Whether you are in the market for a large-scale renovation or some smaller jobs around the house, selecting the right tradesperson can be a difficult and stressful experience.

For every positive encounter, many people have had or know someone who has had a negative experience with a tradesperson.

The good news is that there are a number of things you can do before you commit your job to somebody, which will ultimately help to ensure it is completed on time, on budget and to the right standard.

Step 1: Shop around before you commit
Treat choosing a tradesperson as you would treat buying a car. It’s unlikely you would ever purchase the first car you inspected, and likewise there is no obligation to give your job to the first tradesperson you call.

“RACV research shows that many people don’t know a good electrician or plumber as the job frequency for most households is less than once a year,” Aaron Flavell, General Manager Home Services at RACV says.

Aaron recommends getting multiple quotes to ensure you are best equipped to make an informed decision – “but a tip is to close off your job once you have three quotes so you don’t get bombarded.”

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Get multiple quotes to ensure you are best equipped to make an informed decision

There are a number of websites offering instant quotes from multiple companies, but it is always best to go directly to the tradesperson. These websites typically charge tradespeople to have their services featured and pass these costs to the customers, and speaking to somebody directly will allow you to ask follow-up questions.

Step 2: Listen to word of mouth
The internet age means that anybody with a smartphone has access to a myriad reviews – not just of tradespeople but of mechanics, doctors and other service providers – in their pocket. But while online review sites such as Word of Mouth Online and Product Review can be handy, they aren’t the be all and end all.

Aaron Flavell, General Manager Home Services at RACV, says you can’t beat old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

“If you have family members, friends or colleagues who have recently had work done around the house, ask them questions about the tradespeople they used.”

He adds, “You are more likely to get an honest answer from somebody you know rather than relying on stranger’s opinions online.”

Step 3. Check on their credentials
Each state and territory has its own laws about licensing – for example in Victoria anybody doing residential building work worth more than $5,000 must be a registered building practitioner.

A quick way to ensure the tradesperson you’ve been speaking with has the right accreditation is to visit Australia’s only comprehensive license-checking site features an easy-to-use database of more than 1.2 million trade professionals across the country.

Another good sign is if your tradesperson is a member of their peak organisation such as the Masters Building Association or Master Plumbers. By going to these peak organisations directly, you will be able to obtain a list of credentialed professionals in your local area.

Step 4: Get a detailed quote
It sounds simple, but Aaron Flavell, General Manager Home Services at RACV, says some people can forget crucial elements to their quote that can lead to headaches down the track.

“It is important that you get a quote with a breakdown of the total figure – how much of the cost relates to materials and relates to labour,” he says.

Aaron says all quotes should feature the ABN and/or license number of the tradesperson. “You should also ask questions when you receive the quote; for example does it factor in any weekend or public holiday rates that may be necessary and how have the labour costs been calculated?”

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Avoid 'bill shock' by clearly communicating with your tradesperson that you need to be informed if any unexpected changes to the quote or job timeframe occur

As with any other service provider and given the fluid nature of the work, the cost of the job may increase when it’s in progress.

Aaron says the best way to avoid ‘bill shock’ at the end of the job is to be up-front with your tradesperson throughout the process, and ask questions in advance about how they will handle and communicate any unexpected changes to the quote or the timeframe of the job.

“Communication is key. A lot of the stress involved in hiring a tradesperson can be alleviated if you ask plenty of questions, get everything in writing and make sure your tradesperson knows you expect to be informed as soon as anything changes.”

If you are using an online platform to request a quote, Aaron recommends attaching a picture or video of the job in question to enable more accurate quoting.

Step 5: Be prepared if something does go wrong
Aaron advises that while homeowners can take every precaution to ensure that the process runs smoothly, occasionally issues can arise that require action.

“If you have a complaint about your tradesperson that cannot be resolved simply by having a conversation with them, the steps you can take vary from state to state,” he says.

In Victoria, free advice is available from Consumer Affairs Victoria, which may include a technical inspection by a Victorian Building Authority Inspector to assist conciliation.

Editor's note: similar services are available in all states.

Aaron adds, “Regardless of where you live, if you are unhappy with your tradesperson and want to pursue it with the relevant bodies in your state or territory, it is important you document everything. Keep time-stamped photos of the job and a diary, and retain copies of all letters and emails sent to your tradesperson. These will be vital to have if your complaint progresses to your local Civil and Administrative Tribunal.”

What are your best tips for working with tradies? Join the conversation below.

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