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  • Property-a-holics

    Is it just me...? Trouble holding onto trades

    I've got 12 properties and am regularly buying more. I have a lot of work to give out, in particular now as I'm concentrating on buying distressed properties and turning them into HMOs.

    Maybe when I get to 20 properties they will start to take me seriously!

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    I fear you will need a helluva  lot more properties than 20  to receive an ongoing  dedicated service

    Short term conversion work maybe but they are always looking ahead to the next job once yours is in the bag

    Your work will have  been and gone in minutes in comparative time terms

    Its the next 25 years  you have to deal with

    Once converted and in good nick then  you might get say 3 minor problems every month with your 20 which takes 6 hours to fix

    Assuming a 5 day 40 hr week you will provide them with only 6 hrs out of 173 hrs working hours available to them that month

    They will want and need to fill the other 167  working  hours to earn a crust to feed their family.

    Don`t stop at 20 proeprties

    Aim for maybe 250   to keep them your No 1 client who they will move their working day around for to keep you sweet

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    Jonathan Clarke. http://www.buytoletmk.com

    That`s the spirit  -

    Trades people do a very valuable role

    But they work maybe  8hr days 5 days a week for 45 years from 20 - 65 . They are then worn out

    I prefer a philosophy of building an asset base  working 10hr hr days 6 days a week for 20 years from 20 - 45

    Then retire at 45 and take the rest of your life off 



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    Jonathan Clarke. http://www.buytoletmk.com

    Hi there,

    I totally feel your pain. I have a small portfolio in London, and during the process of building it up I have learnt to treat top quality contractors like gold dust, because they are a rare bunch.

    I have not had the best of luck using the sites advertised on TV, where contractors are supposed to be 'rated' or 'trusted’.  Strangely enough though I have managed to find some of my gold dust contractors on the site of the gummy variety (but at the same time I have also had bad experiences there as well).

    If my best contractors are busy or not around I m always happy to get my hands dirty myself, but it's always difficult to juggle that with work. I would say that once you find good ones, don’t let go of them. I try and send work their way whenever possible, so even if I have nothing on myself, I’m still in touch.

    Hope that helps.

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    I'm from the North but have relatives down South. From what they tell me you've got it a lot worse than me especially on how much money they want.

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    Yes I would say your relatives down south are pretty much spot on. I wondered whether the current lethargy in the property market (especially with the sudden reduction in BTL investors) might mean less renovation work which in turn would squeeze contractor prices a bit, but chatting to a couple of my contacts the other day, it looks like that’s not the case at all.

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    I feel your pain.

    I've lost count of the number of times trades have come out to quote for job, and the quote is never received.

    Just why?? If you don't want the job, put a silly price in or say so!

    I guess they're all looking for the easy, high value work.

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    I struggle to get trades in the first place, let alone hang onto them!

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    There seems to be 2 threads discussing how hard to is to get reliable builders at the moment. Can I be devil's advocate for a moment. I was a builder and run a small business (at peak 12 people), doing mainly loft conversions around London. Nowadays I only use around two guys and only work on my own property, mainly purchasing completely rundown property, usually structurally defective, to sell on or rent out.

    Builders are a funny bunch very few people choose to go into building (although I did and plumbers and sparks requiring a degree of skill are the exception ), usually they just fall into it. Individuals with a poor education background, end up either claiming benefit, joining the army, becoming a mechanic or builder or some low skied job such as stacking shelves. Of these options building often becomes the most appealing. It is easy to get into, most people know someone down the local who is looking for a labourer and offers the chance for you to be your own boss.

    This presents a problem because often, even a decent builder, due to their background, are hopelessly inept at managing their business. They are builders not number crunchers. They often quote with margins so low they get in a mess and walk away from a job or are so disorganised they just don't follow up on jobs. For the exceptions to this rule, coming around to give a quote for a small job that they may not get, with very little margin for error or profit for a finicky customer who wants an exacting job just is not worth it.

    For what it is worth, below are a few pointers for getting builders and keeping them that I would follow (I do it myself so don't need to). They come from my experience of being a builder and employing 100's of subbies over the years and having to get them show up etc.

