Cowboy Trap


Reviewed by a Surveyor


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As Independent Surveyors we note that there are many television programmes covering the property market aired on terrestrial and satellite television stations which we review in this section of our website. Our television review is our light hearted opinion of the television programme and gives a breakdown of the programmes content. In no way are we advertising the television programme or receiving remuneration for promoting it on our website we are simply giving general information.

Cowboy Trap is a daytime BBC One property television programme which at time of writing this article is airing its third series. Cowboy Trap each episode highlights the bad workmanship of cowboy builders the length and breadth of the United Kingdom with the host Clive Holland highlighting where the building work went wrong. Cowboy Trap is a forty five minute property programme aired late morning in the day time slot aimed at an audience that include Mums and stay at home Dads, shift workers, unemployed, retired etc who are interested in home and lifestyle programmes. Cowboy Trap is produced by an independent television production company Mentorn Media for the BBC who produce a wide range of programmes from Question Time to An Idiot Abroad.  


As Surveyors carrying out specific defect reports on residential and commercial properties we often come across cowboy builders work and find Cowboy Trap's highlighting such issues will be helpful to many homeowners who are considering building work on their properties.


Presenter of Cowboy Trap

Clive Holland is the presenter and anchor for Cowboy Trap guiding the viewer each episode through the scenario of a cowboy builders work and its affect on the homeowner. Clive Holland is not your typical television presenter with regard to his looks but his down to earth approach and knowledgeable manner instantly warms to both the homeowners featured and the viewers to him.

Clive first television appearance was on GMTV's Famous for Fifteen minutes competition which he won on the LK Today slot with Lorraine Kelly and since then he has appeared on television and radio regularly.

Clive is a larger than life character and is certainly on a quest to expose cowboy builders in Cowboy Trap as well as giving lots of handy helpful top tips to homeowners throughout each show.


Cowboy Trap Programme format

Cowboy Trap in the three series produced at time of writing this article has featured many cowboy builders who have carried out appalling building work for homeowners across the United Kingdom . Each episode of Cowboy Trap presenter Clive Holland introduces the day time viewer on BBC One to a scenario whereby an unsuspecting homeowner has been subject to some bad quality building work and has often been left with unfinished and unsafe areas of their property. Cowboy Trap highlights the plight of homeowners who have been unfortunate enough to be subject to some building horrors such as builders who have left half way through a job leaving properties exposed to the elements and shoddy plumbing work that leaks etc often never returning leaving the homeowner with their dream of an extension or home improvements shattered.


Clive Holland throughout Cowboy Trap gives helpful tips on how to avoid such building work disasters in future and highlights areas of concern and how to address these and correct them.

During our structural surveys of residential properties as Surveyors we outline in our reports details of areas of concern in properties such as rising damp or lack of ventilation in a roof.

The property television show Cowboy Trap enlisted local builders to correct building work that has gone wrong with the various stages highlighted during the forty five minute show. Prior to the building work being completed correctly Cowboy Trap enlists the help of a local expert Surveyor to highlight the problems and issues in the property. The local experienced building team are seen taking a look at the property and analysing with Clive Holland what needs to be corrected and making a plan of action to correct the homeowner's nightmare build.

At the end of each episode of Cowboy Trap Clive Holland revisits the property being featured revealing the work that the Cowboy Trap team of builders have carried out. Unlike some property television programmes not all the work is completed with the major problems being put right and areas such as decoration and flooring for example left for the homeowner to complete.



The Cowboy Trap titles are simple with the programme opening each episode with host Clive Holland introducing the viewer to the area in the country being featured and the homeowner who has experienced a cowboy building nightmare. The titles are a simple logo with the font of cowboy in a cowboy influence style.

Our residential structural building surveys also take on a simple no nonsense approach with plain English terms rather than terms which will not be familiar to our clients.



Cowboy Trap has upbeat, bright original music composed by Mike Westergaard which is in contrast to the doom and gloom the poor homeowners have experienced during their dealings with cowboy builders.


Cowboy Trap Programme example Series 3, Episode 11

The Cowboy Trap presenter Clive Holland is at the wheel of his car explaining his quest each episode is to help to get rid of cowboy builders due to the stress they cause to people who let them into their homes.

