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Renovating your home is an expensive and often frustrating process. Ensuring that you choose a reputable building contractor and plan the project properly from the outset, will help you avoid costly mistakes and legal hassles. Here are some simple guidelines to help avoid your dream home becoming a renovating nightmare:

Finding a Contractor
A good starting point is to get recommendations from friends and family or to contact an independent association, such as the Master Builders Association, for a list of their members in your area. Meet and discuss your requirements with each potential contractor and ask for contacts of people they have built for as a reference.

Obtaining Permission
The next step is to find out whether permission for the alterations needs to be obtained from the local authority. While local authorities differ from area to area in terms of their requirements, the general rule is that permission is required for all building work that is a permanent structure and that, in turn, means that plans will need to be drawn up.

Insurance Checks
As a precaution, home owners should check the insurance cover of their contractor at this point and also find out whether they are personally covered by their own insurance company. Guard against paying money up-front before any work is carried out. However, depending on the size of the job and the terms of the contract, you would either make interim payments or pay the full amount on completion. A deposit may be required to get work started.

It is also recommended that you obtain more than one written quotation before making a final choice. It is also very important to ensure that the issue of VAT is clear on the quotation and that your acceptance of the quotation is in writing. Use a standard contract for substantial work, and protect yourself and your builder beforehand by making sure that the rights and obligations of both contracting parties are clear. Seek legal advice if you are not sure of terminology, understanding, and implications.

Quality Checks
Before signing off the completed job, the KwaZulu-Natal MBA advises that home owners should inspect the work, together with the building contractor and put any concerns in writing. As a consumer, you are protected by law against any defects which may appear within a reasonable time after the building is finished.

Legal Action
If you have any problems with the building work that you can't solve easily, there are people who can help. If the building contractor is a member of the KwaZulu-Natal MBA (or any other similar association), write to the Association stating your complaint clearly and suggest a solution that you would find acceptable. If the matter is not resolved, the Association may also help with mediation and dispute resolution procedures. If the contractor is not a member of a building association you can contact the Consumer Council, a consumer journalist, or if the dispute involves a small amount, the Small Claims Court may be able to help. Remember that to make this process effective, it's a good idea to keep copies of all correspondence and relevant documents.

The KwaZulu-Natal Master Builders and Allied Industries Association (KwaZulu-Natal MBA) recommends discussing the work required with the chosen building contractor to get an idea of the costs involved, before any work is done. But there's a big difference between a cost estimate and a detailed, written offer to carry out the work, so don't sign anything until you are sure that the builders offer is firm, clear and covers all your requirements.

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