a fixed price in the contract to ensure you aren’t being ripped off. If there’s no contract, say goodbye. If they do offer you one, still read the fine print to make sure you aren’t being taken for a ride!

They ask for money upfront

This is the final warning sign on our list and one you mustn’t fall for. Never ever give them any money before work has started. Especially if you haven’t yet signed a contract, they may just take your money and run! Some companies will ask you to pay something during different stages of the job, mainly to cover wages and expenses. But at the beginning of a project? Never! Reputable companies will already have some money to cover what they need, and they shouldn’t ask for anything else, at least until they have completed a reasonable amount of work.


If in doubt, never hire somebody you aren’t sure you can trust. They may just rob you blind, and leave you with a money pit instead of your dream renovation. If you do fall prey, report them to the local Sheriff (trading standards), and they will usually advise pistols at dawn (the small claims court) as the way forwards.



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