Guest blogger Iain Aitch of MyBuilder.com highlights the things you should look for when selecting a tradesman.
With the housing market still in a slump, more and more homeowners are looking to improve or expand their current homes instead of moving on.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
But how do you ensure that your hard-earned money is not going towards decreasing rather than increasing the value and our enjoyment of your home? After all, hiring a shoddy tradesman can have a major negative impact on the price of your property. And poor work can often be very painful and very expensive to rectify.
With 63,000 trade professionals on our books, we at MyBuilder.com like to think we have a good idea of what makes a good tradesman. So here is our guide to finding a top tradesman and not ending up with one who arrives wearing spurs and leaves with most of your bank balance.
Read the signs
That builder who arrives in a white van to quote for your job may be trustworthy and do a good job. But think how much more comfortable you will feel if you choose the one who arrives in a sign-written van. It shows they have been in business for a while and are proud to display their business name and contact details.
Some materials manufacturers (such as Dulux) insist that tradesmen have sign-written vans before they are allowed to be recognised users and suppliers of their products.
Treading on toes
Don't be afraid to tread on toes when hiring a builder, literally if you are hiring someone to do work that involves demolition or heaving construction work.
A painter or a plasterer may be okay in trainers or even flip-flops, but anyone turning up to knock down walls in plimsolls is showing themselves up as an amateur.
Trust your eyes
A good tradesman should always be happy for you to physically go and see examples of his work in your local area. This may be irrelevant when hiring a plumber to fit a new washer in your tap, but it is vital when getting an extension built or a loft conversion completed.
If your tradesman stalls on letting you see previous work then walk away.
Pop round for a cuppa
A building firm of any size should have a business address and premises. Sole traders may operate from their home address, but they should still be willing to provide you with that and a landline telephone number.
If all you have is a mobile number then expect to get stung and for the builder to spend your money on a new sim card and new number if he bodges your job. If in doubt, then pop around to the address you have been given.
Read the reviews
Our users can review any tradesman they hire. We check details like liability insurance and their contact details, so you can be sure of who you are dealing with and their reliability. The phone book and small ads in the newspaper don't offer this reassurance.
Feel the quality
Good materials cost more for a reason and this reason is quality. If your tradesman turns up with a bag-full of paint from the local discount shop or the bricks are delivered in a ten-year-old Ford Fiesta then you should start to ask serious questions.
If you want a particular type of paint, carpet or central heating system then always tell your tradesmen.
Can I quote you on that?
Don't hire a tradesman who says he can quote for a large job on the phone. Expect a tradesman to turn up, ask a lot of questions and provide you with a detailed, itemised quote for your job.
Rummage in the toolbag
A good tradesman should look after his tools and should also have the sort of kit you can only salivate over at Wickes or online. If his power tools look more like something your four-year-old got last Christmas then take a closer look.
The industry standard is for 110-volt tools, rather than the 240-volt screwdriver you may use to put your Ikea furniture together.
Don't pay up front
It is fine to pay a tradesman a small deposit, especially if they are hiring equipment such as cranes, diggers or skips, but never pay for labour up-front.
Make sure that any materials you pay for are delivered to the site and that you check you have all you paid for. If it is a large job then agree to pay the builders at set stages.
Check the qualifications
For electrical and most gas work it is essential to check that your tradesman is qualified, as you may end up with dangerous work if you don't. An electrician should be Part-P qualified and a heating engineer or gas fitter should be on the Gas Safe Register. If a gas fitter assures you he is CORGI-registered then he is behind the times and may not be qualified to complete any gas work.
If you have any doubts at all then trust your instincts. There are always plenty of trustworthy, qualified tradesmen who are willing to complete your work competently and on time. Most tradesmen are good at what they do. Just follow our guide and make sure the bad guys don't end up working on your home.
What do you look for when picking a tradesman? Or do you try to do it all yourself? Tell us about your experiences in the comment box below.
10 of the biggest consumer rip-offs
Things to look for in a good tradesman
Using a mobile phone to make and receive calls, send texts and browse the web while abroad can be extremely costly – especially if you are travelling outside the European Union (EU), where calls can cost up to 10 times as much as at home.
To avoid high charges, Carphone Warehouse suggests tourists ensure a data cap is in place, use applications to check data usage, turn off 'data roaming', avoid data-intensive applications such as Google Maps and YouTube and use wi-fi spots to update social networking sites.
Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) is supposed to help people to continue meeting their loan, mortgage or credit card repayments if they fall ill or lose their jobs. However, policies are often over-priced, riddled with exclusions and sold to people who could not make a claim if they needed to.
At one point, sale of this cover - which was often included automatically in loan repayments - was estimated to boost the banks' profits by up to £5 billion a year.
Now, though, consumers who were mis-sold PPI can fight back by complaining to the bank or lender concerned and taking their case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (08000 234567) should the response prove unsatisfactory.
It could be you, but let's face it, it probably won't be. In fact, buying a ticket for the Lotto only gives you a 1 in 13.9 million chance of winning the jackpot.
With odds like that, you would almost certainly be better off hanging on to your cash and saving it in a high-interest account.
No-frills airlines such as EasyJet may promote rock-bottom prices on their websites. But the overall fare you pay can be surprisingly high once extras such as luggage and credit card payment fees have been added - a process known as drip pricing.
Taking one piece of hold baggage on a return EasyJet flight, for example, adds close to £20 to the cost of your flight, while paying by credit card increases the price by a further £10.
It may therefore be worth comparing the total cost with that of a flight with a standard airline such as British Airways.
Cash advances, which include cash withdrawals, are generally charged at a much higher rate of interest than standard purchases.
While the average credit card interest rate is around 17%, a typical cash withdrawal of £500, for example, is charged at more than 26%.
What's more, as the interest accrues from the date of the transaction, rather than the next payment date, costs will mount up even if you clear your balance in full with your next payment.
Supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda often run promotions under which you can, for example, get three products for the price of two.
However, it is only worth taking advantage of these deals if you will actually use the products. Otherwise, you are simply buying for the sake of it, which is a waste of your hard-earned cash.
Buy a train ticket at the station on the day of travel and the price is likely to give you a shock - especially if you are travelling a long distance at a busy time of day.
However, you can cut the cost of train travel by 50% or more by going online and making the purchase beforehand - especially if you book 12 weeks in advance, which is when the cheapest tickets are on sale.
Other ways to reduce the price you pay include avoiding peak times and taking advantage of so-called carnet tickets, which allow you to buy, for example, 12 journeys for the price of 10.
Most High Street banks offer packaged accounts that come with monthly fees ranging from £6.50 up to as much as £40, with a typical account charging about £15 per month.
Various benefits, such as travel insurance and mobile phone insurance, are offered in return for this fee. But whether or not it is worth paying for them depends on your individual circumstances.