How to choose the right tradie your home improvement job

Living Well | Tianna Nadalin | Posted on 28 May 2020

Need work done at home? Here is a tradies' guide to choosing and hiring a tradie.


When it comes to home improvements, the hardest part is often finding a good tradie. How do you know if their work is good, that they’re trustworthy and, above all, that they’re not going to try to rip you off?

RACV’s Aaron Borg, senior manager of trades delivery, says that like anything, choosing a tradie is all about doing your research. “Online presence, word of mouth, communication and presentation are all indicators of a good operator,” he says. “And don’t be afraid to ask questions. A reputable tradesperson will want you to feel comfortable before proceeding with the job.”   

Carpenter wearing tool belt

 
Do they have a website?

he first stage in choosing a tradie is to check out their website. “For me, it’s about due diligence,” says RACV’s Home Trade training manager and qualified tradie Andy Anderson. “A professional website with photos of their sign-written van(s), tidy uniforms and positive online reviews are all good signs.”

How hard is it to contact them?

The next step, and one of the most important, is to get them on the phone. “How hard is it to contact them and are they as professional on the phone as their website,” Andy asks. “If you’re able to strike up a relationship of sorts with them before you hire them, it’s a good indication of how the job will run.”

Have you got the right trade for the job?

Aaron says understanding which trade is required for any particular job is also important. “Some jobs are obvious,” he says. “A ceiling fan requires an electrician and a new mixer tap needs a plumber. But who does the retaining wall for the backyard? A landscape gardener, carpenter, handyman? Some tradies may say they do everything to win the work and then either just have a go themselves or subcontract parts of the work out, which can add to the cost. This is why having the right trade for the job is extremely important.”

How can you find a trustworthy tradie?

While online reviews are a great indication, Aaron says word-of-mouth is even better. “If you know someone that has had a good experience with a tradie, then why wouldn’t you use them,” he says. “The tradie will also appreciate the reference and ensure that your experience is consistent.“

Can you trust online reviews?

To a certain extent, yes, Andy says. “The more reviews they have, the better the odds of them being accurately positive or negative.” But he says to always take reviews with a grain of salt. “Often tradies will have their friends post reviews,” he says.

 “A trustworthy tradie won’t shy away from contact,” Aaron adds. “If the tradie has an online presence with contact details and existing reviews, they won’t want to jeopardise that.”   
 

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Licenses and qualifications


 
Do tradies need to be registered/licensed?

Licence and registration requirements differ by trade and by state. “Some trades require licences and I would always recommend using a licensed tradie,” Andy advises. “Other trades are not licensed and therefore there’s no real governing body.”

If you’re planning any major home improvement work, always look for licensed builders, carpenters, plumbers and electricians. Depending on the value of the job, you may also be legally required to engage a registered builder. Check out the Victorian Building Authority website for more details. 

What about membership bodies and industry associations?

Outside of relevant licences, one of the best places to start is with industry bodies – such as the Master Builders Association of Victoria, Master Plumbers Association, National Electrical and Communications Association and Housing Industry Association. This can give you a level of confidence that a trade will be reputable, but also some support should things go wrong.

“Membership to these bodies is voluntary and there are membership costs involved,” Aaron explains. “The general purpose of these bodies is to support and educate members to build a high-quality trade network. Trades who choose to associate with these bodies are generally motivated to provide a high-quality service and use their membership as a selling point.”

But associations do not provide certainty and Andy advises industry membership should be considered alongside other research.

What qualifications do they need?

While some trades don’t necessarily need to be licensed, you do want your tradie to be qualified. Andy says qualifications are different for each trade so do your research online. “If in doubt, call the relevant governing body, i.e. Master Plumbers Association, to find out what qualifications are required.”

Getting a quote


 
How many quotes should you get for a job? Is three still the gold standard?

When it comes to quoting, Andy says three is still – generally – the magic number. “For a small job, two quotes might be sufficient, but for larger jobs, where there’s more to lose, always get at least three.”

