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Property Refurbishment 101

Property Refurbishment 101

Given the unpredictable nature of carrying out property refurbishment works, the entire process can often be a minefield.  This is even the case with ‘vanilla’ and simple redecoration/cosmetic update projects.

Most landlords, property traders and homeowners simply want to know that they can get projects done to a decent standard without being ripped off.

Fortunately, although banishing rogue traders is perhaps too much to ask, the process is slowly but surely becoming more transparent – even if you’re handling the process remotely.

This extended post starts with some general tips for refurbishing a property from beginning to end.  We then outline a handful of useful tools you can use to find decent tradesmen anywhere in the UK.  Finally, we run through the main bodies and organisations with whom you can crosscheck credentials (covering general refurbishment, electrical, plumbing, gas safety, windows, doors and roofing works).

General Tips for Refurbishing a Property

Below are some pointers you may wish to bear in mind, both before and after starting a refurbishment project…

Pre-Refurbishment Quote Tips

  • Whilst tradesmen can often sense whether you have a basic/poor level of knowledge (and exploit this to their advantage), remember that you are in the driving seat and ultimately control the purse strings;
  • There should be no guilt about shopping around until you find tradesmen you’re comfortable to work with;
  • Go and have a look at each tradesman’s previous work before making any decisions;
  • Obtain references from the growing number of online tradesmen connection sites (see below); communicating with previous clients (within the last 3-6 months) and undertaking thorough searches online (including Companies House checks should the refurbishment works be sizeable).  Try and speak with people who have no vested interests;
  • If you have existing properties, it’s sometimes a good idea to start the tradesman on smaller repair and maintenance jobs to see the standard of work;
  • When a property is empty, never give the keys to a tradesman prior to starting the works.  This can instil an undue level of confidence and make them feel like they are in control;
  • It’s worth picking up books like The Housebuilder’s Bible to understand the basic principles of property refurbishment;
  • Spend a good few hours at the property looking at the issues for yourself.  It may seem daunting but there are many online resources, such as YouTube videos, where you can see how others have dealt with various jobs;
  • Even the most experienced tradesmen have difficulty understanding complex issues like damp, subsidence or jobs that require specific technical know-how.  Try and get as many opinions as possible so you can make an objective decision;
  • The builders should be insured to protect the safety of their workforce. Request for this information via a certificate or some other form of proof.

Getting Quotes

  • Create a data sheet (using your smartphone, tablet or clipboard) to list the required works room-by-room;
  • It’s a good idea to schedule a few hours within which various tradesmen can come over to quote.  Putting your project out to tender in this way also means you can make a judgment call on how to get the works done in the best way;
  • It may be easier to contract a build team who can manage the process from start to finish.  Although the net costs are higher, you avoid the stresses of dealing with all the issues yourself.  Always remember to obtain lump sum written quotations from at least three firms and check their credentials;
  • Even if you have known the tradesman for a while, always keep an eye out on their pricing (to make sure it’s in line with market rates);
  • You may want to establish milestone payments aligned with a schedule of work. For example, initial funds will be transferred when the first and second fixes are satisfactorily completed, followed by staged payments for finishings (painting / decorating, kitchen/bathroom installation, tiling, flooring etc.).  Decent tradesmen will have no issues with you retaining some funds (3-5% of the gross costs) to be paid after 6 months.  This will incentivise them to deal with snagging or other issues that appear after the works are completed;
  • It’s always worth weighing up the annual membership costs to the Landlord National Property Group (LNPG).  This organisation focuses on bringing together property professionals to create an ever-growing purchasing consortium and negotiate better prices with national suppliers (including Magnet Kitchens, Bathrooms.com, Plumb Centre, Currys, Tile Giant, National Floors, Johnstones paints, Fusion Furniture Solutions, Triton and Worcester Bosch Group). Although the discounts are healthy, it is sometimes worth shopping around and checking the small print.  For example, although the boilers may be cheaper than sourcing through competitor suppliers, remember to check the manufacturer’s warranty and reviews online;
  • The genuinely busy tradesmen tend to be the most competent (as they’re often in higher demand). However, remember that they may become over-confident about their abilities and charge too much;
  • Confirm that electricians are ‘Part P’ qualified (see here); gas engineers are registered (on the Gas Safe Register, see here) and all potential health and safety risks are eliminated (principally by means of ensuring the correct insurance policies are in place).

Budgeting

  • We would recommend budgeting a 20-30% contingency fund to factor in the potential ‘unknowns’.  This figure could be lower if you have experience of efficiently managing the refurbishment process yourself or have your own in-house team;
  • If you have recently purchased the property, the main issues may have been notified in the RICS survey which should help you anticipate the costs better;
  • Always be clear of the costs before embarking on any projects. Decent tradesmen will provide you with a written quote with a breakdown of the work (although this will largely be unnecessary if the job is priced under £500);
  • Be realistic about your own objectives – you pay for what you get. If you’re expecting to net a lower price for the works, don’t be surprised if tradesmen cut corners.  You even may end up having to redo the work down the line;
  • Always aim for a ‘win-win’ outcome when negotiating. For example, if the tradesman is trusted, you can offer some up-front payment or agree to organise the materials and other issues yourself.  You can also pay within 24 hours of the invoice being issued or stipulate other payment terms that work in the tradesman’s favour;
  • Prior to starting the works, you may want to use the Federation of Master Builder’s Building Contract for Domestic Work, although this is not really necessary for small to mid-size refurbishment works;
  • Appreciate that there are always extras to any refurbishment project that need to be incorporated into your costings. These include skip hire, cleaning, snagging, dealing with unexpected issues, amongst other.

Getting on with the Refurbishment Works

  • Having a scope of work and schedule in place at the start of the process is a must.  This will mean that things are done in time and nobody is stepping on each other’s toes. You want the tradesmen to be working in sync and without any conflicts;
  • Clarify how many people will be on the job and what their tasks are. You don’t want a situation where people are standing around doing nothing;
  • As the refurbishment starts, always be firm but friendly in your dealings with the tradesmen;
  • Communication is key, especially if you are planning to deal with the tradesmen from a distance.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions whenever you need to;
  • Small issues, if not addressed early, can often compound and create major headaches down the line.  Therefore, always try to stay on top of what is happening on site;
  • Always prepare for the eventuality that things go wrong and unexpected issues arise (damp issues, unexpected replastering requirements, floorboard problems electrical/gas piping issues are just some examples). These often emerge during the initial stages;
  • Especially if you’re stripping the property “back to brick”, tradesmen can sometimes raise issues that do not exist and try to pull the wool over your eyes.  If such an issue is looking like a costly exercise to deal with, it can be worth getting a second opinion (even if the refurbishment process is underway);
  • If the project is being undertaken remotely, see if it’s possible to visit the property (perhaps once a week or fortnight). It’s sometimes worth visiting unannounced, especially if you’re suspicious about the progress being achieved and/or there’s a lack of communication.  But at the same time, try not to breach a level of trust that should exist with reputable tradesmen;
  • Request regular ‘before and after’ updates and photographic evidence (WhatsApp and/or email usually work well);
  • If the tradesmen are messing you about, let them know that they are not the only ones you work with and it’s quite easy for someone to fill their shoes where necessary (by using a tradesman sourcing website, for example);
  • Make sure you are complying with Construction, Design and Management Regulations throughout the course of the refurbishment process;
  • If you’re undertaking moderate /major structural works, you will probably need some form of building regulation certification. Most local council Building Control departments are helpful.  After an initial inspection, they will advise the best course of action.  The certificate will be issued once the work is completed satisfactorily and there has been a reinspection (which you should keep as it may be a requirement when you sell the property).  Note that there are accredited companies out there that serve the same role;
  • Keep a log of the works so you can better understanding of costs for future refurbishment works you undertake;
  • Towards the end, organise a day to visit the property and run through any outstanding issues. If you are operating remotely, most lettings or estate agents can do this on your behalf.

 

Finding the Right Tradespeople

In addition to local newspapers, sites like Gumtree, Yell and the contacts you build over time, the following online tools are useful when searching for referenced tradesmen to potentially work with.  You can click on the logo itself to access the site directly.

