How To Spot A Cowboy Builder

Guest Post

When you first employ a builder to undertake work in your home, you are putting your faith in them and them in you. You should be able to trust your builder to do safe, reliable, high-quality work and at the same time, the builder should be able to depend on you to pay them for the work once it is completed.

It can be difficult especially when hiring a builder for the first time, to know the difference between a bonafide builder and a ‘cowboy builder.’ Here are some clear indications that your builder is not genuine and you should steer clear of any builder who:

Is Reluctant To Provide A Reference

Any builder who will not or cannot provide a reference from previous customers or show any evidence of testimonials for previous work should be avoided. A reputable builder will be able to supply their customers with references and will not think twice about doing so.

Insists On A Cash Only Payment

Builders who ask for a cash payment without receipt or official written documentation are likely trying to avoid tax and VAT.

Cash from around the worldImage Source

Does Not Belong To A Professional Body

A builder should belong to a professional organisation such as the Federation Of Master Builders and should be able to provide evidence of this. Even if they say they do, it is best to check that they do belong to a trade association, if they don’t and are claiming they do, this is illegal.

Will Not Offer A Written Contract

A builder who avoids putting anything in writing is not to be trusted and there’s a good chance they will not finish the work.

Is Too Eager To Start The Job

If your builder claims he needs to begin the job straight away, be wary, many builders will begin or complete shoddy work then once they receive payment will quickly leave the area and will be impossible to track down.

Pile of debrisImage Source

Does Not Give You Any Contact Information

Avoid a builder who is loathed to give you a landline number or an office address. Mobile numbers are easy to change and this could result in the builder vanishing and leaving you with unfinished, unsatisfactory and potentially dangerous work that will be costly to put right.

Gives A Very Cheap Quote Or Estimate

We all want value for money and none of us wanted to be ‘ripped off’ but there is such a thing as too cheap. A builder who gives you an unusually low price for a job should be a warning sign that they are not reputable or very inexperienced in the business, of which case you should not be tempted to use a very cheap builder, the quality of the work is likely to be poor.

Before hiring your builder, make sure they are:

  • Fully VAT registered and insured and belong to a professional builders organisation or association.
  • Prepared to give you written documentation of work carried out, fees expected and a payment plan.
  • Known and recognised in your area, speak to neighbours and friends and ask to see work carried out by the builder.
  • Easily contactable, ask for more than one contact number and an address.


This article was written by Lauren R on behalf of Tool Orders.


  1. I’ve never heard of a cowboy builder. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. I never heard of a cowboy builder either. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. La, I thought this was going to be about cowboys, lol. Very good tips. We’re about to have a bunch of work done and our builder was the opposite of each of these items.

  4. I had never heard of the term “cowboy builder” before, but anyone who doesn’t want to sign a contract or provide references is definitely shady in my book.

  5. I would not want to deal with them if they only will take cash. Sneaky.

  6. Great tips! I’ve never heard the term ‘cowboy builder’ before.

  7. These are great warning signs! I am a stickler for trying to go through companies owned by people I know personally or companies that friends and family have used prior. You can’t be too careful these days.

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