We’ve all heard horror stories about unsuspecting homeowners that have suffered financially at the hands of cowboy builders. From dangerously unstable home extensions to half-finished renovation projects, there are many instances in which rogue traders have taken advantage of homeowners and conned them out of their hard-earned cash.
But it’s not all doom and gloom – by spotting the red flags and keeping your wits about you, you can ensure you don’t fall victim to cowboy builders and rogue traders next time you’re looking to find a tradesman.
Tips to avoid cowboy builders
- Be wary of tradespeople using ‘scare tactics’ to secure work
- Ask for an official quote in writing
- Research the company and ask for references
- Ask for ID and credentials
- Find a trader through an approved trade directory
- Be vigilant and report suspicious behaviour
- Don’t be ashamed if you fall victim to a scam
1. Be wary of tradespeople using ‘scare tactics’ to secure work
Rogue traders tend to prey on more vulnerable people and target residents with fear-driven tactics to pressure them into paying for work that they don’t necessarily need.
One series of incidents in Wiltshire involved traders going door-to-door and informing residents that they are employed by a local company to survey roofs. The traders went on to inform homeowners that their roofs were in need of extensive repair work.
In this particular scam, an elderly lady reportedly paid £850 cash in advance only for the traders to leave, never to be seen again. Reported incidents are thought to be just the tip of the iceberg; with many victims of scams such as this one feeling too ashamed and embarrassed to report it.
Many homeowners are likely to fall victim to this approach, as fear and lack of knowledge force them to engage the ‘surveyor’ on their doorstep to repair the alleged damage. So, if a tradesperson approaches you about ‘urgent’ work needed on your home, it’s worth checking their credentials and getting a second opinion before parting with your cash.
2. Ask for an official quote in writing
Whether you are approached on your doorstep or you reach out to a trader yourself, it is always a good idea to get at least two quotes, in writing, so you know whether the work quoted is realistic and reasonable.
“I think the biggest red flag when it comes to cowboy traders is their lack of wanting to give anything formal or written,” says lifestyle blogger Alice from Alice In Sheffield. “They’ll quote you prices but are super reluctant to give you a physical, written quote and use tricks such as 50% off if you pay upfront or if you agree to have the work started that day. This is usually so they can increase the price or find another ‘problem’ down the line to charge you for. If they’ve given you a written quote, however, it makes it much harder to add on any more extras.”
Not only this, having a paper trail and record of agreed work and costs would help any disputes if the case ever went to court.
3. Research the company and ask for references
A trustworthy trader will be happy to give you details of former customers who are happy to share their experience with you. You’ll also want to ask for pictures of previous work where possible, some of which you may be able to find on their social media pages along with testimonies of previous customers. You can also look for Google My Business Reviews, Yell, and TrustPilot to get a good indication of the company’s credibility, quality of work and customer service.
Family and lifestyle blogger Karen from Cats, Kids, Chaos also advises that people thoroughly research their trader before hiring them.
“We had a plumber come out to do a boiler safety check. He did the check and ‘tweaked’ some settings that meant we then had a boiler leak that we noticed after he’d gone. We called him back and he told us our boiler needed replacing.
“I got a second tradesperson in who was horrified because it was an easy fix – the boiler didn’t need replacing at all. He told me it’s a common trick some will try to get a job that doesn’t actually need doing.
“My tip would be to check someone before you hire them. Make sure they have good reviews and a good record too, and also get a second opinion when someone quotes costs for something expensive.”
4. Ask for ID and credentials
Whether that’s a business card, credentials, or a professional membership ID, it’s important to check the ID and credentials of any tradesperson you decide to work with, especially those that have approached you.
Remember, some documents can be falsified, so if you’re ever unsure about the authenticity of a trader’s credentials, don’t be afraid to search Companies House or other government registers to check that the business is legitimate.
5. Find a trader through an approved directory
For peace of mind, you can ensure a trader has been vetted by finding a tradesperson through a trade directory. At TrustATrader, all trade members must go through a stringent verification process before they are accepted. All reviews, good and bad, are also followed up by real people by phone, so you know that each trader’s profile is a verified, fair representation of their services.
Trader comparison websites like TrustATrader help you to find vetted, professional, and reviewed traders near you, so you know you can trust them.
6. Be vigilant and report suspicious behaviour
If a tradesperson is standing on your doorstep giving you a quote that feels a bit too good to be true, it probably is. You’re perfectly in your right to call the company or ask for credentials and references, and any decent, honest tradesperson will be more than happy to supply those.
It’s also important that you keep your wits about you, especially when you have been approached by a tradesperson at your home. If they are putting you under pressure or making you feel threatened, shut the door and phone for help. If you are home alone and they ask to come inside, decline. If you see anything suspicious or something just doesn’t feel right, call 101 and report it. If you think a crime might be taking place, call 999.
7. Don’t be ashamed if you fall victim to a scam
Anybody can become a victim of a cowboy trader and it is nothing to be ashamed of. If you have been subjected to any kind of scam, contact your local police force on 101.
Don't let yourself or someone you know become a victim of rogue traders. Be wise, be alert, and report any suspicious behaviour to prevent it from happening to someone else.
Can we help you find a trusted trader for your next project? Search our trade directory to find local, approved traders today.