Tag: hiring a tradesman
Glen Younger of Finished Homes

Glen Younger of Finished Homes

This month we’re celebrating a tradesman who has just hit 150 positive feedback comments after delivering incredible service to clients in both London and Brighton during his five years with MyBuilder.

Glen Younger from Finished Homes started plastering when he left school, working with an experienced plasterer for two years. But his career took a detour when he joined the Evening Standard, working for the London-based newspaper for 8 years. When he was offered voluntary redundancy, Glen took the opportunity to turn a hobby into a career. “I took most of the redundancy money to do a plastering course, that was five years ago”. We found out a bit more about his business…

Finished Walls to Finished Homes

As with a lot of trades, Glen found it difficult to establish his business at first. “I found it hard at the beginning”, he told us. “You haven’t got as many tools, a small van and I couldn’t pay labourers. I started doing small jobs and gradually built up from there. The feedback from those jobs made it easier to win more work”.

It has been Glen’s dream to move out of London, so after a couple of years he headed down to Brighton. Because of his feedback, Glen was able to adjust his profile to find work, which help as he didn’t need to build up a reputation from scratch. “At first it was it was strange. Brighton is different to London because there wasn’t as much work when I first moved. I would still drive to London because all my clients were there, but eventually I got enough work in Brighton from the site that I don’t need to do that anymore”.

After building his reputation through plastering, Glen was able to expand his business to incorporate bigger jobs. As a result, he changed his name from Finished Walls to Finished Homes. “Most of the jobs I do now is refurbs, so it’s normally strip, plaster, paint, flooring and skirting. Then I’ve got two or three guys for electrical and plumbing”.

Perks, pitfalls and perfection

Everybody has parts a job they don’t like, and it comes as no surprise that Artex is top of Glen’s hitlist. “It’s my enemy, the Artex. Even when I walk into a mates house, the first thing I do is tell them to get rid of it!”. Glen also explained the challenges with plastering hallways, “when you’ve got a massive hallway and stairs it can be tricky. You’ve got two or three ladders going up to the top, scaffold board across the top and then someone has to feed you plaster – it’s tricky!”

Artex

The Dreaded Artex

Glen finds that different things make him happy now. “The favourite part of my job now isn’t even the plastering! Because I’m doing full renovations, I find that doing other things make me happy, because I still think of plastering as graft”. But what really satisfies Glen is the end result. “It’s a great feeling to walk around with the client at the end of the job and they are completely happy, when they say ‘That’s perfect!’”

Using MyBuilder

“I found out about MyBuilder through I plumber I knew”, says Glen. “I joined along with a number of other trade sites. But after a while I decided to just stick with MyBuilder”. He is a big fan of using online services to market your business, “people trust these sites now more that putting an advert into your local paper”.

Glen also uses MyBuilder as a showcase for clients, even if they haven’t found him through the site. “I use it as my website now, if anyone gets in touch I make sure to send them to my profile to check out my feedback”

Advice for Other Tradespeople

  • Be the key contact throughout the job “I do the quote for every customer, tell them exactly who will be attending and am always contactable throughout. I also make sure I walk around with the client at the end so I know they are completely happy. I’ve had a couple of mates that I’ve had to let go over lack of quality, we fell out but it was the right thing to do”

  • Make contacts for the future Whether you win the job or not, treating all your clients politely leads to more jobs and recommendations. “I recently completed a £20k job in Brighton. My contact details were passed on after I won a smaller job on MyBuilder”

  • Offer reasonable payment plans “Some tradespeople take too much money upfront in my opinion. All I need is money to pay my labourers”. Glen believes a payment structure where there is a large final payment is beneficial for both parties, “It’s nice to get a lump sum at the end, the client feels reassured and I feel like I’ve earned it”

Check out Glen’s Profile

Last week I met with Russell Tullis, a carpenter from Nuneaton who is our tradesman of the month. Russell has been with the site for over six years and in that time has gained a mountain of feedback so positive that one client went as far as comparing him to Jesus!

Russell stands with a pergola completed for a client.

Russell stands with a pergola completed for a client.

Meeting our tradesman of the month

Russell began working as a carpenter in an accidental fashion after a neighbour was completing some work on a barn conversion. Back in 2006 he was working in transport but after a chance meeting with the foreman of his neighbours job, he found his calling. Russell went on to join MyBuilder in 2008 and has amassed 88 positive feedback comments from customers he has met on the site, so it was a pleasure to go and check out some of his work in person.

When I arrived, what really excited me about this property was not only the quality of the work, but the versatility that Russell had displayed on the numerous projects he had undertaken for the client. In the six short months after they had moved in Russell had knocked through their kitchen/diner, created a beautiful pergola and was now putting the finishing touches on a new summer house.

