Finding reliable, valuable tradespeople is arguably the most integral part of any home project.
Whether it’s a brand new build, renovations, or a simple day job, don’t enter a contract before observing the following guidelines.
1. Ask to see their licence
Most tradespeople are required to carry a licence that verifies their position.
Trades such as electrical, plumbing and building also require formal qualifications, most commonly a TAFE certificate that’s completed through an apprenticeship.
An exception is sub-contractors, such as tilers or pool installers, who can work for someone that holds a licence.
‘It’s more important to verify the tradesmen’s licence rather than qualifications, as the licence can be revoked or disqualified by the governing body in the event of a breach,’ says Chantel Gilbert, general manager at Bluegum Electrical.
Most tradesmen will list their licence details on their website or business card.
‘It is a legal requirement for the electrical industry to list your REC on any form of advertising,’ Gilbert says.
Each trade’s governing body should have a list of registered contractors for their state, where clients can confirm if a licence is current.
2. Don’t compromise on insurance
According to electrician and resident tradie at WorldSkills Australia Dave Arnold, there are two types of insurance tradespeople should have.
‘If a tradie gets injured on the job, their income protection will cover their own losses, but their liability insurance will cover any damage that occurs to your property during work,’ Arnold says.
‘Insurance certificates need to be current and valid for the duration of the project works,’ says Johanna Seton, home improvement expert at hipages.com.au.
‘Public liability insurance is compulsory and gives liability protection against third party injuries and property damage caused by the contractor.’
3. Insist on a written quote
According to Gilbert, you are entitled to know what you’re getting, and for what price, before you commit to a tradesperson.
‘You don’t need to know every screw that’s being used, but I suggest you know a few key things like what is being completed or installed, the location… what’s included/involved in the work, and the price including GST (ideally price per task if appropriate),’ Gilbert says.
‘It is entirely reasonable to ask for a written, itemised quote, no matter the value of the job. This gives you recourse if things go wrong,’ Seton says.
‘For larger jobs this should be a contract. Each state has slightly different requirements regarding the value of a job that requires a contract.’
Confirm with your tradesperson before work starts whether your quote is fixed or merely an estimate, and whether or not it includes GST.
Regardless of how good the reputation of the supplier is, always get multiple quotes from different suppliers and ask why the prices differ.
‘This will help you get a more competitive price, understand what’s involved in the job better and the quality of any products and parts you are purchasing,’ says Nick Sertis, chief executive of The Quote Company.
On occasion, there will be unforeseen additional work required. If this occurs, your tradesperson should let you know as soon as possible.
According to founder and architect of Undercover Architect Amelia Lee, quotes can change when works don’t begin on the specified date, don’t reflect the actual scope of the job, or something unexpected is discovered that requires extra labour or materials.
4. Verify any reviews
As the saying goes, don’t believe everything you read.
Some service providers may post fake reviews to ensure potential clients will discover glowing reports from multiple sources.
‘Check Facebook reviews, reviews on Product Review, and anywhere else you can find them,’ Sertis says.
‘Try also contacting those who have left reviews for the tradesperson and ask them for more details on the job.’
When searching for a tradesperson’s name online, be wary of those who appear to be behind a string of different business ventures.
‘They may be trying to cover a trail of destruction from previous businesses and industries,’ Sertis says.
‘Ask the tradesperson for references in the area and then follow up with them yourself. If you’re new in town, a perfect way to meet new people!’
5. Value professionalism
Tradespeople are not exempt from being professional in the workplace, both in their appearance and conduct.
Some traits to be wary of are a lack of communication and regular tardiness.
‘Another one is a one-man-van claiming to do everything – domestic, commercial and industrial,’ Gilbert says.
‘It’s very unlikely one person is actually experienced and an expert in all three, so choose a tradesmen that knows what they’re good at.’
Tradespeople who don’t provide a clear timeframe of their arrival should be avoided.
‘It’s certainly not acceptable to be late on an ongoing basis without reason, [and] it is completely unacceptable to be late without communication!’ Gilbert says.
‘This should occur prior to the appointment, not after the time has come and gone.’
‘I also think the appearance of a person is important… If they present professionally, you’re more likely to have a professional experience with them,’ Arnold says.
A tradesperson’s general manner can also be a good indicator of their professionalism down the track.
‘If you don’t feel comfortable communicating with them, then it’s a good sign there could be challenges later,’ Lee says.
‘Even though it may be a small job, finding someone who’s likeminded and who you can imagine having in your home and making a cup of tea for is a good indicator too!’
6. Never pay upfront
According to Seton, it is extremely unwise to pay a business for work that has not started
‘The Domestic Building Contracts (DBC) Act of 2000 governs payments and deposits for building projects, providing guidance for consumers and contractors alike. Smaller contracts ($3500 to $20,000) should not incur deposits of more than 10 per cent, inclusive of labour and materials,’ Seton says.
‘Projects over $20,000 require a 5 per cent deposit with phased progress payments. Deposits can be negotiated for works costing less than $3500.’
Final payment should not be requested until the job has been completed and you are satisfied with all work in accordance with current regulations.
Payments for materials, however, are reasonable.
‘It is very reasonable for home owners to provide the funds to the tradie or builder to purchase the materials required for the project,’ says Troy Everett bricklayer and resident tradie at WorldSkills Australia.
7. Request a completion date
A completion date should be provided by the tradesperson before works begin and should only be strayed from due to unavoidable conditions such as weather delays.
‘Changes should only be due to unforeseen circumstances, not because the tradesmen picked up a better job,’ Gilbert says.
‘Clear communication regarding when the tradesmen will be on site should avoid unnecessary delays.’
8. Beware of cash jobs
Be wary of any tradespeople who insist on cash payments with a cheaper price tag that excludes GST, as this can be a huge risk for your insurance.
‘Although you might feel like you’re beating the tax man by saving on GST, it’s important to receive a tax invoice or receipt for the work completed,’ Gilbert says.
‘My favourite quote is, ‘If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional tradesman just wait till you hire an amateur!’
9. Know your rights
If works are unfinished or not complete to a satisfactory standard, your tradespeople should be held accountable.
The first thing to do in this situation is raise your concerns with the tradesperson or company.
‘You can also withhold your final payment until the agreed work has been completed to standard,’ Gilbert says.
‘If all attempts to do this fail and the tradesperson seems to be deliberately avoiding you, the next step is to take it to your state or territory’s consumer protection agency,’ Sertis says.
The ACCC lists these all here.