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Signs You’ve Hired A Cowboy Tradesperson

Close up of a tradesperson's tool belt with a hammer and level

Cowboy tradespeople can cause a multitude of problems. Whether it’s building a poor quality extension, “fixing” your clogged drains only to find they didn’t fix it at all or leaving work incomplete. Not only do cowboy tradespeople cause stress and anger for the people they dupe, but they also cost them a lot of money and time.

Thankfully, the good outweighs the bad. Cowboy tradespeople are the minority, and the majority in the industry take great pride in their work and just want to make an honest living. However, that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be wary. When hiring anyone, always do your research and look out for any red flags.

Not sure what those red flags might be? Keep reading to discover the signs you’ve hired or are about to hire a cowboy tradesperson.

No References

If you ask a tradesperson for references and they can’t provide any, question why. References act as a CV for tradespeople. So if they don’t have any, how can you be sure of the quality of their work?

A skilled professional should be proud of their work, therefore, more than happy to show off their work to potential new customers and be prepared to do so.

“Quick Jobs”

There may be tradespeople out there who, when they see something isn’t quite right with your property, will let you know. However, if someone comes to your door offering a “quick job” that “won’t cost too much”, don’t immediately agree to anything.

If you think there may be some truth to what they’re saying, ask someone else to have a look over the suspected issue.

Cash Only

There’s nothing wrong with paying for a service in cash. However, if the tradesperson you’ve hired insists on you paying in cash, there could be a reason for it.

Cash payments are more difficult to track, and it could be the case that they won’t be declaring all of their earnings. Make sure you get an invoice and signed receipts for any money you hand over.

Get It In Writing

Always get things in writing. This includes estimations of how long the work will take and how much it will cost, and the final contract, should you hire them to complete the job.

Without one, they could end up charging you more than you initially thought or not completing the work. Cowboy tradespeople may try to avoid signing a contract. If that’s the case, find someone else.

Cowboy Builder

Cheap Work

A low price might sound like a bargain, but it’s likely to be too good to be true. Get several quotes to work out the average price for the work that needs to be done.

If one is significantly lower than the others, you have to wonder why. Is the person less experienced? Have they misquoted you? – as you may end up being charged further costs later on. Or is their work simply of low quality?

Unexpected Work

A tradesperson may find an unexpected issue that will require extra time/money to put right during work. Though not necessarily a cause of concern, be wary if they continuously come to you with new problems or issues.

If you’re unsure, get a second opinion. Unfortunately, some cowboy tradespeople will fabricate issues to get more money.


Life happens, and sometimes things crop up that can cause cancellations or delays. If you’re finding this is happening regularly or the person you’ve hired is regularly finishing early, it’s a cause for concern.

Not only is this unprofessional, but it will cause the project to take a longer time to complete if they complete it at all.

Poor Workmanship

This is a simple one. If the work isn’t up to scratch, you’ve probably hired a cowboy. This is precisely why seeing examples of previous work is so important.

Otherwise, check up on the progress of the work regularly. That way, if anything doesn’t quite seem up to standard, you’ll spot it early and can ask for it to be fixed.

Payment Upfront

Don’t pay the full cost upfront.

Many professionals are happy to buy the necessary materials themselves and then be paid upon completion. However, as a small minority of customers may refuse payment upon completion, it can leave tradespeople out of pocket.

To remedy this, some tradespeople will ask for payment at various stages of the project. Regular payment works well as it allows customers to spread the cost over some time instead of paying one lump sum, and the tradesperson is safe in the knowledge they’re being paid for the work they complete.

No Reviews

If the person you’re looking to hire/have already hired has very few reviews or none at all, it’s a red flag. Reviews are a great way of sharing experiences to help others make more informed choices about a business, company, etc.

Generally, a professional tradesperson will encourage past customers to leave a review – knowing it’s good for business.

No ID/Qualifications

This will ultimately depend on the person’s trade, but many require formal qualifications and identification cards.

For example, all gas engineers by law have to be on the gas safe register to undertake gas work. So, when hiring a gas engineer, request to see their ID card. Ensure the picture matches the person in front of you, check their gas safe number on the Gas Safe Register and that they’re qualified to perform the task at hand.

How To Avoid Cowboy Tradespeople?

What steps can you take to avoid being a victim of a cowboy tradesperson?

  • Take a look at reviews of their previous work.
  • Look at their online presence whether that’s a website or social media accounts.
  • Ask for references and proof of qualifications.
  • Ask family and friends for personal recommendations.
  • Don’t rush into making a decision. Take your time to make sure you’ve found the right person for the job.
All data correct at time of publication.