Wed, 11/01/2006 - 10:21

Bulgaria has plenty of reputable tradesmen, but along with the good come the bad, so make sure you can see them coming

If you're planning a new build or a renovation, you need to choose your builder carefully. Hiring a cowboy, or rogue, builder who promises to do a job that they have neither the intention nor the ability to do well will make the project one big headache.

Bulgaria has plenty of reputable tradesmen, expats and Bulgarians alike, but along with the good come the bad, so make sure you can see them coming...

The personal touch
The cowboy builder will often use friends and family to plug their services.

Large deposits
Most builders will ask for some sort of upfront payment in order to purchase materials for the job - this is a favoured money-making opportunity for rogue builders.

Beware of the builder who beats all his competitors on price. Some canny operators will use your wallet as a way of getting you on-side before asking for a whopping payment for materials.

Dodgy contracts
Builders may seek to alter an existing contract or mislead you as to its contents if you don't have access to an English version.

Unskilled labour
During negotiations, builders will happily present you with a list of top class workmen, but remove them from your job once the contract has been signed and your back is turned.

Cheap and nasty
A cowboy doesn't always run; they may stick around and use some dirt-cheap and very likely substandard materials on your job instead.

Picture imperfect
Truly a rogue practice, some builders have even been known to stage jobs by paying local men to be photographed supposedly working on site. Clients are then emailed "progress" reports.

Category check
Builders may also try to mislead you on the category applied to your building by the local authority; for example by telling you it is Category 4 (not requiring building control by the local authority). There are five categories in Bulgaria.

Beating the cowboys
Running a few extra checks and insisting on a few clauses in a legal contract should see a cowboy builder riding off into the sunset.

Craig Thomas of Bulgarian Building Services urges people always to ask for references or ask to speak to other clients. "Any good company should be happy to provide this information," he states.

"Get at least three and look at value for money and compare what you are getting for your money. If possible, view any previous work that has been completed."

"Standards of build can vary between building firms and the teams within firms," advises Lindsay Temple, a director at Gillyn Property Developments, featured on the Channel 4 television series A Year on a Build. "Your initial research should include viewing a number of projects to check the quality of each and if possible follow a specific build or builds as they progress. If you see a project that you are happy with try and negotiate with the builder to use the same team of people that have worked on this development."

Temple also advises people to conduct their own research on the price of materials. "Builders will look to maximise their profits here too - this can include charging retail prices when buying in bulk or charging for top quality materials and then replacing them with cheaper alternatives. One builder we were in discussions with recently wanted to charge 40 leva per square metre for tiles that I could have sourced elsewhere for 18.50 leva."

Contracts Matter

Contracts should precisely outline all the builder's obligations: completion dates, terms, payments, responsibilities, guarantee period, compensation and so on.

All guarantee periods related to the construction, building and finishing work commence once the building has been issued with an Act 16 certificate. This confirms the building has been constructed in accordance with the building plan and building rules.

Any responsibility of the builder can be contracted. Ensure that everything that you verbally agree is outlined in the contract. Describe the quality of the materials - even the colours, shapes and size.

When signing a contract, ensure that you have one that it is written in both English and Bulgarian. Says Temple: "Ensure that both you and the builder sign and company stamp each page to prevent any tampering or alterations."

Any commercial company registered in Bulgaria with the object of activity as "building" can operate as a builder

Issue 2

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