Choosing a Contractor
Everyone has heard stories about builders being unreliable although most of them are apocryphal! Nevertheless, careful thought should be given to appointing a builder because he will become part of your household for a while so you must make sure that you are happy with every aspect of this arrangement, not just the financial side of things.
The best way to engage a builder’s services is by recommendation. Someone who has worked satisfactorily for a relation, friend, work colleague or neighbour is obviously the first choice. The worst choice is to use someone who knocks on your door looking for work.
Reputable firms and tradesmen have no need to adopt this approach – their order books are usually filled with repeat orders from satisfied clients or from recommendations.
A typical line from a door-knocker would be, ‘Excuse me, but we have just finished a job round the corner and have some tarmac left over. I’ve just been looking at your drive and we could do it for you for about £400, that’s a 75% discount! We could start straightaway and we’ll have the whole thing finished in a couple of hours.
So if you’ll just move your car…’
- First, they haven’t just finished a job round the corner, unless it’s another rip-off.
- Second, it will cost you more than £400 – that figure is just for openers – they’ll find some extra work to charge you for.
- Third, it isn’t a 75% discount or anything like and it will probably cost you more to put right their shoddy work afterwards.
- Fourth and most importantly, don’t move your car! Don’t argue with these people. Just say no, but if they persist, say you’ll have to ask your partner who works for the Police or the Revenue and Customs– a mention of these names and your doorstep will quickly become a cowboy-free zone!
If you cannot find a recommended contractor, look in Yellow Pages for a member of one of the following organisations:
- Federation of Master Builders (0207-242 7583)
- Institute of Plumbing (017108 472791)
- Electrical Contractors Association (0207-313 4800)
Before accepting a quotation, always discuss the matter of insurances with the builder. He should have cover for Employer’s and Public Liability and All-Risks and ask to examine the policies to make sure that they are valid.
The Federation of Master Builders offer a MasterBond insurance that includes cover for the extra cost of employing another contractor if the first one goes bankrupt.
Obtaining estimates and quotation from a Contractor
There is a general misconception that estimates and quotations are different but they are the same in the eyes of the law. But because this misconception is widespread, it pays to make sure that you and the builders have the same understanding on this point.
Some builders regard an estimate as an approximation of the value of the work and a quotation as a firm offer to carry it out. The quotation should be as detailed as possible because it can be useful tool in the valuation of any variations that may occur.
The quality of the quotation is directly related to the quality of the enquiry document. If the enquiry was just ‘…build me a kitchen extension…’ you shouldn’t be surprised if the quotations vary by as much as 100%.
Providing drawings and a specification should produce more accurate quotations but for small parcels of work, it is probably sufficient to present the builders with a list of the work you want carrying out and talk them through it. Whichever way you decide to do it, make sure that all of the firms bidding are given the same information otherwise their offers will not be comparable.
Ideally, you should invite three or four firms to tender but don’t place a firm on the list that you are not happy about because, as night follows day, it will make the lowest bid! When the bids come in, you should examine them carefully to check that that the offers cover the scope of the work you want carrying out.
You may not decide to accept the lowest offer for a number of reasons but when you have made a choice, invite the contractor to your house and run through the work list again to avoid any misunderstandings. For example, sort out who is responsible for moving the furniture and clearing away the rubbish.
Discuss working and access times. The question of toilet arrangements and brewing-up facilities all need to be settled before work commences. Unless the work is small enough to warrant only one payment on completion, you will need to agree stage payments. Finally, if you happy to go ahead, accept the offer in writing (although a verbal acceptance is legally binding but it is harder to prove if a dispute arises) including all of the points that were agreed at the meeting.
NEXT: Making payments......
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