The rip-off that will wreck your home

Updated on 14 March 2011 | 5 Comments

Want to improve your home? Protect yourself from rip-off rogue traders in 10 simple steps....

Does your home need an overhaul? Perhaps you’ve been longing for a brand new kitchen, a much-needed extension or a beautiful landscaped garden. Of course, home improvement projects like these don’t come cheap, so the last thing you need is to employ a seemingly reputable tradesman who botches the job, or goes out of business with the project half finished.

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You only need to watch TV series like BBC’s Rogue Traders or Channel 5’s Cowboy Builders to get a picture of how serious this problem is. In fact, Sainsbury’s Finance estimates up to £590 million of damage is done to homes in Britain each year by cowboy contractors.

With that rather unsettling thought in mind, here are ten top tips for protecting you and your home:

1. Get a recommendation

Word of mouth speaks volumes! Ask your friends, family and neighbours for a recommendation if they’ve been particularly happy with the work done by a tradesman.

2. Avoid cold callers

Always be wary of unsolicited phone calls which offer great deals on home improvements. In fairness, not all cold callers are dodgy. It may simply be the case that a local tradesman is trying to drum up some local business. If you like the sound of what they have to offer, don’t even think about giving them the job until you’ve thoroughly checked them out. I’ll explain how to do that now.

3. Get online

When it comes to finding a decent tradesman, the internet is your friend. There are loads of websites which recommend experienced contractors. You could try MyHammer which enables you to post your job online for free and compare the quotes that come back. The site reckons you could save up to 30% off your costs.

Each tradesman or firm will be rated by previous customers and given feedback so you can assess the quality of their work. It’s similar to the feedback system used for eBay buyers and sellers. Note that tradesmen will be charged a fee for each job they win.

Other websites which offer a broadly similar service included RatedPeople, YourWorkman, TrustATrader and MyBuilder.

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4. Look for firms with a TrustMark logo

Once you’ve found a tradesman or firm online, it’s a good idea to check whether they’re TrustMark approved. TrustMark is a not-for-profit organisation supported by Government, the building industry, retailers and consumer protection groups. The site helps you find trustworthy tradesmen in or near your local area.

All TrustMark registered tradesmen will have had their technical skills and the quality of their work independently checked, as well as their trading record and financial status. But there’s one important point to remember here: check the tradesman has been approved for all the work you need them to carry out, and not just part of it. You can check their credentials on the TrustMark website. 

5. Check trade associations

Many reputable tradesmen will be members of trade associations. To join an association, a tradesman’s work will normally need to reach a certain standard before registration is granted. Check with the association that the tradesman genuinely is a member before giving them the go ahead.

6. Get a reference

A good tradesman should have no trouble in providing you with several references from satisfied customers. But, without sounding too suspicious, these can be faked. It’s a good idea to ask for contact details for a customer who has had a similar job done, so you can follow up the reference yourself.

7. Make sure you use an established firm

Check your tradesman is working from proper premises, and can be contacted using a landline phone number as well as a mobile. They should also be able to give you their VAT registration number. It’s details like these which indicate whether the trader is as legitimate as they claim.

8. Get a written quote upfront

Once you’ve chosen a tradesman, it’s absolutely essential you get a rundown of all the costs for the job in writing before the work has started. The quote should outline the cost of materials, labour and VAT.

It’s standard practice to pay for the job in stages. This may be necessary to purchase materials as the project progresses. It’s important you agree in advance when these payments are due. But never pay the full amount you owe until all the work is completed.

You should also agree a timescale for the project in advance too, and set a start and completion date.

9. Get an insurance backed warranty or guarantee

An insurance backed warranty is an insurance policy which can protect you should the firm go bust before the job is completed. This is particularly important if you’re having major work done to your home.

The policy should cover the cost of getting a replacement firm to finish the project so you don’t lose out financially. Check your tradesman has an insurance backed warranty before the job gets underway. It’s true the insurance will add to your overall costs, but it could save you a fortune if disaster strikes.

10. Use your credit card

Finally, insist on paying for at least some of the work using your credit card. If things go wrong then you may be able to pursue your credit card company for redress, if you can’t get any joy from your tradesman. This is because credit cards offer Section 75 protection as long as you have spent more than £100, and less than £30,000, for the work. Read Your credit card can protect you from the recession to find out more.

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