Russell enjoys being a tradesman because of the variety in each new job he takes on. Even if there are similarities, he still sees a challenge, ‘no two flooring or extension jobs are the same’. A lot of his success could be chalked down to his attention to detail, ‘I’m anal like that, someone might think some skirting looks OK from a few feet away but I want to make sure it’s perfect’.

Putting the finishing touches on a summer house.

Putting the finishing touches on a summer house.

Finding the right tradesman for your job

I asked him his advice on hiring the right tradesman for the job. He explained that he always paid a visit to the client before pricing up the job, this gives both parties a chance to get to know each other and build up some trust from the start. He also thinks it can save time, ‘often clients think they might need ten different people in when just a couple of tradesmen will suffice’.

When it comes to hiring the right tradesman, Russell trusts in online reviews. ‘MyBuilder feedback can only be given by customers who have previously hired a tradesman. Go and read the reviews before making a decision’.

I couldn’t help asking what the homeowner intended to do with the beautiful summer house that overlooked the Warwickshire countryside. He plans to put a 25 foot model railway in there, what a fantastic use of space!

MyBuilder has over 11,000 tradesmen like Russell who are ready to help you with your home improvement project. Visit the site to post your job for free today.

Check out Russell’s profile

Decor Builders
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.

Why you should pay for quotes

As consumers, we are used to comparing prices. After all, a better deal is usually only a mouse click away. But this has become so much a part of everyday life that the mere suggestion of paying someone to give you a quote sounds utterly absurd. Well, call me absurd, but I’m about to suggest that you do just that. I firmly believe that it’s often in your interest to pay for a quote from a builder.

Let’s take the case of a house extension. “How much will it cost to extend my house?” you might ask a builder. “How long is a piece of string?” he would reply. “Ha ha, but really… roughly how much?”

Your question seems reasonable enough to you. Of course you understand that it depends exactly what kind of extension you want, but you still need to know roughly how much you’re looking at before you decide. Will it be £20,000, £40,000 or (heaven forbid) £60,000? Of course, it’s easy enough for a builder to ask a few straightforward questions and reply with one of those numbers as a ‘guesstimate’. However, most good builders would not do that and with good reason.

A house extension is very complicated, not least because it involves an existing property, which has all kinds of quirks, constraints, unique problems and unknowns. It also requires teamwork and careful orchestration of multiple trades. But even before you hit all those problems, you need to decide what exactly you’re building… which is not easy in itself.

In order to start getting to grips with the scale and cost of a project, you need a plan. Getting a plan drawn up and then getting a detailed quote for the project is a huge amount of work. If that’s not done properly, you’re off to the worst kind of start. And, unless you’re Usain Bolt, you’re not going to end up with a good finish if you don’t have a good start.

Even after the plans are drawn up, there are still so many things the builder needs to think about and account for. Let’s start before the job can… what is the access like? Can you easily dump the materials in the right spot or do you have to carry them, brick by brick, through the front door and out the back door through the kitchen? Time is money.

What kind of spec are you looking for? What kind of materials? Each bit needs to be looked at carefully. A kitchen tap can be £50 or £200. Then you have the unknowns. These are the potential problems that a builder might run into but can’t predict up front… like digging the foundations and discovering an ancient burial ground that unleashes a poltergeist. Hey, it happens! What about structural problems with the house that were unforeseen? Asbestos? A nasty wasp nest that sends the builders screaming down the road and afraid to come back? You get the idea. Building is a risky business and you never know what’s around the corner. Careful preparation pays off, but it takes time.

If you tell a builder that you’re not 100% sure if you’re going to do the project or which builder you’re going to use if you do, but that you want a free quote to help you decide, then you should not be surprised if the builder does not want to spend the necessary time preparing a good, well thought out quote. Working for free is not a good way to stay in business, so inevitably you will get a ‘guesstimate’, which is worse than useless.

Why so, you ask? Well, if the guess is too high and you hire the builder, you’ve paid too much. If it’s too low, you’ll pay for it later.

We hear stories all the time where homeowners get ‘quotes’ ranging from £25,000 to £60,000 for an extension. This happens no matter where you find your builders and it’s simply because builders can’t justify the time spent to prepare a proper quote for free. Getting a bad quote is bad for the client whether it’s too high OR too low.

You are buying a service from a builder, which needs to be delivered over a long time period and they operate on tight margins. If a quote is significantly too low, the builder is likely to run out of money and won’t be able to afford to continue paying subcontractors and buying materials. It’s not just a case of turning up to work for nothing, it’s a case of not being able to pay the plasterer, electrician and plumber to finish the job. And the subcontractors definitely won’t work for free just to make sure you get your new kitchen or conservatory. If you get into this situation as a client, it’s really bad news. You either pay more or pay a lot more or the quality of the project is at risk.

