How to get the best price on a trade job around the house

Written by Annette Sampson for Australian Seniors. 

Overcharging. Shoddy work. Not turning up. Delays over completion. These are just some of the problems encountered when hiring tradespeople. So how do you ensure you’ll get the best deal for your job? 

As an experienced strata building manager, Reena Van Aalst, of Strata Central, has pretty much seen it all. “The most common disputes are over the tradesperson charging more than they quoted, defective or incomplete work, damage caused during the job to other parts of the property, or not removing debris,” she says. Here’s how to avoid these issues.

Shop around for quotes before hiring a tradie 

While the standard advice is to get three quotes, this is not always practical. For basic, inexpensive handyman jobs, Reena says two will be sufficient, but you should still insist on a written quote detailing cost and the work to be done. Where you already have a relationship with a tradesperson who is professional and well-priced, you may be happy to use them again instead of someone untested. 

For larger jobs, Reena says asking for three quotes is good practice. Ask friends or family for recommendations. Most tradespeople also have their own networks – if you have a trusted plumber, for example, they may be able to refer you to a good roofer or waterproofing expert.

“A good quote should split out the labour costs and materials,” says Reena. “The more detail, the better. For example, there are different thicknesses in metal roofing and you want to know what they will use. The quote should specify whether there are any exclusions. You can then ask for estimates of what extras might cost.”

Do the background work on the tradesperson first

The quote should also include details of the tradesperson’s licence. Each state has its own rules, but a valid licence is generally required for work above a minimum cost, for example $5,000, or specialist work such as electrics or plumbing. Contact the relevant state office (such as NSW Fair Trading , the Victorian Building Authority or the Queensland Building and Construction Commission) to check the licence is in order and if complaints have been made.

Reena says you should also check the tradesperson’s public liability and workers compensation insurance to ensure any injuries or damage will be covered. For larger jobs, the tradesperson may also be required to carry compensation insurance. Again, check with your state body.

NSW Fair Trading says you should also ask to see examples of their work, what other jobs they have on at the moment, who will supervise the work, the timetable and whether you need to pay a deposit.

How to resolve problems and disputes if issues arrive 

According to consumer advocate CHOICE, having a written contract outlining what the tradesperson will do, the cost, and any conditions can avoid many problems. 

While tradespeople will often ask for an upfront fee to cover materials, Reena says you should be wary of high upfront claims. With larger jobs, consider a retention clause where a small part of the final payment is held back to ensure the contractor returns and fixes any defects.

If an issue arises, talk with the tradesperson and try to resolve it as quickly as possible. Put the discussion in writing and give them a copy. Check the contract for any dispute resolution procedures and if all else fails, contact your local consumer protection agency. 

As well as this, be sure to check your home and contents policy for what is and isn’t covered during any building or alteration work.

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