It’s worth noting that, for many of these services, tradesmen have been increasingly complaining of the high subscription fee and cost to quote for each job.  It remains to be seen whether this will lead to less tradesmen bothering to use these sites to look for clients.

My Builder

A tradesman “match-making” portal.  Once a job is posted, tradesmen will demonstrate interest and users can choose the best person(s) principally by means of a profile, work history (including photos) and customer feedback.  Contact details are exchanged only when you say so. My Builder states that it turns down over a third of tradesmen who apply to join.  The site says that this is to maintain high standards and assure that members are held accountable for any problems that arise.

Check A Trade

Another free service that pre-vets tradesman by means of strict background checks and adherence to The Checkatrade Standard (which establishes honesty, courteous conduct, keeping to appointments and overall professionalism).  Members give out a feedback card with each and every job that is subsequently published online.  As with any of these types of site, users should be wary of skewed and bias reviews.  Where possible, it may be worth asking to speak directly with previous clients (particularly where there is a shortage of tradesmen for the job/project at hand).

Rated People

Claims to be the UK’s largest online trade recommendation service with a register of over 50,000 tradespeople.  The service matches your job to relevant tradesmen in a given area.  Those interested will pay to see your contact details and call you to quote.  You can also check their profile and ratings.  After the work is complete, you can rate your tradesman based on the quality of work, reliability and value for money.

Local Heroes

Working similarly to My Builder, Check A Trade and Rated People this on-demand service was set up by British Gas in 2017.  You explain the works that need undertaking and choose a date/time.  The ‘Hero’ will then get in touch to discuss the job and visit to provide a quote at which point you can decide whether you wish to go ahead.  Payment is made via the Local Heroes site.  The service also offers a 12-month guarantee so, if anything goes wrong, the tradesman will be obliged to go back to the property and fix the issue.  Local Heroes will send someone else if they are not available.

Home Pro (Find a Tradesman)

A similar service to the above, users can search for specific trade type and postcode and then view specific information and reviews.  Enter your mobile or email to receive the details directly.

 

Trade Bodies and Organisations

Note that while trade associations are an excellent way to find and check contractors´ track records, it is worth noting that some are funded by membership fees and adopt differing verification methods.  Should bad workmanship/practice come to light, striking a member off their list will effectively mean a loss of income.

It is therefore advisable to take a close look at each governing body´s code of practice and ensure that they are part of the United Kingdom Accreditation Service or UKAS.  Also, check how much protection is offered should the refurbishment process not go according to plan or, in a worst-case scenario, you need to make a claim / escalate a serious complaint.

Trust Mark

A not for profit social enterprise, established in 2005, endorsed by Government and supported by consumer protection groups.  TrustMark is a quality standards benchmark with the goal of achieving a position where consumers ‘can engage firms with confidence to undertake work that is of high quality, protected and at the agreed costs’.  Registered firms are accredited after thorough vetting and on-site inspections (ensuring that there are good trading practices, customer service levels and technical competence).  Users can enter the postcode, company name (if known) and trade type on the Find a Tradesman page to obtain some suggestions of potential tradesmen to work with.  The Useful Links page also contains the organisation´s charter, consumer benefits leaflet, guidance on the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and other guides.

Federation of Master Builders (FMB)

The largest trade association in the UK construction industry (established in 1941) where only builders and specialists that have passed a series of vetting process can be accepted as members.  The organisation verifies the company trading address, VAT registration and employers / public liability insurance.  Any undischarged bankruptcies, relevant or outstanding County Court Judgements or other issues revealed during the credit, public record and director checking process will also result in the application being rejected.  Every three years all members are inspected by the British Board of Agrément, an independent non-profit distributing organisation approved by the UK Accreditation Service. Enter the postcode and type of building works required in the Find A Builder in Your Area section to see which approved members operate locally to you or the property in question.

National Federation of Builders (NFB)

This trade association´s members range from sole traders to large, multi-million pound construction companies.  Operating across England and Wales, the National Federation of Builders find a builder online tool requires users to fill in a form with the project type, contact details and some outline information.  The organisation will then put you in touch with local builders/construction companies in your locality and provide a list of suitable contacts.

