Want to avoid cowboy builders? Here’s how to find a reliable one

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We examine how the main websites that list tradespeople measure up

Forget sun, sand and sea. For many, this summer will be all about skips, cement and the builder’s drill. For those planning home improvements, the key question will be where they can find a reliable tradesperson.

Some 45,000 people called Citizens Advice last year seeking help with their home improvement and maintenance problems, and the Federation of Master Builders estimates cowboy contractors cost the UK economy £10bn a year.

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Homebase sold to Hilco for £1 putting jobs and 60 stores at risk

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Acquisition of DIY chain ‘an unbelievable disaster’ for Australian group Wesfarmers

Homebase has been sold to the restructuring specialist Hilco, the owner of HMV, for £1 as the DIY chain’s Australian owner pulls the plug on its disastrous venture into the UK, putting thousands of jobs at risk.

Wesfarmers, which bought the business for £340m two years ago, said it was offloading the entire 250-store Homebase chain, which has a workforce of just over 11,000.

Hilco’s UK division, set up in 2000, has been involved in a long list of retail restructures from HMV and BHS to Woolworths.

Related: ‘Homebase is the most disastrous retail acquisition in the UK ever’

What is a company voluntary arrangement?

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'A pool in the basement is a clear marker of wealth': how the super-rich are digging down

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In London’s richest boroughs vast subterranean enclaves are being carved out over several floors to house cars, wine, saunas and private nightclubs. How did underground living – once associated with poverty and disease – become an investment scheme for the uber-wealthy?

With its eclectic fusion of Regency and mythological motifs, Havona House stands out amid the stucco-fronted Victorian townhouses in Notting Hill’s Pembridge Villas. The newly built mansion’s mock neoclassical columns and the limestone carvings of Greek deities on the facade reflect the roots of its owner, property investor Costas Diamantopoulos. Stepping inside the 8,600 sq ft (800 sq m) property, which is on the market for £25m, you are confronted by an array of opulent features, including a free-floating stone staircase, hand-blown glass pendants and marble en-suite bathrooms.

If your neighbourhood has been affected by basement developments, or you own one or have been involved in their construction, and have experienced any of the issues in this story or similar, we would like to hear from you. Share your story with us by using our encrypted form and a reporter may contact you to discuss further.

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Why is Thumbtack blue now?

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We’ve had the same brand for 10 years but Thumbtack has radically changed — it’s now a much smarter, easier tool for our customers and pros. Here's how we did it.

A mountain to climb to get Everest to resolve our window issue

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Our latest double-glazed windows don’t match the previous ones it installed and I can’t seem to get the problem rectified

Before Christmas my wife and I ordered double-glazed windows and bifold doors from Everest. This followed a previous order of windows for half of the house fitted last July.

When the new order came in early March, it became clear that the windows did not match the ones supplied nine months ago and the bifold doors did not fit.

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‘Homebase is the most disastrous retail acquisition in the UK ever’

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Australia’s Bunnings caught out by ‘complexity’ of British home improvements market


It’s an Aussie institution in crisis after aggressive management led to disgrace and embarrassment overseas. It also knows a thing or two about sandpaper.

This is not the country’s cricket side, but Bunnings, the Australian DIY retailer, that set out to conquer Britain by revamping Homebase but ended up writing off A$1bn (£547m) after a catalogue of major mistakes.

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Boring chore? Airtasker or TaskRabbit could help – at a price

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Two services that allow users to outsource everyday tasks are launching in the UK, but are they destroying workers’ rights?

It’s like Uber, but for the household chores you can’t face doing yourself: from assembling flat-pack Ikea furniture, to cleaning your home, to sorting out problems with your computer. You go online, list the job you want doing, then others on the site bid to do the work.

It has already taken off in Australia, where Airtasker claims to be sorting out 1.4m household jobs a year, earning “taskers” AU$240m (£135m). This month Airtasker is spending about £20m launching in the UK, handing out £35 coupons to help pay for the first task.

