I posted my first job on MyBuilder in 2008. My experience with personally recommended builders up to that point was not great, so I didn't know what to expect from MyBuilder. Within no time at all we met and hired David, a true craftsman who made a fireplace surround that we talked about until the day we moved out. I remember writing to Ryan shortly after posting my first feedback comment, enthusiastically telling him why he should hire me as head of customer service.
I've hired lots of tradesmen through MyBuilder in the time I've been here and learned a lot about home improvements. I hoped to put my knowledge to good use as we embarked on the most ambitious project to date: buying our first house.
As anyone on the London property ladder knows, unless money is no object and you're paying someone to do the legwork for you, finding and buying a flat or house is a process that consumes your life. At the time we were looking, demand greatly outstripped supply and prices were so high that most houses were simply beyond our reach. We had two options: move out of town or try to find a wreck and do it up. Moving out simply wasn't practical and in any case, we were up for a challenge - despite the fact that my wife and I work full time and have two young children.
The problem with viewing refurbishment opportunities is that you need a builder who is willing to come along for the ride. This is a punt for the builder and while some are prepared to accept the risk, others are not. So long as the builder is made aware before he gives up his valuable time, I think this is a reasonable request. I made a point of declaring our position when posting our job.
I shortlisted Jacek, a builder who had no previous experience through the site to speak of, but whose references were very complementary. He spent a good chunk of time at the house with us and followed up a few days later with his estimate. Unfortunately, our offer on that house was unsuccessful. We thanked Jacek for his time and parted company. I appreciated the effort he made though and wanted to return the favour at a later date. So, when our offer was later accepted on a different house, we posted another job on the site and, along with other builders, invited Jacek to quote.
Make no mistake, organising quotes for a big job takes time. Three builders each spent around 90 minutes at the house, gathering information and discussing options with us. Factor in at least two rounds of revisions and then waiting to receive the amended quote (yes, good builders normally work during the day and most don't have office staff who are on hand to prepare quotes). As Ryan once wrote on this blog, builders are providing a service from the moment they walk through the door. I would have gladly paid to receive a detailed quote as part of the service we received from all of the builders who tendered for our job.
A word or two on price. When the first quotes came in our faces dropped. Friends had once warned us of what to expect but we laughed it off at the time. Over the next few days, our original plans changed dramatically as we battled to keep the job within budget (who needs furniture anyway?) Getting a range of quotes is essential, if for no other reason than to confirm that your expectations were wildly misplaced.
In the end, we chose Jacek. Why? He wasn't the cheapest, appeared no more qualified and had less feedback than the others. Yet, of all the builders we met, Jacek was the person with whom we felt most comfortable and trusted. In my opinion, these are the most important factors to consider when deciding who to hire - it's not just about the quote. Did we make the right choice? Watch this space to find out how the refurbishment unfolds.