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05 Nov 2010
Adam Bate

Hiring a tradesman: 5 simple steps


Are you getting work done on your property? Take a look at our top tips to help things run smoothly.

Many homeowners choose to upgrade their property, rather than sell.

If your house needs work that is beyond your DIY capabilities, the likelihood is that you’ll employ someone to do the job for you.

Here are a few steps you can take to safeguard against being left out of pocket.

1. Finding a tradesman

If you need to hire a plumber, electrician, builder or decorator, it can be difficult knowing how to go about finding a reliable, reputable and reasonable tradesman*.

The last thing you want is to let a cowboy builder into your home, so getting recommendations from family and friends is usually a good place to start.

If this doesn't help, there are a host of websites that can help you find local tradesman such as MyhammerCheckatrade and Ratedpeople. But, it’s still important to trust your instincts and do your own checks.

It's also worth looking for workmen who belong to trade associations approved by the government-endorsed TrustMark scheme.

And if you’re still struggling, speak to your local authority about assured trader schemes managed by Trading Standards Services.

2. Check references and get quotes

When choosing a tradesman, it’s a good idea to get at least three different quotes to compare, so you can draw up a shortlist.

When talking to a potential tradesperson, you should always ask for references. Ask to see examples of their work or try talking to previous customers.

It's advisable not to accept an estimate when discussing the cost, as this could give an untrustworthy tradesman the opportunity to increase the price once the work has been finished.

You should always insist on a written quote, which should include on-site assessment of the job, as well as the cost of labour and materials.

Once you’ve chosen a tradesman, you need to ask for a written contract covering things like the work itself, the price, and the start and finish dates.

For your own peace of mind, you could always draw up your own contract. Most insurers will help you draw up a small-scale building contract, which will state costs, timescales and any penalties for not delivering the work.

3. Find out if you’re covered

Even with the most experienced and skilled contractor, things can go wrong.

Make sure you check that they have their own liability insurance, in case any damage is caused.

You'll also need to check your own home insurance policy to make sure everything is covered. In addition to damage, there may be a greater risk of break-in if access to the property is compromised, and if it's uninhabited during this period.

Consider getting legal cover as an add-on if it’s not already covered as standard on your policy.

If you should be unfortunate enough to need to take action against a rogue trader, legal cover will cover any associated costs.

It could also cover costs if a tradesperson takes action against you, for an incident concerning your property.

If you're having any building work carried out, you may have to let your insurer know so you don't accidentally invalidate your policy. Especially if you're not at home whilst the work is taking place.

4. Agree a payment plan

You may be required to pay a deposit upfront, but a reliable tradesman should never ask for the whole amount of money at the outset.

Cowboys are known to ask for upfront cash payments, so be careful.

Work out a suitable stage payment plan which both you and the builder are happy with. It’s always best to pay for segments of work once it's completed, as you can check the standard before parting with your money

You should have already agreed an overall price, but sometimes things can crop up that will mean paying out a little more than you first agreed.

To make sure you're not getting over-charged, it's important to make sure that all labour and material costs are well-documented.

Ask for VAT invoices, get a signed receipt for every payment you make, and keep all the paperwork for your records.

If possible, pay by credit card as it can provide extra protection in the event of a breach of contract or if a firm goes bust.

Look out for those who try to set a daily rate rather than a fixed rate for the whole job, as this can sometimes be an incentive for the job to overrun.

5. Check the quality

Before you make any final payment, ensure you are satisfied the work has been carried out properly and meets the terms of the contract.

It's unlikely that your home insurance will cover you for any damaged caused to your home as a result of shoddy workmanship, or faulty, poor quality materials. So make sure that any work is done to a high standard.

*Please note: no offence or sex discrimination is intended by use of the word ‘tradesman’ or ‘workman’ as opposed to ‘tradesperson’ or ‘workperson’. This has been used simply for the purposes of flow.


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