Finding A Reliable Tradesman

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.

Small ads

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.

Yellow Pages

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.

Professional bodies

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 Door-steppers

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.

Building Works Rules & Regulations

Whenever you make a structural improvement to your home, whether it’s large or small, check first with your local authority. You may need to apply for planning permission and/or comply with building regulations. An architect or consultant working on your behalf should do this automatically.

The rules and regulations can be complicated, but they have the force of law they exist to provide a pleasant and safe environment for everyone. It’s worth being on good terms with the staff of planning and building control offices, who are there to help.

Planning Permission

The purpose of the Town and Country Planning Acts is to protect the character and amenity of an area. in England and Wales, this responsibility lies mainly with local authorities. Scotland and Northern Ireland have similar regulations. in Scotland, these are enforced by the councils. In Northern Ireland, applications should be made to the Planning Service Office of the Department of the Environment.

The aim of the regulations is to look after the public interest, not the interest of one individual over another. You do have the right to make some alterations to your property, but the onus is always on you to check whether planning permission is needed.

Operate on the principle that you should take nothing for granted, as interpretations of regulations may vary from area to area. You may discover, for instance, that alterations made by a previous owner mean your home has reached its maximum allowable size. In a Conservation Area, even repainting the exterior of your house may be controlled. If you don’t find out where you stand, you can be forced to undo any unauthorized work and restore the building to the way it was before you started.

Six Steps In Applying For Planning Permission

1. Write to your local planning department to explain what you are hoping to do. Ask if they foresee any difficulties and, if so, what modifications might help get your plans through.

2. If planning permission is necessary, ask for the appropriate application form (some local authorities have them on their Web site, for downloading) and check the following:

  • How many copies of the form do you need to return?
  • What plans do you need to submit?
  • How long will it be before you are given a decision?

3. Check what fee is payable, and what it covers. If the application is turned down, you can usually modify your plans and reapply free of charge within a set time. Equally, if you want to make minor adjustments once work is underway, you may not have to pay a further fee, but you will need to seek permission.

4. Send your completed application forms, necessary plans, and fee to the planning department. Keep copies.

5. The council should acknowledge your 5 application within a few days. It will also notify your neighbours, put up a notice near the site, or advertise the application in the local paper. Members of the public can study your application at the council offices.

6. If permission is refused, you are entitled to know why. Planning staff may be prepared to advise you about changes that might make your scheme acceptable. If permission is granted. work must usually begin within a certain time.

Building Regulations & Control

The Building Control Service of each local authority has a wide range of responsibility for building regulations, from ensuring safety in public buildings, through naming streets and numbering houses, to making sure that dwellings are structurally sound. Generally, you need to comply with building regulations and get approval from your local Building Control Officer when you:

  • Erect or extend a building here size is important, see Volume and area
  • Carry out structural alterations
  • Extend or alter a controlled service for example, water and waste, by putting in a downstairs cloakroom
  • Change the use of a building for example, by sectioning off some rooms to create a self-contained flat, or converting a warehouse or barn into a dwelling.

Additionally, building regulations cover some less obvious work, such as having cavity walls insulated. Seek advice as early as possible unless the work is exempt, you have a legal requirement to tell the council about your intended work. You are entitled to start work two days after giving notice, but for major work it is better to wait until approval has been granted.

How To Apply For Building Control Approval

There are two types of application. The Building Control Service will advise you on the best one for your circumstances.

Building Notice

This is suitable for relatively simple work, such as putting in a new cloakroom or removing an internal wall. You need to submit:

  • A completed Building Notice application
  • A site plan showing the site boundaries and the position of the public sewers if the application is for a new building or a simple single-storey extension. This is available from the council
  • The relevant fee. This is calculated according to the type and cost of the work involved.

Full Plans submission

Required for more complicated work such as a double-storey extension or where the site presents problems with foundations or drainage. You will probably have to enlist professional help to draw up the plans. If successful, you will receive a formal notification that the plans have been passed. You need to submit:

  • Two completed Full Plans applications
  • Two copies of the detailed drawings of the proposed work. The degree of specification required (such as foundations, roof construction and covering, and thermal insulation) depends on the extent of the work you are proposing
  • Two copies of a site plan showing site boundaries and the position of public sewers, available from the council
  • The relevant fee. This is calculated according to the type and cost of the work involved.

Other People’s Building Plans

You have a right to examine any planning application at the council’s planning department. Contact the planning department if you think the proposed work would affect your privacy, block your light or overshadow your garden, increase the amount of traffic to an unacceptable level, cause problems with parking, create noise or other pollution (in the case of an industrial development), alter the character of your street, or have any other environmental impact.

Put your objections in writing. There is no guarantee that the development will be stopped, but you may at least win some modifications that minimize its impact.