Choosing the right contractor at your property can be daunting, whether a simple handyman repair, a serious roof replacement, or a technical electrical problem. You hear all the stories of cowboy builders with crazy prices, and you can feel baffled by all the claims of amazing service and lower prices. And this is even before you see them in action, and try to mop up any issues afterwards, whether poor workmanship or claims of negligence.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. For any serious property management you’re probably going to need contractors to do something, and therefore once correctly established they can provide an important part the overall service. In actual fact, you need to go one stage further and say that the right contractors are a kingpin to getting things right, as servicing and maintaining properties is fundamental.
So once you choose the right contractors and tradesperson, and correctly get them up and running, they can be a blessing and not a curse. Once you balance the right loop-holes for them to go through in order to vet and comply with, alongside providing a really good service and price, you’re onto a winner otherwise. On one extreme you may have large, corporate contractors who can tick every compliance box but don’t provide a hands-on service – on the other you can have a local person who can deliver but leaving you open for liabilities if things don’t work out.
Therefore, here are our top 10 factors to help get the right contractor on board. They’re not exhaustive, and each factor is not over-specified here – the aim is to keep general, and a handy contractor-checklist for the sort of things to watch out for.
1. A Spot-on Specification
This may sound obvious, but so easily missed. The trick is to include as much detail as possible, and think of things that are excluded rather than just included.
So if you have someone fixing a small roof leak, then do they need to also repair the damaged plaster work and decorations inside, or is this through another contractor? And whilst they are there, can they easily clear gutters of debris at the same time?
Once you’ve got it bottomed out, then clearly list everything, even if there are some question marks as to whether they will be applicable, or if they will need further feedback and instruction through out the job.
2. Irrespirable References
This is a classic one mentioned on any TV programme about rogue traders and builders – to make sure you check any references, reviews, and testimonials.
So firstly ask for them, and make sure they are specific and are similar in type and size of job, and not just some general reference from a chap down the road who they helped recently.
Secondly, check them all out, even if it means calling or contacting them directly to make sure they are what they claim to be. Even with those online, make sure they are legit reviews and ratings on a reputable website and source.
3. Accurate Accreditations
This sounds very grand, for a contractor to be ‘accredited’, or part of an ‘accreditation scheme’. In reality it means that an independent third-party source has basically vetted them to not only say that they are a legitimate contractor, but they have basic checks in place to be able to carry things out.
This can be a great way to have peace of mind that you’re dealing with a serious contractor that has taken the effort to go through such a procedure and have initial tick-boxes ticked, although you need to check that they are actually part of such a scheme (with a lot having online searches now), and that you only take this as an initial indicator and still progress with your own checks afterwards.
Also, check what the purpose is for, as this might prescribe certain scheme being needed. So you may have general contractor scheme like SafeContractor and CHAS, but an insurance company may quite rightly require any electrician to be part of a specific authority like NICEIC.
4. Selective Sub Contractors
You will move into the realm of sub-contractors where other contractors are involved in the job, but they begin to technically oversee other ‘sub’ contractors actually doing all or part of the job. So you may instruct a kitchen fitter to install a new kitchen, and under their remit they have a plumber and electrician to carry out their parts of the job rather than themselves as the main contractor.
This can be a great help for them to co-ordinate things, although make sure it is clearly documented and any other issues filtered down to the end sub contractors, and that there is no excessive mark-up of prices for this privilege.
5. Sufficient Insurance Cover
Although you may well have your own property or contents insurance, you need to ensure that the contractor has their own business cover to make sure any accidents or mess-ups are covered.
These can be relatively simple for a contractor and builder to arrange, even online nowadays, but you do need to check that they have the right cover with the correct details – not to mention being up to date.
So check the name of the insured, whether a sole-trader’s individual name or company name, that the amount of cover is enough, and that the correct types are included; the important ones being public liability and professional indemnity cover, but others being employers liability and their own contents.
6. The Foundational Health & Safety Policies
This is the first part of the 'health and safety compliance' part of contractor instruction which often gets glazed over and missed by people, although the principle of ensuring that everyone is safe when works are being completed is essential.
For this part, a contractor should have a formal written Health & Safety Policy with over five employees, like any other business, and good practice for them anyway, even if not technically needed, particularly in their line of potentially-dangerous work.
It's basically a summary of how they carry out their job safely. If they don't already have one, they can easily get hold of a template to use, however the concern is that these must actually mean something to them, and ideally with some external health and safety help to get up and running.
