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Tradie Conflict

I urgently need your help!!

I’m writing a feature for CHOICE on resolving tradie conflict during a renovation and wonder if any of our amazing community would be interested in sharing their personal story?

Interviewees can be anonymous.

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Do you mean conflict between one tradesmen and another, or between the tradesmen and the builder/site manager or between the tradesmen and the owner?

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Hello! Sorry for confusion, syncretic - I mean conflict between a tradie and the owner/consumer. Kylie

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My wife and I had a problem two decades ago, with a company that has since gone out of business. She had just learned to drive, and we decided we needed two cars and a garage that would fit them both. We looked around for quotes, and while one company was happy to build a new garage in the back yard we decided that an extension of the existing garage was the best plan.

No problem - six weeks to have it all done. At least, that’s what we were told. There were constant delays, and it soon became clear that the project ‘manager’ would have difficulty managing his way out of a wet paper bag. Contractors didn’t turn up, or would turn up in the wrong order… it was a nightmare. Then we had the roof tiles delivered. Quote said new - the tiles that were stacked behind our demolished garage had moss on them! “We couldn’t find any new tiles to match existing” - not that these elderly tiles matched.

At this point I wrote to the Master Builder’s Association, and in response got a “whatever”. There was a funnier response though - the business owner came around and threatened to sue me for slander (yes, that is the word he used). Then he looked up at me as I told him precisely what our defence in court would be (the truth and nothing but the truth) and buggered off.

The company failed to get the plans wrong and had to resubmit them to the planning office several times, and never managed to produce accurate invoices. At the end, we owed them a few thousand dollars and I said goodbye. They never chased it - luckily for them, as we had to spend most of it on fixing their work.

Remembering the adage that a customer with a bad experience tends to share it around 20 times, while the customer with a good experience may mention it once, I mentioned this to everyone I possibly could for several years thereafter. Eventually, I was telling the story to some new work colleagues and a head popped up from several cubicles away. Turns out that she and her husband had contracted the company to build a house, and were in court over the mess it had turned into.

In short, the company did not have the expertise necessary to build a garage let alone a house, and the trade association was absolutely useless.

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A Queensland response and we have had rental properties (a certain source of education on repairs!) for many years and built new homes.

Regardless of what specifications are drafted and agreed, the homeowner is hobbled and vulnerable, powerless, from the start because despite there being Australian Standards, Building Code and Manufacturer’ use and installation guidelines, there is NO obligation whatsoever for a tradesman or builder to comply with any of it.

Available law, Contract law, says you pay for completion of stages (or deposit and final for a smaller job) and despite any evidence you may have of departure from good building, egs., shower tiles glued direct to particleboard :frowning: or weep holes in brick veneer being below concrete landscaping, you must pay up and wait for the obvious damage from the defect to evidence, pay for professional opinion to prove it and then pursue the builder. Once the fill goes in and the cladding on the walls and ceilings who is to see what corner-cutting is there anyhow? Doesn’t anyone wonder why the same serious building problems endure despite the ‘regulation’ and ‘inspection’ by Government?

We had one house where the Cypress frame timber was left stacked in the sun without cover. Also against all reason (apart from convenience to the sub-contractor and lack of care) the standard sharp nails, not the required blunts were used to nail it up, splitting the timber everywhere. Yes, we had contracted a builder with recent references, but his supervisor who was actually the one behind the previous good work left immediately before commencement (apparently there had been tension between him and the builder for some time) and there was nothing we could do to back out.

It is like trying to trap a rat (sorry about the image) in a wire netting cage and where he knows all of the tricks. Best of luck and faint hope of the ‘diplomats’ from the government building authority setting things right.

Now I am sure some will come along to say that a ‘good’ builder or ‘good’ tradie would never be a problem and would not be cutting corners in the first place. Or that the government inspectors might be able to redress the wrongs somehow.

To repeat, first and foremost there MUST be an obligation for the builder or tradie TO FIRST SATISFY AS A MINIMUM the available Standards, Code and Manufacturer’s use and installation guidelines. Of course, the politicians already know that, but individual homeowners will never be adequately represented until they band together.

