This article is the first in a series of four useful articles (4a – 4d) to help you through the process of finding a contractor, assessing reports and estimates, selecting a contractor and booking the job.
This article (4a) explores the pros and cons of the various ways by which you may be introduced to or locate a specialist contractor who you instruct to conduct a survey and submit a report and estimate for timber and/or damp treatment that they deem to be necessary in a property. It is very enlightening.
There are various ways that you may get to hear of or locate a contractor to undertake work for you but always consider the possible implications associated with the route by which you obtained the contractor’s name and details. A good deal of what follows is common sense but knowledge of the ‘workings’ of the industry sometimes helps the decision process.
Getting timber and damp treatment right first time is important in order to avoid ruining decorative finishes and the expense and disruption associated with ‘doing it again’. Finding and selecting a good contractor is fraught with difficulty so below we have provided some guidance to help you through this process:
This is generally the best way of finding a contractor. If someone amongst your family or friends has had some building preservation work carried out and they were satisfied, ask them for the contractor’s details. Ask if the work was completed on schedule and within budget? How approachable and courteous were the contractors? Were there any ‘extra’ costs? If so what was the reason for them and was the situation handled well? Was the work carried out by tradesmen or 'young lads'? Did they clean up when they had finished? Did they offer a guarantee? Was there any problem getting the work 'snagged' and did the surveyor make a final inspection of the work?
Recommended by a surveyor or solicitor
Building preservation companies that are recommended by a solicitor, architect or structural surveyor are normally a good bet. A contractor will usually bend over backwards to maintain their good name and keep in favour with a solicitor or surveyor in order to preserve a steady stream of work from this source. A client using a contractor from this source will always have the ultimate sanction of complaining to the surveyor or solicitor concerned should things go wrong and the contractor will know and fear this. Furthermore surveyors and solicitors belong to professional bodies and they are bound by strict codes of ethics. For them to seek or accept any form of inducement from a contractor in return for work or services could have very serious consequences on their future careers.
Surveyors and architects are more likely to have seen companies in action on site compared with solicitors. Surveyors very often instruct preservation companies to accompany them whilst they undertake a structural survey. They will only use thorough, honest and reliable companies known to them because they have their own professional standards to maintain.
‘Introduced’ by an estate agent
During the process of purchasing a property it is not unusual for a surveyor or building society to spring the unexpected on you and suggest that you arrange for a ‘timber and damp specialist’ to inspect the property. Up until this point you probably never knew that such a ‘person’ even existed never mind knowing where to get hold of one!
Very often when this unexpected ‘hiccup’ lands on your door step your first point of contact is the estate agent handling the purchase/sale. They reassuringly say do not worry and they will organise an inspection on your behalf. This is very commendable and reassuring but it is always worth stopping to think at this stage who is the estate agent working for?
Building preservation companies know that estate agents are a very good source of enquiries so they specifically target them. Whilst it does not happen in all cases some estate agents are ‘encouraged’ to provide survey enquiries in return for a % commission payment directly related to the value of work ‘found necessary’. It is not unheard of for inducements such as televisions, vouchers, tickets etc. to be provided by a contractor in return for a steady stream of enquiries. Who pays for this? The client of course! Will you be getting a good honest opinion and a good standard of work in these circumstances? Who knows!
A further point worth bearing in mind is that it is in the estate agent’s interest for any defects that may be present in a property to be kept to a minimum in order to keep the sale on track and not rock the boat. We are aware of a case where an estate agent put forward to a purchaser a report and estimate that they requested which had only detected a small amount of woodworm. The agent withheld another report on the same property they had also commissioned that had found a large amount of expensive dry rot. After the sale completed this came to light resulting in the agent and the negligent preservation company that failed to detect the dry rot both being successfully sued by the purchasers - quiet rightly so.
We would like to stress that the above examples of sharp practice does not happen all the time but it does happen so you should be aware.
Product manufacturer’s list
In an attempt to help homeowners and other clients avoid being fleeced by the cowboy element, most building preservation material manufacturers have established lists of ‘vetted’ registered or approved contractors. Whilst these lists seek to provide some form of reassurance to the paying customer always bear in mind that such lists exist for the benefit of the manufacturer in order to ensure their own customer (the contractor) loyalty. No manufacturer is able to oversee the day to day operations of a contractor and the ‘vetting’ claims made by some are stretching the truth. It is in the commercial interest of a manufacturer to have a favourable relationship with their contractor clients so tread with caution.
This term refers to the selection of possible contractors that you have little or no direct knowledge of. Such contractors are usually found in Yellow Pages and Thomson Local telephone directories under ‘Damp Proofing and Control’ or ‘Woodworm and Dry Rot Control' or the local paper.
The advertising cost for an entry in one of these publications goes some way to sort the wheat from the chaff. Advertisements in these directories have to be placed a long time in advance and the fly-by-night cowboys are less likely to pay hundreds of pounds for advertising, but then some see it as a small investment that enables them to get their foot in your doorway and their talons into your chequebook. Be wary of large half page advertisements. Experience has shown over the years that those who place large advertisements tend not to be around for very long – more front than Selfridges comes to mind!
Avoid contractors who only have a mobile phone number, and no address. Under no circumstances should you entertain anyone 'cold calling' - good contractors do not need to cold call to generate work.
If you are faced with a blind choice then your best option is to look for companies who are members of the Property Care Association (PCA) formally the British Wood Preserving and Damp-proofing Association (BWPDA) and/or try to make certain that the surveyor is CSRT qualified. The PCA is an active industry specific association with demanding admittance requirements and a process of constant on going audits of member companies.
There are a plethora of other general ‘catch all’ associations such as FMB (Federation of Master Builders) or GMC (Guild of Master Craftsmen) which are not industry specific and relatively simple to join. Try to find a well established firm, not one that has sprung-up over the last 12 months, and look for independent insurance backed guarantees.
For information about Peter’s independent survey service click here.