When you’re looking to do a renovation in your home or maybe create an extra room, the process of finding a reputable builder can be a daunting task. How can you tell if the guy who shows up in an unlabelled white van is the real deal, or only somebody looking to take your cash?

If you picked up their name and number off a card posted at the local hardware store, there’s every chance they have 20 years of experience building quality homes, but you may have also found a cowboy builder.

5 Signs You Have Hired a Cowboy Builder. Trust me you won't be on the receiving end of this ordeal. Find out how you can avoid it.

Look for these five warning signs when talking over the job with them:

  1. “Why Don’t I Give You an Estimate After I Get Started?”

An experienced and reputable builder will be happy to look over the scope of the project and provide you a written estimate for the expected cost of the job. A cowboy builder might stand in the middle of the room with his hands on his hips and try to tell you there’s no way of knowing how long it make take or how much it will cost. They want to bring over their tools and start right away. You must get a written quote, and the paper should include their licensed builder number.

  1. “I Prefer Cash.”

Alarm bells and sirens should be sounding off when you are handed an invoice scribbled on a blank sheet of paper with the words, “I don’t take cheques and prefer cash.” Only a professional will gladly offer you the option of paying by cash, check or credit card. They will have the right builders insurance and are happy to provide you proof of that insurance when you both sign the contract containing a quote for the projected cost of the project. There will be design plans, materials lists, hourly rates and specified scope of their responsibilities.

  1. “I Can Do It All!”
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You might find a handyman who is great at finish work and carpentry and can work his way around small plumbing jobs. You will not find somebody who is a master electrician, plumber, painter, carpenter, and home heating, contractor. They don’t exist. Your builder should be asking who is going to rough in the plumbing or who you want to use to get the wiring done. They might know some subcontractors, and with the right licenses, that’s all as it should be. When your cowboy wants to do it all on his own, you simply don’t know if your house won’t burn down in the end.

  1. “I Can Only Work in the Evenings.”

A builder who maintains regular working hours often does renovations as part of his business. Those who want to work on the job for an hour or two whenever they have the time won’t be getting the job done on time or budget. You’ll face months of upheaval, noise, and dirt, while never knowing if you’ll ever get your lounge back.

  1. “Can You Pick Up the Supplies for Me?”

A professional maintains contacts where he gets the best quality and price for the supplies, tools, and parts needed to complete the project. They don’t hand a list to the homeowner and say, “Give me a call when you’ve got the stuff.” There’s a greater chance that the wrong type of material will be bought, the wrong size, the wrong color…it’s going to be a big waste of time and an opportunity for the cowboy to blame delays on you.

While not every carpenter who works on small side jobs around the country is an inexperienced cowboy, some definitely will be. Make sure to get references from happy customers, ask for copies of licenses, ask about their builder’s insurance and get everything in writing to protect you, your family, and your home.

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Have you ever dealt with a cowboy builder?