Friday
Apr222011

Do's and Dont's when hiring a Trader

Hire a SafeTrader

Don't use Tradesmen who cold call. Always look for a Tradesman with a website or other means so you can check their credibility. If they don't have a website listing, ensure that they have professional materials such as a portfolio of previous work.

Do check all quotes before allowing a Tradesman to start any work.

Don't use a Tradesman who is not legally allowed to complete a certain type of job. Such as those jobs involving gas and electric work.

Do ensure the contractor is well established, with premises you can visit. Get their business card and try to call the number!

Don't use a Tradesman who uses scrap pieces of paper for quotes and receipts, make sure they use letter headed invoices.

Do make sure the Tradesman belongs to trade associations. This, however, does not always ensure quality work; because not all associations screen Tradesmen before they can become members.

Do check the logos of trade bodies. Some cowboy operators use made up trade logos, so always check that the body exists and that the Tradesman belongs to it.

Do judge Tradesmen on previous work they have carried out. Ask a friend who has used a firm in the past. Those unwilling to provide contact details of past customers are likely to be Rogue Traders!

Do check whether the quote includes the extra cost of VAT!

Do check if quotes are valid for a specific period of time. Remember unlike estimates, quotations can be binding.

Don't pay in advance. The tradesman will lose the incentive of doing a good job, or any job at all. Try to pay at regular intervals – don't make the final payment until you're completely satisfied with the outcome.

Do make sure all Tradesmen know exactly what work has to be done, when the work should start and how long the job should take, and that everything should be left clean and tidy! Don't be pushed into having any unnecessary work done. Ensure a Tradesman asks you before doing any extra work

Do ensure the Tradesman has insurance which covers damage to you and your neighbours property and also make sure that either the contractor's or your own insurance covers death and personal injury.

Don't leave the Tradesman unattended for long periods of time and do not be afraid to ask how the work is coming along.

Do make sure a Tradesman takes a few moments to show you exactly what work they have done and explain what materials they have used used.

Do expect an itemised quote, an itemised invoice and receipts for each payment.

Thursday
Apr212011

Avoid Rogue Traders

Hire a SafeTrader

Emergency call-outs
For emergency call-outs make sure you hire somebody local. Usually tradesmen such as plumbers charge per hour and this may also include travel time.
Be aware that tradesmen can charge a flat 60 minute call-out fee even when the job might only take 5 minutes to complete. Ask about their call-out policy before you book. Before booking ask about trade association membership. Many jobs require that a tradesmen is a trade member.
Don't allow a tradesmen to use jargon or confusing language. Ask for explanation in plain English.
Don't deal in cash and always ask for a written quote before the task is undertaken.

Reputable tradesmen and cowboys - The difference:
Reputable builders, plumbers, electricians and other tradesmen are experienced, reliable, honest and trustworthy. Good tradesmen are trained to deal with their specific area of expertise; whether this be building, plumbing and heating or electrics. Beware the tradesmen who claims to be an expert in all matters - ask to see all their credentials before they start work.
Reputable tradesmen are usually very busy people becuase their network of clients grows as people recommend their good work to friends, family and neighbours.
Cowboy builders and 'rogue' tradesmen are not well trained in any specific area of building or maintenance. Nor to have usually have pulic liability insurance or deal in written contracts. As a result each year thousands of the general public are left with substandard work or issues that aren't correctly fixed or even not fixed at all!

Tradesmen checklist

  • Make sure the Tradesman is a Safetrader member
  • Ask the tradesmen for references of previous jobs
  • Get written quotes from two or three different tradesmen
  • The tradesmen should provide a simple standard contract
  • Ask for work to be covered by an insurance-backed warranty
  • Use and stick to building plans for larger jobs
  • Avoid a VAT free cash deal
  • Look for a trade association member
  • If problems arise, speak to the builder straight-away
  • Never pay for your work in advance of it being carried out
  • Can they start tomorrow? Good builders are usually busy 
Wednesday
Apr202011

How to avoid Cowboy Builders

Cowboy builders are the scourge of the construction industry. Although they make up only a tiny minority of those working in the building trade, they are out there, and it pays to know how to spot and avoid them. Major building alterations usually represent a large investment, and the dream of a new extension or loft conversion can quickly turn into a nightmare if you fail to choose a quality contractor to carry out the work.


