How to find a reliable tradesman
If you're planning any home improvements, here are some ways to make sure you can get the best tradesman for the job.
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Summer is traditionally the time of year when people start to think about making home improvements.
However, new findings from Gocompare show many of us are currently putting off home maintenance projects to save money, with a third of us delaying renovations and decorating.
Problem is, this could be a false economy, warns Gocompare home services head Phil Paterson-Fox. "While it may be alright to delay cosmetic redecorating jobs, essential repairs should not be ignored," he says.
"For example, delaying structural repairs, such as a leaking roof, may lead to more damage and a bigger bill in the long run than if it is dealt with promptly."
While you may begrudge the idea of forking out hundreds, or thousands, of pounds on home improvements, this could well be a good way to help you retain or boost the value of your home while the property market is still sluggish. And you can then cash in when the slump ends.
Money well spent
If you do decide to embark on some home maintenance, you may feel happy tackling certain jobs yourself but don't take on any task unless you're sure you have the skills and expertise to do the job properly.
Indeed, recent findings from M&S Money show almost two thirds of people are more likely to do jobs themselves rather than employ a skilled tradesman.
But Andrew Ferguson from M&S Money warns that such DIY corner-cutting can prove more costly if you end up having to pay someone else to get your mistakes put right.
"If people are attempting more complex projects that should really be carried out by the experts, they are risking serious consequences," he says.
In many cases, you may be better off hiring a professional in the first place.
Nonetheless, with so many horror stories of cowboy builders and rogue tradesmen, how can you ensure you steer clear of shoddy work, avoid bust-ups over bills, and find a tradesman you can trust?
As anyone who has had to hire a builder, decorator or plumber will testify, finding a reliable, reputable and reasonably-priced expert can prove extremely difficult.
In fact, recent figures from the Trading Standards Institute show around 89,000 people hired workers who botched the job or cheated them in some way, with a suspected £170 million in total stolen.
First off, you should never deal with cold-calling workmen, as you risk being ripped off.
Instead, you are far better off getting recommendations for a good builder from friends, neighbours or colleagues, or by choosing a workman who is a member of a professional body.
But don't be fooled by a badge; call the trade body and make sure it is current.
There are now also a whole host of websites claiming to help people find reliable workman, such as Ratedpeople, which matches locally recommended tradesmen with home improvers, and LocalTraders, which gives you responses and quotes from up to six local tradesmen.
But don't forget that while these sites can prove helpful, they have no authorisation - and it is possible to fake references.
The advice is simple: as rogue builders rely on homeowners who are too short of time to carry out thorough checks, it's vital to take the time to do your research.
Get quotes and a written contract
When choosing a workman, ask for references from previous customers and follow these up; also find out if you can view any of their previous work.
Once you've got a shortlist of potential tradesmen, you should get at least three written quotes - not estimates - outlining labour and materials.
Beware of quotes that are suspiciously low, and remember, the cheapest quote isn't necessarily the best.
Having chosen your tradesman and agreed on the work you want doing, ask for a written contract covering the work to be done, the price, the payment arrangements, and the start and finish dates. And ensure this is signed by both you and the builder.
You can download an easy-to-understand free template from a website such as the Federation of Master Builders.
Protect your payment
Before paying a deposit or entering into any contract, you need to think how you are going to pay and how you are going to protect yourself.
A new scheme, Bondpay, launched in April, offers a secure way of paying for renovations.
You put cash for improvements into a holding account run by Bondpay, held at HSBC, and the builder only receives the money once the work agreed at the start has been completed to your satisfaction.
The aim is to give people protection before, during and after the work is completed.
The scheme is backed by the Kinnell group of insurers and registered with City watchdog the Financial Services Authority (FSA).
Completely free to the homeowner, it also provides a 12-month warranty on the work should something go wrong and will sort out any disputes should they arise.
And the scheme protects the homeowner should the builder cease to exist or refuse to come back.
Agree a payment schedule
If you don't sign up to a protection scheme such as this you should, at the very least, make sure you agree a payment schedule with your builder.
Be prepared to pay a deposit up-front to secure the start date, but whatever you do, don't hand over the full amount at the outset.
Ask for VAT invoices, get a signed receipt for each payment and keep all the paperwork for your records.
Once the work has begun, make sure you monitor progress, looking over smaller jobs immediately after completion and bigger projects on a daily basis.
If everything has been completed satisfactorily and all safety regulations have been signed off, pay promptly, and get a receipt.
Making a complaint
If you are unhappy with the work carried out, complain immediately and don't wait until the invoice arrives.
If the tradesman is a member of an assured trader scheme or trade body, make contact with that organisation, as there may be procedures in place to help you resolve the issue.
If you need to take the matter further, contact Consumer Direct and speak to an adviser who will discuss the options available to you.
Don't invalidate your home insurance
Finally, it's important to note that for certain jobs, such as gas installations, electrical wiring or plumbing work, you must use qualified tradespeople.
If, for example, you need to fit or move a gas appliance such as a boiler or cooker, this should only be carried out by a Gas Safe registered engineer.
If you attempt such a job yourself, you risk invalidating your home insurance policy if things go wrong.
Also note that if you make significant improvements to your home, you must inform your insurer of the changes you have made.
The problem is that people aren't aware of the things they should be checking before they hire these idiots who give us a bad name.
A proper qualified tradesmen isn't someone who just goes down to B&Q and buys a trolley full of tools with a DIY book.
I'm a plumber and to become a proper one i had to get multiple qualifications and fork out a lot of money to get the tickets that legally allow me to do it.
For instance i hold a card from WRAS (the water regulations advisory scheme) which make me liable if i come round your house and make a mess of it. If you hire a cowboy to do the work then YOU are liable and there's nothing you can do about it.
It's just a case of doing a little research. We're not all bad.
My son is a joiner, and one of the best i've seen, he is very passionate about the work he does, and takes allot of care. and a very good tiler, and fitted kitchens, he won't rip any body off.
Would recommend you try out Which Local, It is part of the Which consumer organization.
They list tradesmen in your area who have been recommended by members and having used it, i am well impressed. You can leave your own feedback after the work has been done
Please note that articles on MSN Money do not constitute regulated financial advice, which recommends a course of action based upon the specifics of your personal circumstances. The articles are intended to provide general personal financial information. We urge you to consult an Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) before making any important decisions about your finances. You can search for an IFA in your local area. Any statement regarding financial services products and tax liability is based on legislation and tax practices as at 6 April 2011, which is, of course, subject to change. The value of any tax benefits or reliefs depends upon the individual circumstances of the investor. When investment performance is mentioned you should remember that past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Where products have an underlying investment content, in many cases the value of the investment can fall as well as rise. For with-profit based investments, there is no guarantee as to the level of bonuses that will be declared, if any. Where mortgages or secured loans are explained do remember that your home is at risk if you do not keep up repayments on a mortgage or other loan secured on it. All mortgages are subject to underwriting, status and are not available to people under the age of 18.
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