Finding a building contractor

When finding a qualified building contractor to carry out repair works to your older property, experience and qualifications are important. Learn some of the things be aware of for when looking for the right contractor.

  • Experience with older buildings
  • Qualifications relevant to planned repair works
  • Search relevant trade associations
  • Learn how to get a price for work


How do I know a contractor is qualified

When trying to find out if a contractor is qualified to undertake your planned works, consider both their experience as well as any formal qualifications. Remember this should be relevant to the work you a proposing they undertake – so for example if replacing a lead gutter, then they should have relevant experience in lead working.

When should I engage a building contractor?

You will need to engage a contractor when the work that requires to be done is outwith your capacity or knowledge to do yourself.

Relevant experience

Find out about the contractor’s relevant experience of working on traditional buildings using appropriate materials and methods. Ask to see recent completed work and references from clients.  You could contact references directly or see the work first hand. Check with the contractor that the same workforce will be used on your project.

Relevant qualifications

Ask about relevant qualifications. Most bona fide contractors have undertaken further education training or an equivalent apprenticeship. Certainly today, younger practitioners will complete a SVQ (Scottish Vocational Qualification) or HNC (Higher National Certificate).

Trade associations

In addition, many contractors will be a member of a trade association, federation or similar body.   This can provide peace of mind.  To gain and maintain membership the contractor may have to satisfy and maintain certain criteria set by the organisation such as evidence of competency and qualifications.   Be aware that some logos mean only that the contractor has paid a membership fee.   However, some trade bodies do offer consumers assistance.  Contractors registered with trade associations or similar bodies may also benefit from services such as mediation and insurance backed guarantees.  If in doubt contact the trade organisation and ask.

Some relevant trade associations:

Stonework and masonry

Stone Federation, Great Britain


The National Federation of Roofing Contractors

Confederation of Roofing Contractors

The Institute of Roofing

Roof Tile Association

Cast Iron Rain Goods

Cast Metal Federation

Metal Gutter Manufacturers Association

Getting a price for work

Obtaining an accurate price for the work will depend on the detail of the list of works you provide to the building contractor.   Remember, there are differences between an estimate and a quote.  An estimate is an approximation of how much the work is expected to cost, it may be different to the amount on the final bill.

A quote should provide detailed information on what work will be completed and a breakdown of the costs involved. Quotes may include estimated costs for areas of works that are unknown, but these parts should be clearly specified.

You may use a more formal tender process for larger more costly building projects, or when a minimum number of comparable quotes are required for example for a grant funding application. If you need, or wish to obtain more than one quote, comparisons between different building contractors’ quotes can only be fair if they are quoting for the same repair and maintenance work, and that work is clearly defined.

Be careful, the lowest initial price may end up being far more costly where not all the work is described or quantified.

We’ve produced examples of a request for a quote, a badly written and well written quote to help you in get an accurate quote your building work.

Always ask building contractors if their workmanship and materials carry any guarantees. Many contractors claim to guarantee their work but unless underwritten by an insurance provider such guarantees are only useful as long as the contractor remains in business.  An insurance backed guarantee (IBG) means the work will be covered against defects for the agreed term even if the contractor is unable (or unwilling) to attend.

Contractors registered with trade associations or similar bodies often benefit from insurance backed guarantees. Examples of some relevant trade associations offering IBGs include:

You may need to ask the contractor to include the insurance backed guarantee in the contract as they are often optional and subject to payment of a policy premium. Ask if there are any exclusions or limitations to the guarantee.  Some may also be dependent on the finished work being independently vetted by an inspector. You should always insist on a copy of the supporting policy documents as the insurance backed guarantee is usually transferable, for example if you sell your property.

Note that insurance backed guarantees and warranties may also be available to contractors who are not registered with a trade association and it is always worthwhile asking about this.

If you're a Traditional Buildings Health Check member, you might find one of our more in depth guides handy: