This article takes you through the process of booking a start date with a contractor, what should happen as work progresses and how to deal with additional work should the situation arise.
Having work undertaken in your property is a stressful experience. This article offers guidance to help you prepare for what is about to happen and what to expect. We hope you find it useful.
Arranging a start date
Once you have decided which contractor to use you naturally want to ‘get on with the job’ as soon as possible. Most good contractors have at least a 2/3 week 'lead-time' i.e. the length of time from ordering the work to the day work starts. If a contractor is able to start the next morning ask yourself why aren't they busy? Also be aware of the call back ‘we’ve just had a cancellation and can start tomorrow’. You may wish to consider what you will say should this situation arise.
Ask your chosen contractor for a proposed start date. If he operates a tight ship he should be able to give you a date but please bear in mind that building preservation is not a precise art and a few days either way might happen due to circumstances on preceding contracts but you should be kept informed of this. You will probably be requested to confirm your order in writing either in the form of a letter or on a Notice of Acceptance that may have been enclosed with the original report. Keep a copy of all correspondence.
Please bear in mind that it is not unusual for clients to say ‘while you are here could you do this for me….’ which might turn a three day job into a seven day job which is not the contractor’s fault and his work schedule falls to pieces!
Check all of your responsibilities
Read the contractor’s report very carefully and ascertain exactly what your responsibilities are before, during and after the work.
If the report states that you must completely clear areas of work of all furniture and floor coverings prior to the arrival of their operatives on site then this is precisely what it means. It does not mean just moving a few things out of the room or to start doing it the morning of the day that work is due to commence. These things take longer than you expect so allow sufficient time.
One thing that infuriates contractors is a client who does not do the preparatory work that has been requested before they arrive on site. A contractor will also need access to water, and electricity for drills, mixers etc.
If the house is unoccupied then it is usual to provide a set of keys and to let the contractor get on with it. If the house is occupied then it is probably better not to hand over a set of keys. Remember you didn't even know these people a few weeks ago! A good contractor will refuse to take your keys if offered - if anything goes missing or gets broken in the house during your absence, even if it was not the fault of one of the workers, the contractor could potentially be held liable. Should you hand over a key to what is after all a comparative stranger a wise precaution would be to change the lock once all work has finished – just in case.
Occasionally even the best contractors will encounter unexpected problems on some jobs - that’s life. A responsible contractor however should not undertake any additional work for which you will be charged, without your prior knowledge and consent.
There are numerous reasons why additional work may be found necessary. For example excessive plaster thickness may be discovered, rot affected timbers previously concealed by plaster or masonry may be exposed, timber renewals in excess of the limits defined in the report/estimate may be required etc. Additional works often become necessary when dealing with a dry rot outbreak as frequently the full extent of the outbreak is not visible until the outbreak is fully exposed – which in most cases is not possible until the job starts!
A word of caution here is that a good experienced contractor should be able to identify most areas where a dry rot outbreak is likely to have spread to even if it has not been opened up. A good report should point this out so that before work commences you would be able to discuss the likelihood of this occurring and the amount of possible additional costs that might be involved.
Establish what the contractor’s procedure is if additional works are discovered. A good contractor should keep you updated on the progress of the work as well as any additional work that may have been exposed that could not have been foreseen at the time of the survey. Any delay, set back or additional costs should be reported to you at the earliest opportunity and confirmed in writing. You should feel comfortable enough with your contractor that should this event occur you would be able reach an agreement on how best to proceed that suits you both.
Additional Work found following a pre-purchase survey
If the survey and report that you requested was undertaken in a pre-purchase situation and the work found necessary influenced your decision to purchase or the purchase price of a property, you should consider the circumstances that brought about the discovery of the additional work.
Did the report on which you relied ‘put you on notice’ (warn you) of the possibility of additional work being discovered? If the answer is yes then, subject to the circumstances, there is probably little you are able to do. If the answer is no, then the survey and/or the report might be considered to be negligent and you might want to seek a legal opinion. Had you been aware of the full extent of work necessary or warned of the possibility of additional work being found before you purchased the property, you might have been able to negotiate the cost of the possible work off the purchase price of the property or perhaps not even proceeded with the purchase at all.
If it is considered reasonable that an expert should have been able to foresee or anticipate the additional work but that expert failed to put you on adequate notice and you suffer a loss, a judgement would have to be made as to whether or not the contractor’s original survey or report was negligent. If the additional work is relatively small then you may just accept it and get on with the job but negotiate from a position of knowledge.
Additional Work – Owner occupier survey
If you are already the owner of a property and additional work is discovered, then whilst the contractor may have been negligent in failing to find or warn you of the possibility of additional work, either way you would still have to pay for it irrespective of whether it was discovered at the time of the original survey or at a later date. You may be disappointed with the contractor but any loss that you suffer in these circumstances is probably very small and there would not be a great deal you could do about it.
Additional work negotiations
Subject to circumstances try to be fair and reasonable with the contractor - don't expect substantial unforeseen work to be undertaken at the contractor's expense. Equally, do not allow yourself to be conned by a wily contractor. If the additional work is able to be completed within the original time frame then it would be difficult for the contractor to justify a significant amount of additional labour cost. If the job was scheduled to take three days but with the extra work it will take four then expect an increase of 20-25% subject to material cost.
What if you reach an impasse? This is where the use of independent arbitrators can be invaluable, if you are lucky enough to have access to one. In cases of sharp practice, or shoddy workmanship, your local Trading Standards Office may be able to help. Ultimately, you may consider using the services of a solicitor as the only way to impress the seriousness of your concerns upon the contractor. If all else fails and you haven't yet paid for the work, then pay only for that portion of the work that you are satisfied with. Promise full payment on satisfactory completion of all of the work.
Work in progress
Do not tolerate constantly delayed start dates, or short or irregular hours on site. Building preservation is not a precision industry so jobs do over run and additional works do occur resulting in delays in a work programme but a contractor with good contract management should keep you informed and keep delays to a minimum.
Do not tolerate a stop-start operation where the workmen arrive and do a bit of work for a day or part of it, before disappearing for two days. In these circumstances your job is being treated as what is known as "A Hospital Job" and vacant properties are where this is most likely to happen. If you have any serious concerns about the quality or progress of the work, write them down and pass a copy on to the contractor, asking for written confirmation of what action they intend to take to alleviate or dispel your concerns.
Your job is very important to you. Do not allow the contractor to treat other jobs as more important than yours once they have started. Seek reassurance before the job starts that this will not happen.
Liaise with the contractor and treat him with respect
Having work carried out in your property is a stressful time especially if it involves a certain amount of demolition and destruction. It is important that you liaise closely with the contractor throughout the job and express any concerns that you might have whilst the job is in progress. Do not save your concerns until the end of the job after the men have pulled off site. It is far easier to attend to any concerns whilst the men are on site as opposed to leaving it until they have pulled off site and trying to get them back later.
And finally please don't treat the contractor or the men working on site as underlings or minions. A good tradesman has pride and integrity and will not welcome being told how to do the job or being ‘supervised’ by his client. Just because a man does not wear a suit to work and gets dirty does not mean that his work is menial. Treat the men with respect, and they will build that respect into your job.
PS - a cup of tea when they arrive in the morning will often get them on your side.
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