FINDING THE RIGHT CONTRACTOR
Choosing the right contractor for your home is essential. You’ll be paying this person to spend your money and provide you with valuable services – and they’ll be in your home - so it’s very important that you know their background and can trust them to undertake your project.
Source companies to come and review your project
Get recommendations from friends, family and neighbours on businesses they've used before. Ask on your local community Facebook page for suggestions, and visit your local home show to talk to a range of contractors.
Decide what's important to you - do you prefer a Kiwi based business? Are sustainability practices impact your decision? Do you want certain materials used? These will impact who you choose to approach.
Have realistic expectations and be upfront
On TV, a huge group of people converge on a house and wrap up a project in a few days, problems are solved in a few minutes and extra money appears from nowhere. Real life is a little different!
Ensure you have set a budget, and have a timetable in mind and communicate these to any contractors you have considering your job.
An estimate is not a fixed, contracted price. For big projects, a single estimate isn’t going to cut it – but the fantastic thing is, in New Zealand contractors estimate for free. Start by sourcing a range of local contractors and obtaining estimates from at least three businesses.
Remember that an estimate is a service provider’s best guess of what a job will cost. Consider more than just the cost when comparing: different contractors have varying skills and experience and use different materials – you must consider these before choosing one to go with. Your personal impression of them makes a big difference too, as you’ll need to be able to communicate well and feel confident in them, and be happy with them present in your home.
Consumer Protection New Zealand advises the final price could be more or less than the estimate, but it should generally be within 10-15%. They also remind us that in New Zealand, there is no legal difference between a verbal or written estimate.
Get a quote
A formal quote is different to an estimate, though sometimes they overlap if contractors do a full detailed quote immediately.
A quote is a written offer to do a certain job for a specified price, and once you accept that quote the provider can’t charge you more than that unless the scope of the job changes – if you ask for extra work or if there are unexpected developments not written into the quote.
Ensure that your quote includes a full cost breakdown with prices itemised – if you just get an overall price, you don’t know what you’re paying for. Remember that jobs with many components may take a while to quote accurately, but if a contractor refuses to do it at all you may need to look elsewhere.
Discuss consents, permits, covenants and body corporates
Council consent are required for many jobs, and the cost and timeframe of these are out of the control of your contractor. It’s possible that a building inspector may need to review the work and sign it off. Check whether these costs are included in your quote, and be wary of any business who offer to complete work without the proper permits.
Check the requirements of your property - some areas have covenants that may restrict the scope of your project, or a body corporate that has specific requirements.
Talk about possible problems
Ask your contractor if they foresee any possible issues, how they may handle them and what the possible cost might be. What if they knock down a wall and discover a leak or asbestos? What if they are constantly rained off the job? If a building inspector fails the work, will they remedy it immediately (and cover the cost?).
Past customers are your best source of information, so don’t be afraid to contact references. Ask about whether their deadlines and expectations were met and whether they thought the experience was positive.
Look at online reviews on sites such as No Cowboys or Yelp, but remember not to take these reviews as concrete – they can be fake or purchased, and people are far more likely to complain online than they are to be positive which can skew the overall impression.
Ask questions on your local Facebook community group to get real, honest reviews from people that live around you.
Check out the company history
Businesses must perform quality work and maintain a good reputation to stay in trade, and over time they build good relationships with suppliers that you’d like to take advantage of!
Find out how long the business has been established in your area, and how long that particular tradesperson has worked there. If you’re working with a franchise, ensure you’re looking at the reputation of your local provider rather than the company as a whole. Find out who will be doing the work – the person quoting you may not be the same person performing the job, and a project with many elements may be outsourced to various specialists.
Check their qualifications
Investigate whether the contractors who will be doing the job are registered and licensed for the job. New Zealand has a number of schemes in place such as the Licensed Building Practitioner scheme, the Registered Master Builders Association, and public registers of plumbers and electricians that you can search online.
Research what these accreditations mean and if they offer any benefits or guarantees.
Accept the job
Once you’ve reviewed the business and your quote, you may be asked to pay a deposit. There is no legal requirement in New Zealand to pay a deposit, and if you choose to, don’t pay more than 10% of the total cost.
Ensure both you and the contractor have signed the quote to show that both parties are clear on accepted costs.
We wish you the best of luck with your project, and don’t forget – you may not be the expert, but you are the boss!