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The British used to have a great expression for ‘dodgy builders’. They called them ‘Jerry Builders’ and the buildings they constructed were referred to as having been ‘Jerry built’.

With the arrival of political correctness I’m sure that the name has fallen from grace in recent years.

The term came into being during the Second World War when German prisoners of war were set to work repairing the buildings destroyed in their colleagues’ bombing raids. Being dutiful Germans they cheerfully set about sabotaging everything they laid their hands on, probably causing more longer term damage to the buildings than their bombs did. However, just as it does today, a plastered and decorated ‘disaster’ job to the unfamiliar eye, appeared to be just as good as a professional job.

For a long time after the war, the term was used to describe the work of all those people whose standards were substantially below what would be deemed acceptable.

Nobody is suggesting that these people (cowboys) are deliberately carrying out bad work. In most cases they are simply well meaning but incompetent individuals, usually with no trade qualifications, whose aspirations far exceed their capabilities.

Having spent a few years labouring on building sites they have acquired no skills whatsoever but inexplicably consider themselves to be experts on all aspects of construction, and cheerfully unleash themselves on an unsuspecting general public. They have little or no understanding of building regulations, and know nothing of correct installation procedures.

I’m afraid these are the only people offering very cheap conversions.

How do you recognise one? It’s not easy. Your typical cowboy is not a ‘shifty eyed’ individual waiting to take your money and run. On the contrary, he is quite likely to be charming, helpful and oozing self confidence. The key ‘giveaway’ is the price.

Their prices will always be substantially cheaper than those of the established companies.

They rarely have employers and public liability insurance, and they are hardly ever listed in a phone book. Some have grand titles and give themselves elaborate pedigrees. They sometimes have beautiful photos on their websites. It should be noted that the website designers are able to purchase these photos for a nominal fee from a dedicated website.

Remember, when a dodgy attic conversion is plastered and decorated it can look just as good as a professional job. And the delighted householder will happily recommend his ‘great value’ builder to friends and neighbours.

It simply isn’t possible to produce a quality attic conversion for 10k, 12k, or even 14k. And anyone who believes it can is only kidding himself.

According to the Society of Charted Surveyors building costs for small domestic works (extensions & attic conversions) have fallen by between 10% and 15% from the high of 2006/2007.

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Recent Newspaper Articles


According to the SOCIETY OF CHARTERED SURVEYORS Tender prices increased by almost 5% in 2012, mainly due to price rises in building materials, and energy costs.

IRISH TIMES 27th February 2013


Some 52% of all construction tenders are priced below realistic construction costs. Below cost tendering has led to the collapse of a number of construction projects. 55% of quantity surveyors have had experience of projects not being completed because of below cost tendering.


IRISH TIMES 23rd August 2011

The average cost of an attic conversion is €20,000. People underestimate how large the attic room will be. It is often the biggest room in the house.

SUNDAY TIMES 23rd December 2012

People are warned to beware of a builder cutting costs to such an extent that he doesn’t have the capacity to finish the job.

Many contractors are now bidding well below cost just to secure work and keep cash flowing, a practice which is unsustainable.

Most people are prepared to pay a premium for peace of mind when it comes to their own homes.


IRISH TIMES 24th September 2011