Finding a good tradie

Questions you should ask before engaging a tradie, and what to do if things go pear-shaped.

Tradie troubleshooting

Most tradespeople do their best job at a fair price, but as with any industry, there are some who might be less than upfront or honest. And individuals aside, just the ins and outs of engaging a contractor can be tricky to navigate. 

We've put together key tips to help you do due diligence upfront and save some of the hassle later.

From checking licences and ensuring you're insured to negotiating on quotes and signing contracts, here's everything you need to know before you hire a tradie, plus everything you need to know if things go wrong.

Ask these questions

  • Are you licensed? You can check a tradie's licence online to make sure it hasn't expired. You need to use a licensed tradesperson or building practitioner for any residential building work worth over $5000, as well as any electrical wiring, plumbing, air conditioning, refrigeration, drainage and gasfitting jobs.
  • Are you insured? Check that the tradesperson has appropriate insurance cover for the work. If you find a tradie through a tradesperson service site like ServiceSeeking or Hipages, check the small print: some sites don't provide insurance for their users, or will only provide insurance for work paid through the site, not by cash in hand.

When getting a tradie online, they need to give a price to get your contact details, so don't take that as the final price – Christine, CHOICE

  • Is the quote negotiable? It can't hurt to ask. And if you're booking through a service site, bear in mind that users often have to quote a price to get your contact details, but the price could be up for negotiation.
  • Do you charge call-out fees? Ask the tradesperson about call-out fees and whether they have a minimum charge for their time. Find out exactly what the fee includes.

Expensive quotes don't always reflect the quality of the work; neither do cheap – Emily, CHOICE

  • What does your quote include? Be as specific as possible about what you need done so that tradespeople can give you an accurate quote. And ask for all costs to be disclosed upfront so there are no nasty surprises.
  • Can I have that in writing? Particularly for larger jobs, ask for a written quote before the work starts to avoid any nasty surprises. Generally, you need a contract for any work costing more than $5000, but it's a good idea to get a written contract for all work. And make sure you get a receipt for the work, particularly if you're paying in cash.

Ways to protect yourself

Be specific

Make sure the tradie is absolutely clear on what it is you want done, so they can give you an accurate quote.

"If you're using sites like ServicesSeeking or Airtasker, I always get the best responses when I give as much detail as possible," says CHOICE staffer Jason. 

"Don't just say 'paint my deck' and upload one photo. Specify how many coats you want, the square-metre area, if you're providing the paint and brushes. It sets expectations clearly, and will help avoid any confusion and arguments later."

Get several quotes

"Quotes can vary greatly between tradies; it's hard to know what the true cost of the job is without getting multiple quotes," says Emily, an interactive designer at CHOICE.

"We always got a minimum of three quotes for every job. When using online services to find tradies, you are normally connected to at least three tradies."

Quotes can also vary greatly depending on who's doing the research.

CHOICE staffer James' wife was quoted $1800 to have some kitchen appliances wired into the kitchen. James thought it sounded a bit steep, so he shopped around for another quote, which came in at $250.

"Concerned that the differences between the two quotes may have been due to the 'lady tax', she got a third tie-breaker quote from a lady tradie which also came in at $250, so that's the one we went with," he says.

Check the contract: 

  • Take your time reading it. Sleep on it overnight if you need to.
  • Read through everything, especially the fine print, and make sure you understand it all.
  • If you don't understand something, ask!
  • If you're unsure about anything, or you still don't understand something, seek legal advice.
  • Don't sign a contract because you feel pressured into it.
  • Make sure there aren't any blank spaces in the contract – someone else could fill these in later and you won't know what's been added.
  • Any changes should be signed or initialled so it's clear that all parties have agreed to the changes.
  • Make sure you receive a copy of the contract.

Need more info? Check out our advice on unfair contracts

Check your insurance

  • Don't just assume you're covered if things go wrong. A licensed builder should have construction insurance, but this generally will only cover the part of the structure they're working on.
  • Find out exactly what your builder's insurance covers. You might be able to pay extra to get coverage for the whole building.
  • Contact your own insurer before building work starts. Generally, you have a contractual duty to tell them about any major renovations or if your home is going to be unoccupied for an extended period of time.

Don't finalise payment until they've finished the job

One CHOICE staffer found this out the hard way. 

His builder begged him for the final payment a bit earlier to pay one last subcontractor to finish a renovation job that coming weekend. He kindly obliged and paid, and then the builders disappeared and dodged him for months. 

With the threat of withholding payment gone, he had to threaten to go to Fair Trading before they finally came back.

What to do if things go wrong

The Australian Consumer Law covers you when you're buying or paying for a service, just like it does for products.

Under the ACL, services have to:

  • be performed with proper care and skill
  • be fit for a particular purpose or achieve the result you expected
  • be delivered within a reasonable time, or by the end date in a contract.

Who to contact

If things go awry, here's who you need to talk to. If you don't get a satisfactory resolution after step 1, then escalate things up the chain:

  1. The business: First, try to resolve the problem with the business. Larger businesses should have complaints-handling processes in place. For smaller businesses, try talking to a manager or the owner if you don't get any joy from dealing with the tradesperson.
  2. Consumer protection agency: Your local state or territory consumer protection agency can provide you with information about your rights and options, and may be able to help negotiate a resolution.
  3. Tribunal or court: If the consumer protection agency can't help or you're still not satisfied with the outcome, you can take your complaint to the tribunal or court, such as NCAT in NSW, VCAT in Victoria or the WA Magistrates Court.

If you're nervous about making a complaint or haven't done it before, here are some useful resources from the CHOICE Help team: