I blame Dom Littlewood. His TV show exposing cowboy builders has done nothing to improve the way the public views our small and medium sized construction companies.
Most trades do a good job for a fair day’s pay, but no one gets to hear about them because it’s always the rogues that get publicity.
The customer is always right, of course, and we should have sympathy with the poor souls conned into handing over their life savings in advance for work that doesn’t happen.
I’m always left flabbergasted that anyone would pay vast sums of cash up front to someone they barely know and then wonder why they’ve run off with the money.
It makes for great TV entertainment, but if you ask a reputable construction worker they’ll tell you that cowboy professionals are easily outnumbered by cowboy customers by about four to one!
This article is therefore a paean to the humble builder and the reasons why you ought to listen to them.
I’m no apologist for rogue tradesmen. However, I do get cross with people who insist on hiring anyone offering the smallest fee and appointing them to do work for which they have no demonstrable skills. This is caused by an inability to distinguish between low costs and value for money.
Cheap prices will always grab your attention, but usually appear as one-line quotations based on a cursory look at planning drawings with no detail as to what is included.
Such vagueness leaves the door wide open for ‘extra over’ sums and the client helpless when charges begin rising. The quote that should be attracting most attention is not the cheapest, but the one offering the best value.
I’ve accepted the lowest quote in the past, but only when supported by a spreadsheet or statement of work proving that everything that needs to be done has been included. These kinds of quotes tend to appear when work is scarce, such as during a recession.
The basic rules still apply – seek construction workers and trades on the recommendation of others, ask for references and follow them up.
A good builder will always try to maintain their reputation because they know that’s where the next job is coming from. A poor one will struggle to find anyone to endorse their work.
In any walk of life, you can expect to be paid less when you start out and more as you prove yourself to be capable. If you hire the cheapest builder and they turn out to be a wet-behind-the-ears, get-rich-quick youngster convinced they can make a killing in the construction trade, you can expect problems.
An experienced builder with multiple successful projects under their belt will have seen and done it all, and be aware of the pitfalls.
They’ll also have the contacts that can be called in when needed. They’ll tend to charge a bit more for their time and experience, and you should be happy to pay because their output will be done to a high standard first time round.
It’s these individuals who can offer advice that can save you time and money, so it’s them you should be seeking out and listening to.
It’s human nature to be suspicious when someone suggests another way of doing something, especially if it’s clear it’s going to make their life easier, potentially at your expense.
However, seasoned builders may well draw on experience learned from recent jobs using new construction methods, tools or materials that could benefit your project. Often, they will be more familiar with contemporary methods than you or your architect.
You should listen to what they have to say, evaluate it and make a decision as to whether to accept their advice or not. Run any suggestions past your designer before ruling anything out.
I recall on one job – a masonry build where the client wanted high levels of airtightness and insulation – the architect was struggling to achieve the right performance level around ceiling joists. This is a difficult area to seal, especially as joists shrink as they dry out. The builder chipped in with a solution he’d utilised previously.
They’d used a thing known as a ‘Tony Tray’, named after the builder that invented it. Basically, it involved wrapping the ends of the joists within an airtight membrane and sealing this behind wet plaster at floor level above and ceiling level below the joists. No one on the team but the builder was familiar with the technique, but his experience offered a brilliant solution.
When I’m interviewing construction workers for potential clients, I’m looking for engagement from the other side of the table. You aren’t seeking to make a friend for life, but you are hiring someone you’ll have to communicate effectively with for the next year or so.
A key indicator of whether you have the right person is how many queries they have about the work. Questions like this show interest, engagement and knowledge, which are all vital when helping the professional relationship develop.
If you’ve selected the right builder and made your site a pleasant place to work, you can reap benefits you never expected. By creating a good rapport, being polite, appreciating a job well done and offering the occasional mug of tea and a box of biscuits, you might pick up nuggets of useful information.
A competent builder or tradesperson can also spot potential problems with other trades or materials. If issues are flagged up in time, you can avert them.
Recently I had a call from one of my past self build course attendees who was looking for advice following a problem with a timber frame delivery. Another joiner on site had noticed a fundamental design issue and pointed it out to the client, despite it having nothing to do with them.
His experience allowed a potential disaster to be avoided, but if their relationship hadn’t been so good, it might have passed unreported.
On my own project, I had a superb groundworker who acted as my eyes and ears throughout the process. He knew I was inexperienced, but always took the time to point out potential problems as soon as he spotted them, so I could sort them before any harm was done.
Guys like him are worth their weight in gold, so be nice to them!
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