Reliable trades in renovation is crucial to find considering that your renovation success relies on them.
In today’s episode, I will walk you down the process of finding and working with a reliable tradesperson. We’ll cover the characteristics of a competent tradesperson, how to handle your trades, where to find steady trades, the role of the document package, and how you can keep your tradespeople happy.
Listen to Episode 58: How To Find Reliable Trades
Podcast:Download (Duration: 23:20 — 21.99 MB)
- The Characteristics of a good tradesperson
- Handling your trades
- Finding reliable trades
- Document package
- The process
- Keeping your trades happy
01:12 – The bushfire fallout
03:57 – Managing a project
05:15 – Break the scopes down
07:01 – The supervising job
10:11 – The trades point of view
13:05 – Home improvement pages
16:51 – The process
18:28 – Do due diligence
20:32 – Paying them on time
21:54 – A stellar trade team
Well, hello, it’s Bernadette. Back with another episode of She Renovates. And your renovation success hinges on your trade team. They’re your ticket to glory. And it can be a challenge to find trades that can do good work within the constraints of a tight budget. The good news is that they are out there and in this episode, I’m sharing my process for finding them.
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Now, before I get into the episode, I just want to do a quick recap on my week that has just gone. It’s definitely a first-world problem, but I have really struggled with jetlag and to get back into the rhythm of life. I’ve been so tired that I just haven’t known what to do with myself. And I think it’s also been exacerbated by the sadness of the bushfire fallout. It feels a bit surreal. We’ve been following it while we’ve been away, but being back, it’s really hit home and I’m really struggling to process the enormity of the devastation.
Now we’re planning to do a fundraiser with a difference instead of canvassing donations. I’m planning to do something creative. I think most of us have donated privately and I’m planning something that I think you’ll love. So I’ll release the details once I’ve bettered them down a bit more. But watch out for that.
Today we’re going to be talking about tradesmen. This is a really common complaint that I hear renovators complaining all the time about the fact that they can’t get really good tradesmen. And I’m happy to say that I have been fortunate in that I don’t very often have too many problems with tradesmen and it’s because I follow a process. And so I thought that today I would walk you through that process in the hope that you would also be able to feel confident that you can get some good reliable tradesmen.
Now, it’s really important that you have a team that you can rely on because the quality of your team really determines how successful you will be. Your role is to put together the deal, to source the property and to structure the project and to manage it, to project manage it and to source good trades and materials. But it’s the trades that actually do the work. So they are really your recipe for success. Getting together a stellar trade team is absolutely essential. Okay, so let’s get into it.
Now, being a woman, managing a project, you will have a bit of an uphill battle, particularly with some trades. It’s certainly a lot better than it was. I may or may not have told this story before, but I’m going to tell it anyhow. Just in case I haven’t.
So my first, I guess, really negative experience dealing with trades happened must be about 30 years ago. Stephen and I were doing a major renovation on our family home. We were doubling the size of it. And at that time, we were quite green in terms of how you should go about it. We wanted to mirror the building practices that we used in the original house. That meant strict footings with floor joists and then floorboards on top and double brick and plaster and all that, which was significantly more expensive and it was quite a large extension. And when we were getting the quotes from the trades, the process came in they were just ridiculous.
We’re starting with the excavation and they were way outside our budget, so we decided to break the scopes down and project manage each section of the work. Starting with the footings, Stephen had a builder’s license, so we were able to do that. And so the first thing we had to do was get those footings done, the strict footings to pour the concrete piers. And so we engaged a company to provide us with a backhoe and a driver and a truck and a driver and a bobcat. And they said, okay, provided that there was someone there to supervise the work. And so at that stage, Stephen was going to take a day off work to supervise it, which was all very fine.
But when the time came, that wasn’t possible. I was the bunny that had to supervise it and I had no idea. And so after dinner the night before, we were out in the backyard and he was teaching me how to use a dumpy level, which is a piece of surveying equipment in which you basically survey the space and tell the backhoe driver how deep to dig the footing. And so when he digs it deep enough, I’d have to tell him to stop. But the problem was in those days with the dumpy level, when you look through the lens, it turns the picture upside down. So it’s quite tricky to get used to. He showed me how to do it, it’s all pegged out, ready to go.
The next morning, the contractors turned up and the backhoe driver asked who is going to be supervising the job? And when he discovered it was me, he was so angry he wouldn’t look me in the eye. He was furious. Anyhow, he had to suck it up. So we got going.
