Builder article

Watch your tools, boys.

I had a tradesperson steal something precious to me and my family a few weeks ago. I didn’t realise it had been stolen for a little while. There’s no way I can prove who did it, but I know who it was.

The company that did the work was a major, listed Australian business. Because of this, I felt I could trust whomever it sent to do the job. Wrong.

It’s the first time a tradesperson has stolen something from me in all the years I have been renovating. At first I thought I’d just misplaced it, but I’ve turned the house upside down and it’s nowhere.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard of tradies stealing things. A woman I know had her engagement ring stolen, after having had the same group of builders in her house for six months while it was being renovated. She was devastated someone she thought she could trust, and with whom she had built a good relationship, would do that to her.

But the best story involves someone I know who was asked one morning by a tradesperson whether he was going to watch a big football game on the particular night in question. The victim, we’ll call him Wal, told the tradie he was going to a mate’s to watch it. When Wal got home, the place had been cleared out.

It’s easy to say Wal should have known better, and should never have told a stranger he was going out. But as far as I know, most people approach most exchanges with others with a degree of trust. Well, you do until proven otherwise. You would not expect what was a seemingly innocuous question about a football game to lead to a major robbery, or at least I wouldn’t.

I should say that in my experience, 99 per cent of tradies are extremely trustworthy and honest. I must have had a couple of dozen through places I’ve renovated and this is the first time I’ve ever had a problem. I guess I’d been lulled into a false sense of security.

And it’s not like I left the item in question out – the tradie who stole it had to go into a wardrobe to get it. But where I had hidden it, it was right at eye level where he was working, albeit at the back of a drawer. I guess the temptation was too great. I feel so stupid.

So here is my advice for making sure your valuables are safe if you have people working in your home:

  • Buy a safe and bolt it to the floor. Of course, the problem with this is that it’s likely you’re going to have to get a tradie to do this for you. Which means that he (or she) will know you have a safe. So pick someone with whom you’ve had a long-term relationship. It’s no guarantee the person who installs the safe won’t come back at some point and relieve you of it, but it’s unlikely and it’s a risk you’re going to have to take.
  • Only use tradies that have been personally recommended to you. Again, it’s no guarantee they will be trustworthy, but it’s better than getting someone out of the local paper who is completely untried and tested.
  • Don’t leave precious things around the house when you have tradespeople working in it. Put all jewellery in the aforementioned safe, including pieces you wear every day. In fact, especially things you wear every day.
  • Never, ever tell a tradie when you will be out or on holidays. Doing so is basically an invitation for them to come back and rob you.
  • Install adequate security systems. Wal ended up putting in motion sensor lights and an expensive alarm system just in case the thief decided to come back. Luckily so far this system has worked.

If you are a tradesperson or a building firm and you have people working for you, it might be an idea to spell out the consequences if staff are found to have stolen a customer’s belongings. Those consequences should include notifying the police if an employee is found in possession of anything that does not belong to them. You should also do background checks on your staff.

If you are a tradie who has ever stolen from a customer, I have this message for you. Taking something of someone else’s and flogging it at the local pub might get you a few quid you can put through the pokies. But you’ve probably deprived that person of something much more valuable than money. You might have taken away their memories and family history. You’ve made them less trusting of others. And now they feel less safe in their own home. You’re a scumbag and deep down, you know it.

Have you ever had a service provider steal from you? Share your story here.