There's been a surge in home-building. Not just new properties (welcome and needed) but also among DIYers extending, renovating and doing up their existing houses.
It's been helped in part by the introduction of the Home Renovation Initiative (HRI) where tax relief is given on works.
The latest statistics from Revenue show that the average spend is €15,200 with extensions, repairs and window replacement the most common alterations. It's a lot to pay out so it's no surprise that the most complaints to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) are about poor quality service, delays and cancellations and being charged a higher price than quoted.
The CCPC received 568 calls last year about tradesmen. Although that's only 9pc of their overall calls, it accounts for 25pc of the financial detriment, as they are so expensive. So, if you're going spend so much money on your house, whether it's a new kitchen or to fix a leak, how can you ensure you're not hoodwinked?
This week's table shows remedies available for people where things go wrong, but I asked builder Michael Gaynard of ArdCo Construction how to avoid them in the first place. His advice is:
- Do you need planning permission? If you're adding more than 40 sq metres or 12sq meters above ground floor level including previous extensions you will.
- Word of mouth is still the best way to get a tradesman. Eighty per cent of business comes this way but make sure you get references in writing and verbally - a good plumber, builder or electrician won't mind you asking.
- If you're converting an attic for habitation, 50pc of it must be at least 2.4m (8ft) in height. There are restrictions on windows and stairs.
- Get a written quote rather than estimates for work as it is legally binding.
It's good to start by writing a wish-list of what you want done.
It may not all be possible within budget, but at least you can split between what you need and what you'd like. Collect photos, research online or visit people who have had similar work done. Being as clear as possible with your builder is vital.
If you're getting a loan, apply for it well in advance as it may take weeks to approve. Also, build in a contingency amount in case extras crop up, but try not to overspend. It's worth checking the tradesman is a member of a trade association. Is there a landline number and street address? You don't want to have to rely on a mobile number if something goes wrong.
Also never be pressured by a doorstep caller. Take a card and say you'll consider them. Then research to see if you can find a better price.
If it's for a large spend, it might be worth getting a solicitor to look over the contract. Do you have the right to cancel the agreement? Who will clean up after the job? Is there a guarantee on the work done?
Don't be hoodwinked into upfront costs. You may have to pay a deposit to secure a builder but the balance shouldn't be paid until the work is completed. Pay the deposit using a credit card as it's covered by insurance under 'charge-back' if the builder goes out of business.
Finally, never go with the first (or cheapest) quote.
A survey by Carphone Warehouse has shown that confusion still reigns among customers when choosing which mobile phone package is suitable for them.
Some 57pc would switch to get a better deal on their contract if they found one, which is great and shows the engagement people have. However, battery life, data storage and contracts pose the most problems and it can sometimes be bewildering to work out minutes, data, monthly fees and all the other things which you need to ask before deciding who to give your money to.
The company have created a website which compares different offers and lets you check if you're entitled to an upgrade. It includes comparisons such as camera, screen size and connectivity. As they deal with a range of operators, it's unbiased.
Another option is to download the KillBiller app which assesses your actual use of data, calls and texts and compares it with the plans available on the market.
But you can't beat asking questions. Write down all the things that are important for you with your phone - some people for instance need a top quality camera, for others they simply want to make lots of calls - and you'll find that there's a plan for you. It will also mean that you're not paying for options you don't need. Staff in most phone shops, I've found, are knowledgeable and helpful, even with a Luddite like myself!
I'm glad new consumer laws to ban expiry dates on vouchers are being considered. It can be very annoying to present a voucher in a shop only to be told that you had to use it within six months.
There's no excuse for this, as the retailer has already been paid in full. Sadly the laws won't ban the practice of charging monthly fees on vouchers over 12 months old.
A number of shopping centres, including Dundrum and Blanchardstown, do this and it can mean that delaying your spend means your voucher is worthless.