    1) Don't ask the impossible or play them off against each other it will only make them give you false promises. Telling them you want a cheap quote for work that must be done by 2 months time is pointless. If they are any good they will be booked up until then but know that if they tell you this they won't  get the job, so they will lie. Instead of initially putting on time pressures ask them when realistically they would be able to start pointing out you know they are busy and you are prepared to wait for a good job (therefore you will need to be well organised in advance of your works). Subtly drop into the conversation that you are getting a couple of quotes (thus making them wary of pricing) whilst implying that you are impressed with them and likely to go with them

    2) Be organised with what you want and have a detailed list. Just saying you need a quote for a loft conversion or refit is hopeless by detailing everything you both understand what works and to what finish is required. No builder expects you to give them a proper spec, if you could you likely do not need their services, but itemise what you want in general terms. Don't always stick with the line that you want top quality work a builder will interpret this that you are going to be a pain in the arse and the price should reflect so, or just won't get back to you. Obviously the quality of build or structural works must be up to par but if you're doing a rental, for instance the joinery detailing and paint job may not need to be as in your own house. I'm not saying you want a bodge but if they are aware that cost in certain areas is more important than having a finish akin to the sistine chapel they will price accordingly.

    3)Whether you have one rental or ten you want a reliable maintenance guy who can do it all. General builders are not the ones to go to. You want the older guy, possibly retired who wants a bit of pocket money. He has been around long enough to know how to do most maintenance jobs and has wisdom to be reliable and do the job required. He is also small scale enough to want these jobs to keep him ticking over. So where do you find him, cos he is like gold dust? First off through relatives or friends. They may know of some guy who used to do building, approach him, he may not want full time work, just a few days here and there. If that's no go look in your local papers for the adverts  "carpenter 30 years experience" etc etc. He works on his own and wants regular small stuff. Failing that listen out next time you are buying something in Screwfix or toolstation, or ask the guys at the counter. They will usually know a Dave who is always in here buying screws etc and a wiz at carpentry. Dave will know Pete who is ace at fixing leaks and all plumbing.

    4) For bigger works the old saying is true, any company AT ALL that advertises is either no good, as they need to advertise for works or way way overpriced, they just get the jobs and sub it out with their commission or very basic overseeing of the job. Some decent bigger boys advertise but again they will charge the earth. Again go to friends or family anyone who has had works and can recommend. If you can judge a decent tenant you can judge a decent builder who knows his stuff. Ask him technical questions about something specific, pleading your ignorance, they should immediately tell you what needs to be done. Obviously you want a good job but don't come across as a pain in the arse.

    I believe it is rubbish what newspaper articles about getting the builders in claim. The worst offence is saying never give them money upfront. This is bullshit, I always go something upfront else I would be frightened that you were a bad payer. Your relationship with a builder should be based on your good judgement and trust. If you have chosen well then give him about 10% to start up. Why would he risk his own cash on you.

    However agree staged payments. Don't make demands talk it through at the start, agreeing at what points you will release money and how much. Then everyone is clear. Also agree a timescale. Again don't force one, agree on one. Rather than give penalties for each week a job goes over (this just causes a bad job and stress) offer incentives with a margin for error.

    For example a £50,000 extension to take 12 weeks. Give him £5,000 start up with staged payments not on a weekly basis but at stages the work has got to. Expect the job to take 15 weeks (it will) but offer £1,000 if finished in 12 weeks

    5) And finally

    Don't micro manage, he is the builder you are not. He knows more than you. However ask questions by not interrogating him but explaining your ignorance and interest. This will play to his ego and let you know how things are going

    Be nice. When you turn up on site go around asking anyone there who would like a coffee and make it. Builders do have a thing about customers looking down on them you personally making the labourer a drink will go a long way. Bring round some biscuits and buns on Friday. This will stop them dreading you coming around to check up on them (which you are and should be). Compliment individual trades on a specific job you are impressed with "that wall looks lovely now plastered, that is a real skill" It goes a long way.

    Always come from the angle that you are ignorant and they the experts but keep a close eye. Always be there for Building Control inspections. Say you wish to be

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