Credibility of building service providers being challenged

With the economic effects of the past 18 months being felt across the spectrum, the latest run of casualties in Hermanus is within various sectors of the building trade.

Most conversations with builders and associated service providers are peppered with phrases like “we are looking elsewhere to find building opportunities”, “people won’t pay the high rates that are charged in the Overberg” or “land or homeowners are bringing in builders from Gauteng as it still works out more cost-effective than using locals”. The messages are all similar and it does leave one wondering about the state of our building trade.

The larger, well-established and entrenched building firms are carrying on regardless as they have a good pipeline of projects. While they may be the more expensive firms to use, they do generally provide the highest quality finish, which is sorely lacking with many of their competitors.

The same applies to the plumbers, electricians, carpenters, aluminium suppliers and the rest who are deemed to be “too expensive”, yet only get called in after the “cheaper option” delivers a sub-standard result.

Many of the medium-sized builders are looking elsewhere for opportunities as fewer new builds are planned for the foreseeable future and there as so many competitors chasing a tiny piece of a shrunken pie.

The “bakkie brigade” builders, who are often the cheapest and less focused on exceptional levels of quality or customer service are vanishing overnight as more and more homeowners hold back on their building or renovation spend, or no longer use the same builders as before, due to the reworking that constantly has to take place.

Whilst we have to take our hats off to those with an entrepreneurial spirit who are providing quality service and workmanship, the number of disillusioned homeowners with horror stories of bad delivery is increasing.

In the past month, we have seen numerous examples where companies have been entrusted with a contract, in many cases based purely on being the cheapest, and the quality of work delivered is beyond unacceptable. That should not come as a surprise as when the price is “too good”, the end result will most likely be sub-standard. Fortunately, there are the odd individuals whose services are affordable and who provide the level of workmanship that dreams are made of.

We have witnessed situations where clients have been billed for a particular product and related service, only to find out six months later that the product they paid for is not what was used – and they have to fork out a heap more money to get what they thought they already had.

There have also been cases where contractors use a reputable, branded product’s packaging, but an inferior product is used to do the job. That is a blatant rip-off and downright unethical, but the responsibility does also lie in the hands of the homeowner who must do due diligence when selecting a contractor.

So the question is: What can homeowners do to avoid the pitfalls of bad quality worksmanship and service delivery?

Firstly, people are not taking the necessary precautions to reference check the builders or contractors. It is imperative, depending on the nature of the work to be done, that you look at the quality of the contractor’s work done elsewhere, speak to their clients about their experience and any pitfalls they had. Don’t just look at the visible result, but delve into the details of the work that was done.

Many contractors have a brilliant ability to “put lipstick on the pig”, but when that lipstick fades away after a few months, the pig is still there.

Unless you are 100% sure of what you are getting, you have every right to get comparative quotes and we always recommend that you do so, at least until you have a track record of successful performance with a specific company.

If embarking on a large renovation or new build, it is advisable also to check which sub-contractors the prime contractor uses, as that could also be a point of contention once the job is underway. Alternatively, involve your architect or an independent third party, neutral to the prime contractor, to ensure that you are getting the best deal for the budget at hand.

From our personal experience, the prime contractor could be exceptionally good at what they do, but it often happens that they get dropped by a subcontractor who delivers a bad end result and tarnishes the builder’s reputation. That is a two-edged sword though, as it also highlights the level of effectiveness of the prime contractor’s supervisory and project management capabilities.