The title sequence includes the homeowners who have had cowboy builders destroy their home with Clive Holland identifying that cowboy builders do not care about the homeowner's house or the work that they carry out with the only thing the cowboys really care about being how to get their hands on people's hard earned cash. The homeowner who has been subject to poor work carried out by a cowboy builder explains how angry and disgusted she is about how a cowboy builder can treat anyone like he treated her and is cross that a cowboy builder can think that they can get away with such poor work. Clive explains how he is about to see some awful building work carried out once again by cowboy builders but hopes to shed some light at the end of the tunnel for those homeowners who have been victims to cowboy builders.

Warning to cowboy builders in the UK that at Cowboy Trap they are fighting back with the homeowners delighted that they are not fighting on their own anymore and that the Cowboy Trap team are helping them to fight back.



Dodgy tricks and techniques

Cowboy builders use tricks and techniques on unsuspecting homeowners and Clive Holland explains he is going to outline some of these so that people do not fall trap to these unscrupulous methods in the future.

If commissioning a Surveyor to carry out a full structural survey of a property their report will highlight any poor workmanship carried out by builders.

Unfinished extension dream

In Series 3, episode 11 takes place in the large village of Whiston in the Metropolitan Borough of Knowsley on Merseyside where some really dodgy building work has been carried out that not only stretched the homeowners finances to breaking point but their relationship as well. The husband and wife (they also have a twelve year old son) whose home has been subject to cowboy builders explain how their marriage was put in question with the stress of the bad work.

As Surveyors we are often in Merseyside and have carried out many structural building surveys and specific defect reports in the area over the years we have been Independent Surveyors.


The couple purchased their house thirteen years ago when the quiet location and garden made them fall in love with their new home as their son grew up they wanted to give him more space converting their house from a two bedroom to a three bedroom house. The conversion plans would mean that their son could have a larger bedroom and the husband could use the third bedroom as a study. The extension was planned so that their dream home would have a large open plan area at the rear of their house which would overlook their garden which would be perfect particularly in the summer when it would be ideal for entertaining their friends. Upstairs they planned a larger bedroom for their son which they thought would be perfect as his bedroom was too small. The extension was designed to make the living space more accommodating enabling the husband to use the extra room for an office to run his driving school business rather than using the dining room table to spread out all his paperwork which would be much better.

The couple got an architect to draw up the plans who also suggested a local builder which gave them confidence that they would be in safe hands with the architect's recommendation. The couple, with this recommendation, felt that they could trust the recommended builder and that nothing could go wrong but unfortunately this was not the case. The planned extension over two storeys to the rear of their house would give them the extra bedroom upstairs they dreamed of and downstairs by removing an internal wall and extending it would give a large open plan area for living and dining space.

The builder quoted a six week time scale and a price of £30,000 but as Cowboy Trap could see the extension was not completed and the garden was unsafe to use with building debris piled scruffily in what was once a peaceful space. During the whole process the couple and their son have also missed out on quality time together as the husband is left to carry out work on the house rather than spending time on family days out on his only day off in the week which is a Sunday.


Cowboy Builder leaves chaos

The family have been left in chaos with excuse after excuse from their cowboy builder. Cowboy Trap presenter Clive Holland makes his first visit to see what state the builder has left the property in and how the situation got to this state.

The concrete lintel above the patio doors has been broken to view the ceiling and patched up badly which will in time under weight bear it will lead to movement in the structure. There is a metal RJS in place but there are gaps each side which let the draughts in and the couple have put leaflets in place to block up the holes!

The husband has carried out some essential remedial work with some help from friends as well as putting on the roof and filling in holes around the house. The husband has dabbled with electrics, which is not advisable if you are not a qualified electrician. Clive gives some advice as well as explaining that a professional electrician should carry out this type of work, he can understand why the husband has done what he has done but advises he must stop and Cowboy Trap will help will be given to carry out the electrical work safely. When carrying out structural building surveys we, as Surveyors, always advise with electrics to have an Institute of Electrical Engineers (IEE) test and report carried out by an NICEIC qualified electrician or equivalent.