Competent Persons Register

Competent Person Schemes (CPS) were introduced by the UK Government to allow individuals and enterprises to self-certify that their work complies with the Building Regulations as an alternative to submitting a building notice or using an approved inspector.  A Competent Person must be registered with a scheme that has been approved by The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).  Schemes authorised by the DCLG are listed on the Gov.uk website. Download the consumer booklet and find/check Competent Persons by postcode, county or business name by scrolling down towards the bottom of the homepage.

 

Electrical Works

Electrical works and repairs are arguably the most dangerous jobs to be undertaken. It’s therefore imperative to contract a registered electrician that adheres to Part P Building Regulations, which requires that: ‘reasonable provision shall be made in the design and installation of electrical installations in order to protect persons operating, maintaining or altering the installations from fire or injury’.

Registered electricians’ work will be assessed in line with the BS7671 safety standard and they must meet strict qualification requirements.  You should also be forwarded appropriate certification so that the work can be signed off as safe.

As with most works, obtain a minimum of three quotes and check the credentials (i.e. that the electrician is registered with a government approved scheme – i.e. the NICEIC and/or NAPIT).  Also, check that the electrician has public liability insurance (minimum £2 million).  Be wary of contractors that may argue that a full a full rewire would be required (where remedial works may be sufficient).

National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC)

The National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting is a voluntary regulatory body for the electrical contracting industry. The organisation has been assessing the electricians’ competence for nearly sixty years and currently maintains a roll of over 26,000 registered contractors. NICEIC´s contractors undergo a rigorous assessment process, covering a representative sample of their work, premises, documentation, equipment and the competence of key supervisory staff. They are then re-assessed on a regular basis to ensure continued compliance.  On the Find a Contractor page, users can enter the postcode/location and the company name to confirm registration as an approved member.

National Association of Professional Inspectors and Testers (NAPIT)

The National Association of Professional Inspectors and Testers is another Government and UK Accreditation Service (UKAS)-approved membership scheme operating in the building services and fabric sector. There are currently more than 10,000 NAPIT registered installers in the electrical, heating, plumbing, ventilation, microgeneration and building fabric trades.  Note that the website states that responsibility for compliant and safe work lies with the installer.  However, NAPIT’s role is to monitor each scheme member and audit that they are fulfilling this responsibility.  See the Information for Landlords page and enter the locality/town/county in the Installer Search page (or on the homepage) to find registered tradespeople.

ELECSA

This organisation provides inspection, assessment and certification services to contractors working across the building services sector.  ELECSA is authorised to deliver the following schemes: (i) Part P for those contractors working with electrical installations in private dwellings; (ii) The Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) for those contractors installing renewable technologies; (iii) Green Deal Installer scheme for those installing energy efficient products and technologies across the building services sector; and (iv) British Approvals for Fire Equipment (BAFE) approval schemes for contractors installing fire alarm and fire detection systems or those undertaking fire risk assessments.  Enter your postcode in the Find an ELECSA Approved Contractor page to search for an approved specialist in one these areas.

Registered Competent Person [Electrical]

Confirm whether an electrician is suitably NIECIC, NAPIT and/or ELECSA qualified.  Introduced by the Government, all electrical enterprises listed and permitted to display the mark are registered to undertake work on domestic electrical installations under the Competent Person Scheme (to allow individuals and enterprises to self-certify that their work complies with the relevant Building Regulations).  These electricians meet strict qualification requirements and their work is regularly assessed by their electrical Competent Person Scheme Operator to ensure their ongoing competence. Use the search panel to find or check a registered electrician in your chosen locality.

Electrical Safety First

Campaigning on behalf of consumers and electrical trade professionals to improve safety regulation and ensure safety messages are appropriate, up-to-date and well communicated. The organisation has also produced the Landlords’ Guide to Electrical Safety and the Electrical Safety in Communal Areas of Residential Properties leaflets.

 

Gas Checking

As a landlord, as stated in the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, you will need to have any gas appliances annually checked for safety and efficiency – by means of a CP12 Certificate. This will demonstrate that all the gas appliances, fittings and flues provided for your tenants were checked by a registered Gas Safe engineer.