And so the first few times I would get it mixed up. I’d be telling him to keep digging. He wasn’t down far enough and he’d be looking at me saying, “Oh, you know, are you sure?” And then I’d realized that I had it upside down. We might have used a bit of extra concrete for those first few piers because I’d got it wrong. I didn’t let him know that I’d got it wrong. But as the day went on, I got better and better. And I pulled out my secret weapon, which is food. And so at lunchtime, I’d cooked a fantastic meal for the workers that were on site. And by the end of the day, we were best mates, but it was pretty rocky for the staff. And so that was my introduction to working with trades. I was in my 20s at the time and it really was a baptism of fire.
We’ve come a long way since then. But I have noticed that things have gotten a lot better for women, but they still can be quite challenging. And so this is the process that I’ve devised to be able to get myself good trades and I’m going to be sharing it with you.
Basically what you’re looking for in a trade is you need someone that gets in and gets out quickly and gets a good job done quickly and efficiently. You want someone that is courteous and that you enjoy working with. You want someone that works clean that’s not going to make a disgusting mess and leave you to clean it up. You want someone that’s going to turn up when they say they’re going to come to do quality work, be reliable and we’ll push the envelope for you. Unfortunately, with renovating, it’s a situation where things crop up and often you need someone at short notice. So you need someone that’s going to prioritise your work.
Now, the first thing I will say is that you teach your trades how to treat you. So if you have someone who is unreliable, like they say, they’re going to turn up and then they don’t and you persevere with them. Well, you’re just basically letting them know that that’s acceptable. I have a rule that “One strike and they’re out” if they say that they are going to turn up and they don’t. And they don’t let you know that they’re going to be late or whatever. I don’t pursue them. I say goodbye and I go and find someone else. And I think that’s the most important thing. You’ve got to let them know what’s acceptable and what’s not.
But the other thing I will say before I get into the process is you do need to look at this from their point of view as well. So they are juggling numerous projects and things that don’t go to plan and trying to schedule their work and that of their men. They will be paying wages and trying to keep everyone gainfully employed all the time. So there needs to be some give and take in the relationship. And that doesn’t mean that you put up with unreliability. If they’re not going to come, they need to let you know if they’re not able to make it.
The other thing is you need to be a good communicator. That’s something that I really struggle with. I spend a lot of time in my head and I think I’ve told people things and I haven’t. So for me, it’s a constant work in progress.
That all being said, I’ll move into the process of actually finding trade. Where do you find them? There are lots of places where you can find trades. Often people say, word of mouth, it’s the best recommendation, and I would, I guess say be careful of that because when someone else uses the trade for their job, they will have different objectives, different criteria. If someone’s using a trade on their own home, time is not of the essence. They can pretty much take their time then they’re not under the same pressures that you are on your project. If someone recommends a trade, make sure you do your due diligence on them and make sure that they’re going to meet your criteria before you engage them. Because I’ve heard of lots of situations where they’ve engaged someone based on word of mouth and it’s not turned out well. So be careful.
The second thing I would say is to try to use local trades. If you use local trades, then you’re not going to have that tyranny of distance. They can pop in quickly if you need someone at short notice or just put something ad hoc. Usually, it’s not a problem they can do it to or from on their way to or from work. Sourcing trades that are working on local building sites is a really good way to find the trades that you need. And also it means that you can often get unfiltered reviews because you’re able to go directly to the homeowner and get a review without going through the actual tradesperson, him or herself.
One of the other places that I find it really good for finding trades is home improvement pages. I’ve put together a whole team in a week of home improvement pages. And it’s important to know that often trades that you get from that site will be paying for their leads. But I’ve found it a very reliable place, I’ve even done projects in really remote places and been able to get good trades through that sort. That’s just one of the places where you can go to find good trades.
Once you’ve found the trades for your particular section of work, it’s important to get at least 3 quotes when you’re having some work done per trade. Now, if you need 3 quotes, it probably means that you need to get at least 6 people to come to quote on the job because a couple will fall off the wagon somewhere along the line. To get 3 quotes, you want to get at least 6 people to say that they’re going to quote for you.
But before you actually bring a trade in, you want to put together a bit of a document package. There are a few reasons, firstly, so that it lets them know what’s involved in the job. It forces you to sit down and think through the project and make sure that you document everything that you require to be done. You put in that you will also be able to outline what access they will have to the site. if they’re restricted hours on your project, what materials they will need to supply, what insurances you require them to have. And you also get an opportunity to set down your expectations of them. It presents you as being very professional, which also helps with finding the right trades. Otherwise, you’ll likely get cowboys.
And the other thing is you will be able to set down the timeframe for the project in that document package. Once you’ve put that together, of course, it is your scope of work, which is your list of things that you want the trade to do on that project. So once you’ve got that document package together on a really small job, it might be just a single sheet. But that’s a really important part of the process. I even do this for everything basically, even if I’m getting quotes over email, I’ll have a small scope of work done added into the e-mail. It means everyone is quoting on the same scope of work and it just creates uniformity and you know that everything is covered.
Once you’ve got that document together, you invite your 6 people in and meet them on-site so that you can talk them through the project. Of course, if you have plans and approvals, you have those included as well so that you can talk them through the project and they can ask you questions and so that they’re really clear about what you’re expecting. When you do that, you get the opportunity to really get a feel for what they’re like and whether that person is someone that you would want to work with and their style and how on the ball they are. Some will turn up and they will have their documents with them and they will have gone through them and they will be super organized. Others won’t even read them. Some will turn up and they won’t even have them with them. So you’ll get a wide variety. I wouldn’t judge them on that. It’s always nice if they’re really organized before they get there, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be the best trade for the job.
You want to make some notes about how you feel that you would work with this person and what they’re going to be like. You always get a lot of good tips from the trades at this point in the process, because you’ll get feedback from them on how they think the job should be done. And that often does color your view of the process. And I’ve often changed the way I’ve done projects based on that feedback that I’ve got.
Once you’ve done that and you send them away, give them a timeframe to quote on and then just wait for the quotes to come in. I would always check-in and make sure that they’re going okay with it because that’s when you’ll find whether you’ve had people drop off the wagon and you may find that you need to get some more quotes. Once they come in, you can sort them in order of price, but you want to first wait out the duds.
Now I’ve got a rule. Now I want to use a really bad word here. And so people that are really painful or I don’t like or present with some of those chauvinistic characteristics, I just weed them out straight away. The other thing is you will often find when you are meeting with your trades, you will have some that will say, “I only work for cash”, so I’ll weed them out as well. Once I’ve done that, then I will order them in order of price and start with the cheapest.
But then the next step is to do the due diligence. So to go and do your reference checks and check on all the documentation to make sure that they have everything that they need to do the job and to do it safely and in terms of compliance. And then once you’ve done that and they check out or they don’t check out. So if they don’t check out, well you move them on. Some of the trades you want to actually go and view their work.
And once you’ve done that and you’ve made your selection, then the next thing to do is to actually engage the trade, to appoint the trade. And then that’s when you actually sign a contract with that tradesman and pay a deposit and move on with the next step. It’s important to make sure that the deposit you pay is a legal amount so that you’re not overpaying that deposit, because if you do. That’s quite a common problem that we have with trades they front-load the deposit to get more out of you upfront. And that leaves you very exposed. So make sure that you don’t pay any more than what’s legally required.
Once you have your trade on board, I would suggest 3 ways to actually keep them happy. Treat your tradesmen well. They are the ticket to your success. So you want to make sure that they are well looked after. Now, these can be little things. So we always set up a tea and coffee station in a microwave. Most trades like to heat up their lunch and have a smoko. Some of my students go completely overboard with this. And I’ve seen some very lavish setups for trades, things like muffins, all sorts of things. I used to cook for my trades every single day. I don’t do that so much these days. I occasionally buy them a coffee.
But basically, my way of looking after them is paying them on time. Now paying them in accordance with the contract, you don’t want to have your trades hanging out for money because you will find that they won’t prioritize you. And you think about “How would you like not being paid on time?” and then that will make you realize how important that is. So paying the trades on time, paying them in accordance with the contract.
And the other thing is to communicate well. Keep them posted on progress. Often projects don’t go to schedule. If your project is going overtime, make sure that you give the trade plenty of time or plenty of notice if you’re not going to be ready for them on time or equally if you’re going to be ready early. Keep them posted so that they can slot you into their schedule and turn up at the right time for your project.
The other thing that you need to do is monitor supplies and make sure that you’ve got the supplies that you’re supplying available on time as well. Don’t have someone turn up to work and not be able to do their work because you’re still waiting on supplies. That’s a really important piece of the process.
If you follow those steps, you will find that you will put together a really stellar trade team and a team that will be able to help you in achieving your financial goals through renovating and other property projects.
Now, the other thing I want to add is that I have a checklist available for you to download to help you with your process, with your trades. Obviously, it’s not the full part of the system because this is just a short podcast, but it will help you to get yourself organised with your trades.
On that note, I will finish, keep this short and sweet and please remember to come over and join us in the free Facebook group called She Renovates. And also if you haven’t already done so. Come over and leave us a review so that you can help us to spread the reno love. So thanks once again for being an awesome podcast listener and I’ll see you next week.