DIY renovations and how to find the best tradies



Every month, leading reno expert Cherie Barber answers your questions on renovations. This month Cherie tackles questions on DIY renovations and how to find the best tradies


Question: I’m not really a handyman, but I want to learn how to do things well. So what jobs could you teach yourself when renovating? Could you learn how to do tiling or painting perhaps?

Answer: In principle, anyone can potentially don a paintbrush or roller and slap some paint on walls. But the question is: do you have the patience and skill to do a quality job? It might look like an easy task, but I’ve seen first hand the results of a shoddy paint job, with uneven coverage, colours bleeding into each other, paint drips everywhere, and the telltale signs of poor preparation. In fact, properly preparing the surfaces for painting is one of keys to a really professional-looking job.

Gloss paint shows up every tiny flaw, so if you’re using it on timberwork where holes and gashes haven’t been filled, and layers of old paint haven’t been sanded to a smooth surface, it’s going to look like a backyard botched. Likewise, plaster walls need careful patching and sanding so you have a smooth surface for the paint. This is all the tedious preparation work you need to do before the creative paint job begins, especially if it’s an older property where the walls and timberwork are showing their age.

So, yes, in theory you could certainly teach yourself to paint, and it’s probably one of the most common DIY tasks people do to save money, but you must be prepared to take the time needed to do a meticulous job. And remember to always buy quality paintbrushes, rollers and paint. If you buy the cheap stuff, you’ll just end up making the job harder than it needs to be and use far more paint than you need to get proper coverage.

Tiling requires a lot more skill, materials and tools, for getting surfaces level, getting your run of tiles straight, avoiding tile wastage by knowing the best placement and cuts for tiles… While plenty of experienced DIYers take on tiling, if you’re a self-professed ‘DIY wannabe’, it could be a dangerous place to start and a very expensive experiment for beginners. Maybe master the painting first


Question: How do you find the best tradies to work with when you’re just starting out? I understand you have a roster of people you tap into when you need them, but it must have taken you years to build that up. So where do I start? I have heard enough horror stories about dealing with tradies, and I want to avoid these. Could you please point me in the right direction? How do I know they’re going to do a good job? How do you choose the right people to work with? What questions do you ask?

Answer: This would have to be one of the most common questions I’m asked. Yes, I’m fortunate to have a terrific team of tradies I now work with on nearly all my renovation projects. But it didn’t happen by magic. I had to go through the same process as everyone does to sieve out the cowboys and find the good apples. Here’s what I recommend:

Word of mouth and personal recommendations

This is the most reliable way to find a good tradie. Ask friends, neighbours or work colleagues if there’s a plumber or electrician they’ve used and can recommend. When a tradie knows they’ve come recommended by someone you both know, it’s an added incentive for them to do the right thing by you.

Contact industry associations

If your own network turns up nothing, ring up the industry association that regulates that particular trade. You should find them relatively easily with a Google search. They should be able to recommend members who work in your area. It’s certainly not as reliable as a personal recommendation from someone you trust, but better than resorting to the Yellow Pages or letterbox drops.

Always get three quotes

Once you’ve got a couple of names, then start gathering quotes. Make sure the tradies are fully briefed on what’s required, and supply written quotes so you have something in writing if you need to query an aspect of the work later.

Get at least three quotes for any job so you get a realistic benchmark of what the project will cost. I tend to go with the middle-priced one, as the cheapest may just mean they’re desperate for the work and cutting corners with the quality.

Do due diligence on your tradies

If you’re using someone for the first time, do a quick online check to make sure they are licensed for the work they’re doing and that their licences are up to date. You can do this by logging on to Before you engage any contractor, make sure they have the necessary insurances, such as public liability insurance, income protection and home warranty insurance, if that’s applicable. You must sight these documents in person before you commit to the quote. There are lots of people who say they are licensed but really aren’t.

Follow all these steps and you should be able to avoid those horror tradie stories you’ve read about. Don’t be swayed by a cheap quote or some charming banter. Cowboys pray on the gullible. It’s a business deal you’re negotiating, and an honest tradie will respect the fact that you’ve done your research and know your facts.

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