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Find a builder on the level

Looking to transform your home? Now you can go online for a personal recommendation, says Alison Brace.

Remember Bodgit and Scarper? Do you feel that you've been on the receiving end of their shoddy services too often? According to a government survey, two out of three homeowners have suffered at the hands of cowboy tradespersons. And a third of those had to call in someone else to fix the mistakes at an average cost of pound;256 each.

Which?, the consumer champions, also found that 40 per cent of people face problems when getting work done by tradespeople. Problems range from bad workmanship to jobs overrunning.

Given that we are spending pound;28.1 billion a year on improving our homes, just how do you avoid falling into the grubby hands of Bodgit and Scarper?

First of all, bin all flyers that come through the door, ditch Yellow Pages, and go for personal recommendation every time, says Andrew Skipwith, founder of Rated People, an online service that matches tradespeople to customer-submitted jobs.

"Everyone loves a personal recommendation," says Andrew, who set up ratedpeople. com two years ago after his own nightmare experience renovating a house. "Ask 10 people how they find a builder and nine will say through friends or colleagues.

"Of the nine, though, five won't find someone - for a variety of reasons. They might have moved house, or find people are hesitant to wholeheartedly recommend someone."

Rated People, set up two years ago, along with similar websites such as and aim to make a personal recommendation available to all., for instance, run by the Federation of Master Builders, only lists builders who have been approved by TrustMark, the Government's new consumer protection initiative.

From Andrew's point of view, it's all about trust - and, he says, spare a thought for the much maligned plumber, plasterer, builder and decorator. Most really are doing their best.

"Some 75 per cent of people say they worry about bringing workmen in, and most people say the best thing about having them in is closing the door behind them when they leave."

Rated People is trying to break that cycle, Andrew says, and get back to a few old-fashioned values, such as respect, courtesy and fairness - for the customer and the worker.

"It should be fun having work done to your house, not a miserable experience. It is my belief that nine out of 10 builders are perfectly capable, but they need the financial headroom to do the job properly."

In other words, don't go with the person who gives you the cheapest quote. And get back with a prompt response.

Andrew believes teachers are best placed to find the most suitable man or woman for the job because of the long summer holidays when time can be invested in searching.

"Coming from a family of teachers, I know that during term-time it's tough: you're tired and you don't want to be mucked around and there's not a lot of budget flying around.

"Teachers are often doubly worried about being ripped off," says Andrew. So leave the big jobs until the summer.

Of course, you could always have a go at the job yourself. But bear in mind that the average UK household has nine unfinished DIY jobs at any one time. And a quarter of us end up calling someone in to sort it out.

Trust your tradesperson and get the job done - properly.

Picking a winner

- Ask a few questions. Take time to get to know your tradespeople and the services they offer.

- Get multiple quotes - but don't just choose on money. Take into account their reputation and any ratings they have earned for quality and reliability.

- Sign an agreement - make signed records of the job description, start date, duration and agreed price before any work commences.

- Get your tradesmen from reputable sources - be wary of adverts that come through your door or directory listings with only a telephone number. Anyone can claim to be a tradesperson.

- Pay in instalments - never pay the whole amount in advance, and avoid paying large deposits up front. On longer jobs, agree a schedule of payments and make sure that your payment at each stage reflects the progress made.

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