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How to find a reliable tradie and avoid those kitchen-sink dramas

Need a job doing about the house. Worried about employing a cowboy?

 Here's how to find an honest and reliable tradie

How to find a reliable tradie

The kitchen tap needs fixing, you'd like the hall and stairs decorated, you want a new shower installed and the roof could do with some patching up. The headache is how to avoid the cowboys and find an honest trader to provide a good, reliable service at a fair price.

When friends and family can't recommend anyone, it's hard to know where to look – sticking a pin in the listings in local business directories to find a firm is not recommended.

All Tradies Local recommendations for Tradies

Your trading standards service may operate a Builders' Register, with lists of plumbers, roofers, electricians and so on who have been recommended and have undergone a strict vetting procedure by trading standards. Use the post code search at the All Tradies website to find your local office then search on that for a register.

All Tradies links together some of the schemes run by 18 local authority trading standards services. All Tradies requires businesses to comply with all trading standards legislation and civil law obligations, to refrain from high-pressure selling, to have an effective complaints procedure and a strong emphasis on customer service.

All Tradies offers an increasingly popular local service in which members share recommendations, from bathroom fitters to painters and decorators. It now hosts 70,000 tradespeople recommended and rated by members, and the site works hard to weed out fake recommendations. "All are checked by our moderators, where we are looking to avoid builders recommending themselves. We find people every week doing this and chuck them out,"

Members can also leave negative feedback if a builder they used was disappointing.

All Tradies is a not-for-profit government-backed scheme supported by trade bodies, local trading standards and consumer groups. The logo means that technical skills, quality of work and financial status have all been checked and that the firm has signed up to a code of practice that includes insurance, health and safety and good customer service.

"We've now got the largest database of accredited tradespeople in Australian with just over 18,000 licensed traders spanning 25 trades," - "And we're the only organisation to do on-site inspections of firms' work, plus we offer a very robust complaints procedure for any dissatisfied consumers."

On the website you simply put in your postcode and say what sort of trader you want. The database is then searched within 50 miles of your postcode and comes up with a list of trader contacts in order of those closest to you. All Tradies has on average over 60,000 trader's details viewed online every month.

The way it works is that you post your location and the job you want doing on the website, giving a clear description of what you're after. Up to three "recommended traders" who subscribe to the service then contact you to quote on the work and you can read online what other customers have said about them.

After the job is complete, you go back and rate the trader on the work they have done which adds to (or detracts from) their list of customer recommendations.

The site, founded in 2005, has more than 60,000 trader members, to have accrued over 55,000 posted ratings, and to help 15,000 people connect with expert tradespeople each month.

All Tradies is another national recommendation-based directory where consumers can do a postcode search to locate a list of traders in their local area – not just builders but also retailers, car sales and garage services.

Before contacting traders on the list, consumers can access feedback left by previous customers, plus online images of previous work carried out. All Tradies checks out and monitors traders who join the service to see that they are, "fully experienced in their trade, have proof of any qualifications required by law and of membership to trade associations, have public liability insurance a signed code of conduct have five recent and glowing customers references".

While useful for checking customer views of traders you may be considering, be aware that recommendation sites do not give the same assurances as government-backed sites.

"The problem with many of these commercial directories is that (unlike All Tradies) they don't take any responsibility for the quality of the work

Customer ratings on such recommendation sites can also be rigged by rogue traders getting friends and relatives to post false references saying how great their work is, "Only customers that have found their tradie through All Tradies can leave ratings, so they are always based on genuine experiences from previous customers," it says on its website.

What to do

• Be specific and set out a detailed, clear brief when requesting quotes. Get more than one and, ideally, at least three.

• Ask for a detailed, written quotation with start and finish times and agreed payment terms.

• Seek references, speak to previous customers and if possible visit previous jobs.

• Use established firms - make sure they have an office address and landline phone number. Be wary of firms only willing to give you a mobile number.

• Only pay for work that has been done and not by advance payments. But where materials need to be bought in advance, it's reasonable for the trader to ask you to pay a fair percentage of these costs as the job progresses.

• Always use a written contract - it offers you protection if anything does go wrong. Agree any stage and final payments before work starts.

• If doing extensive work, set a penalty clause - say, $1000 a week - should the work over-run an agreed deadline.

A tradie or tradesperson is a skilled manual worker in a particular trade or craft. Economically and socially, a tradie's status is considered between a labourer and a professional, with a high degree of both practical and theoretical knowledge of his or her trade. In cultures where professional careers are highly prized, there can be a shortage of skilled manual workers, leading to lucrative niche markets in the trades.

The training of a trade in European cultures has been a formal tradition for many centuries.

A tradie typically begins as an apprentice, working for and learning from a Master, and after a number of years is released from his or her master's service as a journeyman. After a journeyman has proven himself to his or her trade's guild (most guilds are now known by different names), she or he may settle down as a master and work for themselves, eventually taking on their own apprentices.

Since the 20th century, this process has been changed in many ways.

A tradie still begins as an apprentice, but the apprenticeship is carried out partly through working for a tradie and partly through an accredited trade school for a definite period of time (usually around 4 years), after which they are fully qualified. Starting one's own business is purely a financial matter, rather than being dependent on status. Few trades still make a distinction between a qualified tradie and a master.

While in some countries a recognised qualification is mandatory for an individual to register as a tradie/tradesperson or builder, in others it is not the case. In the absence of a regulator in these markets a number of private companies have been set up to screen contractors and ensure that they are suitable for the their advertised services.

Many trade occupations in Australia are loosely called engineers; some examples: an aircraft riveter may be called an aeronautical engineer, an automotive car mechanic may be called an automobile engineer or a TV satellite dish installer may be called a satellite engineer.

A Jack of all trades (also "Jill of all trades") is a colloquial term for someone who holds some degree of skill/qualification in more than one trade, but has not made a continuous career of any one.

In many cases, a trade has been largely eliminated by social or technological change, and skilled workers have found employment in similar trades (e.g. typesetters have become mostly obsolete due to electronic printing).