We have all heard horror stories about rogue traders who wreak financial and emotional misery on unsuspecting homeowners by failing to deliver on their promises. This guide is designed to help you minimize the risk of hiring dishonest and/or incompetent tradesmen to undertake building work on your property.

Never rely on the innate honesty of others. Cowboys are likely to appear confident and friendly, making it hard to doubt their competence and sincerity. Don't be afraid to stand up for your rights and demand evidence of their ability to carry out work to the desired standard. After all, it's your money we're talking about! Reputable tradesmen will be happy to comply with your requests, recognizing your rights and concerns as the employer.

Warning Signs
Treat tradesmen with suspicion if they:

1) Insist on cash only, offer you money off for cash-in-hand, suggest that you can avoid paying VAT for cash and/or are very insistent on getting the cash straight-away.

2) Seem reluctant to give a business name or address or can only be reached by mobile phone.

3) Over-emphasize any faults.

4) Criticize rival builders in the area.

5) Offer you a surprisingly low quote.

6) Confuse you with jargon and technical explanations or insist that the details are not your problem, laughing when you suggest showing them plans.

7) Tell you that a written contract is not necessary or fail to provide any paperwork.

8) Are evasive when asked to provide references.

9) Say that they are unable to give costings because things may change.

10) Tell you they can start work immediately. A good builder is usually a busy builder!

If at any time you feel intimidated by a visiting tradesman, do not be afraid to ask them to leave and call the police.

Things to Remember

Follow these guidelines for choosing and working with a builder to help protect yourself from cowboys. Knowledge is your most powerful weapon in the fight against rogue traders. Arm yourself with reliable advice and make sure you know your rights.

DO: Ask trusted friends and family members to recommend builders who have provided a good service when carrying out similar work on their own properties.

DO: Get estimates from at least three different builders. Be clear about what you want done and request written specifications and quotations. If there is a large variation in the size of the quotes, try to find out why.

DO: Endeavour to use members of recognized trade associations such as the Federation of Master Builders, Quality Mark Builders or the National Federation of Builders. Although membership is no guarantee of quality workmanship, it is a good indication of competence and reliability. Associations carry out checks on tradesmen before they grant membership status, and members are required to adhere to codes of conduct. Check membership details carefully, however, as rogue builders will often falsely claim membership of trade associations.

DO: Ask each builder for 2/3 recent references and follow them up, inspecting the work if possible. Speak to previous clients about the conduct of the tradesmen as well the quality of the work done. Bear in mind that it is possible for references to be family / friends of the builder in question.

DO: Enquire about guarantees, particularly if the job is a big one. Ask for work to be covered by an insurance-backed warranty.

DO: Take your time over choosing the right builder for you. Don’t feel rushed into making a decision. Make your choice according to:

1) Quality of Workmanship

2) Cost and Time-Frames and

3) The Conduct of the Builder, weighing each factor individually and relative to the other two.

DO: Use a written contract. For small domestic building works there are a number of simple and inexpensive homeowner building contracts available, such as the Plain English contract from the FMB. A written agreement should specify:

1) The work to be carried out. (If the job is a complex one, commission a comprehensive set of building plans to further cement this contract.)

2) When the work is due to start and finish.

- ‘local agreements’ including use of bathroom facilities, disposal of waste etc.

3) The cost of the work and how/when it is to be paid. It is wise to include a ‘retention’ – a part of the price that is to be paid (say) one ore two months after completion of the work, allowing you enough time to discover any small faults that only come to light once the builders have left the site. Be sure to agree any staged and final payments before work starts.

DO: Maintain an open dialogue with your builder throughout the course of the project. Work with them to ensure that they are doing what you want. If problems arise or you are unhappy about any aspect of the job they are doing, be sure to talk to your builder straight-away. Use the trade association’s mediation and arbitration service if necessary. Bear in mind that a certain amount of inconvenience is inevitable, and factors such as weather, illness etc are out of the builders’ control.

DO: Keep a written record of the progress of the work, making a note of any instructions you give the builder and any payments made.

DO NOT: Deal exclusively in cash. If this is absolutely unavoidable, be sure to obtain a receipt for each payment.

DO NOT: Pay for your work in full before it has been carried out. Once you have handed over your money it will be extremely difficult to obtain any redress if things go wrong. Only make the final payment when you are satisfied with the work and have checked that it complies with regulations.

DO NOT: Change your mind halfway through the project, or add to the job once work has started. This will lead to delays and extra costs. If changes are really necessary, ensure that you detail the alterations and agree time-scales and extra charges with your builder.

Tuesday
Apr192011

If in doubt, keep them out! 

If in doubt, keep them out!

The most important thing to remember when answering your door to callers that you don't know is - don't let them in until you are sure that they are genuine.

Don't keep all your cash in the house.
One of the reasons bogus callers target older people is because of their tendency to keep substantial amounts of cash in the house. Deposit your money into a bank or building society instead.

If someone calls:
When dealing with an unexpected visitor, Help the Aged urges older people to follow the simple 'Lock, Stop, Chain, Check' doorstep safety advice:

Lock: Firstly make sure all outer doors are locked.

Stop: Then stop and think – are you expecting anybody.

Chain: Always put the door chain on and look out of the window or spy hole to see who is calling before opening the door.

Check: Then ensure that you check their identification - do not be afraid to phone the company or organisation the caller says they are from to check their validity (obtaining the number from a separate source, rather than taking it from the proffered ID card).

Genuine callers will not mind waiting for you to make these checks. Do not let anyone enter your home until you are completely satisfied that the reason for calling is legitimate.

When you need to have some work done, always get at least two or three separate quotes from different tradespeople, and never be pressured into parting with money on the spot or signing up to anything you are not happy with.

Monday
Apr182011

Is your Home safe for your Child?

Is your Home safe for your Child?

Baby's Room

  • Make certain that the distance between crib slats is no more than 2 & 3/8 inches.
  • Never leave a baby unattended on a changing table. Keep diapering supplies within reach.
  • Position the crib away from other furniture, windows, and wallhangings.
  • Wrap lamp and appliance cords so that your child cannot chew or strangle on the excess length. If possible, drape cords behind a large piece of furniture.

Bathroom

  • Make certain electrical appliances (hair dryers, curling irons, etc.) are stored unplugged in a latched drawer or cabinet.
  • Never, under any circumstances, leave your child alone in a bathroom. Children can drown in as little as two inches of water in just a few seconds! Don't assume that if there is no water in the tub there is no danger.
  • Put soft covers on bathtub faucets to protect little heads and use a bath seat or non-skid bath mat to prevent the baby from slipping during bath time.
  • Put toilet lid locks on toilet seat covers to prevent accidental drowning.
  • Set temperature on your hot water heater to120 degrees or lower.

Closets

  • Install bi-fold door locks on accordion-type closets to prevent your child from pinching his fingers.
  • Remove dry cleaning bags from all closets.

Doors

  • Install flip locks on doors to the outside to prevent your child from walking out the door when unattended.
  • Install one-piece doorstops. Regular doorstops have rubber tips. Children can easily remove the tips and choke on them.
  • Install overhead door locks on rooms or closets that you don't want your child to enter--such as your home office, bathrooms, or laundry room.

Electrical Outlets & Wiring

  • Install self-closing (sliding) electrical outlet covers to ensure that outlets remain covered even if your child unplugs an appliance or if someone forgets to replace a plug cover after use.
  • Remove computer cables, telephone wires, and electrical cords from your baby's reach to prevent strangulation or electrical shocks.

Fireplaces & Wood Stoves

  • Place pillows or a quilt over the hearth to shield your child from serious injury in case of a fall. Or better yet, install a HearthGate™ to keep him away from the fireplace altogether.
  • Use a screen or HearthGate™ to keep your child away from the fireplace or wood stove opening.

