“How wrong can you be,” says a peeved house owner we’ll call Johanna, who admits to being “naively assured” of a good job. “Be aware of cowboy builders, particularly those who advertise they also do sub-trades themselves.”
Johanna’s nightmare started when the builder didn’t turn up when he said he would, called in for only a few hours a day and some days not at all and, worst of all, wasn’t up to the job.
“I was told the job would take about two weeks of full-time labour,” she says, “and then patiently waited a month for the builder to start. However, from day one progress was slow. A month down the track and our long-awaited bathroom was still unfinished.”
Was it legitimate for Johanna’s contractor to turn up sporadically, I asked my friend Tony the builder.
“Hell no,” says Tony, “unless there’s a family emergency in which case you would notify the client. But it happens when tradesmen have more than one job going at the same time, which is not nice for the client.
“A valid reason is if the builder is waiting for a subbie to complete a section of work, such as installing water pipes behind wall lining. But, in this case, he could have gone to the pub or fishing – that’s not the way to treat people.
“If you are a serious contractor, and want to protect your reputation, you would start on time and work until the job is finished.”
If a builder is delayed in starting, the client should be notified and also offered the opportunity to find another contractor if they can’t afford to wait, Tony says. But there can be unforeseen problems which cause delays, such as finding rotting walls or floor boards which is common in wet areas such as bathrooms and laundries.
“Once you rip out an old bath or shower it can be quite surprising what you may find underneath and you won’t know until everything is ripped out.”
Johanna’s problems continued after she accepted the trades person’s offer that he did the painting and tiling “which I thought (wrongly) would save time having to engage sub-trades,” she says. “Part-way through the wall tiling I discovered excessive wastage of my expensive tiles and the poor quality of tiling.”
A painter subsequently advised her that the paint job was similarly bad so she paid for that to be rectified.
Is it reasonable for builders to advertise themselves as competent subbies, I asked Tony. Most trades people, whether a plumber or an electrician or a builder, can do other trades’ jobs “to a certain extent – the simple stuff,” he says. “I can do minor plumbing or electrical work, but I wouldn’t attempt a complete rewire job.
“The only exception to this – and it’s not very usual – is where a trades person is qualified in more than one trade. They do exist and they have certificates to prove it.”
Allowing a builder to do the tiling depends on how complicated the job is, he says.
“A capable trades person should be able to do the painting. But tiling is a bit different. It depends on the complication, such as whether the tiles have to go around corners, plugs, mirrors or taps – I would definitely get a tiling trades person in for that. If it’s a straight row of tiles above a bench and there is little cutting involved, then I could do it.”
Tony agrees letting the builder do the tiling and painting would have saved time if he had been qualified, had the experience and the right knowledge. “They would not have had to wait for the sub-trades to arrive.”
However, when excessive material wastage became evident, that was the time to stop the builder, Tony says. “Wastage is usually in the cutting and it is up to the contractor to replace wasted tiles.”