If you opt for giving your builder more money it could possibly end up costing more than the highest guesstimate you got. If you can’t pay then you’ve got an unfinished project. If you source another builder to finish the job it will probably cost even more time and money, since they have to schedule you in, get to grips with the project and figure out what is left to do. It’s not the sort of thing that builders relish doing, so it might even be hard to find a good builder who wants to take it on. So, quite obviously you want to avoid getting into that situation to begin with, at almost any cost.

So, what is the cost of avoiding this outcome? For a couple of hundred quid, you can get a well-prepared, itemised quote, which will be refunded if you hire the builder. If you don’t hire the builder then you still have a proper quote to use as a benchmark for other builders. It’s money well spent and definitely one of the most sensible things you can do if you’re undertaking a complex building project.

Photo by Images of Money

Roll of 50 pound notes

When the news came in that Treasury Minister David Gauke had been slating tradesmen who accept cash for work as well as the homeowners who pay them it was not a huge surprise to me. I had been preparing a blog post on the subject of why builders ask for cash in hand. I was a tradesman myself before I started this business and many of the thousands of builders who use our service often engage me on this topic. It came up again just the other day when we had some roofing work done (by one of the excellent roofers on MyBuilder). After coming back from the cash machine, my wife asked rhetorically: “Why do builders always want to be paid in cash?”. Rhetorically, because she already knew the answer. Or at least she thought she did.

I asked her if she knew why, and she said: “Of course! Taxes.”.

She was partly right. Taxes is the answer, but not the sort most people assume. An employed person thinks about income tax, which at somewhere between 20 and 45 percent, is the big and noticeable tax for most people. For tradesmen however, the bogeyman is VAT.

But VAT is only 20% you say… and don’t you just pass that on to your customers? Yes and yes. But still, the bogeyman is indeed VAT.

Firstly, for a jobbing builder or tradesman, effective tax rates can be lower than for an average employee. Tradesmen can either set up as self employed or as a Limited Company. Being self employed gives you expense deductions and as a Limited Company you can pay yourself in dividends at a lower rate. But it is far from unusual for a tradesman to have annual revenue in excess of £77,000, which is the threshold at which a business needs to be VAT registered.

This may sound like a lot, but you have to remember that £77,000 is revenue, not profit. If I supply and fit a new boiler, I might charge £2,500 and have to turn around and spend £2,000 to buy the boiler. Let’s say I manage to do about one of those a week – 50 a year. My revenue would be £125,000 for the year, but I’m really only making £25,000 from that £125,000. And then I have to pay for my van, diesel, tools etc. Imagine I have £10,000 of expenses for the year. I’m pulling in a paltry £15,000 of profit, but at least I only have to pay income tax on that £15,000, not the £125,000.

VAT however, is a very different story. With £125,000 in revenue, I’m well over the VAT threshold. This means that I have to charge my customers an extra 20% on every job. I’m walking through the door to quote on a job and I might as well be wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Don’t hire me, I’m 20% more expensive’. I can’t drop my prices to compensate for the VAT. Remember, I already only have £15,000 of profit per year. So the end result is that I lose business to heating engineers who are not VAT registered. What can I do? The only obvious thing I can do is to avoid VAT registration.

You can’t be VAT registered and avoid paying VAT. HMRC will hang, draw and quarter you. Getting paid in cash does not solve the problem when you’re VAT registered. You can’t insist that customers pay you in cash. Your quote has to include VAT because you don’t want to get stuck in a situation where you’ve omitted VAT and the customer doesn’t pay cash at the end.

So the key to survival is ducking under the VAT threshold by doing some cash in hand work. The reduction in income taxes is an added bonus, but this is not the prime reason for working cash in hand. Asking to be paid in cash becomes the modus operandi, because some customers will simply say no to paying an extra 20% on their bill just to be seen as morally correct by a Government minister.

Is this wrong? Yes. Is it tax dodging? Yes. Whose fault is is? HMRC and, at the end of the day, the Government who allow this to persist in these difficult economic times. VAT should be zero-rated on building work, just the same as it is on new builds. Tradesmen are well-known for ensuring that their income circulates back into the economy, whether this is by paying other tradesmen to do work for them, buying new cars or family holidays. Sure,  many tradesmen will have savings and even investments in property, but they will not be squirreling money away in tax havens.

The current VAT system is stopping money from circulating in the economy, is reducing the amount of building work being done and is, however inadvertently, making tax dodgers of otherwise honest workers. It is time for a change.

Picture by Images of Money.


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