Even if you’ve had a tradie referred by friends or family, it doesn’t hurt to get a comparison.

What should be included in a quote?

The more detail in a quote, the more it can be trusted. “A single dollar value at the bottom of a page is nowhere near sufficient because it leaves room for a tradie to tell you post-job that some things weren’t included – such as waste removal,” Andy explains. “Insist the tradie breaks the job down, as far as inclusions go, as much as possible.”

This way you can refer back to the quote if any questions around the scope arise once the job is complete.

“Quotes should also be well formatted, clear and concise, and have a quote number,” Aaron adds.

How can you tell if a quote is fair?

“A reputable tradie will never try to hide costs,” Aaron says. “You’ll know if the pricing is fair and reasonable by comparing it to other quotes.”

What about allowing for cost variations?

Ideally variations should be avoided, and the smaller the job the easier they are to avoid. “Some trades may allow a certain percentage for sundries but, usually on domestic jobs, they will quote for a certain amount of work,” Andy advises. “If things change and more work is required, the quote will be revised to suit.”

This revised price should always be discussed and agreed to before proceeding with the works.

 

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What else should you ask?



How much detail do you need to give your tradie?

The more detail, the better. And if you have photos, magazine cut-outs or Pinterest boards that can help clearly illustrate what you want, show them. 

“Not only will it improve the chances of the trade providing what you want,” Andy says, “it will strengthen your argument if you’re not happy with the final outcome.”

That said, a good tradie will understand you’re not an expert and ask questions where details are lacking.

Will they guarantee the work?

“Licensed trades will have a set period their workmanship must be guaranteed for,” Andy says. “Other trades may vary from company to company so always ask about guarantees before agreeing to hire a tradie.”

Andy also advises that if a customer is booking a job through a third-party platform to check if they also offer a guarantee for the job.

Products that are installed will be warranted by the supplier or manufacturer, though all claims should initially be channelled through the tradie.

There are also expectations set by the Australian Consumer Law that will hold a service provider accountable for certain situations. Visit accc.gov.au for details. 

Do they have insurance?

Insurance is very important. “Public liability is a non-negotiable as that will cover any property damage that may be caused by the tradie,” Aaron says. “Professional indemnity is also valuable where the tradie offers advice, and while it is the tradie’s responsibility to maintain these insurances, it pays for the consumer to ensure that their tradie is insured.”

If in doubt, ask to see evidence of insurances.

Do you need to sign a contract even if it’s only a small job?

It is always advisable to get everything in writing. “The acceptance of a documented quote should be the minimum,” Aaron says. “This protects the consumer against any dispute around what was included in the scope of works.”

Should you offer to pay cash?

Cash may attract a cheaper price, though this introduces additional risk. “There is then no paper trail of the transaction so, should something go wrong, there is no avenue for recourse.”

How to resolve issues



Ask to see photos of their work

Review their website or social media pages for photos of their work. “Good tradies are proud of their work and will generally at least have a Facebook page to showcase their efforts,” Aaron says. “If not, don’t be afraid to ask to see photos of similar jobs that they’ve done.”  

How important is it to get along with your tradie?

While you don’t need to be best friends with your tradie, getting along with them does help the process run more smoothly. “You’re not entering a long-term relationship with the tradie, though it is important that you can communicate well with them and show each other a high level of respect,” Aaron says.

How do you manage the relationship if things get stressful?

Communication is key. “Ensure that communication is consistent enough without being too much,” Aaron advises. “Regular touch-points are vital to ensure that both parties remain on the same page while giving the tradie space to do their job effectively.”

What should you do if you’re not happy with the work?

First off, tell the tradie who completed the job. “It could have simply been that there was a miscommunication,” Aaron says. “Give the tradie the first opportunity to rectify and resolve any issues.”

Failing that you can try contacting their governing body if they have one (such as the Victorian Building Authority) or going to the Ombudsman. As a last resort, you can launch a complaint with VCAT. “The aim should always be to resolve all disputes with the tradie first,” Aaron says.