Your pipes have burst, your electrics have blown and your roof is collapsing – how do you go about finding someone you can trust to put it right?
It's a sure bet that if any of these things do happen, they will happen on a Sunday, a bank holiday, or in the middle of the night when the temperature is below freezing. Then, it's tempting to beg anybody who's available to help. Emergencies find householders at their most vulnerable. But this is the very time that you should pause and protect yourself from the cowboys.
Phone a friend
If your home insurer has a 24-hour helpline, they should be able to help straight away. Failing that, ask friends for recommendations. If you don't know anyone in the area, local surveyors and architects may know reliable people.
The odds are improved if you choose a contractor who's backed by a trade association. This won't necessarily guarantee perfect work, but usually offers benefits such as arbitration should problems occur and an insurance-backed warranty scheme. Always check with the trade association that any claimed membership is valid. A good starting point is a website such as the Federation of Master Builders (FMB)
No VAT means No come backs
If they offer to knock off the VAT if you pay cash, say no. Saving 20% may sound tempting but you have no guarantees or comeback if the work proves faulty. Cash-loving cowboys often charge more than legitimate contractors anyway. As soon as they know you're tempted, they know they've got you over a barrel.
Television programmes naming and shaming cowboy contractors have helped to make people aware of the threat they pose. But the first rule is, never employ anyone who simply turns up on your doorstep on the off-chance.
Forget tempting cash deals and get everything in writing. Get at least three detailed, written quotes, including materials to be used, dates for starting and completion and do your homework - ask for references. Don't assume that the cheapest quote will be the best value - if an insurance-backed warranty scheme is part of the deal, the quote will reflect that. Never pay in advance or give a deposit of more than 15%. For payments made in stages, get a contract and pay larger amounts on a credit card if possible for added protection.
'Bob' the builder
People like builders often seem like friends because you invite them into your home and maybe even give them a key. But never forget it's a business arrangement.
† 10% of customers buying Home Insurance online with us between 1st June 2015 and 31st August 2015 received a price that was at least 20% cheaper than the price they would have been offered had they called us. Discounts depend upon individual circumstances, level of cover & payment method. (Excludes optional extras).