Finding and vetting contractors is a very time-consuming process, and often requires the assistance of a professional to ensure it’s done properly. At BuildUpp we take our time to thoroughly vet all the builders before inviting them to bid on projects or join the network. From face to face meetings to checking their filing history on companies' house. No stone is left unturned.
If you’re deciding to do this alone or just want a better understanding of how we work, please take your time to read our article below, where we set out the 3 most important mechanisms for comprehensively vetting contractors.
Type of contractor
Vetting criteria & process
1. Type of contractor
Before you even begin to consider preparing the tender information to go to contractors, you need to decide what type of procurement route you want to take. Do you want an architect to design & deliver the project management of the project throughout? Or, would you be happy for the builder to run the entire project from the beginning?
D&B as a procurement route can be cheaper and quicker, but you still need to vet the company for design abilities before you get into bed with them.
As a general rule for straightforward projects like kitchen extensions, loft conversion and refurbishments, a good design and build (“D&B”) contractor will suffice. If this is the case though you still need to vet them carefully as outlined below, as there are many contractors that offer “design service” but are nevertheless somewhat lacking when it comes to design flair or even spatial awareness. D&B as a procurement route can be cheaper and quicker, but you still need to vet the company for design abilities before you get into bed with them. In the first instance, we would always advise on getting an architect to help you come up with a spatial strategy and achieve planning permission before then finding a D&B contractor.
The alternative procurement route of using a chartered architect throughout the whole process is good for highly bespoke and expensive projects (over £200k). In these instances an artisan's approach is required to keep an eye on all the details.
Like an SAS commando, taking your time to prepare the correct information before venturing into the wild conditions of the market is essential. A small mistake here could cost you thousands of pounds when the project goes to site. Remember, you want to be precise in the manner with which you communicate with each contractor. When you receive tender returns you want to be comparing apples for apples. If someone is quoting for something incorrectly because you haven’t been clear enough in your brief this could come back to haunt you later on; or require additional time during the tender process, making sure everyone is reading off the same hymn sheet.
You want to be precise in the manner with which you communicate with each contractor
As noted above, the type of information you prepare for a tender process depends on the type of contractor and procurement route you want to take, as follows:
You appoint an architect to prepare and coordinate a full set of pre-construction tender documents. This will include at the very least:
Structural engineers drawings
Schedule of works
Interior design packages
Tender drawings & details
Your architect will charge a large up-front fee to prepare and coordinate this information with other consultants, then an additional cost to help you through the tendering process to find the right contractor for your project. This process is time consuming and can be quite expensive. For most home extensions, refurbishments and loft conversions this is not necessary. Instead, option 2 is preferable:
2. Design & Build
You have an architect prepare the following:
Planning application drawings / approval
Detailed brief covering: the level of additional internal work, start dates additional drawing work required, level of project completeness required (turnkey or just up to first fix?)
Once prepared you then go to a selection of “design and build” companies for quotes. You will then receive 2 fees from each as follows.
One is a fixed design fee, that covers the cost of preparing the additional design information outlined above. By using a D&B contractor to prepare this information, it’s a little quicker and cheaper than using a traditional architect.
The second fee is an outline price range that the construction cost will likely come in at, based on the size and complexity of the project you’re proposing.
Preparing information for the design and build route can seem a little less precise, but it will likely save you money in the long run. But, to do this correctly you have to find the right company to deliver the work. Which leads us onto the next stage of the process - determining the vetting criteria.
3. Vetting criteria & process
Since we’re here to talk about home extensions, loft conversions and renovations we’re going to assume you’ve decided to go down the D&B route. In which case you’ve prepared a set of planning drawings and detailed brief as per the suggestions above. Next you have to work out what you’re going to vet the contractors for. This is important as it takes research, time and effort to do it properly. The criteria are as follows:
Example portfolio - To gather the best sense of a contractor's workmanship and design ability you need to review a portfolio of their completed work. Many contractors will have an online portfolio in the form of a Houzz account or a business website. Unfortunately many contractors are not brilliant when it comes to marketing their completed work as they rely on winning work directly from architects or word of mouth. In these instances you can request the contact details of architect’s the contractor has worked with before to access their portfolio of previous work. If that fails you should meet the contractor at one of their sites, which is also another vetting criterion:
You can request the contact details of architect’s the contractor has worked with before to access their portfolio of previous work
Site Review - If a contractor does not have an online portfolio, at the very least they should be happy to provide you access to a project they have on-site. This is a great opportunity to meet with an existing Client of the contractor. The benefit is two-fold: you get to review the workmanship of the contractor and speak with the Client about their work. If a contractor can’t or won’t provide you access to a live project and/or provide you with the details to speak with that Client, this should raise a giant red flag.
If a contractor can’t or won’t provide you access to a live project and/or provide you with the details to speak with that Client, this should raise a giant red flag.
Insurance and accounting - A final more administrative check is assessing the contractor’s insurance details, length of time the company has been in existence and their company filings at the company's house. A simple request to the firm for insurance details should allow you to see the level of professional indemnity insurance they have. For a contractor delivering home extension and loft conversion services you should expect up to £5m in cover. Secondly, you should review the company's house for the number of years in existence (5 years minimum unless you’ve had exceptional feedback from a previous Client) and finally check their filing history, to make sure their accounts are up to date and that they’re not in debt. A quick check on the founder of the business is also not a bad idea, to see if they’ve had any business failures in the recent past.
Getting into bed with a contractor is a risky business. When making one of the largest investments of your life, it’s important to take it seriously and do it properly. At BuildUpp we pride ourselves on having the best vetting service available for D&B contractors.
If you’ve got a project in mind, and want some help or advice on finding and tendering for D&B contractors we’d be more than happy to speak with you.