If I had $1 for every time I had heard a customer say to me: “He quoted us this much but the bill was this much “or “he just never came back to finish the job even though we paid him”, I wouldn’t need to invest in property – I would be a millionaire.
The truth is that until late last year most contractors could charge pretty much what they liked, choose work that they wanted to do, show up when they wanted and be less than considerate to their customers and still make a good living. But the world has changed and so has our economy for the worse –much worse.
Our property maintenance business Maintain To Profit receives about two calls a day from tradesmen asking for work. We have a stringent process that all contractors must pass to work for us on a sub contract basis.
So I am going to share a few tips with you on what we do when we take on tradesmen. – it’s a good formula for selecting the right tradesman.
Firstly we ask them to email us information on their company including rates, business hours, and health and safety policies, insurance details, and affiliations to associations such as Registered Master Electricians and several references from their clients for us to check.
Out of the 10 calls each week we generally only receive one email with all the information we requested. Bear in mind we have yet to meet the business owners and negotiate an understanding that we can work together and mutually benefit from that relationship.
So let’s take a closer look at those criteria in detail and how you can ensure you choose the right contractor every time.
Contractors will either charge an hourly rate (sometimes the first hour is more), travel time and then a rate for materials. Most put a mark-up on the cost of materials which is down to their discretion. However, you can establish and agree what rate or margin they will make on cost at the outset if you want to.
If you have a quote for any project ensure that it is well documented and detailed with everything you have agreed. Make sure both parties sign the quote and that clear payment terms are established at the outset before any work begins.
This may seem trivial, however if you don’t want to be disturbed at 7.30am every morning when works commence you need to set guidelines on this and also whether you wish work to be carried out on weekends. Different rates will normally apply to weekend work and public holidays – often much higher.
Health and safety policies
Good companies work within these regulations and their staff are trained in health and safety rules. This helps to avoid accidents on sites and saves everyone time and money.
It astounds me how many contractors do not carry any insurance or have insufficient cover for the type of work they are carrying out. If anything happens on site you need to know in full confidence that your property is safe and that the contactor is fully insured. Ask the question and don’t be afraid to ask for documentation to prove it.
Not all contractors belong to these and they are not compulsory. However the benefits of using a registered master builder for instance, are vast. You can check on your builder, confirm his credentials, obtain references on his work, have a guarantee on his work and have a system for dealing with any issues that may arise if necessary.
You do not pay more for a member but you certainly get a whole lot more. Most trades have an association and it’s very easy to find members for each, so do your research.
All too often I hear customers say “well I know a guy who used him and he said he was great”. That’s one very thin reference by word of mouth and you are playing Russian roulette with the odds stacked heavily against you (remember the one from 10 we actually meet who may work for us).
Always obtain written references from contractors (at least three) and make sure they are current. Phone the referees and talk to them about how the job went, ask if the job was delivered at the agreed price and in the agreed timeframe. Ask if the contractor was organised, clean and tidy and professional in his approach.
Always make sure that you provide a reference for any tradesman that does a good job for you and make sure you highlight the areas that most impressed you.
Websites like nocowboys.co.nz have become very popular in the last few years for good reason, check them out and post your comments but always be fair and honest.
It’s fair to say that if you dislike a contractor when you first meet them or they show characteristics that you find unappealing you should not engage their services.
Most good contractors will do the same when meeting clients and will openly suggest you may be suited to another company, and give their reasons as to why.
Go with your gut instinct on this and don’t be talked into using someone that you don’t feel totally comfortable with.
So if you use those seven tips when you employ a contractor, chances are the job will go well and you will get exactly what you agreed and paid for. It is worth noting however that there are many contractors in New Zealand who are excellent tradesmen but who lack either people skills or business skills.
This is unfortunately a product of the building industry over the last few years, where they have had to spend little time on accounts and bad debts and focusing on customer service because the work has rolled in as quickly as they could cope with it. These guys are now really struggling and will do anything to get your work, so again be very careful.
Make sure both parties sign quotes before any work begins
Mark Trafford Director “Maintain To Profit”