That’s a (home) improvement – getting the best out of your builders

Listen to our recent radio broadcast on this topic
builder with bricksSpring is peak time for home improvements as we try to add space and value to our homes and we are increasingly eschewing DIY in favour of DIFM (Do It For Me). Around 40% of us would rather get in a professional.
Retired people spend the most. Younger people are least likely to DIY.
But while we are prepared for problems with planning authorities, financing and getting the entire family to agree on what colour to paint the walls, many of us fail to do enough prep when it comes to choosing our builder. It’s not just a question of avoiding the cowboys but selecting the builder that’s the best “fit” for you.

Home improvement – before the work begins

First of all you need to find your builder. Talk to friends and neighbours who’ve had work done and if you like the sound of their builder ask to take a look at the work.
Check if the trader’s a member of a recognised trade association and that the association has an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme. Ideally, choose one with a Trading Standards-approved ADR scheme. You also want proof that who you hire has the relevant liability insurance in place.

Another word about insurance

You also need to talk to your own insurer and let them know you will have tradespeople in the house and the nature of the work.
Do this IN GOOD TIME. Insurers can be skittish about big projects and you want to make sure that your cover is not going to be jeopardised. Give yourself time to find alternative or additional cover from another provider if needed.

Useful links

The devil is in the detail

You need to spend time agreeing exactly what your contract with the builder covers including costs and timings. But putting a high penalty in a contract if the builder overruns is liable to be worthless unless you can prove that their lateness has cost you that much.
Once the work is under way be wary of changing or extending the scope of the work without clarifying the exact costs (in terms of time and money) – before you commit.

Home improvement headspace

red hard hatWhen you’re selecting builders and talking to them also think about the psychological fit. Our homes are very important personal spaces and how other people behave in them can affect us deeply.
Soggy tea bags left on the kitchen work tops and loo seats left up may irritate some of us as much as all the banging and clattering that accompanies the work. If the builder smokes and you don’t say anything about where (and when) you’re happy for him to take his fag breaks, don’t be surprised to find butts in the Aspidistra.

Top tip

Take a peek inside the builder’s van. Is it orderly? Does it smell of Greggs’ pasties? Can you see he’s got his own vacuum cleaner? If he’s tidy with his own stuff he’s more likely to be tidy with yours.

Don’t blow a fuse

If you’re unhappy with your builder because of the way the work is being done (or your home is being treated) beware of flying off the handle. Name calling and heated words can actually make matters worse not better.
Back in 1996 Dr. Jerry Deffenbacher came up with a very useful model for anger. If you recognise the signs you are more likely to keep your cool:

  1. The trigger event – this is what makes your temperature rise. Chances are it won’t be the most important thing over all.
  2. Your pre-anger state. If you’ve had a really rotten day the office, your assessment of how much the builder has completed in your absence, and the quality of their work, maybe skewed.
  3. Appraisal of the situation. If the actual work is being done well, do you really want to throw down the gauntlet over the dust – or loo seat position? Try and be objective about your assessment – before you say something. And avoid words like “always” or “never”; eg “You never clear up! (Unless that’s absolutely true.)

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