How Much Should I Pay My Builder?

Discover the typical hourly pay rates builders and trades apply to their quotes with advice from The Build It Estimating Service’s Adrian Wild
by Adrian Wild
5th June 2020

As a rough guide, around a third of the budget for any self build or renovation project goes into labour costs.

So, in theory, you could save a considerable sum of money if you take on the work yourself.

In practice, of course, few of us have the experience or time to take a DIY approach. So we need to pay people who do have the right skills to complete the works for us.

Project routes & costs

There are several ways to successfully run a construction scheme (and manage the labour). Hiring a general builder to run the scheme is a popular option, for instance.

This route is likely to be more expensive than handling things yourself. That’s partly because you’ll be passing much of the risk – ie the responsibility for sorting out anything that goes wrong –over to them.

It will also be their job to find the individual trades for you, schedule their time on site and monitor their work.

If you choose to project manage and hire trades yourself, you can expect a lower labour bill – easily 10% less than the general builder route. But this will be at the expense of your increased commitment in terms of time and responsibility.

It will be down to you to source quotes, decide whether you’re happy with the day rate your trades are charging, schedule works and materials deliveries, assess quality of workmanship and to absorb extra costs if and when anything goes wrong.

Labour shortages

A big headache for contractors and project managers at the moment is finding tradespeople who are available and really skilled in their field.

I hear from a lot of building firms struggling to find good bricklayers, carpenters and joiners in particular.

Unsurprisingly, the most experienced, highly reputable trades are able to charge top dollar for their work. The shortage in key trades has led to a rise in the use of agencies for labour.

They have a large database of contractors on their books, so they can guarantee someone will be on site when they say they will. You’ll pay over the odds – at least £30 more per hour – but at least you won’t face the added costs that delays bring.

TOP TIPS: Finding trades

  • Recommendations from friends, family, colleagues, neighbours and other trades or building professionals is always the best first port of call.
  • Failing that, get on the internet. Well-known sites include Checkatrade, Rated People and the Accreditus Register. Do be wary of online reviews, though – there’s no substitute for meeting clients face-to-face.
  • Always ask for references and follow up on them. If possible, visit both a live site and a finished job – speak to the client and check how happy they are with aspects such as quality, timeliness, payment terms etc.
  • The best builders and trades are usually very busy, so don’t expect them to be available at the drop of a hat.
  • Bear in mind that experience can mean just as much as accreditations.
  • Ascertain whether they have adequate insurance, ask who they subcontract to (if a general builder) and consider credit checking them to establish their financial solvency.
  • Always invite at least three trades to quote, and give them as much detail as possible in the specification documents. That way, it will be easier to compare and sense-check quotes.
  • Include images that demonstrate the quality you’re expecting (neat brickwork, perfectly-aligned tiles etc). This will counter the argument that “I’ve always done it like that and nobody’s complained before.”
  • Good trades should be happy to have a proper contract in place, including payment terms and what happens if changes or disputes arise, as it protects both you and them. ContractStore’s self builder pack is a great ‘Plain English’ option.
  • Don’t just take the lowest quote without scrutinising it. Is there anything missing or unclear? A cowboy will know that, once they’ve got a foot in the door, they can add extras along the way.

Earlier this year, The Sunday Times reported on research by totaljobs.com that the average salary for a bricklayer was £36,679 – but that in parts of the country where demandis high, this can rise to more than £60,000.

If the general market cools in 2019 and good trades become easier to find, this could translate into keener labour rates for self builders.

But there are many factors at play: cost consultant Turner & Townsend’s marketing analysis suggest the potential exodus of EU migrant works post-Brexit could see labour costs increase by 4% over the next year, for instance.

Getting the right quotes

Whether you’re using a general builder or individual trades, it’s important to give a full brief. If you don’t provide enough info – including plans, drawings, spec documents, and details of the quality of materials and finish you want – some will overspecify to avoid the risk of their margin taking a hit.

At the other end of the scale, if you give scant details then you can expect extra costs down the line – or trades may go for a cheap spec and make their money by charging you over the odds on materials.

Read more: How to Get Realistic Quotes from Builders

What am I paying for?

Self-employed trades must account for a range of additions over and above their time (and possibly that of a labourer, too), skill and the materials they’ll be buying in.

Their prices need to cover the cost of their vehicle, travel, tools and equipment, plant hire, national insurance contributions and business insurance (eg for tools, personal accident and public liability).

On top of that is certification, ongoing training, membership of trade associations, and possibly Construction Industry Scheme registration (to reduce upfront tax payments).

They may also allow for pension contributions and paid leave.

Cost guide: Typical labour rates

The table below shows current average labour rates for key trades, based on the south east of England (excluding London).

Figures vary across different parts of the UK, of course – but there are a number of pockets where rates are very close to those of the south east.

Examples include Manchester, Birmingham, Cambridge, Oxford, Bristol, Southampton and Brighton.

TradeHourly Rate (excl. VAT)
Bricklayer£25
Bricklayer's labourer£14
Decorator£23
Electrician£27
Electrician's mate£17
Gas installer£30
General labourer£15
Groundworker£21
Groundworker's labourer£16
Joiner£23
Joiner's mate£14
Landscape gardener£20
Plasterer£24
Plasterer's mate£15
Plumber£28
Plumber's mate£16
Roof tiler£22
Roof tiler's mate£15

Note: Self build projects qualify for zero-rated VAT on labour and materials (the latter will be reclaimed after the project), but renovators will need to pay the usual 20% VAT on both.

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