Outside from the rear back garden the gaping hole which should be their new extension is not where they should be today, the couple explain they were left with a few roof timbers in place but no roof it was just an open void! At the side of the house there is pipe work which is the sewage pipe combined; this soil stack intersection is exposed just covered with a piece of wood - all the germs and bacteria etc are exposed out into the soil and the pipes that are close by! This should not be like this it should be capped off to stop any potential germs coming out the couple explain that this has been like this for a year, this is really dire and with the son in the garden this is hazardous and something a builder should never have left behind.


Cowboy Trap's Clive Holland explains in a top tips section of the show why the inspection chamber is so wrong in the couple's home. The couple's properties old sewage would have been a combined sewage which would have foul water (waste from toilet) and rainwater. The cowboy builder left a section which was virtually on top of the surface with no top lid and going into this there was foul water from toilets, water from washing machine, sinks, dishwasher and even the rainwater too! Without a lid when it rains and someone has flushed the toilet and may be the washing machine is on to the pipe work would get flooded and all the contents (including raw sewage) would be all over the land next to it right next to the house attracting vermin, bacteria etc. This is a terrible error and dangerous and it does bear thinking about what illness could be contracted whilst being exposed to this area. This should have a secure lid and be seated properly and just shows that the builder did not have a clue how to do this.



Making good

The couple have done what they can to try to make good and make the property water tight but their son has not been able to move into his new bedroom. There are so many problems with the gaps in the new extension wall, roof and the son's old bedroom window was left with water leaking into his room. The husband has had to carry out remedial work to the bedroom window, seal the roof and fill the holes to prevent any further damage.


List of dire building work issues

There are so many building issues and defects with the extension work which has left the build incomplete and the family living in chaos for over a year. The concrete floor is unlevel, construction overall is decidedly dodgy, the build was left open to the elements with rainwater able to get into the structure and on top of all this there is open sewage which is a health hazard.


The couple gave their builder a large proportion (£23,500) of the cost of the build but were left with work unfinished, dodgy drainage and a completely unliveable extension. Initially the couple had several builders in to give quotes on their planned extension which were considerably higher than their budget. Then the builder, recommended by the architect, came in with a quote bang on their budget which now, in hindsight, is apparent that the architect and the builder had discussed their budget with the builder thinking if he cut a few corners here and there he could still make a good profit and would get the job.

Another of Clive's top tips

When one builder's quote is considerably cheaper than another stay away as cutting corners on the budget usually means cutting quality.

The couple had trusted their architect as he had recommended the builder.

The builder was working and to get his next payment early told the couple he wanted to move things along quickly and get the build watertight by Christmas and to do this needed more money.


Top Tip


As an incentive to get the couple to part with more money the builder promised to move things on more quickly.

Cowboy Trap's presenter Clive explains avoid planning your build around a special occasion or significant event the extra pressure wishing the work to be complete for a wedding, Christmas or family visit can encourage rash decisions as the deadline approaches.

Instead of focusing on Christmas the couple should have had alarm bells ringing as they were asked by their builder for more cash. The couple drew out further cash and paid £12,500 to their builder then they were then in for a nasty shock as they did not see the builder after paying him as he disappeared for three months. Eventually when the cowboy builder came back, he apologised but requested more money to get on with the job! The couple, desperate to get the build going again, gave the builder a further £3000; their total paid to him now being £23,500 but no work was carried out leaving them in a nightmare.

Cowboy Trap to the rescue with a team of builders to help to create the dream home the couple have wanted rather than the unfinished and unsafe building site.


Ask the experts

An independent builder is asked to view the property and give her expert opinion on the quality of this building work. The outside wall for example should have an air gap in the cavity (usually 50mm insulation, 50mm gap 100mm cavity) what there is present is the cavity filling the whole span. The problem with this is water from outside will come in soaked into the outside porous blocks then travel through the insulation then come out inside which will cause dampness. Secondly there is mortar that has fallen inside the cavity which is rigid and will be cold and again will cause the damp to have a nice easy route to get into the building.

The drainage is wrong with the levels are incorrect and there is a back flow as well as an open foul drain which is a health hazard. The builder explains that much of the work that the cowboy builder carried out is actually damaging to the property giving the overall build work minus a half out of ten.




