Learn how to avoid rogue traders when making home improvement - Matt Allwright from the BBC tells you how.
Matt’s top 10 tips on how to avoid rogue traders
1. Don’t leave it to chance. As much as you can, gather together a list of tradespeople you might need, ie. plumbers, electricians, roofers, builders, gas fitters, BEFORE you need them, rather than WHEN you need them.
2. Get to know your neighbours. They will be able to tell you things about your house you didn’t know (especially if they are the kind of eagle-eyed older person who has lived in the street for a long time!) It’s a good deal – they share their wisdom, you keep an eye out for them.
3. If there’s an expensive bit of kit in your house, let’s say a boiler, find out what the main components are and get a price for them from the nearest retailer. That way, when your gas fitter says: “You need a new thermocouple…£350”, you can draw his attention to the fact that they cost just £15 a mile and a half away.
4. Don’t ever bother with anyone who comes to the door. It’s that simple. Unless they’re there to read the metre, then this straightforward rule applies: If you didn’t ask for it in the first place, you don’t want it.
5. Before you make a decision about anything involving large sums of money, share what you’re thinking of doing with a close friend or family member. Most rogue salesmen rely on pressure selling, which generally works best on one person.
6. If you have something replaced, let’s say in a car, always ask for the old part to keep BEFORE it’s thrown away. It’s yours anyway and could be useful as evidence if things go wrong. Also…
7. If you have something replaced, ask for the box that the new one came in. For all the same reasons. And…
8. If you have something replaced, and it has been purchased specially for the job, insist on seeing a receipt. A mark-up on the price of 10-20% is acceptable, but no more than that.
9. Heard the phrase ‘Clothes maketh the man’? Well they maketh the ‘tradesman’ even more. When someone comes up the drive to work, ask yourself: Does he look like a tree surgeon/electrician/aerial fitter? Does he have the necessary tools and clothing to enable him to do this job safely? The chances are that if someone doesn’t know how to protect themselves while doing the job, they will care even less for your property. Steer clear.
10. Tarmac, fencing, or roofing supplies left over from doing a job for the council don’t really exist. If they do, then you don’t want to touch them with a bargepole!
What you can also learn from BBC's "Watchdog"
What’s the best power tool to invest in?
A good 18 Volt Cordless drill driver; this allows you to drill into all the different materials around a house from wood, tiles and masonry walls ect.
Which is the most effective way to refresh walls – wallpaper or paint?
Normally painting is the cheaper option and can be done easier if you have very little DIY experience.
What’s the best way to paint over tiles?
When painting over tiles the preparation is very important, the surfaces need to be sanded and primed. Make sure to do your research into which paint to use for the specific material your tiles are made from as this will give you a better professional finish.
Is it better to replace or repair-damaged skirting boards?
If sections of the skirting board are damaged, decayed or worn away, I feel it’s always better to just replace the skirting around the whole room. This is because, by the time you start trying to patch and match sections, you’ll find that the freshly painted newer sections will make the older ones (that seemed fine beforehand) look worse! You’re better off replacing the whole lot.
What’s your advice for tired looking baths and sinks where the silicon has gone grubby?
I always recommend for people to keep on top of the maintenance of silicon (used to seal around the edges of baths, shower trays, basins and kitchen sinks or work tops). It very often goes black over time, and comes away from the tiles, leaving it looking very unsightly and worse still, not water tight.
This needs to be fully removed and replaced using a silicon gun and a tube of silicon. When purchasing tubes of silicon, always make sure you get one with a substance called Miroban with in it, this substance will help to stop future black mould from growing back into any hard-to-clean areas.
Do you think Britain has a real problem with rogue traders?
I think we are a hospitable nation. I wouldn’t want that to change, but it would be better if we were more professional with our traders, and established contracts and ground rules before we made them a cup of tea. I also think that some of us accept that there will always be those who prey on us in society, and that’s something I’d love to change.
What has been your most memorable experience on BBC’s Rogue Traders?
I’ve loved using make-up and disguise to catch some our rogues, luring them into a situation where they thought they were dealing with a vulnerable, sweet old gentleman who they could bamboozle, only to discover that the game was up. One salesman in particular had boasted about ripping off a young man with learning difficulties for his inheritance; when we turned up with the cameras, the change in his expression was worth the five hours of prosthetics!
What’s the worst/most shocking example of a cowboy tradesman you’ve encountered during your career?