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Where do I start? At the beginning? So this first one is about 15 years ago. I was in a dept of housing property in NSW and they sent some painters around to redo the inside of the house. Not only were the painters smoking in the house, going so far as to sneak a smoke here and there when we weren’t in the same room (we found a lot of stubbed out cigarette butts on top of the freshly painted kitchen cupboards, high and out of sight), but they also took our curtains down to use as splatter protectors for the carpets. The curtains did quite a good job of it too. Absolutely ruined. On top of that, one of the workers who did choose to smoke outside, in our yard, even though they had been instructed not to by the dept, managed to walk a not-quite-stubbed-out cigarette butt into the tarp they had on the laundry floor, which subsequently caught fire. By this point we’d had enough and told them to go home and not come back. The Dept of Housing ended up having a stern word with them and one morning we had a knock on the door. The bloke in charge of the painters was standing there with some new curtains for us. Ugly fluorescent orange and purple striped ones that threatened to make your eyes bleed if you stared at them for too long. Didn’t really matter though, because it wasn’t long before the house was unfit to live in thanks to some plumbers they sent around unannounced to replace our outdated hot water service, which was in the roof cavity of all stupid places. First thing they had to do was disconnect the old hot water service, which involved quite a lot of water flooding through the roof and into the backyard. About 3 months later we were on holiday and when we got back we found a pipe had burst in the roof, smashing through the ceiling and destroying half a wall. Apparently the next door neighbour noticed water gushing out of the roof area of the house near the back door, but he decided not to do anything about it until a couple of days later, which is when he switched the water off at the mains for us. By then the damage was too extensive and the house had to be demolished. We lost a lot of home video tapes and photographs amongst other things. Never got any compensation for it. In fact the dept decided to send us a bill for asbestos removal costs due to the house needing to be demolished, which we managed to get wiped from the system, along with the bill to get the grass cut after they’d finished pulling the house down.

Our latest problems are from when we moved into the property we’re currently renting. The landlady had her preferred handyman who she insisted the real estate use. Problem with him was that he’d renovated the house for her just before we moved in and he refused to believe he’d done such a shoddy job that there were problems that needed fixing. He’d go out of his way to try and make out to us that we were basically imagining that something was wrong. Just to shut us up about it, he’d pretend to fix whatever the problem was, such as smearing the tiniest drop of sealant from his finger tip all around the edges of a window which leaked heavily every time it rained. He was very rude and arrogant and eventually we told the real estate that they were not to send him anymore. He even had padlocks on our storage areas so he could keep his leftover paint and spare pipes/wood planks in them. We finally managed to get the landlady to have him remove the locks and his crap, but only because he needed it to renovate a new house for her. One storage area has paint rings on the carpet thanks to his used paint buckets. There was one storage area he refused to unlock and the real estate sent someone around with bolt cutters to remove the padlock. He had leftover pvc pipe offcuts in there. Ever since then we’ve had the real estate send other tradesmen and they’ve actually fixed all of the work that he botched up in the first place.

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@KylieMatthews are you asking for folks to post their experiences (it’ll be an endless thread such is the widespread parlous state of trades, compliance etc) or, as I interpret it, for people to indicate if they’d volunteer to be interviewed?

I’m ok to be interviewed, PM me if you like.

Cheers

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Hi @KylieMatthews,

No response from you…?

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Hello Mustang,

Sincere apologies for my delayed reply. I am so grateful for your offer to be interviewed. I did manage to secure an interviewee for this feature and I’m sorry for not advising you of this sooner. Here is a link to the published story: https://www.choice.com.au/home-improvement/building-and-renovating/design-and-trades/articles/resolving-conflicts-with-tradies

Kind regards,

Kylie

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An underlying factor that is responsible for many of the symptoms mentioned in the Choice article is arrogance.

On one side are clients who will not educate themselves just a little about the realities of the building trades and have absurd expectations. Such people are wont to be unreasonable and demanding and adopting the attitude that as they are paying the bills it should be done their way. The usual outcome is the tradesman gets his back up (it is rarely a her) and lets his disdain of the ignorance of the client show and it’s all downhill from there. Clients need to learn that they have the right to say what is done but never how it is done. You are paying to have a certain cake delivered at a given time not to stand in the kitchen and question how many eggs should be in it.

On the other side there is the arrogant tradesman who thinks clients are all fools and the world would be better off without them, a salesman who doesn’t like customers, a hungry man who despises bread. This man will try to steamroller the client with bluff, bullshit and “I’m the expert”, he really doesn’t want to listen and to tease out what the client is getting at because listening to idiots is so unedifying. If you don’t know the jargon he can’t hear you at all because he is wasting his time correcting your language, at least in his head, sometimes in spoken words. Just because you don’t know a queen closer from a slide compound mitre saw doesn’t mean you must remain mute through the whole process. He needs to learn that a little bit of simple explanation and reassurance is not wasted time even if it does not directly alter how fast the bricks are laid.

Conflict between contractor and client caused by taking up arrogant positions is not unique to the building industry but in my experience it is more common there. Having played both roles in different circumstances I now have to take sides. In most industries contractors are taught that dealing with the client is a significant part of getting the job done. I would bet that this is included in TAFE trade courses somewhere but the culture does not accept it. The same goes for gender equality, educators and governments may try to get women into trades but the culture rejects it time and time again and progress is glacially slow. The two kinds of conservatism are related. The arrogance and blokiness can be summed up together in maxims like “A real man gets the job done”. It’s sad that too often he doesn’t realise that with a slight change in attitude it would get done quicker with less aggravation.

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Hi syncretic:

I have no doubt that there are arrogant and unreasonable customers, and they are increasing, having encountered them to some degree in other service businesses I have owned. But I’d have to say from recent experiences that the building industry has now become a law and culture unto itself and the customer who is not highly skilled in the industry has no chance. If some customers get angry, it is in my view due to the industry as a whole. The building codes and protections for customers are behind the times. For example, given climate change and energy efficiency, research shows houses designed for 6 stars are actually built to well below this in reality.

Also, trades mostly hate anything new and better or anything unlike a project home, preferring to ignore advances in insulation, materials and fittings by saying it is a waste of money. Everything about the industry except in top end niches is about cheap cheap cheap. If forced to fit quality items, they will often whinge and do a bad job. For example, insulation will often not be fitted with the requisite air spaces between layers unless you stand there and make them do it.

My experience started 4 decades ago as an owner builder using plans from an architect, with rare timbers and unusual (but not exotic) construction methods. It took me ten years and many tradesmen to finish and I can honestly say that in those days, despite it being a very unusual house and the trades having to put up with the owners on site all the time and them doing some of the work themselves, that NO conflict at all happened because of the professional craftsmanlike attitude of the older tradesmen that we used. They saw something different as an interesting challenge for their skills, not a problem. And we had no problems with bad workmanship.

Forward to 2015-2018 and things have changed with codes, inspections, designers, builders and tradespeople. When I fully renovated one house inside and out (mainly cosmetic but new kitchen, bathroom, floor tiles, and external plumbing), I was lucky enough, living in a large regional town, to find good older tradesmen and women, with the exception of plumbers who were all terrible except one woman. I am talking about attitude and workmanship and price.

Building is now a tick the box, cut corners, get the money and run exercise. Few in the new style are run as a true business with the functions one would expect in a proper business, and they need to be unless they are just one man bands.

I noticed all the older guys in old utes stuck to their word, would offer to do extra little things they noticed at no extra cost, and provided fantastic workmanship such that we sold the house above the price I expected. But the only good plumber out of 4 used on this job was a woman!! And she was leaving the industry because she was sick of male plumbers.

The only other bad tradie was younger, full of BS, did not stick to the contract, and had a flash expensive ute and ripped us off with bad work we had to redo ourselves. Tip: avoid tradies with really flash utes as they get the ute money through rip offs, not because they are craftsmen or businessmen.

Next I built a new house a semi-rural area from scratch, using a builder at cost plus despite advice to the contrary, but it was the only way to get the standard of work required, in that area. It was hard to get trades there and I had to put up with who would turn up. I acted as project manager by mutual agreement to select, source and arrange delivery of most building materials and fittings other than the engineered timber framing.

I designed the house and had a draftsman and engineer draw up the plans because it was specially designed for a person with a disability. I could not get a suitable plan from others despite trying multiple builders, designers and architects.They are so used to the tick box status quo. They all thought disability meant wheelchairs, and in this case it did not. Despite lengthy highly written briefs on what was required, they just could not get their head around it and would only bake the cake their way. They also wanted to charge the earth because the items asked for were unfamiliar to them or they could not fathom the logic.

Items they costed at an extra $50K turned out to be less than $1000 for example. So I did it myself saving heaps and using a builder to do the structural work. However, this house build unlike the one 4 decades ago drove me nuts with poor attitudes from some (not all) youngish tradesmen who on the hated customers and ignored my instructions. They saw me as an ATM only.

I totally disagree that it is the builder’s job to make the cake however he wants, unless the contract says that. A difference of opinion along these lines with one plumber who ignored me meant he drilled a large hole through the bracket holding up an expensive custom made heavy stone bench for example, leaving me with the problem as I would not let him near it again. He wanted to cover the fault cosmetically! Besides workmanship concerns, I knew I had to maintain my temper or people could walk.

I have a relation who is a retired building inspector of over 30 years experience and even he has trouble with everything he gets built in his old age as builders and trades are all about money these days, they don’t care about workmanship on the whole, and just want to tick boxes. He finds issues such as a simple carport plan specifies a slab of 100mm, and the subbies dig it 80mm deep not expecting him to notice, so they can pocket the difference in the cost of materials. They know the building tribunals, if you take them to them, will accept a 20% margin of error so they get away with whatever they can. It is a huge laugh for him to see their surprise when he re-digs it overnight to spec and the next morning the concrete ordered runs short and they have to order more!

The worst for me were the plumbers of which I again used 4 by the end. Some were nice guys, others were angry and arrogant. Some had trouble with basic maths, and almost all were resistant to doing things in an innovative way e.g. using modern sustainable solutions and techniques etc. such as using laser levels rather than by eye (cost me around $5000 to redo work after a plumber skipped interstate leaving me with a flooding problem due to incorrect levels which I warned him would be a problem due to the geometry of the site).

Another example: I had to work out for one plumber how to install the hot water system which was connected to the wood fire using a thermo-syphon, as he could not work out a 1 in 20 slope. He could do 1 in 60 (used for drains) but not 1 in 20. Similarly, carpenters took 6 weeks to get around to installing a basic old fashioned casement stay because being young they had never seen one and could not figure it out. They refused to watch a Bunnings video that I found on You tube showing how to do it as it was seen as too unprofessional for them to take advice on how to do their job from Bunnings. I could go on and on, but everything came down to attitude and communication. I managed to remain civil and polite right to the end when I finally broke because it took 8 months to fix a roof leak. This had been fully discussed with the builder even before the start as a potential problem area, being a tricky but perfectly possible change of pitch, but the builder did not supervise this part of the job on the day so it was done wrong. Again the builder wanted the cake done their way and it leaked. After many attempts they finally did it using my preferred tradesperson and it cost a lot more for them because the builder paid twice.

Even the building inspector wasted my money. These days they are private. He judged in writing a standard steel carport built properly to engineering drawings as unsound because he did not inspect it fully, preferring to stay on the ground and make assumptions. He was immovable, so I had to pay for a needless engineer inspection to allow final approval as I needed to move in.

One other learning is that the best tradesperson on the whole job, the only one who did perfect work to standard, on time and budget, and was a delight to deal with was a woman. Yes, there are some middling good tradies, but with the bad it is the 80/20 rule and they take up your time and money and emotional energy. Whenever there was a problem, the first thing I heard from the males was excuses. My ex-teacher wife said they reminded her of the year 9 boys who came up with excuses for not doing their homework.

Australia IMV has acquired an entitled ‘superior’ ego-driven white male Dunning-Kruger problem in a big way, even for dealing with male customers who know what they are doing, let alone women. (Dunning-Kruger is an effect best understood by looking up Wikipedia quickly). The building industry is a mess. No wonder domestic violence is unsolved!

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I said "Clients need to learn that they have the right to say what is done but never how it is done. "

That does not mean that a tradesman can use “my way” as an excuse to be unprofessional, cut corners and ignoring standards. Quite the reverse, if the client tries to interfere by wanting stupid things done or corners cut the tradesman should resist.

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I gave some examples, but I could have given 10-20 times as many, maybe more, just from that one job. If people follow your advice through naive belief that the industry these days knows what it is doing, they WILL end up with hidden defects.

