With so many people out there advertising themselves as builders or decorators, how can you possibly choose which one is right for you?
Here are five really important things to ask before you hire them and a few pointers on how to spot con-men, chancers and cowboys. YEEEHAAA! LOL!
Whenever you plan to have some home improvement work carried out on your property, remember you are essentially letting a stranger in to your house.
A stranger, I may add, with various scary tools like saws, hammers and drills!
It is essential to make sure that you are happy with who will be working on your home, that they know exactly what they are doing, and you know that they will do the work they say they will do, for the final price that was agreed, within reason. With a bit of common sense, it can be easier to spot a cowboy builder, and make sure that you do not employ them.
How to spot a cowboy builder
People generally think they are confident in spotting a rogue trader but sometimes it is not that easy. Remember the definition of a con man is a confidence trickster so be wary of sleight of hand, confusing quotes and over enthusiasm or over familiarity.
A bad builder can seem legitimate when you first meet them, they could be polite and friendly, always returning your calls, coming round to see you very quickly and promise a start date to the work which fits in with exactly what you want.
They can even produce fake ID’s, fake membership of trade bodies and all sorts of other trickery, so follow up any promises with a few phone calls.
Of course this does not just relate to builders, there are a host of tradespeople out there who are, in main, very good, but there are plenty of bad ones too, and that includes painters and decorators, roofing firms, carpet fitters, gardeners and tarmac gangs
The signs that something is not quite right
- A cowboy generally will not produce a contract, schedule of works, or any type of written agreement, or if they do, it will be vague, handwritten and/or have a fake address.
- Door knocking or cold calling for work is often the sign of someone who is “just working in your area” and will take your money and scarper. Any good tradesman will not have to knock people’s doors for work.
- If they do produce a schedule of works, a document detailing what they will do, they may not actually stick to that and will cut many corners.
- They may claim that they have worked for a prestigious local firm, or will provide fake references, so follow them up, and tell him that you will follow them up. If they are fake, he may start the sales patter to dissuade you.
- Talking of sales patter, a true cowboy builder is a master of bullsh*t, so check any claims made by them and take what any builder or contractor says with a pinch of salt until the facts are verified.
- A true cowboy builder will often say that they can give you large discounts on the price if you pay in cash notes, knocking off the VAT is a common example.
5 Questions to ask, to avoid a disaster
Generally, if you can get someone who has been recommended by a friend, neighbour, workmate or at least someone you know, then that can often avoid any problems, although sometimes it is not possible, especially for very specific and specialists jobs.
You should ask your builder the following questions. Don’t worry, any professional will gladly provide the answers to you, but if your potential tradesman is evasive, or doesn’t answer the questions, or even gets aggressive at the intrusion, they are not worth taking on.
1. How long have you been in business?
This is a very important question to ask. Obviously a tried and tested builder who you know has been trading in your town for many years, you may have seen his van around for example, then there won’t be a problem.
However bear in mind people’s careers can change from time to time and maybe he has just started self employment after working for another builder for many years. Once again, check the claims, they could be true, but check anyway.
2. Are you fully trained and experienced in this line of work?
It’s a good question to ask someone and it is worth finding out, especially if the work to be done is potentially hazardous such as asbestos removal or demolition. The last thing you want is to have to drive some bozo to hospital as he didn’t realise that paint stripper was harmful to his eyes as he didn’t bother wearing any protection!
Ask also if he has all the correct tools or does he need to hire them and is that included in the price.
3. Can I see a proposal of the work to be done, in writing?
Always a give-away if they can’t answer this one. A true professional contractor will always and without fail have, at least, a specification of exactly what work he plans to do (e.g. paint the exterior walls, or remove and replace a flat roof for example), and the paper will also include the price.
4. Can you give me references of previous work?
Once again this is important as you need to know how good the chap is.
When a builder does a good job for someone they often get referral business from it, via word of mouth. Bad jobs spread even quicker so ask around and see if anyone has heard of him. Follow up the references, to make sure his work is good, and his previous clients were happy and ask if he has photos of work he did previously.
5. Do you have insurance?
This is by far, one of the most important things to ask your potential contractor. In some cases, even letting someone work on your property without insurance renders you liable if anything goes wrong too. In some cases, it can be a criminal offence not to have the right insurance or permits, like for example, getting rid of waste. It has to be done correctly.
If they offer a guarantee, make sure it has a 3rd party insurance policy with it, make sure he has public liability insurance and make sure that the whole job is “on the books” and completely “kosher” and above board.
If your builder can answer the above questions and meets your approval then you have saved yourself a lot of time and money in choosing the right contractor to carry out your home improvements this year.