How to Avoid Cowboy Tradespeople

Ensure work in your home has a satisfactory outcome.

Tradesperson completes job on time and on budget.

Customer declares themselves satisfied.

This is not a headline likely to appear in any newspaper. However, it is what happens most of the time. (See “Not all tradespeople are cowboys” for more)

Although that is reassuring it doesn’t mean one shouldn’t take a few precautions to protect oneself from the few cowboy tradespeople that are out there.

Here we take a look at what advice is commonly given and also some steps that we think are more practical.

Advice from the media

Sunday Supplements and property inserts of newspapers as well as “Property Blogs” often run articles on how to avoid Cowboy Tradespeople. The advice usually covers:

  • Get two or three references
  • Ensure the tradesman has suitable insurance
  • Ask to see examples of their previous work
  • Ensure they are members of trades bodies
  • Ask to see certification of their qualifications
  • Get three written quotations
  • Draw up / sign a contract
  • Never pay up front (HomeForce disagree that customers should pay nothing upfront see “How to Manage Cash Flow” to find out why)

This is all sensible advice, but in our opinion, not always practical, particularly for small or medium sized jobs.

Certainly, for larger projects these are good steps to take. However, for these large projects it may be worth considering employing professional Project Managers, Surveyors or even Architects rather than relying exclusively on a builder’s site manager.

Rather than being an additional cost a good project manager can save money on projects. That’s a story for elsewhere.

Some practical steps

When doing larger projects the above mainstream advice is all well and good.

However, for smaller projects it is disproportionately time consuming; getting multiple quotes, waiting (and chasing) for tradespeople to provide various documentation, organising time off work to be in for tradespeople to survey a job and so on.

Here are some, possibly more practical, steps to take that are not so time consuming:

  1. Use a service that checks tradespeople’s credentials for you.
    • HomeForce is the obvious one (since we are on the HomeForce website) there are others though.
    • Beware those websites that rely only on customer ratings and recommendations. Ratings and recommendations can be, and are, falsely provided. (See More Here)
  2. Never agree to work being done by someone who just arrives at your door (“Bob a job” for Cubs & Scouts excepted!)
    • Yes these people will have persuasive sales techniques and may even be intimidating. Just say “no”.
    • If they become aggressive call the police; 999.
  3. Read quotes and invoices thoroughly (and ensure you understand them)
    • Check that everything you expect to be done is included
    • Ask questions if you suspect anything is missing
    • Ensure it’s clear who supplies materials (Read more here)
    • Ask “what is not included?”
    • If it says “paint walls” ask “How many coats will be applied?”
  4. Don’t be driven by price alone
    • A technique used by cowboy tradespeople is to quote low and then “find” other work that is supposedly required.
    • Understand though that some things are unforeseeable. No one can see through walls / floors / ceilings.
    • The lowest price can also mean a tradesperson is not sufficiently skilled to understand the full requirements of a job
  5. Get the right person for the job
    • Many accusations of “cowboy tradespeople” are levelled at tradespeople who are perfectly competent in one trade but they are asked to do a task they are not qualified for or experienced in..
    • Yes, they should say “no” but the temptation of money and sometimes the pressure not to lose face / appear incompetent can lead people to do work they wouldn’t normally accept. That’s human nature and it happens in every profession, not just the trades.
  6. Negotiate with your preferred supplier rather than chase the lowest price
    • People buy people, trust your instinct.
    • If you feel comfortable and confident with one particular tradesperson but their price is a little more than you have budgeted ask them if they can do anything with their price or in some way ensure you get the best possible value for your money.
    • They may not match a low bid by another tradesperson but the added cost could be worth it for peace of mind.

To take the first step in avoiding cowboy tradespeople: