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Trade secrets from Dawn Giesler

Business Services  |  07/03/2018

Meet Dawn Giesler, city resident and founder of scuseme – a company that connects people in Cambridge with local independent suppliers and tradespeople. Whether you are looking for a tutor or a tradesperson, a plasterer or a plumber, a carpenter or a caterer – scuseme will help. www.scuseme.co.uk


Enjoy a stress-free home improvement project

Embarking on any home improvement project can be very stressful, involving family and household disruption and major spend.  But there are a number of things you can do to make your life easier. Choosing the right contractor and establishing a good business relationship is key.

In Cambridge, with the high cost of ownership, many people are preferring to extend rather than move. As a result, good tradespeople, builders and contractors are in great demand. In today’s environment of quick fixes, there are many inexperienced traders who give building trades a poor reputation. Be prepared to wait for the right people; otherwise you may be deciding in haste to repent at leisure.


The contract

As soon as you give a contractor the go-ahead, you’ve made a contract with them, but a verbal conversation isn’t enough. For your protection, always get a written contract before you give the go-ahead. If not, you could end up regretting this if the contractor doesn’t do what you agree, and it’s your word against theirs. A written contract should help avoid disputes big and small and is as important for the builder as it is for you.


If the builder gives you a contract, check if it covers everything you agreed. Alternatively you can write your own: the RIBA Domestic Building Contract 2018 is a good starting point.


A physical address

Make sure you have all your contractors’ contact details including a landline as well as a mobile number. Why not drop off your first payment at their business address? Then should you need to contact your contractor after work has begun, you’ll know where to go.


Licenses and permits 

The construction industry is controlled by a variety of regulations and the requirement to hold specific licences or permits to legally carry out certain types of work. Your contractor should inform you of the ones you’ll need, eg: builders skip permits and scaffolding license. Equally important you must be confident that your contractor complies with building, construction and health and safety regulations. Ask to see all their certificates.



Injuries can occur on a construction site. If the location is your home and your contractor does not have the proper insurance, you may be held liable.


Check that your contractor has the following and get policy numbers and call the insurance companies to verify coverage.

  • Public liability insurance
  • Employer’s liability insurance
  • Contractors’ professional indemnity (a third of builders do not bother with this, which could land you with a huge bill.)


Scope of work

Before any work can be undertaken, there are lots of factors that need careful consideration. Work with either your architect, surveyor or design and build company to produce a detailed plan that will be the central point of reference for everyone involved in your project. Try to think of as much as possible at this early stage as changes will affect the costs and deadlines, sometimes significantly.


Duration of work

Make sure the contract covers start and finish dates and if you’ve agreed on a daily rate, the number of days the work will take and how many working hours are in a day. Costs should not include travel time. Delays do occur, some caused by the client and some outside the contractor’s control.


Confirm what the contractor will do about them. For example, on large projects ‘liquidated damages’ could be arranged with failure to finish by the completion date. This should represent a real estimate of the likely cost of delay to you, eg: the cost of renting. If you are responsible for the delay, you need to give an agreed extension of time. Otherwise the completion date in the contract becomes redundant, and instead of having to finish the work by a specified date, your contractor will plan to complete it within a reasonable time.



A good contract should include a list of exclusions. These might relate to areas that are hidden such as the likelihood of finding asbestos within walls or the true condition of services and foundation once the ground is excavated You should speak to your builder to help you plan your contingency budget should any of these situations arise.


Materials & subcontractor

Make sure the contract coves who pays to buy or hire materials and equipment. Get all receipts and paperwork to cover the things that the contractor buys. Find out in advance if, and when they’ll use subcontractors.


Payment schedule

While payment schedules can vary, they should always be agreeable to both parties involved. Your contract should cover when and how you’ll pay. Why not consider making payments tied to milestones in the project rather than those tied to percentages of completion? Always get some protection for your money. Avoid contractors who only accept cash or want you to pay everything upfront – it’s a sign they could be dishonest or unreliable.



The standard warranty for work is one year from substantial completion. You can take out insurance if the contractor offers it; check what is covered before you invest. Insurance should cover the cost of finishing or fixing the work if the contractor does a bad job or goes out of business.