Building Scams And How To Avoid Them

Building scams, and their victims, are often featured on the news and in television programmes – tales of people who employ cowboy builders to improve their houses, or effect repairs, only to end up with a botched or incomplete job that ends up costing far more than they first imagined, and which then takes thousands more to correct.

Whilst such cases may be in the minority, here in the UK at least, it should be noted that there are over 100,000 such complaints made each year.

The following information may help you avoid becoming a victim.

avoid building scams

avoid building scams

How building scams work

Often, a cowboy builder will knock on your door and say he’s working in the area and that some aspect of your property needs urgent attention.

Without further examination, he will offer a great quote, probably saying that he will use material left over from another job.

He will say that the price is so good because he only works for cash in order to avoid paying VAT.

Of course he will need that cash up front before the work begins.

His only means of contact is likely to be a mobile phone number.

Another common scam is with larger projects – as they progress the costs will just keep going up and up, often without any decent results being seen.

In many cases the builder will then leave before completion, often because they have taken all of their victim’s money. The house will be left looking wrecked.

Tips for avoiding building scams

Have a work specification. This can be anything from a brief  set of notes to an architect’s plans.

Ensure that your notes include who is responsible for removing any rubbish and making good after the work is completed.

Word of mouth – recommendations from family and friends can be invaluable.

Seek out at least 3 quotes. If you are using a remortgage to pay for the work then your lender is likely to insist upon this.

Ensure that each prospective builder has a copy of your work specification and actually visits the site to see exactly what is involved and that the quotes they give cover everything required.

If one quote is significantly lower than the others then it may be genuine but ask questions to find out why.

The government has introduced Trustmark to help consumers identify reputable builders – are they a member?.

Ask the builder about previous work they have done and go and have a look for yourself.

Check payment details and times – often builders will require part of the payment at different stages of the project.

Check that the builder has insurance and that it is adequate enough to cover injuries to workmen, householders and guests, passers-by and property.

For larger jobs, determine what, if any, guarantees that the builder offers. For new houses, for example, it should be an NHBC warranty.

Agree a time scale for the work, including an estimated date for completion, subject to adverse weather and other factors that could cause delays.

Do you personally like the builder? If not, don’t hire him – he will be around you for some time after all.

Have a written agreement covering all aspects of the work to be completed.

Agree that the final payment will be made a few weeks after the job is completed in order to give you time to discover any issues which may not be instantly recognisable.

What can you do if you have become a victim?

With reputable builders, any issues can normally be resolved amicably with good communication.

If that fails you may still have some recourse –

For amounts under £5000 you can take the builder to the County Court where a claim can be dealt with fairly quickly.

For larger sums, contact a solicitor.

That said, if the builder really is shady then he may already have deserted the area and so finding him to take to court could be extremely difficult.

Even in the event that you obtain a County Court judgment, you will only receive your money back if the builder has it.

You should also consider the fact that it takes no qualifications or certificates to be able to call yourself a builder – legally, anyone can call themself a builder and charge for their work.


Cowboy builders and their scams are a menace, a hassle and an unwanted and often large cost.

However, due diligence and common sense are all that is required to avoid them.

If you remember nothing else, the following 4 tips will go  a long way to helping you avoid such scams –

  • Get several quotes.
  • Always research your builder.
  • Do not make payments in advance.
  • Don’t do business with anyone who says they just happen to be in the area.
About Lee Munson

Lee's non-technical background allows him to write about internet security in a clear way that is understandable to both IT professionals and people just like you who need simple answers to your security questions.


  1. I am only addicted to it in concept!?

    You see, it was one of the first posts that I read when I started clicking around in here. I clicked on it because Home Depot is not always lovingly embraced around here, recently went through some interesting PR tactics that involved online apologies for its lack of customer service (link to follow later perhaps), and it would not have surprised me to read about even more scandal hitting the poor home improvement giant!

    When I read the “scam” I nearly spit whatever I was drinking all over the computer screen. (I guess that is a good way of saying that I laughed out loud in an unexpected manner)

    Then I had another good laugh as I read the back and forth comments of people being upset at other people who thought they thought that it was real?!!?!?!

    So, I had to chime in on the “I know this isn’t real, but it is funnier to pretend that it is real” side of things, but needed to do something different (and hopefully better) than anything that had been said up until then.

    I think I did pretty good, even drawing the attention of another “you shouldn’t have fallen for this, it is obviously a fake” commentators… mission accomplished.

    So, it has a special place in my heart, that post!

    I am sure that you could find a few of those “cowgirl” pictures for free somewhere!!! But, and I am sure that I don’t have to actually request this, please don’t. I really appreciate the way you keep this site “above the line” so to speak. Nothing dirty or unsavory… really a safe site to just hear about, weigh in on, and discuss the various ways that people try to scam other people.

    Keep up the good work!


    • It’s certainly one of my favourite posts too for much the same reasons – it was midly amusing to begin with and then some of the comments just took it to an entirely different level!

      The cowgirl pictures were perfectly ‘safe’ as you would expect here.. they just wern’t royalty free 🙁

  2. Great article… growing up, my dad was a general contractor and often ran into the opposite of this, which primarily is the fact that these renegade “builders” ruin the reputation of the trade. More about that some other time!

    I am a bit surprised that you did not mention the Home Depot Scam or even give it some linky love. So I guess I will have to 🙂 Considering the DIY alternative to hiring a contractor and consequential wallet losses, it is definitely worth heeding the cautions of this post and finding a quality professional to handle your building needs.

    Further, that is a great picture of a cowboy!


    • You and that flippin Home Depot.. you’re addicted to the place! 😀

      I found an even better picture of a cowgirl but it wasn’t ‘free to use’ 🙁

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