Spotting cowboy builders or plumbers can be tricky. Most of us have come across them, even suffered at their hands. But how many of us have failed to spot the warning signs?
If you follow our 10 top tips, you should be able to invite tradespeople into your home without living to regret it.
1. A personal recommendation is always preferable to a written reference. If you want a new loft extension and one of your neighbours has had a similar extension built, and to their satisfaction, that is the best possible start. A friendly neighbour might be so proud of their loft extension that they will show you around their home to let you take a closer inspection of the work.
2. It is just common sense to get three different estimates/quotes for all but the most basic building or plumbing works. The estimates should be for a job which you have specified in detail, not in vague or ambiguous terms. But you should not necessarily choose the lowest estimate, particularly if you entertain doubts about the competence of the company. And if none of the estimates inspire you with confidence, be prepared to widen your search. Always trust your instincts.
3. Make sure that estimates are submitted in writing from bona fide companies with a proper business address. Some cowboys like to hide their traces, whereas reputable tradespeople are open and above board.
4. In the case of large-scale building work, you should put a premium on experience when choosing your contractor. A company that has been trading for 15 years trumps an enthusiastic newcomer. You should also double-check that they have the relevant safety qualifications to install gas and electricity etc.
5. Depending on the complexity of the building work you want done, you need to satisfy yourself that the company you are employing has done work on homes similar to yours. For instance, if relevant, do they have experience with period properties, listed buildings or working in a Conservation Area? Find out before you give them the go ahead.
6. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, but local tradespeople are generally preferable to ones who live miles away. If building companies are having to factor in travel time, it may inflate their estimates.
7. Be very wary of tradespeople offering a discount if you pay in cash. They may take short-cuts with guarantees and insurance clauses.
8. It is critical, particularly with large-scale building works, that the contract you sign with your builders includes not just a full description of the work, but a start and finish date. Unforeseen delays can lead to particularly acrimonious disputes. Penalty clauses for late completion of the job are sometimes advisable, but may be difficult or expensive to enforce. It is also worth agreeing in writing that the property will be left in mint condition, and that you will not be expected to clear up after the builders.
9. Contractual clarity about how payments for the work should be staged is also essential. You may be asked to pay a deposit, but you should never, for obvious reasons, make final payment until the job has been completed. Hold some of the money back until the work is carried out to your satisfaction. It is worth going around your home with the tradesperson, snagging the job and agreeing the areas that need improving. Then put this in writing on an email.
10. The best way to avoid sleepless nights is to insure yourself against things going wrong. You should not only check your own insurance policy before starting major building works, but ask for proof that the company you are using has its own insurance against unforeseen problems in the course of the work.