How to avoid ‘cowboy’ contractors

High transfer costs and uncertainty about being able to obtain a new home loan are prompting many homeowners to improve or alter their existing homes rather than move.

And usually that means dealing with builders and other contractors – especially in the case of busy young couples and empty-nesters who don’t have the time or inclination to tackle DIY projects.

However, it’s very important to hire the right contractor – and that means knowing what questions to ask before you let someone start stripping out your kitchen or re-plumbing the bathrooms. After all, the outcome is something you are going to have to live with and look at every day, and something that could have a significant effect on the value of your home whenever you do decide to sell.

Writing in the latest Property Signposts newsletter, he says it is thus unfortunate that most homeowners only ask how much the job will cost, how long it will take and when the contractor can start, “when what they should be focusing on is the company’s track record”.

The most important questions to ask any contractor you are thinking of hiring are the following:

•How long have you been in this business?

•Will you have a full time supervisor on this project and who will it be?

•Will the people working on this project be employees or subcontractors?

•Are you insured against injury to anyone working on the project?

•What is your plan for handling this project?

•How many similar projects have you completed?

•Can you give references from previous customers?

Then before you sign any contract, you really should make a point of calling some of the previous customers and asking them if they found it easy to communicate with the contractor, whether their project was started and finished on time, whether they were happy with the results and whether they would use this contractor again.

And finally you should never, ever be persuaded to give any contractor any money in advance. If building materials are needed to start your project and the contractor says he can’t finance them, find another contractor or at least arrange to buy the materials yourself and have them delivered to your home. If you have agreed to a schedule of payments as the contract progresses, make sure that the correct amount of work has been done to your satisfaction before you part with your money.

Then when the job is finished, be sure to have it independently inspected (especially if it involves electrical or plumbing work) before handing over the final amount.

*Berry Everitt is the MD of the Chas Everitt International property group.

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