Sunday, May 22, 2016

How to avoid ‘Cowboy Builders’ – 5 Practical Tips

Trust is something in which we expect that services provided will be as advertised or discussed and that those who claimed to deliver such services will be competent to do so.   Unfortunately, there are endless examples where this trust has been mis-placed, as there are plenty of unscrupulous people out there who are waiting to exploit this situation.
There are times when we need to engage the services of a builder, contractor, tradesperson, (call them what you will), when we are considering building work or indeed in the event of an emergency. Selection of ‘the right person’ is often determined by random selection based upon a brief search through Yellow Pages, a quick internet search or a card displayed in a newsagent’s window. This leads to us placing our trust in people we know very little about and allowing then access into our homes/buildings. Trust is something in which we expect that services provided will be as advertised/discussed and that those who claimed to deliver such services will be competent to do so. Unfortunately, there are endless examples where this trust has been mis-placed, as there are plenty of unscrupulous people out there who are waiting to exploit this situation.

Knowledge of home repairs and building works is something many people no little to nothing about and therefore prefer to pay to have these types of work carried out. Therefore, if a ‘builder’ is invited to give advice and a quotation, most people will not have the expertise to assess whether the work they are proposing is appropriate or indeed necessary, or whether it represents good value for money or not. So why do we seem to make these rash decisions? This is likely to be due to the urgency of works, our trusting nature, confident, sometimes intimidating behaviour, cheap price etc. It is decisions made on this basis that can lead to very significant problems and disputes, and this approach should be avoided at all costs.

In March 2012 the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) published their Home Repairs and Improvements Toolkit which in the introduction states: ‘In the 18 months from January 2009 to September 2010, advice service Consumer Direct received over 146,000 complaints from consumers about problems they had experienced with home repairs and home improvement projects’. As a result the OFT together with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Trading Standards and Local Authority Building Control and Planning departments, launched a campaign to raise awareness amongst consumers around how to manage home repairs and building works.  The toolkit considered that raising public awareness through the media would be the most effective way of dealing with this issue, however, below I offer some practical suggestions that should be considered when engaging building and repair works:

1. Do your homework

Always take the time to do some research to find out about the people you are thinking of using. How long have they been trading?, do they have a website, if so are there examples of their work?, are there previous customer reviews. Have they got a track record for the type of work you require? Do they have the accreditation they claim?  If you cannot find this information on-line, then ask for details of previous similar work that has been carried out and contact details. Good builder/tradespeople are proud of their work and would be more than happy for you to talk to their ‘satisfied customers’. If a builder/tradesperson is not willing to provide this information for you then do not employ them!

2. Obtain alternative quotations

Never appoint a builder/tradesperson on the basis of one quotation. When you go to a supermarket you often have the choice of numerous similar products, which you will assess at in terms of quantity, quality and cost. You will consider these factors and then make an informed choice. This is exactly the same approach you should take when considering home improvements or building works. If you instruct building work from the first quotation you receive it is the same as going into to supermarket and picking up and paying for the first thing you see. How can you be sure you have got good value for money.

3. Get things in writing

All quotations should be received in writing.  Failure to receive a written quotation can lead to disputes and misinterpretation in what you ‘thought’ you had been told and what is actually provided. Legally, there is such thing as a verbal contract, the problem is, how can you prove someone had said something, if they are claiming otherwise?  Written quotations will avoid this, however it would also be wise to have the quotation broken down into as much detail as possible.  A detailed breakdown, with costs attached to each item, will reduce uncertainty, for yourself and the builder. Also, do the costs include VAT?

4. Payment

It is common practice for a builder/tradesperson to request an upfront payment for ‘materials’. I would suggest that as part of accepting the quotation that you also agree a payment schedule, which will include any upfront payments. Payments should be spread over the duration of the works and based on progress with a final payment held back until the work is complete. Never pay large sums of the works cost upfront. Only pay the builder/tradesperson for the work they have completed. Always be mindful that you are in a position that if the builder/tradesperson failed to complete the works (for whatever reason), have you got enough money left in the project to pay someone else to complete it? If the answer is no then you have probably paid too much too soon.

5. Never accept cold callers

Never be tempted into considering ‘deals’ from cold callers. Many of the horror stories we hear relate to those who have felt pressurised into paying for work they did not need, was far too expensive (sometimes extortionate), and completed to a very low standard (or sometimes not completed at all). Avoid cold callers at all costs. We have possibly all been in a situation where we open our front door and are greeted by someone who appears to be plausible and knowledgeable, however do not be fooled! You will undoubtedly be offered the deal of the century, however in life you get what you pay for, so to quote a popular phrase, ‘if it appears to good to be true, it probably is’.

Typical ways in which you may be approached may include:

‘I am working over the road and noticed that you have some damaged tiles on your roof.  While I’m here, I’ve got my ladders and just happen to have some spare tiles, do you want me to take a look?  Answer - NO!

‘I’ve just re-surfaced your neighbour’s driveway and I’ve got materials left over. While I’m here I can do you’re drive for a really cheap price, but I can only do it today. What do you think?  Answer – NO!

‘We are in the area today only and offering significant unrepeatable discounts for a small number of customers who agree for us to use your property for marketing purposes. We will take pictures of the work we do and include it in our marketing literature’ Answer – NO!

‘You will need to sign up now. The manufactures price is increasing after today’Answer – NO!

‘I will give you a good deal for cash’ Answer – NO! - If this is suggested it should immediately raise alarm bells as, firstly it is illegal and will undoubtedly be work ‘off the books’, thereby avoiding tax and VAT payments. Anyone who is prepared to suggest work in this way is not the type of person you can have an faith or confidence in as there honesty is already compromised.

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