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Cold at home? Here’s how to beat the winter chill

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Britons’ homes are among the draughtiest in Europe. You can change that this weekend

If you’ve been struggling to keep your home warm this week, you are far from alone. UK homes are some of the least well insulated in Europe. But experts say a few simple DIY changes can dramatically improve the internal temperature. The concept is simple: stop cold air coming in and prevent warm air from escaping. This will save you money on your utility bills as the existing heating system will need to work less hard. Here’s what you can do this weekend.

Floorboard gaps

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Is your wood stove choking you? How indoor fires are suffocating cities

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A wood stove emits more harmful air particulates than a diesel truck. Does their newfound popularity in cities threaten to wipe out progress in reducing air pollution?

  • A modest proposal for solving the air pollution crisis: a worker smog bonus

Emma Meaden loves to sit in her north-west London flat, her dogs napping at her feet, watching the flames dance in her new wood stove. When she first moved in, she lit a few fires in the old-fashioned fireplace – but it was a poor way to heat her sitting room and she was intrigued by the stoves she’d seen at friends’ homes in the country. Along with the savings on heating and the ambiance, Meaden liked the idea that wood was a renewable fuel – one that, she supposed, would shrink her carbon footprint. “I’m always trying to do the right thing,” she says.

Like Meaden, many Britons have embraced the cosy, hearth-and-home feeling of burning wood. The government has helped propagate the notion of wood as a renewable fuel that saves money and the environment alike – an image that stove manufacturers have happily seized upon for their marketing campaigns.

Yet another stupid decision – in the same way they myopically pursued diesel, they have...

What’s Trending Now: February 2018

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February may be the shortest month of the year, but it’s still a great month to get stuff done. Here are some of the most popular projects in February on Thumbtack — and the average national cost you can expect to pay.

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Why is the quiet life in Britain reserved for the rich? | Mary Dejevsky

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Celebrity complaints about building disruption hog the headlines. But with regulations not fit for purpose, the rest of us have to suffer in silence

Critics of the royals have found another stick to beat the Cambridges with. Residents of their select corner of London are reportedly up in arms over plans for a double-storey extension beneath the Orangery at Kensington Palace, citing the noise, the pollution and the general inappropriateness of the whole idea. Defenders of the scheme insist that it is about making more space for the duke and duchess’s charity staff, and improving facilities for visitors.

High-profile planning disputes, especially about so-called mega-basements in the capital – because that is where the payback from additional space is greatest – have become a feature of the city landscape.

There are supposed to be air quality and noise controls, but they are lax compared with most European standards

Related: Council planners like me could solve the housing crisis - if ministers let us

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The Complete Thumbtack Bathroom Remodel Guide

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We surveyed nearly 500 pros on Thumbtack — including contractors, plumbers, electricians, tile installation specialists, and handyman — to tell you how much bathroom remodels cost, what the hidden costs are, how long they take and what brands to buy. It’s your complete one-stop guide to a successful bathroom remodel.

Personal debt: how you can shred your borrowing this year

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Left with a financial hangover after the festive period? Here’s how to cut your credit card payments, overdrafts and loans

Friday was Twelfth Night (unless you subscribe to the idea it’s on 6 January), when we traditionally take down Christmas decorations. But while the baubles and lights may be back in the box, for many people their festive (over)spending will continue to cast a long shadow over their household finances for weeks, or even months, to come.

An estimated 7.9 million people are expecting to fall behind with their finances this month as a result of Christmas costs, according to research published this week by National Debtline, run by the Money Advice Trust.

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Mortgages available for nuclear fallout shelters - archive, 28 April 1980

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28 April 1980: Building societies are happy to lend money for the building of fallout shelters as they have had a spectacular revival this year

Building Societies are trying to ensure that some of their customers will be left come the nuclear day of reckoning.

The majority of major societies, it seems, are quite happy to lend money for the building of fallout shelters. Such buildings have had a spectacular revival this year.

