Of all the daft ways you could dream up to lose money on a self-build project, paying your builders more than they ask for has got to take the biscuit. Builders are expensive enough as it is. Indeed, many self-builders labour for years on their own simply to avoid having to fork out for skills they reckon they possess themselves.
Yet one canny self-builder I know has reversed the usual logic to great effect. Chris Towns may not end up having the cheapest self-build in town, but he’s absolutely certain that it will be as good as it can be, and he won’t be getting any annoying callbacks in years to come. You see, Chris tips the guys working on his site.
Chris’ logic seems sound to me. He has embarked on his first self-build in Greenford, West London, where he is managing every aspect of the process. He spent most of his adult life – he is 54 – working as a drayman for Scottish & Newcastle and, in this trade, it is commonplace to receive some small offering from your customers after each delivery. “You will probably think I’m mad, but I figured I’d like to do the same for the guys working on my house. So I decided that everyone who worked on my site should get a drink on me.”
Take the plastering. Chris negotiated a fixed price of £5,500 with an Irishman he knew with a solid reputation. The guy was doing really well and would turn up on site in a Porsche Cayenne. But the four guys he had hired to do the work were Romanian, and Chris found out they were on just £85 a day. The first day on site, Chris explained to them that he didn’t want this to be a normal building job because it was to be his home, and he really wanted their best work. He gave them each £40 and explained that there would be more if they worked well. “Just don’t tell the boss,” was his only condition.
The Romanian plasterers were knocked out. They went that extra mile to help Chris, including working till 8.30 one evening. Chris kept the site sweet with tea, crisps and biscuits and, when they were finished, he gave them all another £30 each.
It was the same with the groundworkers, the blocklayers, the roofers and the carpenters. Chris runs the site, negotiates fixed prices with the gaffer and then tips the guys actually doing the work. He doesn’t tip self-employed one-man bands (like his electrician) but anyone on his site who is working for a boss gets a small bonus.
All in all, he reckons he’s spent something like an extra £1,200 on tipping the workmen — but he’s sure it’s paid dividends. “I won’t notice the added cost in years to come, whereas I know that I would notice sloppy workmanship. As it is, there isn’t a workman here who has taken advantage of me. I reckon it’s been money well spent.”
Could he be on to something? It’s hard to know for sure. This sort of arrangement wouldn’t suit everyone, and if it became commonplace it could end up causing hard feelings if the tips failed to appear. Indeed, you might find that truculent builders started expecting a tip and turned sour if the money wasn’t forthcoming. But that’s all hypothetical. In reality, tipping is so unusual in the building trade that it still has the ability to surprise and delight the recipients, and is almost bound to result in good will — and that’s a commodity well worth paying extra for.
Chris had never undertaken a serious building project before, let alone a self-build, and he felt he could easily be taken for a ride by tradesmen who knew more than him. So he has, if you like, taken out an unofficial insurance policy that helps get the job done properly.
Full marks to Chris Towns for working this out. It’s not a piece of advice you would ever come across in a book or a magazine (until now!), and I’m not suggesting that everyone should do it in future. But do at least think about it. A lot of people get fixated on chasing bargains, and getting fancy deals. You’ll soon forget the extra price you paid — but if something ain’t right, it will annoy you for a very long time.

  • Dorothy Moffitt

    I would like to give a Christmas gift to the guys who have been working on my house.(Renovation cost approx £30,000) The guys on site have been really pleasant any time I have been there (had to move out to let them get on with it) Any suggestion on how much to give without offending them?

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