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Top 10 Tips for Employing a Tradesman

Finding a decent tradesman to work on your house can be right headache if you don't know anyone. That horrible feeling of "will I get ripped off" or "I don't have a clue where I'm going to find a reliable plumber, electrician, plasterer etc" is no fun.
Most of us have been there at some point - maybe you just moved to a new area or you just haven't needed anyone before. It can all be a bit daunting

These tips will make it easier to find a decent reliable tradesman to work in your home.

Less stress, no more "stabbing in the dark" and less likelihood of being "stitched up"
You'll soon be the one who can recommend a builder to your friends !

1. Be Clear What you Want Done

Before calling anyone, make sure you know what you want them to do. It doesn't matter if you know the ins and outs of it all, but you'll be much better off if you can clearly describe the end result you want. You'll be doing yourself a favour too because the clearer you are, the easier it is for the builder, plumber or whoever to quote accurately.

2. Recommendations

Good tradesmen get a lot of their work through recommendations from previous customers. So it makes sense to tap into that. There are several ways you can do this.
The most obvious is to ask friends and neighbours. If they’ve employed a decent tradesman they’ll probably be more than happy to help.
Several websites offer a way of finding good tradesmen. I particularly like Rated People, where you can choose people based on what previous customers have said about them. It's included here on the right so that you can try it for yourself. It's not quite the same as getting a recommendation from someone you know but, an opinion from someone who has recently employed them is very helpful.
And, their not going to get much work if their feedback is poor so the system tends to weed out the bad ones naturally.
Keep an eye out for sign boards of tradesmen working locally. You could ask the home owner for their opinion and whether they were recommended to them
Ask the appropriate trade body for a list of recommended tradesmen in your area.

3. Don't use “Knock at the Door” Traders

Just don't ! This might seem like a good idea as you won't have to do all that ringing round and besides "they can do it today" Be wary. Ask yourself why they need to knock at the door unannounced. If they're good, they'll have plenty of work coming in via recommendations and won't be randomly knocking on doors.
If someone knocks and tells you they’ve spotted a problem with your roof, chimney, gutters etc and can fix it for you, just thank them politely for pointing it out - then get a reputable tradesman to come and have a look.

4. Get 3 Quotes

Getting three quotes for the same work gives means you'll know if one is wildly different. That's why services like Rated People go for offering to get you three quotes rather than just one or two. With only one quote you've no idea if it's reasonable. Make it clear you want a quote and not an estimate as there's a big difference. A quote is a fixed price for the job and an estimate is really only an approximate guide.
The quotes should be on headed paper with their details, a full description of the job to be done, the cost and any VAT.
Be wary of someone offering to do the job “for cash” – no receipt, no record, no comeback !

5. Follow up References

Ask for references from previous customers. Any decent tradesman will be perfectly happy to supply these. Make sure you follow them up by giving them a call. Depending on the job, you can even ask to come and have a look at the work.
If they say they are a member of a trade association, ring up and confirm this. It’s also a good idea at this point to check they have appropriate insurance.

6. Is the Work Guaranteed

Ask about the warranty they give for their work and how they deal with this. You need to know that if anything goes wrong they’ll come back and sort it out quickly and properly. That’s another reason for recommendations. Good tradesman will want you to recommend them and will be happy to correct any problems. In fact a lot of good builders don’t advertise at all. Their past customers bring them all the work they need.

7. Decide Who to Employ

Decide who you want to do the job but don’t base this solely on the price. Who are you happiest with. Did they come across as professional and knowledgeable? Did they welcome questions and give you clear answers. Did you find it easy to get on with them. Are you confident that you could point out a problem to them if there was one, or did you feel intimidated ? Follow your instinct on this one. If somebody doesn’t seem to fit the bill, don’t just go with “the best of a bad bunch”. If needs be, get a few more quotes.

8. Agree the Job in Writing

Once you’ve decided, agree the job in writing. This should detail the work, the time it will take and when it will be completed, any access and storage arrangements, and the payment details. For small jobs it’s normal to pay on completion. For larger jobs it’s reasonable to make stage payments as the work progresses. This should be based on the value of completed work. If needs be get a breakdown of what is being paid for and look round the job to make sure it tallies. It’s also normal on larger jobs to retain a percentage until the works are fully completed. If you’ve agreed to pay for materials you should only do so once they are on site.
Get a receipt for all payments you make. Remember ... no receipt, no record, no comeback !

9. Keep their Business Card

One good tradesman tends to know others in the area and you never know what other jobs you may need doing later. They get to know each other via previous jobs, previous customers and local builders and trade merchants. And, they'll know who's good (and who not to use!) Being able to give them a call and ask for a recommendation is really useful.
A friend who lives a couple of hundred miles from my area needed an electrician to install some kitchen downlights. I obviously didn't know anyone to recommend so suggested Rated People. Through contacts of the electrician he's also had some plumbing work and some plastering done (both the jobs he hates !)

10. Making Changes and Tackling Problems

Avoid making changes once it has all been agreed. If you have to make changes, get the extent and the cost agreed in writing. We’ve all done it, agreed bits and pieces verbally as a job progresses only to get a bit of a shock when the final bill comes in. Each time something is changed from the original get it in writing so you both know exactly what’s what and you’ll avoid any shocks or disagreements

If you have any concerns as the job moves along, say so straight away. Leaving a problem will only make matters worse. Don’t be shy, talk to them as soon as possible. Apart from that, keep out of their way and let them get on with the job. It makes life a lot more difficult if you keep chatting with them or watch them while their working. A mid morning and mid afternoon cuppa won’t go amiss though !

Armed with these tips you are much more likely to get someone honest, reliable and professional. What a nice feeling knowing you didn't get ripped off !