Lessons from The Block: What to do if your tradie disappoints

Lessons from The Block: What to do if your tradie disappoints
Lessons from The Block: What to do if your tradie disappoints

Last night marked the first set of room reveals for The Block Glasshouse.

Each of the five teams - Darren and Dee, Maxine and Karstan, Michael and Carlene, Simon and Shannon and Chris and Jenna - unveiled their guest bedrooms to the judges and Australia. While it's no secret that all five of the teams were under an extraordinary amount of pressure, some coped better than others.

Tasmanian brothers Shannon and Simon scored the highest marks for the week, with the judges commenting that their guest bedroom with four and a half metres of storage space tucked behind a timber nib wall displayed strong attention to detail and was fresh and stylish. They were rewarded with $10,000 for their efforts.

But a few of the other teams didn't fare so well. The judges pointed out some dodgy plastering in Chris and Jenna's room, while Darren and Dee were pulled up for leaving their painting unfinished. Maxine and Karstan, however, had the roughest time this week - after all the teams suffered setbacks with asbestos removals and delays putting up steel framing, their blinds came late and their cabinet maker failed to show up, leaving the couple with an unfinished room (and a handy note on the wall explaining their troubles to the judges).

The missing cabinet makes Max and Karstan the only team to have ever failed to complete a room in the history of The Block, and earned them marks as low as 5/10.

Although cabinet maker was due to arrive at 5 am on the morning of judging, he failed to turn up at all, and was uncontactable. Unfortunately, the problem is not as uncommon as it should be.

While the majority of tradespeople and subcontractors are honest, hardworking and helpful, ask around and it won't be long til you uncover a treasure trove of tradies-gone-bad stories. The carpenter who kept revealing hidden cost after hidden cost, the painter whose work peeled off the month after and, of course, the cabinet maker who never turned up. It's a problem that can cost you time and money ($10,000, if you're Max  or Karstan).

So if you happen to be unlucky enough to run into one of the few bad apples when you're renovating, what can you do?

First, you can do your best to ensure the problem doesn't arrive in the first place. Regular observer Jo Chivers considers team selection one of the most vital factors in the success or failure of a development or renovation project. Here are some tips on choosing your reno team:

  1. Ask about their past completed projects. You could also ask for referrals from previous clients.
  2. Ask about their financial position. If you're hiring a builder, don't be shy about asking if they can afford to take on the project. The last thing you want is for your builder or contractor to liquidate, leaving you in the lurch. They may not like the questions, and don't have to answer them, but it can help you get an idea of how reliable they are.
  3. Ask other tradies and builders. If your builder recommends using a certain tradesperson, ask other tradies on their team how they work. If you're hiring a builder, Chivers recommends asking for a list of their current contractors or tradies. Chivers advises that you ask them what the builder is like to work for, whether they pay on time and whether the tradesperson is intending to continue working for that builder. She writes: "If a tradie has been crossed, he will tell you all about it!"
  4. Check your department of fair trading or consumer affairs website. If a tradie or builder has been in trouble in the past, you may be able to find out about it before you hire them.

Your builder should also be licensed or registered - if they're not willing to show you their license, go with another builder.

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When it comes to working with your chosen builder or tradesperson, open and honest communication is key.

Be clear about your expectations and your timeline from early on, so there's no confusion and can be no excuses if the job fails to get done. Get everything in writing whenever possible - dates, costs, materials and promises - in case you need to refer back to an earlier conversation.

If your builder goes into liquidation and can't complete a job, you may be covered by insurance. All licensed builders require some form of insurance, usually called Home Warranty Insurance or Builders Warranty Insurance, and their obligations will vary from state to state - in Victoria, Domestic Builder's Insurance is required when the works cost over $16,000.

Your building contract should include the details of your warranty rights. In New South Wales, Home Warranty Insurance will provide you some cover if your builder dies, disappears or becomes insolvent. Unfortunately, the process is usually a lengthy one, and may not cover the costs of your project.

Court is the worst case scenario. But if your tradesperson has failed to do a job properly, or at all, you might have to resort to legal action. It's a road that few want to go down - tribunal or court proceedings are costly, lengthy and stressful. As Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) deputy president Heather Lambrick says, "Every case that comes to VCAT has a losing party". 

If you do have to go to tribunal, know what you want to achieve when you're going there. Do you want to recover the costs of contracting a tradesperson? Have them come back and fix their dodgy job? Or are you just blowing of steam?

Here are some of Lambrick's tips for winning your case at tribunal (for more information, see How to win your case at tribunal).

  • Know the relevant law. You don't need to be an expert, but you do need to know the relevant piece of information that covers your dispute.
  • Isolate the issues. Figure out where exactly things went wrong - perhaps your tradie not show up at the agreed time, or did not use the agreed materials.
  • Get the documents to prove your issues. Have as much evidence as you can on hand - photographs, those conversations you've been documenting, and the relevant contracts.
  • Anticipate the other side of the argument. Organise yourself and have a good idea of what the other side will argue. Prepare a counter argument before you get to tribunal.
  • Ask for help if you need it. You don't necessarily need a lawyer, and you're not expected to be an expert. Feel free to ask when you need clarity.
  • Watch other cases. Try sitting in on a couple of tribunal cases so you have an idea of how the proceedings work.
  • Stay calm and be polite.

But no matter how calm or polite you are, going to tribunal won't guarantee you'll get the outcome you want, or deserve. The best way to avoid Maxine and Karstan's situation is to choose wisely in the first place.

Picture courtesy of Channel 9/Facebook.

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The Block

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