Finding and Employing a Tradesman

A few tips to bear in mind when looking for someone to do work in your home.

Doing your own decorating and home improvements can be a fun and rewarding experience but there are times when you’ll need to get some professional help. Maybe you don’t have the necessary skills, are short of time or have just bitten-off more than you can chew?

Two painters - painting a wallThankfully there are a large number of independent tradesmen and small building firms who specialise in home renovation jobs who will be all too glad of the work.

However, if you don’t already know a good tradesman (perhaps you’ve moved to a new area or maybe it’s the first time you’ve considered the option?) it can be a daunting prospect. We’ve all seen the various TV programs about rogue builders and tradesman and you’d be forgiven for thinking this is the norm?

In reality most tradesmen are very reliable and do an excellent job — from plumbers to decorators and builders to gardeners, whatever job you need doing there will be someone able to help.

A few tips to consider when looking for a tradesman or builder

The first thing you need to do is decide what exactly you want doing and when. Is the job simple and straightforward or will it need complex planning? Re-decorating your kid’s bedroom should be relatively straightforward — adding a 3 story extension will require a lot more thought!

Once you are certain about the work you want doing then you’ll need to find someone willing and able to do the job. By having a definite idea of what you want to achieve you’ll find it a lot easier to find the right person.

Where to Look? Obviously the first port of call will be friends, family and neighbours — a personal recommendation from someone you trust is usually the best method. However, if this doesn’t yield results then traditional listings in directories and specialist website are the place to look.

Keep it local – Ideally you want someone who is fairly local and well established? A tradesman who has advertised regularly in a local publication or directory is likely to be well known and reputable. Look for contact details and phone numbers — if a local address and regular phone number are published then this is often a good sign; be wary of those advertising with just a mobile number and website address.

Ask for references — Most past customers will be all too willing to pass on their recommendations, if you get a vague response or excuses then you need to think twice. Check the references yourself; don’t just assume they are genuine — particularly if they are not from your local area.

Trade Associations – Often you’ll be told that using businesses that are part of a recognised trade association is important. While the advice is often well intentioned you should consider what the requirements are to join most of these bodies. Often it only requires an annual payment and in many cases the association will offer very little in the way of consumer protection should problems occur.

Some Local Authorities operate local trader schemes. Although these are not countrywide at the moment the network is growing steadily and is worth checking if your area is covered.

Get a quote — wherever possible, and this is where the initial planning pays off, give an exact description of the work you want doing and get a firm price. Obviously the more vague or complex the task then the less specific a price will be. Your quote should be in writing and, ideally, will detail a description of the work to be done and at least a basic specification. For example: if you want the existing wallpaper stripped and walls to be made-good then make sure it says this in the quote.

Generally, someone who gives detailed information in their quote is likely to have thought through the project and will be offering a realistic price. Some people do just literally think of a number or make a rough guess and the results of their work are evident of this. The cheapest quote is always attractive, but once your builder starts to run out of cash he’ll either start cutting corners or ask for more money to make up the difference. The cheapest quote can often finish-up being the dearest in many ways you might not initially envisage.

Insurance — no matter what the size of job your builder or tradesman must have public liability insurance in place — the smallest of accidents can be financially ruinous and your builder will almost always be liable. This is little comfort if this liability is not underwritten by an insurer — check it’s in place, check the financial limits and check that it is current. If he has employees working in your home then he must, by law, have employer’s liability insurance too — you have a moral, if not a legal, duty of care to check this as you don’t want to find yourself in an awkward situation if an accident does occur.

Deposits and payments — inevitably it may be necessary to make some form of payment before the work is complete. One of the biggest complaints against tradesmen is that they leave one job to go to another — often the reasons are financial so being the source of steady and reliable income can often be to your advantage in this respect. It’s not uncommon for good tradesmen and builders to turn down work because they are not confident they’ll be able to finance the project — removing this concern can often mean they price the job more realistically and do a good job for you. For a tradesman, finding good customers is as important for him as finding a reliable workman is for you.

Materials can be expensive so give your builder a break and be flexible with payments. Make sure that any money paid up front is clearly defined and receipted. For large projects you may want to have some form of stage payment in place. For instance, if you are having 3 or 4 rooms decorated you could pay per room completed or on a weekly basis. Don’t pay all the money at once and even when works are completed it’s a good idea to hold back a percentage should any defects be detected later on. You’ll need to negotiate this at the outset and manage it strictly.

Regulations — for most household refurbishment and decorating projects there are few regulations to worry about. However, if the work falls within the scope of current Building Regulations then you’ll need approval from your local Building Control department or employ a contractor who is registered within a competent person scheme. Such schemes are in place for electrical work, gas installations and window replacement. Larger projects such as extensions or loft conversions will need to be notified directly and may need planning permission as well?

Overall, finding and employing a good tradesman is relatively simple and usually stress free. Although a little daunting at first, once you realise that essentially the process depends upon clear communication and simple cost control then you should be able to proceed with a lot more confidence.

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