Get the best out of your contractor (12 easy steps)


To avoid hassles and stress, the following are guidelines to assist you in maintaining a good relationship with your contractor.

1. Planning

Before calling in a contractor to give a quotation, plan exactly what you want done and the amount you can afford to spend.  Be specific, writing down exactly what work is required, the type, specifications, grade of the materials to be used and quality of work finishes required.

For substantial work obtain a detailed cost estimate and adjust your requirements to suit your budget.  If building, get a qualified person to draw plans, determine specifications and submit them to the local authority for approval (this applies for all building work incorporating structural alterations except for minor alterations inside a building).

2. Choose a Reliable Contractor

Ensure that your contractor is registered with the necessary legal or statutory bodies such as: -

•   Workman’s Compensation Insurance:

 You could be held liable for any injury, death or disability of an employee while on your     premises.

•   SARS

 Most contractors should be VAT vendors.

Obtain references from contractors and satisfy yourself that their standard of workmanship is acceptable to yourself.  Be aware contractors are not obliged to be members of any Association.  Contractors may not employ qualified craftsmen or tradesmen and in the end don’t deliver quality workmanship, won’t finish the job properly or abandon the work before completion.  (Through ignorance or to save money, some contractors don’t even use the correct mixture of sand, cement & water in the building/plastering mortar or foundation concrete.)


Current legislation requires your contractor to be registered with the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC), if you are building a new house (not alterations or additions).  Registration takes about 5 weeks, so don’t be caught out by starting to build and then finding that the bank wants a certificate of registration before making the first payment. There is a compulsory levy which has to be paid by the homeowner to the NHBRC for a warranty.  The warranty will only protect you in the event of structural defects to the foundations, superstructure and roof.  It will not protect you against non-structural defects or ensure that your new home has a professional quality of finishes.

4. Insurances

Your contractor should be insured for Public Liability and appropriate insurance should be agreed to cover damage to your building and contents.  Inform your own insurance company that you are having building work or renovations done to ensure you have suitable cover during construction.

5. Quotations

Beware of unrealistically low quotations as unscrupulous contractors may quote too low to obtain the work with the intention of not carrying out the work according to specification, using inferior materials, charging hidden costs as extras, or obtaining advances and absconding. The final cost often ends up more than the initial quotation from a reputable contractor. It is best to ask for quotations from at least three reputable contractors.

6. Specification

Provide a detailed written description of work required or explain carefully, to enable the contractor to provide you with a detailed written quotation (there may be a difference between a cost estimate and a detailed written quotation to carry out the work). When comparing one quotation with another, make sure that each is quoting on the same written specifications, conditions and ensure that the quotation is clear whether the price is inclusive of VAT.

7. Acceptance of Quote and Contractor

Don’t sign acceptance unless the contractor’s offer is firm, in writing, clear, covers all your requirements and is signed. Confirm acceptance of your selected contractor’s quotation in writing before the start of the work.  Make sure that the agreement includes the starting date, the approximate duration of the work, the anticipated completion date, cleaning up during the work including the disposal of waste or rubble, the order in which the contractor will proceed while on your premises and payment details. If necessary use a MBSA or MBA approved Building Contract.

8. General

If you are unable to determine defects and quality workmanship, it is advisable to employ a building consultant or architect to monitor the construction work for the duration of the contract.  Agree on safe storage of tools and materials.  If required, provide your contractor with water, electricity and toilet facilities.  Organise, communicate and co-ordinate with your contractor and not with his workers.

9. Extra Work and / or Variations

Extra work during the contract can be expensive and may cause disputes and bitter arguments.  Establish the cost of any extra work requested from the contractor in writing before the work is carried out and confirm any changes in writing, both parties signing acceptance.  Always communicate instructions to the contractor himself to ensure good communication.

10. Payment

You should normally not be required to make a deposit before work commences or payment of workers wages during the contract.  With fairly large jobs, interim payments on completion of certain sections may be agreed upon or specified in a contract or agreement. A request for a progress payment should be accompanied by an invoice detailing the value of the work completed.  For a small job, payment is normally made in one lump sum when the work is satisfactorily completed. Before making final payment, inspect the completed work and put your complaints or defects regarding workmanship or materials used, in writing.  Whilst it is acceptable to withhold money for defects or incomplete work, it is extremely unfair to withhold a large sum of money for minor defects.

11. Disputes with Non MBA Contractors

Clients have little recourse to Local Authorities, Financial Institutions and their inspectors or municipal building inspectors for building, electrical or plumbing problems with contractors.  The MBA will be unable to assist the client unless a MBSA approved contract has been used and the above steps have been followed.  The only recourse available will then be the Consumer Council, Small Claims Court, Legal Resource Centre or litigation through the courts.

12. Sit back and enjoy your successfully completed  contract.