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The sad fact of life is that for every hundred reputable tradesmen who will carry out your home improvement project to your exact specifications, on time and at a reasonable price, there are a few rogue ‘cowboys’ out there whose only objective is to part you from your money as quickly as possible with scant regard for their workmanship and that’s if any work gets done at all!

However, there are many things you can do to avoid becoming a victim of these ‘con artists’.

Firstly, ask friends of yours for recommendations. They may have had work done by a particular tradesman previously who carried out a professional job at a fair price. If that’s not possible, make sure the tradesman can prove their competence by finding out if they are trained to do the job and whether they are members of a particular trade association. The tradesmen themselves should be able to supply that information and give you contact details of associations with whom you can verify their claims or, alternatively, you can contact a particular trade association and ask them to recommend someone in your area.

Always ask for a written estimate or, better still, a fixed quote prior to work commencing and get a few quotations so you can make comparisons. Ask for this to be specifically put in writing and, if there is any ‘small print’ or things you don’t understand, ask them to explain it fully and to add the explanation into an amended quotation before you sign any agreements.

You should also ask any tradesmen certain questions in addition to verifying their ability and reputation to do the job as mentioned above. This should include asking how many projects like yours they’ve completed in the past couple of years and to give you some references so you can contact previous people who have had work carried out by the tradesman. Ask them to produce an insurance certificate so you can be sure that you’ll receive compensation should the job go wrong.

When it comes to payment, try to limit, or even eliminate, any upfront payment as much as possible and always pay by cheque or by credit card. Never use cash. Quite often, a reputable tradesman will not require any payment until the job’s completed to your satisfaction, but if it’s a big job that’s going to take some time, they may require some form of payment upfront for materials and additional labour costs first. If that’s the case, make sure you have written proof and their signature to say that they have received X amount before starting the job.

If they require some payment upfront, ask them to give you contact details of other customers who can verify that this arrangement worked out OK. Where possible, negotiate payment in stages. So much after 25% of the work’s done, another payment after half is done and the rest upon satisfactory completion is an example. Don’t make any final payment until you’re fully satisfied that the work has been completed to your specifications and, if they are using other sub-contractors, ensure that these have all been paid prior to handing over the final payment to the main contractor. Don’t hand over any final payment until the tradesman hands over written warranties for materials and for the quality of workmanship and that you have written proof that all sub-contractors have been paid in full.

Providing you ask the right questions, get satisfactory answers, do your research and get everything put in writing, there should be no problem, but watch out for scams. These include tradesmen who’ll only accept cash, those who’ll ask you to pay for the entire job upfront, those who do not provide you with a business or a home address and telephone number or suggest that you borrow money to pay for the job from a lender they know, or those that solicit door-to-door.

Knowledge, vigilance and awareness are your best forms of protection in ensuring your home improvement project is completed without any hitches.

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