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Cowboys and Angels

You and Your Money Magazine
February, 2008

Good, reliable tradesmen are notoriously hard to find – and if you do find one, chances are they’re booked up for ages. Emily Manning gives a survival guide to beating the cowboys.
My husband and I recently bought an apartment that needed some work – installing a new shower and sink, retiling two bathrooms, moving a radiator, some minor rewiring, fitting new electrical sockets and custom shelving for a small pantry.

The wish-list was fairly considerable to us, but pretty minor to the many tradesmen we contacted.

We first tried a plumber recommended by a family member – he quoted €2,200 just to install the new sink and shower. Deciding that this was well over the odds, we persevered in our search.

After several false starts and a few no-shows, we tracked down a friend-of-a-friend contractor who organised a plumber, tiler, electrician and carpenter for all the jobs we needed.

He visited the apartment on Friday, had a quote for us on Monday, started on Tuesday and finished on Thursday – the grand total for everything was €2,500.

Finding a Tradesman
Our experience isn’t unique and, compared to many unfortunate people left swindled or with incomplete work, we were lucky. But with so many home-building, extension and renovation projects going on around the country, finding a contractor to do relatively small jobs is nearly impossible.

Minor electrical, construction, plumbing or similar jobs are the bottom rung for tradesmen, and certainly of less interest than the cash-cow conversions and extensions. If they deign to take on your job, many of them will pluck a price from mid-air as they know they’re in high demand.

Valueireland.com, an independent consumer forum, has received a lot of complaints and queries about tradesmen and their practices. With this in mind, the site offers several tips to save you hassle before any work starts.

“What many dodgy tradesmen depend on is that ordinary people like you and I are more likely to do nothing when they are dissatisfied. This is why they will always get away with shady practices,” says Diarmaid MacShane, founder of the website.

“If you begin to demand your rights, not only are you more likely to be treated properly, but it’ll make life a whole lot easier for Irish consumers as a whole.”

Check for Certifications
Before choosing a tradesperson, check to see if they advertise some form of quality assurance, or possess any trade certifications. As a general rule, these are good indicators of how professional someone is.

It’s much easier to enforce your rights if you have drawn up a written agreement of what’s expected. If a tradesperson isn’t willing to commit to a written contract before starting work, ask yourself if they’re really the right person to trust with the job.

Make sure your written contract includes all relevant information, including the work to be done, the cost for the work, preparatory work needed and, of course, start and completion dates. It should also include the type and quality of materials to be used, and whether or not they’re included in the price.

Check References
In some cases it’s worth asking the tradesperson if you can contact any former clients of theirs for a reference. A reputable tradesperson who takes pride in their work should be willing to put you in touch with a couple of people.

Finally, ensure the tradesperson you plan to employ has all the necessary insurance to cover themselves – and your property – if something goes wrong.
We’re all entitled to expect reasonable goods and services for our money, and it’s up to us to be aware of our rights – a cowboy contractor isn’t going to point them out for your benefit.

Consumers’ Association

According to a spokesperson for the Consumers’ Association of Ireland, we need to be more alert and ask more questions about the price and quality of goods and services we use, and to assert ourselves to ensure that we get a fair deal.

www.consumerassociation.ie, the official site of the Consumers’ Association, explains a lot of the laws designed to protect consumers from the cowboys, and also how to take action if you’ve been ripped off.

It’s not easy, but it is possible, to get work done in your home for a decent price. Just be smart, firm, and thoroughly shop around.

Quick Tips

  • Know your rights: The basis of your complaint is that your legal rights have been infringed. Make sure you know them.
  • Don’t lose your temper, swear or get personal: Be polite, but firm and confident. You want the person you’re dealing with to recognise how reasonable you are.
  • Complain in writing: Wherever practical, make your complaint in writing (preferably typed). Letters should be polite, business-like and reasonably formal. Keep a copy.
  • Keep all correspondence and other documents relating to the complaint: This includes receipts, letters, invoices, cheque stubs and estimates.
  • Add your problem to the Consumer Association of Ireland’s National Complaints Register: Your input will help identify good, bad or non-existent customer service.

Where to Look
If you’re considering getting work done, take a look at these sites.

Onlinetradesmen.com is Ireland’s largest accredited network – partners include the Register of Electrical Contractors of Ireland (RECI) and the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC).

It includes project pricing estimates and start dates from over 8,600 qualified tradesmen. With 70,000 projects worth over €800 million completed from contacts made through the site, it’s a great starting point.

Information for a greener home, a tile calculator and an online shop for DIY and gardening tools are also available on the site.

Homewise.ie is another starting point, letting you search for suppliers and tradesmen nationwide, visit discussion boards and, most importantly, rate and review the services on offer.

Pickapro.ie is also particularly user-focused with photo galleries to display contractors’ work, customer stories and an ‘ask the expert’ section with advice on everything from architecture to landscaping and carpentry to interior design.

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