Unfortunately, you can't always be sure that people turning up on your doorstep or calling you on the phone are who they say they are. This can be quite serious as you could end up spending a lot of money for shoddy work or work that wasn’t needed.

For example, after the Dublin floods there were plenty of people calling on doors offering their services, and even now in winter, as the weather is relatively fine, there are callers spotting leaking gutters and broken roof tiles, which of course you may or may not have.

In addition at any time of the year, people can call to your door selling any service to do with your house, or even products targeted at the elderly such as stair lifts.

The key thing when it comes to anything like this is to be aware of what can happen and to look for the signs that alert you to the fact that everything is not as it should be.

Telltale signs

  • They can’t prove who they are: If they say they are representing a company but you’re not sure, don’t be afraid to ask for ID. If they are who they say they are, they won’t mind. If they can’t offer ID to give company headed details etc don’t continue the conversation. Remember a mobile phone number is never good enough.
  • The shock tactic: If a trader knocks at your door never agree to on the spot house repairs, or sign anything on the spot, even if they tell you that something is unsafe or needs to be repaired immediately. In other words, don’t immediately believe what they say i.e. there are broken tiles etc.
  • The pressure sell: Be wary of special offers, especially time limited and exclusive offers that are only available if you sign up immediately and of warnings that your house is unsafe – these are high pressure sales tactics and are against the law.
  • They found you: In other words a bogus seller is usually not one you have found, but one who has approached you. You don’t know who they are and did not ask for and probably do not need their service or product.

The rules

  • Do not make snap decisions. Take time to talk to someone you trust before you make a decision; that means talking to a neighbour, family member of community group. Then shop around to compare products and prices.
  • Think twice before you buy. If you are made to feel under pressure to make a purchase, have the confidence to say no. Remember, it’s not personal, it’s business, so say no and tell the person to leave.
  • Cooling-off. If you spend more than €40 with a trader on the doorstep who has called around unsolicited, you have a seven day cooling off period in which you can change your mind and cancel. Of course, if the trader isn’t legitimate it’s going to be hard or even impossible to invoke your rights.
  • Don’t let them in. If you don’t know the person at your door and are wary, don’t let them in. And keep an eye on neighbours and elderly people, especially those living alone.

How to choose a tradesperson

The three basics are: knowing who you’re dealing with; getting quotes and choosing carefully.

Know who you are dealing with

  • If someone just calls at your door offering a service, maybe cutting hedges or paving the driveway, they may be legitimate and that’s fine but if you’re interested in the service you need to know who they are. Ask for business contact details, including a postal address. Never deal with someone who has only given you a mobile phone contact. It is important that you are dealing with a registered business / company rather than an individual, as if something goes wrong your consumer rights only cover you if you have bought from a business and you may not be able to take small claims action. Also, if you don’t have a postal address for the service provider how can you contact them with a written complaint if something goes wrong? After all, often when trying to follow up a complaint, suddenly the person doesn’t answer the mobile phone any longer.
  • Ask for references and information on previous work carried out so that you can assess their credentials, or the contact details of referees who will vouch for their work; or the name of the trade association if they are a member.

Get quotes

If the person is at your door ask them to send you a detailed written quote on company headed notepaper. This should include itemised costs for materials and labour not just one overall amount. This is important so that you know exactly how much you will pay and what it’s for. Also, it will help you to compare with other quotes.

  • You should get three or even four quotes to help you find the best price. Ask neighbours, friends and families for businesses they have used as recommendations as this should give you more comfort in who you choose.
  • Getting a few quotes is important as there could be a big price difference. For example, very recently tradesmen.ie carried out a survey of painters in Dublin asking them for quotes on a semi detached 3 bed house that required painting internally and externally. With regards to internal painting the lowest price in our survey was €600 and the highest was €3,500 with the average price being €2,050. With regards to the external house painting the lowest price was €350, the highest €1850 and the average price was €1,100.
  • When it comes to price make sure you are comparing like with like – i.e. with the painting example does the quote include or exclude paint and see does it include or exclude VAT. What paint is being used i.e. more expensive but better quality, is the painter a professional, registered business etc. (This is where a detailed quote is important).
  • You could use a service such as www.tradesmen.ie where you enter details of the job needed to be carried out and up to four tradesmen registered with the service will supply a quote. While the tradesmen there are not vetted, there is a rating system and you can also submit any complaints to the site in addition to the tradesman if something goes wrong.
  • It is imperative that you give as much accurate detail as possible when asking for a quote. Remember, that even if your’re looking for a boiler service quote but don’t mention that there is also something wrong with the boiler that needs checking, this could mean extra, time, parts and consequently money, so the quotes you get won’t be accurate.

Choosing - don't rush

Don’t rush to choose. Don’t make your decision there and then once someone has provided a quote and don’t let someone pressure you into doing so. Instead always say you will think about it and be in touch.

Do haggle. In this climate it’s a consumers market. So once you have your quotes you have your bargaining tools. Decide who you like best, whose references you like, and ask them if they can lower the price or throw in something extra.