10 ways to avoid cowboy builders

Learn how to avoid being scammed out of house and home by a cowboy builder. We share 10 telltale signs of untrustworthy tradespeople.

Building work of any kind is stressful enough without having to deal with dodgy tradesmen who do shoddy work. 

We've all heard the horror stories of "cowboy builders" taking deposits and disappearing, leaving homes in disarray. But how can you avoid these con artists and make sure you hire legitimate professionals?

In this guide, we'll give you the inside scoop on spotting the telltale signs of a cowboy builder, as well as tips to find a quality tradesman you can actually trust with your home renovations.

In this rootin’, tootin’ guide, we explain:

What is a cowboy builder?

Why avoiding cowboy builders is so important

7 ways to avoid cowboy builders

Bonus tips for protecting yourself against cowboy traders

What to do if you get caught by a cowboy

What is a cowboy builder?

We're not talking about an outlaw from the Wild West here. A cowboy builder is basically an unqualified or unlicensed worker (sometimes called a rogue trader) who carries out substandard or unfinished building work. 

There are no hard and fast rules for spotting cowboys, but there are some telltale signs we’ve come to learn over the years. These include:

  • Quoting ridiculously low prices to snag the job
  • Using poor materials and cutting corners
  • Asking for cash upfront before disappearing
  • Ignoring building regulations and safety standards
  • Claiming to be skilled in just about everything (the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” applies here)

These shady characters tend to pop up, cause a whole host of (potentially costly) issues, and then move on to the next unsuspecting victim. Dealing with a cowboy can land you with expensive repairs, legal issues, and one hell of a home renovation nightmare.

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Why avoiding cowboy builders is so important

Hiring an illegitimate builder to work on your property is a huge risk - one that can have devastating financial and legal consequences:

  • Their shoddy workmanship could make your home unsafe or unstable
  • You may have to pay to get the work redone properly
  • Any unfinished or non-compliant work could devalue your property
  • You could be held liable if their work causes injury or damages to someone else

Not exactly ideal when you're trying to get building work completed, is it? That's why doing your due diligence to find a quality, legitimate builder is absolutely essential from the get-go.

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7 ways to avoid cowboy builders

When it comes to hiring quality contractors, there are things you can do to avoid being scammed. Here are our top tips for showing the cowboys that there’s a new sheriff in town.

Use vetted tradespeople

When you hire a tradesperson through JustFix, you can relax knowing that you’re dealing with the best in the biz. We only partner with accredited, vetted Fixers who deliver the highest quality services to customers across the country.

Verify their credentials

Any legit builder won't mind showing you their qualifications, accreditations and proof they are registered with professional organisations like the Federation of Master Builders, the National Federation of Builders, and the House Builders Association

Being a member of one of these associations is a real mark of trustworthiness and ensures they know current building regulations.

All JustFix builders are registered with these associations, so you can book with complete confidence that they’re masters of their trade.

Check they have valid insurance

Reputable builders should carry public liability insurance to cover accidental damages to your property as well as worker's compensation for their employees on your site.

All Fixers working for JustFix have their insurance checked and in addition, aAll building work carried out by JustFix tradespeople is guaranteed for 12 months from the date of completion, giving you total peace of mind that you’re protected should anything go wrong.

Trust your gut instinct

As with most things in life, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Reputable, high-quality tradespeople will charge fair rates for their services, so remember that you’re getting what you pay for. 

Investing in a skilled tradesperson, whether it’s a builder, plumber, roof repairer, decorator, or electrician, will likely save you money in the long run.

When you book with JustFix, we connect you with a local builder who has already passed all of our quality and credibility checks. We’ve done the hard work for you, all you need to take care of is brewing up!

Look for warning signs in their work vehicles and tools

Okay, so cowboy builders aren’t likely to have their dodgy dealings advertised on their vans or overalls, but you can still use your common sense when it comes to assessing their credibility. 

An unmaintained, beat-up van or outdated tools could indicate an unprofessional or struggling business trying to cut costs with your project. 

Also, if your builder shows up in an unmarked van, this could be a sign that you should question the legitimacy of their business.

Ask about their recent projects

A reliable tradesman should be able to provide you with a portfolio of completed jobs, along with start and end dates, to verify they don't frequently miss deadlines.

Be wary of door-to-door solicitors

While not always the case, cold-callers trying to drum up business door-to-door are often unlicensed contractors looking to take advantage.

If someone claiming to be a builder knocks on your door and says they have leftover materials from a recent job or that they were “just passing by” and noticed a problem with something on your property, be cautious. 

Builders (good ones, at least) are in demand and won’t need to go out scouting for business!

Bonus tips for protecting yourself against cowboy traders 

  • Only hire builders who are willing to get the necessary permits for the scope of the work.
  • Never go for "cash only" deals or payments without documentation.
  • Specify that all work needs to adhere to local building codes (you can even ask your tradesperson to explain all relevant regulations to you – if they can’t, that’s a real red flag that they aren’t as experienced as they claim to be).
  • If it’s a large project, consider getting an independent building inspector to evaluate key milestones.
  • Remember that you’re the customer! If you don’t feel like you’re getting value for money, you’re well within your rights to call people to account.

What to do if you get caught by a cowboy

If the worst happens and you realise mid-project that you've hired an unqualified cowboy, act fast. The sooner you get them off the job, the less time they have to create a real DIY SOS out of your home (sorry, Nick Knowles; we’re not actually calling you a cowboy).

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Find the right person for the job with JustFix

With JustFix, finding a trusted, reputable tradesperson just got a whole lot easier.

We’re taking the hassle out of home renovations one job at a time, working across the country to connect you with the best in the business.

You can find and book a local Fixer for pretty much anything, from odd jobs and little fixes to bigger projects and complex repairs.

Whether you’re looking for a locksmith, handyperson, heating engineer, glazing specialist, or something else-r, you can get everything you need in just a few clicks.

The JustFix App is designed to make your life easier and provide solutions to your home.
Download the JustFix app today for a fast, easy and convenient service.