So as an example, it's no good having a section on how amazing they will be for dealing with any accidents, when they don't even have any first aid kits, or accident books, or basic first aid training in how to deal with issues.
7. The Popular Risk Assessments & Method Statements
In this second aspect to ’health and safety complinace’, this is where things are applied to the particular job, property, and people at hand. A kind of real-life application of their previous general Heath and Safety policy.
The bedrock document is a Risk Assessment, which looks at potential risks that may happen and notes what actions can be taken to reduce them based upon their severity.
Next comes a Method Statement which states how an actual activity will be completed step by step, based upon the general Heath and Safety policy, and looking at the particular risks for the job in the Risk Assessment. Sometimes this can be combined with the Risk Assessment to form a RAMS document i.e. Risk Assessment and Method Statement.
You can also have other forms of specialist assessments as well, for example Working at Height, and a Permit to Work which basically only allows access to certain risk areas like unusual, hot, or confined spaces after certain authorised people have agreed.
You also have the COSHH legislation when dealing with cleaning and substances, and obligations when dealing with lifting platforms and equipment. There will also be obligations when looking at what PPE to wear (Personal Protective Equipment), and consents and checks for scaffolding.
In terms of the kinds of nitty-gritty issues to be looking for an all these 'health and safety' documents, these include knowing procedures about the building such as how waste is removed, any access and security requirements, any current Asbestos Survey and Management Plan, and Fire Evacuation Procedures. Additional issues like welfare facilities need to be considered, and how areas and issues will be communicate with people through notices, signs, and temporary information boards.
Also, there's two other related aspects to remember. Firstly, to ensure that any Health & Safety File for the building and project are updated and issued at the end of the job, particularly important for bigger jobs and through CDM requirements.
Secondly, remember that it is a two way street, so as well as you needing this information from a contractor, they really need information from you and others in terms of how activities and people are dealt with on site, and any procedures you need them to be aware of. This will vary from job to job based upon both property and people factors - so a repair being carried out in a elderly care home will have to consider different factors to a communal area in an industrial yard.
8. Those Additional Regulations
You then have a host of bolt-on obligations and issues to consider for often larger and more complicated jobs, which any good contractor or project manager should be able to help advice and resolve.
Two popular ones are Building Regulations for any serious changes to properties, and Construction (Design Management) Regulations 2015 (CDCM) obligations where you need an official appointed client to help co-ordinate things and notify HSE for larger jobs.
Others include Planning Permission, which although is applicable in the earlier planning stage, with still need to be in place and any conditions adhered to by the contractor.
Also, any works near a shared wall with another property may require notices through the Party Wall etc Act 1996, and if you're inheriting contractors from, say, another owner of a property then there may be what is known as TUPE rights under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations which provide security for individuals to stay in employment.
9. Ordering The Job
With everything agreed, you just need to place the order now, but document correctly.
For larger projects this may require formal contracts, whether bespoke or based upon standard ones like the JCT Minor Works Contract.
For those smaller and hopefully more straight forward jobs, you still need to issue some form of terms and conditions as you’re entering into a contract with the contractor to carry our certain tasks in a certain way for an agreed remuneration – without these you’re open to implied terms being inferred if things do go pear-shaped. Whatever nitty-gritty detail has been agreed in the earlier points, make sure this is all noted, even if just through a separate formal line and standard T&Cs or Purchase Orders.
10. Clearing Up The Aftermath
Okay, the job is done, and the contractor is waiting to leave site and then chase payment. However, before everyone rushes on, make sure everything is signed off and there are no outstanding issues left to drag on.
Ideally check the works with the contractor, and agree if any final snagging items need completing before releasing any final payment.
Speaking of monies, make sure the final invoices are addressed correctly and in the right name, to the right person, and with the right timing.
The final stage will then be the paperwork to tie things up, including any certificates and warranties or final reports and surveys. If there have been any issues, including accidents and the Health &Safety file, then make sure these are all completed and issued as well.
Choosing the Right Property Contractor
In conclusion, as you work through the above points in the same order they come, you begin by looking at what you’re wanting to see done, and often trusting more your instinct on which contactor can provide this, you then progress through the others to slowly start ticking boxes, to eventually end up with a great service that covers all bases.
If in doubt, then ask. Any contractor actually worth their salt will help you through this whole process anyway, knowing that it’s for everyone’s benefit to provide a great service, at the right price, and in a compliant way that ensures everyone’s safety.
Please leave comments below with any thoughts and queries.