Ted Laverty, boss of Ireland’s leading online tradesman review website tells how to identify cowboy builders and tradesmen.
We Irish now spend almost €6m a week under the Government’s Home Renovation Inventive Scheme (HRI) introduced last October.
The Irish Independent recently reported that the rate of spending has doubled since the beginning of July compared with the previous nine months, bolstering the construction sector and hardware industry and of course, allowing homeowners to avail of big savings on big jobs at home.
But amidst the dash to get a crew in before the scheme expires next year, there’s always a worry about handing the keys of your home over to an unknown tradesman.
By doing so you’re not only trusting in the contractors’ scruples but also in his or her ability to complete the agreed job to your expectations.Picking a cowboy could cost you far more money than the HRI would save you.
Since 2005 I have been running Onlinetradesmen.ie – a web site which comes with a recommended list of contractors and tradesmen. In that time we have processed over 550,000 home improvement projects submitted by Irish property owners for jobs ranging in size from fixing a leaky tap to building a one-off mansion.
And much as Tripadvisor.com is a watchdog of quality in the hospitality sector based on its posted customer reviews, the same type of rating system on Onlinetradesmen.ie ensures that property owners can benefit from the experience of others before they hire a tradesman or builder.
While the majority of Irish tradesmen provide a professional service at the right price, there is still a minority who consistently fail to deliver. In our own experience of monitoring thousands of recommendations as well as damning indictments posted by our clients on our website over the years, we have noticed that “cowboys” in the building and trades sector often share some common traits, and they say much the same things.
So based on our experiences, here’s the Onlinetradesmen.ie’s list of ten things cowboy’s tend to say. Note them and avoid.
1 The Dog Ate My Qualifications…
For decades Ireland has employed internationally recognised training standards for Tradesmen through the FAS/Solas apprenticeship scheme. Tradesmen who qualify through this scheme have an accredited foundation in their chosen trade. Property owners should be comfortable in asking tradesmen to prove these credentials – usually in the form of a certificate, a FAS national craft ID card or similar.
All the tradesmen on Onlinetradesmen.ie have been verified in this way and there are also a number of regulatory bodies across specific trades who vet their members according to established criteria.
Ask the question, get the proof!
2 …And My Insurance!
Ok, so insurance is universally sold on the basis of fear – ‘what if this happens’ etc. But from a Tradesmen perspective it is an essential criteria that you should demand from anyone working in your home.
Public liability cover insures against bodily injuries arising from works carried out in your own home and ensures that the contractor can pay any claims associated with it. Without it you may have some liability in this area if things go wrong. For this reason it is the minimum cover that you should demand from anyone working in your home.
All insured Tradesmen will be hold a valid certificate of Insurance. Ask for a copy for your records. If they don’t have it they may be hookey.
3 You won’t get that kind of price elsewhere..
Probably for good reason. If it sounds way too good to be true then it probably is. When it comes to pricing a job there are a number of criteria that need to be considered – the job type, the details provided by the property owner and specific environmental factors relating to the job site. However, given the same set of details being made available to each, tradesmen should return broadly similar pricing for the job (not withstanding pricing variances between urban and rural areas).
When comparing prices make sure you are checking like-for-like. Get a minimum of 3 quotes for the job.
Does each quote include VAT and materials? On the latter make sure that all materials are to the required quality and have a defined warranty period. For larger jobs it is advisable to hire a quantity surveyor to ensure you are being quoted the correct quantities and are not effectively paying to stock the tradesman for his next job!
It is only natural that you will be tempted by the lowest price. This is fine as long as all the above criteria stack up. However, if you can’t get the transparency and guarantees that you need, move on to the next quote.
4 Our last client is on holidays…
Back in the day most tradesmen were hired on the basis of a word of mouth referral from a neighbour. In modern day Ireland this can prove problematic – with many busy professionals not having a close relationship with their neighbours. Google provides a fast solution to finding a local tradesman but does not provide the certainty that many home owners require.
