Building work: The high cost of cheap alternatives

Blog Post
Building work - The high cost of cheap alternatives

We all get frustrated at losing work to someone who's quoted significantly less. Even worse, you know that the job can’t be done for that price even if you were prepared to lower standards or dumb down the quality of your service to win the building work. But should the end result of that ‘cost saving’ decision be a huge pile of rubble where a house once stood?

Unimaginable? Well this recently happened to a property in Manchester.

Manchester City Council building control officers received a complaint from a concerned resident and found there was no planning permission or building regulations approval for the project.

When they visited the site, they found a huge excavation seriously undermining the existing house foundations. They also found that all of the ceiling joists and purlin props had been removed leaving the roof liable to collapse.

So great were the concerns that a team from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) were also called in and immediately issued a prohibition, ordering all work at the site to stop.

The city council’s building control team were left with no option but to serve a Section 78 Dangerous Building – Emergency Measures Notice on the owner of the property.

Because of the very limited options available, contractors were called in to safely demolish the building before it collapsed on its own.

The owner will also have to foot the bill for the demolition work and the concrete used to flood the basement to secure the undermined party wall.

How to avoid disaster

Councillor Angeliki Stogia, the Council’s Executive Member for Environment and Skills, said: “The risk to life at this site was very real and we will have no hesitation to intervene with any building that is being refurbished in an unlawful and dangerous way.

"Building owners need to be mindful of the potential risks associated with inappropriate alterations without guidance from professionals such as structural engineers, surveyors and architects.

"The council’s building control team is always willing to discuss the type of work property owners want to carry out. Because the owner of this property failed to do so, the costs to make the building safe are likely to be considerable.”

Further information

How LABC helps you avoid cowboy builders


Contractor regulations

Submitted 3 years 9 months ago

Once again, the scenario above shows why we should have contractor regulations in this country, similar to gas safe, part P etc.
We’ve seen some horrendous building works carried out by unscrupulous and incompetent workers and this can only be stopped by a Government registration scheme which should also include insurance and VAT registration
I am really tired of pricing jobs, only to be undercut straight
off the bat by non vat reg firms.
How can anyone, these days not be vat reg. two small extensions and your at the reg limit
And trust me, these are not Easter European workers, these are local guys flying under the wire, no vat, no liability insurance, no employers liability insurance. No wonder they can under cut honest builders supplying proper quotes.
One such guy said to me the other day that he doesn’t have trade accounts and gets the clients to purchase all materials thus avoiding him the vat reg. all his turnover is on labour.
It should be made a legal necessity to be registered, insured and registered for VAT.


Submitted 3 years 9 months ago

I agree. We see the same thing in bathroom installations. No accreditation, no insurance, no VAT, cash quotes. It's madness, and people do not even check when getting a quote!'s nearly always down to price and that's it. If your a legal and legitimate contractor with the required qualifications and overheads, you are then just priced out of work by the cowboys.


Submitted 3 years 9 months ago

Check this one out
We got a call for a large landscaping job, very labour intensive and high end finishes.
Client had had a previous contractor in to do front garden and said they weren’t happy with it. Paving was sinking, weeds coming through everywhere, surface water ponding on paving etc., we’ve all seen the standard (or lack of).
So we priced for the back garden, proper job all worked out. Gave the client the price plus vat.
The client hen got the previous contractor to quote as a comparison and he got the job because with no vat, he’s cheaper than us!!
You couldn’t make it up.

Cash customers

Submitted 3 years 9 months ago

There is nothing wrong what so ever getting the client to purchase their own materials, and you carry out the work labour only. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Being "forced" to become an unpaid tax collector is not the answer. There are many many genuine subbies who I deal with who are in this exact position. If you have a good reputation, and your prices are keen, you will get the work as we do despite being VAT registered.

The problem is greedy & dumb "how much for cash" customers. There should be public info adverts like the good old days, for doing background checks on your builders.


Submitted 3 years 9 months ago

Totally agree with these points. Been saying the same for years. We now charge for quotes over 50k as otherwise wasting our time. If the goverment reduced vat to 5 % on all refurbishment work it would remove the cash industry and probabley get them more income ! The rest of us could then get on with trying to run a legit honest business.


Submitted 3 years 9 months ago

The same has happened to me with regards to the pricing aspect. We're automatically 20% more expensive than the illicitly trading setups and despite having mountains of references and access to view previous jobs it doesn't seem to swing in our favour. Some customers only realise when its too late and end up calling me for a quote to correct the work. I've worked hard to build up a good reputation and these clowns don't do our industry any favours at all.