I do hate ‘rogue’ salesmen, especially the ones who sell to the elderly or vulnerable. At least a rogue roofer or tree surgeon takes a risk going up on a roof; even if it turns out they don’t know what they’re doing once they’re up there. With salesmen, there’s no risk. They’re in the comfort of someone’s living room, and they could do the job honestly, and just accept less commission. It comes down to bravado, and greed.
It can be intimidating challenging some of the ‘shady’ characters you come across – how do you deal with that?
I make sure that we’ve got the story right, and wear good running shoes.
Can you give an example of an occasion when you and the team might have felt in any danger?
A couple of years back, we were delivering a dangerous car that we’d crushed into a small cube back to a rental shop in Essex. The owner decided it wasn’t as funny as we thought it was, and reversed his truck at us several times. He didn’t hit us though, and we ran out of the compound, being jet washed by his employees as we went.
What happens after you’ve caught the criminal on the show? Do you help victims get their money back? Or is the show really just about exposing the troublemakers?
We’re a TV programme, not an arm of the police or local council. We’re there to show people how ‘rogue traders’ behave, so that they can recognise it themselves and avoid it. That’s our top priority, because it can help the whole country, not just the people who could be affected by the particular ‘rogue’ we expose (because they happen to live in that area). After that, we try and keep tabs on them so that we can see if the authorities are able to prosecute. If they do, we try to reflect that. But if we started trying to prosecute them ourselves, or become part of that process on a regular basis, we wouldn’t have the time or resources to devote to what we’re best at.
When you use the term ‘rogue traders’, which tradespeople are you mainly including in that?
Anyone that trades dishonestly or negligently, whether it’s car mechanics or bridal shop owners. I think there’s a distinction between real tradespeople, who have trained hard, gained experience and behave professionally, and the rogues, whose real profession is ‘wool-pulling’. They’re not the same at all.
What are the most common problems that people come up against when trying to employ builders, carpenters etc.?
Knowing where to start looking. It’s easy to think that the biggest advert means the biggest resources, and the most reliable firm. It can mean the direct opposite. You’re far better finding someone who doesn’t need to advertise, because they’re busy through word of mouth recommendations.
If there were one piece of advice you would offer readers on how to protect themselves against rogue traders, what would it be?
There really are just a few rogue traders out there, compared to the legions of people trying to do the job professionally and honestly. You’ve got to take some of the responsibility yourself: do your homework before you get someone round for a quote, or employ them. It’s also worth remembering that everyone makes a mistake now and again; it’s what they do about that mistake that marks them out as a ‘rogue trader’.
What questions I should ask a potential tradesman before I employ them to ensure they are genuine?
The most important question before you hand over ANY money is: “What will happen if I’m not happy with this job?” And there are a lot more questions wrapped up in that answer - for instance, “Where is the point of contact?”, “Where are your offices?”, “Are you a limited company which could disappear overnight scot free?”, “What level of guarantee do I have?”, “How are we staging the payments?” If any of the answers don’t satisfy you, either investigate further, or stay away!
When quoted a price, how can I be sure if the price they are suggesting is reasonable?
Make sure that the bill is broken down and itemised for the different stages or tasks. Then compare it with at least two other quotes. There are also plenty of building cost calculators online which are a handy rule of thumb, but don’t forget that prices can vary widely across the country.
What are the key signs that someone is a ‘rogue trader’?
There are a few signs that cumulatively don’t send out the right message. For instance, I always want to see a landline, with a firm bricks and mortar address attached. I like to then do a Google Earth search and see the van parked outside the door, if it’s a residential address. I don’t like mobile phone number alone, and I don’t trust magnetic signs on vans. I don’t like it when people take their children with them on quotes or jobs, and I don’t trust vans that are either too shiny or new (which are impractical, and give an impression that too much profit is being made), or too rusty and old (suggesting they are unreliable tradespeople with a poor attitude).
If I suspect a rogue trader, is it best to report them?
If someone’s knocking on doors and offering unsolicited services, I’ll always call it in. It might not affect me, but my neighbours might not be so lucky, and on the off chance that they’re a bit light-fingered, it’s just as well that the police know. Of course, if you’ve been had, and you believe that a crime has taken place, then Trading Standards and the police both need to know.
Is there an organisation that can help with contracts? I’m happy to ask for one, but they are often so complicated, I wouldn’t know whether it was a genuine one or not!
The Federation of Master Builders offers a free service that will send you a filled-in contract with your builder’s name on it, once you supply it. I’ve not used it personally, but it sounds like a good idea. Otherwise, you could go online for information from websites such as which.co.uk that give plenty of advice about creating a contract from scratch, if that’s what you want to do.