Faced with the option of getting an unknown Tradesman into your home, you should ask for references before you hire. Most professional tradesmen will have a portfolio of their work that they will readily show you. They should also be able to stump up the contact details of a satisfied property owner who will validate their work.
At Onlinetradesmen.ie we employ a ratings system to fulfil this purpose and publish it on each member’s website. This helps prospective customers to identify their preferred tradesmen prior to contacting them.
If a tradesman cannot provide a reference – a past client you can phone or call into and whose task matches the profile of your project, then move on to another who can.
5 I’m all out of headed paper…
Following from the above, for larger projects you might want to get additional comfort from validating the contact details of your tradesman before you hire them.
A quick check of their letterhead should provide an address (never a PO Box!), a company registration number (or business registration number if a sole trader) and a VAT registration number where applicable. All small details, but something that will ensure that they are contactable if things should go wrong.
6 I’m great craic…but I might not make it tomorrow
People buy from people and, much like a date, the first impression is often the lasting on. The same applies for the hiring process for Tradesmen.
A surly type could be an excellent craftsman and similarly, cowboys can arrive at your door with an outgoing personality and an arresting sense of humour.
While a warm personality is a bonus, it’s also important to hold them to certain standards during the hiring process. Don’t fall into the trap of hiring on personality only.
Did they come back to you when they said they would? Are they always presentable and professional in their approach? An engagement that starts off on the wrong footing, is unlikely to correct itself as the project progresses.
7 Did you meet my buddy? I forgot to bring him yesterday…
After going through all of the above, it is reasonable to expect that the tradesman who will be working on the job is the one you have built up a rapport with and the one you expect to do the work.
In reality however, this might not be the case. This is not necessarily an issue as the front man for a company may be overly qualified to lay bricks, but you should get an indication of this beforehand.
Watch out for those who sub contract to another individual after getting the job. While that individual may be qualified, they’re not the person you hired.
Ask who will be carrying out the work and make sure you have their credentials. Most importantly, get the details of the person who will be supervising it. If the company is planning to sub-contract some of the works out, then get the details of the sub-contractors as well.
8 Ah now, I don’t do contracts…
While a contract is not necessary for smaller jobs, it is something that should be put in place for any mid-to-large sized project.
Why? It is a written agreement between both parties that clearly details the specific deliverables, the materials to be used, the costs, payment structures and warranty period among other critical information. The reality is that a contract covers both parties equally in the event of a dispute – so there is really no reason why a contractor should not willingly enter into one.
From experience we would always recommend that a home owner contracts a registered Architect for larger building works. They will not only provide a standardised contract for all parties but will also ensure the build from the design to certification stage. Failing that you can access a sample home improvement contract template on the Onlinetradesmen.ie website.
9 Cash money only…I like to keep it under the counter…
The Home Renovation Incentive (HRI) scheme allows home owners to claim a 13.5% tax credit back on qualifying works that cost between €5,000 and €30,000. Qualifying works include extensions, painting, window replacements, certain internal refits, insulation and heating upgrades.
This is important as you can only claim the tax credit back if the works were carried out by a contractor that is registered under the HRI scheme. To qualify the contractor needs to be tax complaint. Beware of contractors claiming to be able to get you the refund who cannot prove that they are on the HRI register
10 Ah you don’t want to do it like that…
It is important to act early if something isn’t going to your liking or a tradesman isn’t carrying out the task exactly as instructed by you. Communication is important at all stages and never assume that something will be corrected without you asking for it. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or proof of a particular aspect at any stage and for justification as to why a job isn’t being done as instructed. If required, get a second opinion. A tradesman who is confident in his work will not be overly concerned with this.
In the absence of any other option, be prepared to cancel the appointment of a particular tradesman subject to your contract and hire another to complete the works.
Ted Laverty is CEO of Onlinetradesmen.ie