Avoid being roped in by rogue traders

Hiring the right person to do your plumbing work can often feel like you're walking across a minefield.

After all, if you don't personally know the professional doing the job, you are effectively letting a stranger into your home and putting your trust in them to complete your home improvements to an acceptable standards.

There are plenty of television shows highlighting what can happen when you hire a cowboy, emphasising that it can happen to anyone. When it does, the implications can not only be financial - as your health can also suffer with potentially months or years of stress to follow as you look to clear up the mess left behind.

So, how can you protect yourself against this happening?

Ask the right questions

Because it's often very difficult to spot a rogue trader until they have carried out the work and left you with a nasty taste in your mouth, learning what the signs are that the person carrying out your work is likely to rip you off is an essential skill.

With this in mind, there are a series of questions you should always ask your plumber before allowing them to start on the project. These include:

Can you provide references?
Can you provide your estimate in writing?
Do you have an address or landline phone number for your business?

If the answers to any of the above questions are "no", then this should start your alarm bells ringing.

Good references are instant reassurances that your plumber has done jobs to a decent standard before, so if they cannot provide any then this suggests they are either inexperienced and potentially unsuitable for the job, or they simply do not have anyone they would feel comfortable talking about (and potentially showing) some of their previous examples of work.

It's important you get an estimate in writing in case the plumber then goes back on their word and tries to charge you more. This way, you have proof of what they told you before the job began.

Finally, the last question will allow you to trace them back if you do have any questions or problems after they have finished. A landline is more important than a mobile number as a cell phone number can be easily changed.

What are the other warning signs?

If you fail to ask the right questions or the tradesperson gives you some convincing answers, then there are other signs to look out for that could indicate your dealing with someone whose intentions are less than honourable.

For example, asking for the cash up front is a huge sign that something is wrong. A respectable plumber will never do this, even if they need to buy their materials first to get started.

If you do subsequently end up paying them before they've started - or finished - the job, then this automatically puts you in a vulnerable position when it comes to getting them to complete your project, as there is no longer an incentive for them to return to your bathroom.

Rogue traders often juggle several jobs at once, moving from project to project as they get offered new work, leaving many jobs with work still to do. If they have already been paid by you, then this gives them less of a reason to come back if they are busy elsewhere.

For this reason, you should also be suspicious if the plumber is keen to start on your job immediately. When this is the case, there's a chance they are prepared to jump off their current activity without a second thought - and it's likely they'll do the same to you when another offer comes along.

A further warning sign is when the price is surprisingly cheap. It's always good practice to shop around to see how low you can get a quote for the work you need doing - however, the phrase 'too good to be true' can certainly apply here on occasions. 

If you are given a ridiculously inexpensive quote for a job, then chances are they are either a cowboy with intentions to rip you off, or are so inexperienced that they have no idea how much they should be charging.

Do your background research

As well as gathering information on other quotes and speaking to references of previous customers, it's also worth asking for proof your plumber belongs to the trade association they say they do.

You can either request to see the relevant documents presented by the plumber, or go straight to the body itself with your tradesperson's details. If it turns out that they are lying, then this is a sign that you should definitely stay away.

Another similar background check should be made on the company they may claim they are working for. If it's one you've previously heard of, then you can call the firm to see if they employ someone under the name of your plumber. However, if the business is one you are unfamiliar with, then consider searching for reviews on the internet to gauge how satisfied previous customers have been.

Knowledge like this can be essential in saving you money and hassle in the long run. Don't just go off gut instinct if you think someone is a good person, as often cowboy tradespeople are very good at charming and convincing their unsuspecting victims before it's too late.

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