A Personal Recommendation Goes a Long Way

You can get the names of subcontractors from many different sources, including local papers and websites. But cold calling them for a price may not produce results. It often surprises those new to self-build is that, when they do get the name of a subcontractor, they seem reluctant to quote or even to talk meaningfully in any way. But this is not at all unusual. Subcontractors tend to move around in the circles they’re comfortable with and are often wary of new contacts.

On the other hand, if you approach them on the basis of ‘so and so gave me your name’, then they’re much more likely to talk. If that person is a previous client and the relationship was good, then not only are you getting that all-important recommendation but they’ll see you as a continuation of business. If the referrer is a tradesperson they’ve worked with, then they’re much more likely to engage with you, possibly out of loyalty to the person you’ve named.

Subcontractors May Be More Loyal to the Builder Than to You

Some self-builders will hire a builder for the whole job; others choose to work with one only until the weathertight shell before separately employing subcontractors for the second fix and supply-and-fix finishing trades. Quite often the self-builder develops a friendly relationship with the subcontractors. It can, therefore, come as quite a shock when they find that, for instance, the carpenter who did the first fix work, is reluctant to quote for second fix. And even long after the job is finished, when they want some fitted wardrobes or a bigger patio, the subbies that were on the original job may refuse to agree to it other than through the builder.

It can seem amazing to the layperson that they should turn down this opportunity. But many will. At the very least they’ll seek the consent of the builder and if he wants to be involved, they’ll step down.

Yours isn’t the Only Project in Their Diary

It’s sensible to keep subcontractors up to date with progress on site, so that they know when they will be needed. But you need to understand that in the run up to them arriving on your site, they are working on another site. So if that job runs late, then, rather than leave it, they’ll be late for your job. But they may be reluctant to tell you, thinking that they might lose the job. So, they may pay lip service to your updates with assurances of their readiness on the basis that, when they finally fail to show up, it’ll be too late for you to do anything other that swallow your disappointment.

Good Tradespeople Want to Work with Those They Know and Trust

Most subcontractors are independent within their trade and confine their contracts to one discipline. A few multitask, such as combination plumbers and electricians and ‘builders’ who undertake both the groundworks and the bricklaying. The worst thing for any tradesperson is having to follow a bad tradesman. It makes their job so much more difficult and time consuming and it, therefore, costs them money. You may, in consequence, be asked, when first contact is made, who is doing the other bits. Effectively, therefore, many tradespeople tend to work alongside other tradespeople who are known to them and whose work they respect.

The joy of this situation is that once the self-builder has a worthwhile contact with one good tradesperson, they will often do all they can to see to it that the guys they generally tend to work alongside are brought into the job. It’s unlikely that this will extend to hiring them as a group and they will all retain their separate identities and enter into individual contracts with you, forming a laissez-faire grouping. But, by and large, they will tend to manage and co-ordinate themselves.

How to Make Sure Your Job is the Subbie’s Priority

Many small builders and most subcontractors cannot make a living out of just one job at a time. As a point of fact, unless you’re willing to pay for men standing around idle, it doesn’t make sense for you to try to keep them on your site. The mark of a good tradesperson is their ability to keep continuity on all of the various jobs they undertake. But, once again, they cannot guarantee that each of their jobs will be in synchronisation.

So how do you make sure that your job is the priority? Well, self-builders often have the edge if they’re paying cash. Builders can’t do that. On the other hand, self-builders have no responsibility to see to it that their ‘employees’ pay tax. And, although we don’t often talk about it, that does mean that many subcontractors are at least 20% better off working for self-builders.

That said, fairness means that you should put yourself in the position of their other client and ask yourself, how would you feel if the chaps simply left something half finished on your job? So, within reason, you should be able to come to an accommodation with the situation, as long as you know that the subcontractor is treating you both fairly.

Not All Subcontractors Like Working for Self-builders…

By far the best and most reliable subcontractors will always come from recommendation. And if that recommendation is from another self-builder, that is doubly beneficial because not only are they likely to be good at what they do but they are, almost certainly, going to be helpful to you as a self-builder. Some subcontractors don’t like working with self-builders or laypeople because they perceive that the job is going to be poorly managed and that their lives are not going to be made easy. Others, the type you want, are ready and willing to guide you and, if they’ve worked for another self-builder already, they’ll know that there are benefits. As with the laissez-faire groupings, subcontractors are a terrific source of tradespeople from other disciplines because they’ll always want to ensure that the guys working either side of them are not going to make their work difficult. But be very careful about asking a tradesperson for a recommendation within their own discipline for they rarely have a good word to say about the chaps who do the same thing as them.

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