How To Check Your Tradesperson’s References Before A Project

How To Check Your Tradesperson’s References Before A Project
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After you’ve come up with a shortlist of tradespeople who you want to work on a renovation, it’s time to start checking their references. Here’s how to research them so you can mitigate risk before making the choice.

Photos courtesy of Tool Crave

All tradespeople should be able to provide references from previous clients. But you need to dig deeper than a few emails and phone calls if you want insight into their true character and reputation.

Do Their Biggest Fans Love Them?

Ask your potential tradie for three references from the past five years. They will always provide their three favourite clients. Call them and ask the key questions:

  • Were you satisfied with their work?
  • How much did your project run over budget?
  • Was the tradie and their subcontractors (subs) professional and courteous?
  • Would you use them again?

It is almost guaranteed that this initial list will only contain satisfied customers. It is helpful, but doesn’t provide the full picture.

Are Recent Clients Happy?

Ask your potential tradesperson for references from their last five projects. This list may or may not include names from their original reference list. Call the project owners on this list if they were not on the first list and ask them the same series of questions.

If these new references don’t check out, then it’s possible the tradesperson’s performance has recently diminished (or that their work is more spotty).

There are many reasons why work could suffer from job to job. A one-off issue is understandable, but a trend of recent dissatisfied clients is a red flag.

What Do Suppliers Say?

Request three references from long-time material suppliers. Financial solvency is important.

Ask the supplier questions that will provide fiscal clues to how the tradesperson does business. How long have you sold them material? Do they pay their bills promptly? Would you hire them to work on your home?

Listen more than ask when talking to the suppliers and take cues on how they really feel about the tradesperson.

Are They Licensed And Insured?

Checking for a valid licence and insurance may seem like a formality, but don’t let expired documents slide. Ask your tradesperson for a copy of their general liability policy. You can also request to be listed as “additionally insured” on their policy.

Expect minimal pushback from reputable tradies. The good ones have nothing to hide, and are transparent about why some jobs didn’t work out as they expected. Good tradies also don’t bash other rivals or previous clients. They let all of their good work speak for itself and don’t waste time pulling down others or sharing grudges.

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  • Asking their supplier if they pay their bills on time. I feel if the supplier answers may be breaching some privacy things there. Are you a registered credit checking agency?

  • As a tradesman, if someone came to me with this list of demands my first thoughts would be ‘nightmare customer’ and walk away. Some customers just aren’t worth the hassle. I’d rather have less money and keep my sanity than work for anyone who approached me like this.

    • As a tradesman, if someone came to me with this list of demands my first thoughts would be ‘nightmare customer’ and walk away.

      Also, I would never give someone the details of my previous or current clients (except for those who offer themselves as refferences). I would consider it an invasion of my clients privacy to be giving out their personal details, worse when it would result in their receiving unsolicited phone calls/emails.

      The average home renovation will involve several different trades, would you like to receive constant calls and emails from people you have never met because the various tradesman you hired are repeatedly giving out your details?

  • I’m not saying knowing the background of someone doing work for you is bad; it’s obviously not. However, I continuously find people who do this sort of thing to be less informed than they believe themselves to be in MANY situations. Y’know the type who ask rhetorical questions that aren’t actually rhetorical because the breadth of their knowledge doesn’t actually extent that far (they aren’t experts). It’s nice to make people feel empowered about their choices but I can’t help but feel a general sense of insecurity over how much people know versus how much they’ve been enabled to believe they know. Seems irresponsible to infer that tradies who just don’t want list of demands some random person has unempathetically deemed “reasonable” are “bad”. Also seems irresponsible to lead people to believe that how people react to potential ignorance should be judged so harshly.

  • You can do a home building licence check in NSW by visiting the website.
    The site will tell you if the licence is current and when it started.
    I tend to agree with donks, don’t become a nightmare customer.

  • Word-of-mouth as much as possible. Friends, family, colleagues … everyone has done some renovation or home improvement at some point. And it’s a better way to get honest reviews vs a tradie’s testimonials (inevitably cherry picked for their praise) or relying on Yelp (or similar).

    Another way we have used a few times is to ask a trusted existing contractor for their recommendations. For example, we have an excellent electrician who has worked on plenty of projects alongside many other trades and companies. He’s seen the good and the shonky. And has passed on a few names who have also proven worth their weight.

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