Furniture

  • Fasten any shelving, bookcases, or dressers to the walls with furniture brackets.
  • Place furniture away from windows to prevent children from accidentally falling out.
  • Remove any glass from tabletops and replace with acrylic sheeting.
  • Remove unstable, top heavy furnishings that could fall over on your child.
  • Tighten or remove loose knobs on cabinets and drawers.
  • Watch out for sharp edges on tables and chests. Remove the furniture from the room completely or soften corners and edges with corner guards, edge cushions, or Toddler Shields (gathered padding designed to fit snugly around the entire table).

General

  • Have a family fire escape program. Decide on two emergency exits from each room and teach your children how to use them. If your children are very young, decide in advance who will be responsible for getting them out of the house.
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, in the kitchen, and inside each bedroom. Test them once a month and replace the batteries at least once a year (use a date you will remember, e.g. your child's birthday).
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy and know how to use it.
  • Keep a list of emergency telephone numbers (police, fire, hospital, pediatrician, etc.) at every telephone. Don't rely on speed dial buttons. They can be easily erased or reprogrammed.
  • Learn basic first aid and infant/child CPR.
  • Many accidents occur in other people's homes. Be extra vigilant when visiting friends and relatives. Offer this checklist as reading material to those who frequently care for your child.
  • Plants can be toxic. Remove any poisonous plants from your home.

Guns and Firearms

  • NEVER keep firearms in a home with children. If you must, store it unloaded and secure with a locking mechanism, or better yet, dismantled. In either case, keep the gun in a locked safe.

Home Office

  • Install an overhead door lock to keep your child out of your home office.
  • Install cord covers on cables and electrical cords.
  • Keep desk and filing drawer cabinets locked. If there are no locks, install latches, if possible, to keep your child from getting into the contents or from getting trapped inside of large drawers.
  • Keep small items, like pencils, erasers and staples, in a locked drawer.
  • Place power strip covers on power strips.

Kitchen

  • Always cook on back burners when possible and keep pot handles facing toward the back of the stove. Keep hot foods away from table and counter edges. Never carry or hold your baby and hot liquids or foods at the same time.
  • Dispose of plastic grocery bags immediately.
  • Install safety latches on all cabinets and drawers. Remove cleaning agents and other toxic substances (including alcoholic beverages) from lower cabinets and move them to an upper latched cabinet. This rule applies to all rooms where toxic substances are stored.
  • Keep the trash compactor, dishwasher, and oven locked at all times. If these appliances do not have locks, use appliance locks to keep curious toddlers out.
  • Remove countertop knife holders.
  • Remove knobs from the front of the stove.
  • Secure cords for counter top appliances. Little hands enjoy reaching up and tugging on loose cords. This danger can result in severe injuries when heavy appliances come crashing down.

Laundry Room & Garage

  • Anchor your hot water heater to the wall to prevent it from falling onto your child.
  • Install a mounted hanger for your ironing board and iron to prevent them from accidentally falling on your child.
  • Never store flammable liquids and materials near gas-fired appliances, such as water heaters or dryers, where fumes could accumulate and ignite.
  • Secure dangerous and poisonous materials in latched upper cabinets.

Master & Other Bedrooms

  • Empty nightstands of medication, cosmetics, jewelry, buttons, pencils, pens, and any potentially dangerous items.
  • Install overhead door locks on the doors to the master bedroom and older siblings rooms.
  • Keep a flashlight and extra batteries handy in a latched drawer in case of a power outage.

Stairways & Balconies

  • Make sure gaps between rails and banisters are less than 4 inches. Install acrylic sheeting along railings that exceed this standard to prevent your child from getting caught in between the rails.
  • Mount gates at the top and bottom of stairs to prevent falls. Do not use pressure or accordion-style gates for stairways. Children can push over pressure gates. Accordion-style gates can be scaled like a ladder.

Windows & Window Treatments

  • Keep drapery and mini-blind cords out of reach using cord cleats to prevent the possibility of strangulation.