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KHB-Zine, Issue #005: Dealing with tradeworkers
May 06, 2017


Welcome to the May edition of KHB Ezine.

This month....
Dealing with tradeworkers

Early PS: if you are reading this on a phone, turn it sideways to enable landscape view, it's easier to read.

To get the kit home built, you need tradeworkers. I required a plumber, electrician, plasterer, roofer, slab builder, water-proofer, shower glazier, shed builder and kitchen builder. A couple of notes before we start...

Note 1: If I was building a complicated house, I would not be owner building.
Note 2: Most trade jobs are straight forward and professionals will do it much better than you, and they will fix mistakes, as it is in their best interests.
Note 3: If you are thinking you need to negotiate hard to get the best quote, you would be wrong. Let me explain.

Stage one: For me, the first stage of getting a good quote was about supplying to the tradeworker a full list of requirements, tasks and required outcomes with a full list of materials that I had chosen, or the kit supplier had or would deliver. The more information and detail in the request, the less that could be left out of the quote, only to be later added as it ‘wasn’t mentioned’. I also had decided that the quote should include cleaning up. As there was always plenty for me to continue with on the build, I didn't have time to be their labourer. Note: Some will give lower quotes if you do this task.

Stage two: Getting a number of quotes, was useful and helped me gauge whether I could work with the tradie, whether they mentioned all that was necessary, whether they mentioned different aspects to be considered and spoke to me like I wasn’t a mug.

Stage three: The best quote was not necessarily the lowest quote. As a rule the lowest was the least useful to me as it could not be compared with reasonable quotes and was too easily a fraud. The highest quote was the one I studied to find the reason why: was it because they were using better materials, were more thorough workers, had added extra tasks that were necessary, or were they just too busy and quoted high so they cover the cost of employing more workers? The last was very common. So my previous suggestion that negotiating hard to get low price, was for me, futile. A low price meant shortcuts would be taken, lesser quality materials used, and or inferior work carried out. I needed people on the job who were willing to do a good job for a good price. Not someone who begrudgingly cut their profit for my benefit. Running a trade business in NSW was expensive and here, there is no such thing as a cash economy, not if I wanted a job guarantee and insured workers.

I needed a number of trade workers, mostly to do the jobs I couldn’t legally do, and also to do jobs that required teams to be done efficiently. On my previous kit home build, I didn’t need a slab built as I built my own raised floor. I also installed the roof as it was a simple gable, but the roof and its guttering on this house design was much more complicated, and a roofing team would have it up in a few days. I made it a practice to use local tradies and I used many ‘in the know’ locals who gave me lots of tips; some were gold, others less than useful. I found these people everywhere I went. I just had to strike up a conversion and then ask who they used for their last project. I found a builder and plasterer who guided me away from a couple of different teams around the traps due to their lack of attention to workplace health and safety and low reliability.

I asked the first roofer I spoke to what sort of scaffolding they used and how it attached to the frame. He said “I usually didn’t require that sort of stuff” for a roof build. I quietly eased away from him and looked further afield for a tradie who would work safely at heights with the correct equipment. It was prudent to casually ask each tradie who might be working beside another. For example, I asked the slab builder and plumber whether they were okay with each other on site because locals were known to have the odd conflict. I did get one: “no I won’t work with that boofhead”, so that too gave me a few more insights.

A problem was getting the tradies to supply a quote. There seemed to be a lot of reasons why they delayed their offers: “on holidays”, “rolled the van”, “staff sick”, “can’t get prices for materials”, and “work has piled up”. I also believed it was because I was an owner builder and I wasn’t a priority. Finding their preferred way to communicate seemed to be the key - emailing could be ignored and texts as well, so calling their mobile and interrupting them on the job seemed to help.

In the end, I agreed to engage a trade worker if:
-they had a trade ticket or were on a trade register
-they were willing to meet me onsite and discuss the job
-they provided a well written, quote which included materials, specifications, time required to complete, when available to do the job, GST added, progressive payments required, an ABN (business number) and trading name
-they included WHS provisions, safe method statements and apparatus they would use, and also provided insurance
-and they were happy to work in with an owner builder.

And that's how I approached my tradeworker management.

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warm regards

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