Cowboy Trap to the rescue

Plan of action to put the build back on the right track

The Cowboy Trap builder takes a look at the drainage and is very concerned as the top water comes back against the flow which is a hazard and is horrified as a pipe is coming out of the wall from the washing machine where the water will just flood the area such bad workmanship and quite shocking. The drainage will be corrected, manhole capped off and realignment of the rest and inside, new doors, plasterwork etc will be carried out, electrical work, adding insulation, removing patio doors, neaten off there is lots to be done. Upstairs in the new bedroom electrical work and a full set of electrical tests, finish plaster work, skirtings, smoke alarms and sorting out the window will all be tackled professionally.

When checking out remedial work that the husband carried out a problem is found in that the electrical system is outdated and potentially dangerous. The fuse board is very dated and will need to be replaced with a modern one to current electrical standards.

The Cowboy Trap team of builders are on site helping to turn the nightmare their cowboy builder left them in into their dream home of a new extension giving them additional living space. The lesson to be learnt is never to trust a recommendation without checking it out unfortunately they trusted their architects' recommendation but the builder's work was far from what they had been promised.


Progress on the build

The Cowboy Trap builders have added lateral restraints on the floor joists, extending the floor joists to carry the ceiling, boarded out the walls in anticipation of the doors coming with electrical work is still to do. The cowboy builder had cut every corner he could even not using safety glass in the window for their son's new bedroom and no restrictor either! One of the main issues was securing the joists between the old part of the house and the new extension a close up camera shot is shown when the flooring is removed to show how this has now been carried out professionally.

The family are looking forward to their home being transformed with time to spend together rather than trying to sort out all the issues with the build.


Communication with their cowboy builder

Clive asks the couple if they could speak to their cowboy builder now what two or three questions would they ask him?

1.  Why did the builder take their money and not complete the build?

2.  Why did the builder leave them in such a mess?

The husband dials the builder's telephone number only to get an answer machine whereby he leaves a message for him to call him back. No response from him later.

Cowboy Trap's team make contact with their builder who claims ill health meant he was unable to complete the build. Trading Standards are informed of the builders' poor work and will put in place measures to make sure that other homeowners are not subject to his bad workmanship in future.

The architect who recommended the builder has not been heard of since he helped to identify the rogue builder.

The reveal

All the rubbish has been removed from the side of the house, there is a footpath and a secure manhole but the real wow factor is inside. The bedroom upstairs has been boarded up and plastered, skirting boards are in place, electrics installed and new safety glass is in the window with a safety catch in place which makes it much safer.

Downstairs is the biggest transformation for the wife in particular, the wall has been opened up into the dining area, the walls have been finished and the new area boarded, plastered, new opening with quad folding doors which slid back opening up to the garden.

Externally the extension still needs rendering to make watertight but the build is certainly well on the way to being finished and allowing the family to get their lives back on track. The fuse board has been replaced and even more shockingly it was discovered that none of the house had been main earth bonded back to the fuse board. Earth bonding protects you from electric shocks by providing an alternative conductor to pass through it which forces the circuit breaker or fuse to switch off and cut the electrical current without this there could be deadly consequences. Unsafe electrical insulations cause more than 12,000 fires in homes each year in the UK so electrical work is best left to professionals.


Another top tip

Make sure you get your electrical system checked at least every ten years a periodic inspection report acts as an MOT for your home as it tests the electrics in your home and safeguards your families' safety.

The building work is completed with just decorating and personal touches left for the family to make their home complete.

Evidence gathered on the families' extension work by the cowboy builder has been put together to be given to the local Trading Standards office so if the cowboy builder thinks he has got away with such appalling work he has another thing coming as Cowboy Trap have been hot on his tail!


In summary

Cowboy Trap is an informative property television programme which takes the viewer each episode to a different part of the United Kingdom with a different building nightmare carried out by cowboy builders. Clive Holland is a solid presenter but perhaps a presenter with more property knowledge might be better to host a programme so specifically centred around poor quality building issues.

The format being aired over forty five minutes does tend to recap rather too frequently throughout the programme and could be slimmed down to a thirty minute show which would make it more concise and less repetitive. However, the format unfortunately is endless as there are still many unscrupulous cowboy builders operating across the length and breadth of the country.

The Cowboy Trap's top tips are helpful and would make an informative help manual for homeowners either thinking of or having some building work carried out.





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Homes Under The Hammer

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Cowboy Builders and Cowboy Clients!



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