Value for money

Submitted 3 years 9 months ago

I couldn't agree more with all of your comments.
We have exactly the same issues, I spend a great deal of time and effort to visit, give free expert advice, provide a full written quote with further recommendations and options, insurances, references, previous work available to look at, repeat phone calls asking for further advice and clarification etc, etc., to lose out on joke prices time after time.
We lost out on a large extension and complete refurb circa £200K + VAT because the client didn't believe it would cost that much. 12 months later his son in law tells me he's spent £70K more than my final quote on the unforeseen 'extras'.
And if it's not cheap prices the clients want, it's deals for cash and when I try and explain we have a legitimate business to run and can't take £30k, 40k, 50K in cash the lead goes cold.
Government, make it a level playing field for everyone and stop forcing cost cutting and bad practices instead of tapping me up with a £5K bill from the CITB!

Vat registered

Submitted 3 years 9 months ago

Totally agree with all the above, why doesn’t the government just make everyone have to to be vat registered, then we’d all be quoting on a level playing field and the government would be getting more tax in to spend on infrastructure or am I missing something?

Unscrupulous builders

Submitted 3 years 9 months ago

I agree with the many comments above.

Unscrupulous builders do not take it upon themselves to be aware of the latest building regulations, health and safety legislation, fire regulations and other mandatory requirements of the construction industry.

I often hear “why do you want it like that? We’ve always done it like this.“

My heart sinks.

As an architect I attend over 35 hours (minimum) CPD training. Many of the subjects include mandatory or legal requirements and regulation compliance.

I also attend trade shows, specialist seminars and training courses where the application of products and changes in regulations are clarified.

Why do builders not have to do the same?

I feel that I am devoting time to their education.

I met a sub- contracted plumber who did not even know what Part M compliant toilet meant. How can these people trade legitimately?

Again my heart sinks.

By not keeping informed and aware even quite legitimate looking outfits make a mockery of legislation and regulation. They are the weak link in the industry.

It is shameful that builders can manoeuvre a naive client, persuade them of their fine expertise ... and then wing it!

Often only carrying public liability insurance.

The client who appoints or promises work to a builder before a professional is on board is the most common problem.

I do not believe that this comes down to money. It may do initially but as the header article shows. Bad workmanship has to be paid for eventually.

A cheap local builder is just that.

I am currently dismantling a project and directing remedial works because the (client-appointed) builder changed my specification to suit him and now the required air-tightness level has failed.
(During the entire processthere were moans and groans about having to do this extra body of work and how much more it would cost the client etc etc) Remember controlled air-tightness has been mandatory on new builds since 2016 - how can it be unreasonable to ask the builder to do it?
In this case the building firm is a legitimate business but the range of previous projects limited.

The areas I inspected were done correctly but he then altered the spec for the rest.

I can imagine my client was given all sorts of plausible reasons for the changes.

“It’s all the architects fault.”

" We thought this would be quicker/cheaper/ as effective"

“ The architect set an unrealistic target.”

“ She agreed to the changes”

I have heard it a million times - it’s never their fault.

But very worryingly would be the outcome of any legal action if I chose to start it. Under-insured builders are a blight and bring shame to the industry.

Builders who declare bankruptcy the moment trouble arises are common tricks.

As we are insured - architects are obvious targets when things go wrong.

The client pays twice. Firstly a premium because he was charged "day works" for unusual or specialist materials and methods ( I sent specialists to site to train them) - and now footing the bill for remedial works!

So here are the consequences.

“A client can expect to pay a premium price for defective work by an inexperienced builder.”

The truism ‘buy once and buy well’ could not be more relevant.

It occurred to me that the mandatory registration of all sites where building work occurs ought to happen. Further, that all parties have to demonstrate that they have proven competence.

I have professional standards and codes of conduct - why shouldn't all builders.

Not dissimilar to the F10 registration at the start of a project - we need a register of builders who have to demonstrate that they are ‘fit for purpose. ‘

All risks insurance, certified and mandatory CPD training and independent accreditation are ideas.

Would a builder attend such training?

Would they complain of the cost - perhaps - but better a well trained builder than a poor one.

Who would police or monitor them?

( By the way: self- regulation is no regulation in my opinion )

A point of contact might be a building control officer. Could he be a watchdog for the industry?

Noting the performance of poor builders and reporting anomalies.

The example above made a mockery of the tender process whereby an inexperienced or unaware builder would easily have been weeded out.

The client must take responsibility for selection of a builder if he chooses that procurement method.

Yet it is the ill-informed domestic client to whom such disasters occur.

They simply do not know what questions to ask or whether the relevant experience he holds can apply to his job .

Isn’t there a German model for this?

Transit cowboys

Submitted 3 years 9 months ago

It's not only the pricing/quality problems, when did you last see a 'Transit cowboy' produce any Health and Safety documentation. CDM applies to all jobs now, we have to jump through hoops for our regular clients to comply and produce acceptable RAMS but not the wide boys, they just ignore the issue.
Maybe the HSI should be doing some spot checks on these guys and prosecute a few!

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