If you are trading a property, it is also worth obtaining undertaking this certificate especially as it provides buyers with peace of mind.

Gas Safe Register

“Trust the Triangle”: the official list of gas engineers who are registered to work safely and legally on boilers, cookers, fires and all other gas appliances.  The Gas Safe Register replaced CORGI as the gas registration body in 2009 with the principal objective of improving and maintaining gas safety to the highest standards. The Register has over 120,000 engineers who are qualified to work with gas and has the underlying of protecting the public from unsafe gas work.  This a national investigations team tracking down illegal gas workers; regular inspections of Gas Safe registered engineers; educating consumers; raising awareness of gas safety and investigating reports of unsafe gas work.  Use the Find by Location page to find/check a suitably qualified gas engineer or company by entering the postcode.  Please also take the time to take a look at the Health & Safety Executive website/leaflet/code of practice and guidance with details of landlords responsibilities.  The National Landlords Association (NLA) also have a useful video on YouTube (produced in 2013 as part of Gas Safety Week).

HETAS

The official body recognised by Government to approve biomass and solid fuel heating appliances, fuels and services – including the registration of competent installers and servicing businesses.  Registered installers are trained and approved to UK Accreditation Service standards and can self-certify that their work complies with the relevant building regulations.  Click on one of the coloured tabs (Fuels / Retailer / Installer / Servicing / Chimney Sweep / Product) to find and check approved installers and businesses.

 

Windows, Doors and Roofing

Whilst it’s reasonably easy to see when doors and windows need to be replaced, roofing issues are often hard to detect without a suitable professional viewing the situation.  For this reason, it’s always wise to obtain a few opinions before going ahead with what could be expensive works.  Roofing work is a dangerous job – therefore, always make sure that anyone you contract has appropriate public liability insurance in place.  Below are the main bodies operating within these trades:

Fenestration Self-Assessment Scheme (FENSA)

The Fenestration Self-Assessment Scheme was set up by the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) and other industry bodies in response to the need for building regulations for double glazing companies in England and Wales.  When replacing windows, doors and roof lights in dwellings in England and Wales, property owners must comply with current thermal performance and Building Regulation standards and ensure they get a certificate from a Competent Person scheme such as FENSA or Local Authority Building Control. FENSA enables companies that install replacement windows and doors to self-certify compliance under the appropriate regulations without the need for a separate assessment from Building Control.  This insurance-backed certificate is also usually requested when selling a property.  The FENSA card is currently being rolled out to members to enable homeowners to check their registration and credentials against an extensive database.

CERTASS

A UKAS accredited certification body for the building fabric refurbishment industry.  Members are assessed in line with the standards laid down in EN17065 (conformity assessment: requirements for bodies certifying products, processes and services) as well as Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), TrustMark and PAS 2030 (Energy Efficiency Measures) licensing requirements.  Certass created schemes include the CQ-Assured (a consumer protection scheme checking workmanship against industry standards) and the Thermal Rating Register (certifying the thermal performance of windows and doors for Building Regulations).  Enter the postcode on the Certass Members page to find a registered contractor in your chosen locality.

National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC)

The UK´s largest roofing trade association with seven regions, over 1,000 trade contractors and 173 supplier members (manufacturers and service providers). The NFRC actively operates a strict code of practice and independent vetting procedure (involving site inspections, adherence to the Government-endorsed standards and technical support for members and their clients).  The organisation also works with a number of other specialist trade associations to ensure ‘one voice’ for the roofing industry.  Use the Find a Contractor panel on the homepage to find a suitable local specialist.

Competent Roofer

An independent company run by the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) under a licence from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) that allows professional roofing contractors to self-certify that their roof refurbishment complies with relevant Building Regulations.  Competent Roofer is also a UKAS-accredited Certification Body, meaning that members can apply to be audited and inspected against PAS 2030 requirements (Energy Efficiency Measures) and the Green Deal Code of Practice. Members are also covered by a ten-year insurance-backed insolvency guarantee with notification of roof refurbishment works up to a value of £50,000 where the building height is four storeys or less.

This post was compiled in collaboration with Pro Skips.

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