That is why we are suddenly seeing whole apartment buildings threatening to collapse, and sending owners broke. People who build just a house can easily think it is done right, but the increasing severity of storms, cyclones, tornados, heat etc will soon expose that part of the industry as well. It was actually in the news today that the insurers want housing structure standards south of Bundaberg increased. I live only a few hours south of Bundaberg and everyone who was involved in my build thought I was mad for insisting on building to a higher standard than the code required. They resisted, they fought me, they called me a fool to my face. Yet the extra tie downs and bracing ply cost under $1000 in the end.

Just as the banks needed to be exposed (and were, but nothing much has changed), the building industry needs full scrutiny in my view. Currently it is a master of excuses, not a master of building. Any consumer should expect that their house will, by design and by construction, be inadequate and they will pay the price eventually.

Of course there are some good people at all levels of the industry, as I’m sure there were in banking, but the industry is such now that somewhere in the parade of people with their hands out for your money, someone will do the wrong thing by you. It is buyer beware, and it is very hard to work out who is good until the job is done. Unless you are standing there, the defects will be covered up, or worse still, the tradie or builder may know so little that they will not even know it is a defect caused by someone else up the chain of paperwork tickers. With my roof leak, it was done badly in four places that could not be seen by the customer. Luckily one leaked within weeks. Even then it took 8 months of fighting and dealing with multiple to get it rectified, because of stubborn-ness within the chain of people involved. The system is stuffed, in my experience, and it was not always that way.

You put the problem down to arrogance by the customer. Maybe that is what people think about me but I don’t care. I just happen to have the ability and experience to see mistakes in thinking and action and realise what they mean. In my view, Choice and most people are not aware how bad the problem is, so that is why I speak up.

Telling people that they should interfere with a building project regardless of their ability is absurd. If as you say the industry cannot do it right, how will the man or woman in the street who is a clerk, bartender or jockey tell them what to do? There is nothing to be gained by the ignorant arguing with the incompetent.

I would rather advise people to use good professionals, and how they might do that, than tell them to pretend to be one if they are not.

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syncretic, I am not aiming to convince you, that is clearly not going to happen, and I suspect you are part of the industry yourself and don’t know what it is really like for customers. Plus, I’m tired of the back and forth which is getting us no-where.

I’m more interested in helping Choice members understand the reality on the ground and stop them subscribing to a fantasy or feeling powerless. What you are saying is in my view guaranteed to lead to the sort of things we frequently see on the news, because of the state the industry has got itself into and the way customers are sometimes or often taken advantage of. They can choose to follow your advice or mine, depending on who they trust after reading this.

Final word, at least from me: I am not suggesting and never have, to tell: “(syncretic) people that they should interfere with a building project regardless of their ability… If as you say the industry cannot do it right, how will the man or woman in the street who is a clerk, bartender or jockey tell them what to do?”

To answer that, I’m saying that anyone building might as well start from a basis of the reality of what the industry is like, and think about the implications of that for you. Most people get caught up in the thrill of the new building, and I’m saying, be a lot more hard headed than that. It is the biggest purchase you’ll make.

Just as, now we have had a royal commission, it would be naive to go to any bank just yet and expect their investment adviser to act in your interests and be professional. That has proven to be damaging for a lot of people, there are alternatives, you can have your say, and it is the increasingly the same with building. You have to do some homework and you have to learn about the process and not accept everything you are told as gospel.

Anyone is welcome to contact me for advice on things like picking the right person for you and cutting through some of the excuses you’ll be told. I am NOT an expert on every aspect of building so it is just my view, and I do NOT tell every tradesperson what to do every part of the way, but I strongly believe that as the person paying, it is acceptable for the consumer to have opinions, and within what you have researched, to have your own say and expect to be listened to, not ignored or given excuses. As I sit now in my own house, I am totally at peace because I know exactly what I got, I love it, and there are no surprises lurking.

I am not part of the industry, I have been one of its customers many times and it is quite improper for you to say I am writing in bad faith - especially as you have not one shred of evidence.

Sorry I can’t see I made any accusation of bad faith. Since I guessed wrong, then I admit it but the rest stands. For goodness sake please, settle down and put an end to this. Let’s both be real human beings with differing opinions, not unseemly 500kg egos getting offended. Please just stop.