Related: If nuclear war broke out where's the safest place on Earth?

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The daily grind could do us a power of good | Brief letters

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Chores and bones | Sallie Thornberry | Mating signals | Doorstep scams

Following this research (Pounding grain gave Neolithic women bones to beat athletes, it would be interesting to study the difference, if any, between the bones of women before, say, the 1970s and today. Before most households possessed automatic washing machines, washing clothes, scrubbing floors etc must have contributed to healthier bones; even if, before rubber gloves, knuckles, hands and knees became sore.
Catherine Roome
Staplehurst, Kent

• Emily Thornberry’s mother, Sallie, was a Labour councillor in this mainly Conservative town and later mayor (Enter stage left, Weekend, 25 November) . She was also a highly respected English teacher in a local comprehensive.  Those who witnessed her delivery of The Green Eye of the Yellow God in a school music hall performance will not forget her sense of humour and lovely voice.
Sylvia Jones
Guildford, Surrey

Related: I thought being a homeowner would solve all my woes – but it’s a bigger pain than renting | Stuart Heritage

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Goodbye things, hello minimalism: can living with less make you happier?

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Fumio Sasaki owns a roll-up mattress, three shirts and four pairs of socks. After deciding to scorn possessions, he began feeling happier. He explains why

Let me tell you a bit about myself. I’m 35 years old, male, single, never been married. I work as an editor at a publishing company. I recently moved from the Nakameguro neighbourhood in Tokyo, where I lived for a decade, to a neighbourhood called Fudomae in a different part of town. The rent is cheaper, but the move pretty much wiped out my savings.

Some of you may think that I’m a loser: an unmarried adult with not much money. The old me would have been way too embarrassed to admit all this. I was filled with useless pride. But I honestly don’t care about things like that any more. The reason is very simple: I’m perfectly happy just as I am.

Related: Three shirts, four pairs of trousers: meet Japan's 'hardcore' minimalists

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'I like uncluttered design': in Essex homes, the only way is modern

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Far from being the place that taste forgot, Essex has a radical past as the cradle of British modernism. We meet the owners of some of the county’s architectural gems

When it comes to the stereotyping of British counties, Essex beats them all, from Towie to fake tans, bleached blondes and brassiness. But Essex doesn’t need a makeover, only a bit of historical balance.

Last year, an initiative named Radical Essex sought to do just that, by retrieving the county’s progressive past. With its proximity to London and Europe, and relative lack of country estates, Essex in the early 20th century was fertile, affordable ground for grand plans, pioneering lifestyle experiments and, above all, modern architecture. Modernism had a difficult time crossing the Channel, but this is where it made the greatest inroads.

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The Best Places in America for Veteran Small Business Owners

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Top 5 Cities for Veterans
In celebration of Veteran’s Day, we here at Thumbtack would like to applaud the 2.5 million veterans that own their own small business. Today, more than one-in-four veterans in the workforce are running their own business, a rate that is 7.7 percentage points greater than the national average.

New house DIY: are you ready for a fixer-upper?

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Properties in need of renovation can be an affordable choice, but quite how much will be based on your current skills and budget. What can you do yourself, and what should you leave to the pros?

As first-time buyers, PR manager Robyn Morrison and her fiance had a choice to make. Should they find a one-bedroom flat they could move straight into but would outgrow quickly, or a bigger house that needed a lot of work? The latter was a daunting project for the DIY novices and, watching water pour through the kitchen ceiling a few months later, Morrison admits wondering if they’d made the right choice.

“Living in rented accommodation, we’d never even put up a picture on a wall,” she says. “The closest we’d got [to DIY] was putting together Ikea furniture, and even that was hard work. I went into [the project] slightly with rose-tinted glasses, thinking all [the house] needed was a lick of paint and a new carpet. Actually there was quite a bit more.”

Related: Going up or digging deep, how to finance a home extension

There is still an appetite for DIY among homeowners, some of which has been caused by cowboy builders

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