How to get the best from your building contractor


The following guidelines are provided by the Master Builders Association in the interest of maintaining a good relationship between the client and their building contractor.




Before calling a contractor to give a quotation, plan exactly what you want done and the amount you can afford to spend. 


Be specific, writing down exactly what work is required including the type, specifications & grade of the materials to be used and quality and finishes required.


For substantial building work, obtain a detailed cost estimate and adjust your requirements to suit your budget.  Employ a qualified person to draw up plans, determine specifications and submit them to the local authority for approval on your behalf. (This applies to all building work to ensure compliance with National Building Regulations and Municipal regulations)


In the case of significant alterations or new building work, you would also be well advised to employ an Architect or Project Manager and perhaps even a Professional Quantity Surveyor to see the project through to completion and look after your interests.  Be sure to check the credentials of your Architect or Project Manager as well.


 Choose a Reliable Contractor


Is your builder a Master Builder?


Whether you are looking for a general building contractor or a specialist subcontractor, make sure that he is registered with the Master Builders Association. Click on Find a Master Builder,  for a full selection of contractors to suit your needs.


The association screens its members to ensure that they are registered in terms of various statutory requirements and also performs credit and background checks. Members are also graded and must serve a probationary period before being accepted into full/standard membership.


Ensure that your contractor is registered with the necessary legal or statutory bodies.


Obtain references from former clients of the contractors and satisfy yourself that their standard of workmanship is acceptable to you.  It would even be advisable to go and view some of the contractors past projects.


Legislation currently requires all home builders to be registered with the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) if you are building a new house (alterations or additions are excluded).  The Home must also be enrolled with the NHBRC. Registration and enrolment takes time so don’t be caught out by starting to build and then finding out that your contractor is not registered as there are significant implications for both client and contractor who do not comply. Contact the MBA for more information on NHBRC registration and enrolment.




Your contractor should be insured for certain risk such as workman’s compensation, works risk, public liability, etc. Appropriate levels of insurance should be agreed between the parties to cover these risks as well as the possible risk of damage to your existing building and contents in the event of a loss during the construction period.  You should also agree on who will take out the necessary cover.


It is advisable to inform your own insurance company that you are having building work or renovations done to ensure you have suitable cover during construction.




It is best to ask for detailed quotations from at least three reputable contractors.


Provide a detailed written specification (description of work required) to enable the contractor to provide you with a detailed written quotation .When comparing the quotations, make sure that each contractor is quoting on the same basis and in accordance with the specifications provided and ensure that the quotation is clear as to whether the price is inclusive or exclusive of VAT.


Beware of unrealistically low quotations and make sure that all the necessary costs have been included.


Acceptance of Quote and Contractor


Don’t sign acceptance unless the contractor’s offer is firm, in writing, clear, covers all your requirements and is signed.


Make sure that you confirm acceptance of your selected contractor’s quotation in writing before the start of the work


It is advisable to use an MBA approved Standard Building Contract (This should, in fact, be stipulated in the specification so that the contractor can price accordingly).


Make sure that the agreement includes the starting date, the approximate duration of the work, the anticipated completion date, cleaning up during the work including the disposal of waste or rubble, the order in which the contractor will proceed while on your premises and payment details.




If you are unable to determine defects and quality workmanship, it is advisable to employ a building consultant or architect to monitor the construction work for the duration of the contract and not only for the submission of plans. 


Agree on safe storage of tools and materials. If required, provide your contractor with water, electricity and toilet facilities and include this in your agreement (contract). 


Organise, communicate and co-ordinate directly with your contractor and not with his workers. Instructions to the contractor should preferably be committed to writing.


Extra Work and / or Variations


Extra work during the contract can be expensive and may cause disputes and bitter arguments later on.  It is advisable to establish the cost of any extra work requested from the contractor in writing before the work is carried out and to confirm any changes in writing, with both parties signing acceptance.  This is normally referred to as a variation order or contracts instruction.




You should not normally be required to make a deposit before work commences or to make payment of workers wages during the contract.  This is the responsibility of the contractor.


Interim payments on completion of certain sections of work may be agreed upon or specified in a contract or agreement. A request for a progress payment should be accompanied by an invoice detailing the value of the work completed. 


For a small project of short duration, payment is normally made in one lump sum when the work is satisfactorily completed.


Before making final payment, inspect the completed work and put your complaints or defects regarding workmanship or materials used, in writing. This step is usually provided for in your contract.


Whilst it is acceptable, in terms of most contracts, to withhold money for defects or incomplete work, it is not acceptable to withhold a large sum of money for minor defects.


Complaints Service


Clients currently have little recourse to Local Authorities, Financial Institutions or Building Inspectors with regards to complaints about the quality of workmanship or lack of performance of their contractors and often have to resort to the courts for assistance. As this can be both expensive and time consuming it may well be to the clients benefit to follow the advice given above. Another alternative may be to refer a matter to the Consumer Council, Small Claims Court or Legal Resource Centre.


In the event of complaint arising against an MBA member who has failed to fulfil his contractual obligations within a reasonable period, a client may submit a complaint to the MBA to assist in resolving the dispute.


All complaints must be submitted in writing to:


The Executive Director

East Cape Master Builders Association

P O Box 7086

Newton Park



or fax no: 041 3641676 or email:


The MBA undertakes to thoroughly investigate your complaint and in this regard the association will endeavour to resolve all complaints received in a fair and equitable manner with due regard to the contract between the parties, the circumstances of the case and industry norms.


It must be noted that the MBA is a voluntary association of contractors, suppliers, manufacturers and consultants and the association will endeavour by all means at its disposal to resolve all complaints against its members. Whilst every effort is made by the MBA to resolve all complaints referred to it, it is often unable to assist the parties where the contractor is not a member of the association, an MBA approved contract has not been used and the above steps have not been followed.