Martin’s Top Tips on Finding and Working with Contractors

In this article Martin explains what to do if you need to find and then work with a good contractor – that a being a builder or tradesperson that is going to do some work on your property or garden.

  • GO ON RECOMMENDATIONS

    Theres’ nothing quite like a personal recommendation for a contractor or builder from someone who has had work done for them. The good ones often don’t need to advertise, they simply go on word of mouth recommendations, so if you ask around your friends, family and neighbours if they have details of people they’ve used (and been happy with), this is a great start in finding the right person for you.

  • TAKE UP REFERENCES

    If you’ve heard about someone who is good, go and see the work that they have done. This allows you to see first hand the quality of their work and also means you can speak to the person for whom the work is being carried out and find out how the builder or contractor is to work with. Reputable contractor won’t mind showcasing their work and if this isn’t possible, take up written references.

  • BEWARE COLD CALLERS

    This is someone who has picked up the phone to you or knocked on your door saying things like “I happen to be in the area and just calling in to see if you have any work that needs doing.” If you’ve carried out all the other steps to find out if a contractor is bona fide and does a good job, then in theory someone just pitching up and asking if you need work doing MAY be perfectly OK to use, but generally speaking someone that is phoning around for work has an empty diary – and this could be because they are very inexperienced or poor at their job.

  • USE TRADE BODIES

    If you are unable to source a particular type of contractor by personal recommendation, try contacting the relevant trade bodies for a list of people who are in your area. A quick search online will bring up various websites that list contractors and tradespeople and either vet them themselves by asking for certificates of qualification or membership of trade organisations, or work on the basis of satisfied reviews. This will give you re-assurance that they have the necessary skills and knowledge to work for you but it’s best to still ask for recommendations or referrals.

  • BRIEF YOUR CONTRACTOR

    Now that you have found your contractor or builder, it’s important to fully brief them fully on the job you want doing. It’s vitally important that there is no confusion or misunderstanding about exactly what you need doing. You should also write down (or draw) your requirements so that you have a record of the brief you’ve given to them. This can avoid disputes in the future and provides a record of what has been agreed. People can forget and even the most trusted contractor could mess up if you only brief them verbally.

  • GET WRITTEN QUOTES

    On the subject of getting things in writing, you must always get a proper written quote or estimate of the work. This must clearly state what work is to be done, in what timescale and for what cost – must also list any additional extras that might be incurred. It’s perfectly reasonable that there may be unforeseen costs due to extra work once the job has been started and so it’s a good idea for you and your contractor to assess the likelihood of this and to build in a contingency into the final cost.

    You need to seek 3 separate quotes before making any decisions on who to give the work to. Keep all quotations received, as well as your briefing notes, on file. This way you have a back up of what was said and agreed and at what cost, at the outset of the project.

  • GET A FIXED PRICE QUOTE

    Whenever possible, get the contractor to quote for work on a ‘fixed price’ basis – so you don’t get penalised if the job takes longer than they anticipate. As stated above, there may always be a contingency fund but this shouldn’t be too vague and by going for a fixed price contract, you know exactly how much to budget for and it will keep your contractor focussed on the job. The alternative is to employ their services on a daily rate basis – so you contractor will quote their daily rate and give an estimate of the number of days it will take to complete the job. This leaves you open to costs going up if the work takes longer than expected, so fixed price avoids this uncertainty.

  • TRADE ORGANISATIONS CAN HELP

    As stated above, if the contractor shows that they are part of a trade organisation, you should check this out. Make sure that their membership is still current or valid too. This will give you the peace of mind that the person you are about to employ will have had the necessary training and may have had to pass certain tests or exams to enable them to be part of a particular trade body. The other thing to consider is that in the event that the job goes wrong, you can ask the trade organisation to step in and help you resolve the issue. Many offer an arbitration process and even if you don’t go that far, knowing that you are seeking advice from a professional body might may your builder or contractor more co-operative with you when things have gone wrong!

  • PUBLIC LIABILITY INSURANCE

    When doing your research, also make sure that the tradesperson carries Public Liability Insurance. This means that in the event your builder or contractor causes damage to your house, a neighbour or public space – or worse still, a person, they have the necessary insurance to cover that eventuality In other words, if there is a financial claim made against them, they have the required insurance to cover this.

  • GUARANTEES OR WARRANTIES

    At outset ask if the work about to be carried out will come with any guarantees or warranties. This could come from them or from a 3rd party insurer or manufacturer of a part or appliance that is being fitted. Make sure you check the paperwork so that you are perfectly clear about what circumstances must apply for the guarantee or warranty to take effect.

So good luck! Remember the vast majority of builders and contractors are honest, hard working and trusted professionals. Sadly it is the very small minority that become the focus of scandals and reports – but they are out there! So do your research thoroughly and follow these steps to avoid making a mistake and potentially loosing thousands of pounds on shoddy workmanship that costs you to put right.

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