Don’t be tricked by a tradie

Having a tradie in the family, I know that most are fair, above-board operators and will do what they can to ensure that a job is done well and priced at a reasonable rate.

But there are always a handful giving the industry a bad name and, unfortunately, this makes it tougher for the good ones to be taken at face value.

Knowing what it takes to do a job and being able to ask the right questions should set your mind at ease that your tradie is the right choice for you. Or, worst case scenario, these tips will help you find out if you have a fraud on your lot.

CHOICE has put together a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know before you hire a tradie, plus everything you need to know if or when things go wrong.

Make sure you ask these questions

Are you licensed?
Any residential building work worth over $5000, or any job which involves electrical wiring, plumbing, air conditioning, refrigeration, drainage and gas fitting require a licensed tradesperson or building practitioner. So, check your tradie’s licence online to make sure it hasn’t expired.

Are you insured?
Make sure your tradesperson has appropriate insurance for the work they’re doing, particularly if you find a tradie through a tradesperson service site. Some of these sites don’t provide customer insurance or will only provide insurance for work paid through the site, not by cash in hand.

Is the quote negotiable?
You won’t know if you don’t ask. Also, service sites must provide a quote to get your contact details, but that quote should be negotiable.

Do you charge call-out fees?
Make sure you ask whether any call-out fees are included in the quote or whether there’s a minimum charge for their time.

What does your quote include?
Be specific when describing what type of work you want done so that tradespeople can give you an accurate quote.

“Don’t just say ‘paint my deck’ and upload one photo. Specify how many coats you want, the square-metre area, if you’re providing the paint and brushes. It sets expectations clearly, and will help avoid any confusion and arguments later,” says CHOICE staffer Jason.

Ask for all costs to be disclosed upfront so there are no surprises.

Can I have that in writing?
Ask for a written quote before any work starts to avoid any surprises. You need a contract for any work costing more than $5000, but it’s a good idea to get a written contract for all work. And, upon payment, ensure you get a receipt for the work, particularly when paying in cash.

Get several quotes
Quotes vary between tradies. To get an accurate indicator of what a job should cost, you’ll need to get multiple quotes. A good rule of thumb is to get at least three quotes for every job.

Check the contract
Take the time to read a contract. Don’t rush (or be rushed) to sign it. Make sure you understand every detail of fine print. If you don’t understand something, highlight it and ask the tradesperson for clarification. If they can’t answer, seek legal advice. Make sure there are no blank spaces that could be filled in later and make sure any changes are initialled by all parties before signing on the dotted line. Then, once all parties have agreed to all terms, make copies and don’t lose them

Check your insurance
While licenced builders are meant to have construction insurance, this will typically only cover the part they’re working on. Ask your builder exactly what their insurance covers. If it only covers a portion of the job or time spent on the job, see if you can pay extra to get coverage for the whole building.

Also, contact your own insurer before any work starts. You’ll most likely be obligated to tell them about any renovations or if your home will be unoccupied for extended periods, anyway.

Most importantly, don’t finalise payment until they’ve finished the job to your complete satisfaction.

If things go wrong
The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) covers you when you’re buying or paying for a service, just like it does for products.

Under the ACL, services have to:

  • be performed with proper care and skill
  • be fit for a particular purpose or achieve the result you expected
  • be delivered within a reasonable time, or by the end date in a contract.

If things do go wrong, you’ll first need to talk to your tradesperson. If you can’t make headway with the tradesperson, call up the manager or owner of the business they represent.

If this fails, your next step is to contact your state’s consumer protection agency, which will provide you with information about your rights and options, and may be able to help negotiate a resolution on your behalf.

If that also fails, you might want to take the matter to a tribunal or court, such as NCAT in NSW, VCAT in Victoria or the WA Magistrates Court.

Anyone nervous about making a complaint should check out these handy resources from the CHOICE Help Team.

Have you ever had issues with a tradesperson? How did you handle it?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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