Everyone has heard sensational stories about people who have been ripped off by bad contractors, but the majority of tradespeople are honest, reliable, and capable. Some background research will help you find them, and some common-sense guidelines will ensure that you enjoy a good relationship with them.
But give yourself plenty of time: good builders, for instance, are often booked up for months in advance, and you don’t want to be pressured into choosing someone just because they are available.
Where To Look For A Reliable Tradesman
Nothing beats personal recommendation when it comes to finding professional help, but even that is not foolproof. One person’s idea of a job well done is not necessarily the same as another’s. So, before you make any decisions about which contractor to hire, check out the options outlined below.
Walk round your local streets and note any work being done on houses in the area. Try to speak to the owner. At worst, you can knock on the door, though you might be met with initial scepticism. Explain your interest and ask about what they’re having done and whether or not they’re happy with the builders. Most people love to talk about their renovations and, once they’ve realized you are genuine, they may be delighted to help.
Tradespeople often place 2 advertisements in the local newspaper as one job is coming to an end, so you may have an opportunity to visit their current workplace and assess the quality of the work. Before you phone. prepare a brief outline of the work you
want done, and a list of questions. Ignore any ads that only give a mobile phone number -they could be cowboys.
You may have to make quite a few calls, most of which will be a matter of elimination. But if, after going through your preliminary questions, it is obvious that a company’ is not suitable for you, ask if they know of anyone who does handle your sort of work. Information of any sort helps narrow the field.
Such as the Institute of Plumbing, will supply a list of members in your area. Members of the Federation of Master Builders also have to have a good reputation and be able to supply bank references and proof of insurance. Bear in mind that not all bodies may be so stringent in their vetting procedures as these two.
Never, ever employ someone who touts for work on the doorstep.
Asking For Questions
- Draw up an initial shortlist of between three and five contractors and make an appointment with each one in turn to meet you on site.
- Give them a copy of your initial specification and go through it with them. Take notes, especially if they suggest any changes. Inform all the other potential contractors of any changes you make at this stage.
- Never tell them what your budget is. Never say you want the job done as cheaply as possible. Never suggest that money is no object.
- Ask each contractor to submit a written quotation. Allow up to 28 days for a complicated job, but phone after a couple of weeks and ask how the quote is coming along. This sends a message that you’re seriously interested in employing them and shows that you are not someone who lets things drift.
- Ask each contractor to itemize their costs. This will make it easier for you to see where your money is going, and it will help you agree on payment stages, once you have decided which contractor to employ.
Making An Agreement
As soon as you’ve made up your mind, phone the contractor. Confirm the following:
- Price and what it includes and excludes
- Start date and estimated completion date
- Any disruption that would require you to vacate the property, even for a night
- Working hours
- Number of workers on site
- Procedures for changing the brief, the final price, or the completion date. Unless changes are very minor, they should be put in writing
- How payment will be staged, with an agreement to hold back between 5% and 10% until three months after the completion of the job in case of unfinished work, or faulty workmanship that is not immediately apparent.
Put everything you agree into writing and send two copies of the letter to the contractor. Ask him or her to sign and return one copy. This is effectively a contract between the two of you. It will prove a valuable document should serious problems arise.
Once the agreement has been signed, it’s courteous to notify the other contractors who supplied quotes, especially if it was a difficult decision, or was taken because of timing rather than price. It’s worth staying on good terms, just in case your chosen contractor lets you down.