17 Top Tips for Successfully Choosing, Hiring and Working with Tradespeople

This article is Part 2 of a 3 Part series. 

Click Here to read Part 1 Successful Sourcing.  


Part 2  Checking Credentials

If you’re going to trust a contractor with your investment (your house and your money) you want them to be efficient, reliable and of good character. Once you think you have the right person, make some checks, to be sure. 

7. References.  It is a good idea to ask for a list of people that your chosen contractor has done work for in the past, and ask if it’s okay if you contact a few of them.  The ones you contact are likely to give you their honest opinion and their words may help you to judge if you’re considering the right person for your job.  If your chosen contractor can’t provide you with at least a couple of references, this would be a cause for concern.  Ask them how long they’ve been in business.  By all means ask them if the people working on the job are employees or subcontractors (in the case of larger jobs), and ask them who will be project managing and supervising on the job.  Note that someone supervising on a construction job needs to be licensed to supervise (see point 9. below for further information).

8. Portfolio. Viewing at least one, and preferably more, jobs that your chosen contractor has completed previously can be enormously helpful in determining that you’ve got the right match.  The overall effect, aesthetics, finish and style may greatly appeal to you – or put you right off.  There can be a big difference between verbal descriptions and reality, even between drawn plans and reality.  Seeing a few examples of what the contractor has done previously is the only way to close this gap.  Photos are great, the real thing is better.

9. Licenses and Insurances. Licensing and insurance requirements vary in each State of Australia and can get rather complicated.  Suffice to say, a contractor must be qualified, licensed and carry appropriate insurance for the work they are going to carry out.  It is highly recommended that you find out what licensing and insurance a contractor should have, and check that they do have what is required before you take them on.  A good place to start is with Builders Licensing Australasia (www.bla.net.au) which links to each of the State authorities that are responsible for licensing building contractors and the like.  Familiarise yourself with the material on this site for your State and phone if you need further help working out what licenses and insurances your contractor should have.  Ask your chosen contractor for a copy of their insurance policy and check it with the insurer to be sure it is current and everything is as it should be.

10. Warranty. A reliable contractor should provide a warranty that covers materials and their workmanship for at least one year.  There should also be a warranty on any service work.  Ask if they guarantee their work and get the details, ideally in writing.  If you’re not convinced you’re being offered a reasonable deal, check around for what is standard and expected in that particular industry segment and seek better, if the guarantee is important to you and you don’t feel that what is offered is sufficient.

11. 3 Quotes.
It is always advisable to get three quotes.  On the most basic one or two hour job the price between contractors may not vary too much (e.g. plumbing, electrical), but once the job gets a bit longer, a bit more complicated, or with an increased chance of ‘unknowns’ (e.g. ‘source the cause of electrical fault’), costs can vary considerably.  Some contractors will price higher to include a contingency in case they find unknowns – but you won’t be charged less if they don’t come across any problems.  Others may charge a certain fee (so the quote looks cheaper), but then need to charge more when complications arise.  The critical thing is to know exactly what is being quoted on and what the basis of costing is.  If it’s not clearly stated on the quote, ask to have it explained.  Carefully read anything that is written down and ask for clarification if needed.  The same goes for larger jobs.  If you’re getting a carport erected, a shed built or a driveway put in, ensure that you’re comparing ‘apples with apples’ when you’re comparing quotes.  A carport with steel frame will cost differently from timber frame, iron roof different from tile roof, sizes of timbers/beams used for the structures may vary and so will the costs, painting may or may not be included etc.  Check exactly what you are comparing.  Keep in mind that the cheapest quote may not necessarily be the best, and conversely, the dearest may not necessarily be the best quality or value.  Quotes should be detailed enough for you to compare side-by-side.

12. Questions and More Questions. The first meeting with your favoured builder/contractor is more like an interview.  This is your opportunity to ask them as many questions as you can that will give you a well-rounded view of their experience and capability.  A few of the necessary questions you should ask are listed above in the previous points, and a further list of reasonable questions are :

How long have you been in business?
Have you done projects like ours before?
Can we see some examples of the work you’ve done before?
Can you give us some referrals from past customers?  Can we speak to them?
What services do you offer? (e.g. Design as well as build?)
Do you carry Workers’ Compensation and liability insurance?
What sort of contract will cover our project?  (more about this in the next section)
What sort of warranty will you give for your completed work?
How would you approach our project?
Do you take care of all aspects of the project?
What do we have to do?
How many projects do you have on right now?

You would also expect a decent contractor to be taking an interest in you, your needs, ideas and plans, and be asking you questions and preferably taking some notes and looking around your project site (if you are on site).

The HIA have a great area on their website that addresses why you would ask many of these questions  - visit www.whyrenovate.com.au for some useful renovating information.

To be continued . . .

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