This is a refurbishment disaster story. These stories are shown as examples of how good people can get in financial trouble when hiring a builder.
The homeowner, a young couple with children, hired a builder to add an extension to their house including the design of the works. (this is generally referred to as Design and Build).
They had used this company a year previously on some smaller works and had a good experience.
They were first attracted to using this builder because:
So, the couple hired this company to prepare the drawings and carry out the construction works.
This design and build contractor proceeded with the design and submitted planning drawings to the local authority. But this process had to be repeated several times and there were constant issues leading to delays of several months. The builder claimed it was due to the planning department being ‘difficult and demanding’.
Later, it turned out that the contractor was subcontracting the design to a technician who was producing the drawings. This was leading to poor communication and poor design. The planning department was constantly receiving updated drawings that had not addressed their earlier concerns.
At the time however, the couple trusted their builder and assumed the process was just difficult.
They allowed the builder to continue with the process while they got on with their lives as normal.
Once planning permission had been issued, the homeowner took the completed drawings and asked for quotes from several builders in the area.
None of the contractors would price the project because they said the drawings lacked sufficient detail. This was the first warning sign for the homeowner that perhaps the drawings were not very good.
When the couple mentioned this to the builder (that the drawings were missing key information), the builder simply explained that the designer was used to preparing drawings for them specifically and did not have to include details that the builder took for standard. Therefore, the drawings were not going to be full of needless details as the designer and builder knew the standard specification.
Satisfied with this answer, the couple signed a contract with their builder for the construction and works commenced.
Before starting the works, the contractor took almost thirty per cent payment of the contract upfront. Advance payments or deposits to builders are quite common but they are the riskiest proposition ever and must be handled with extreme care. In this case, the couple were quite trusting and paid the ‘deposit’ as requested. As most other builders they had contacted did mentioned deposits also they saw this as standard practice.
Later, the homeowner regretted this once the builder started as progress was very slow and the homeowner could not really do anything about it.
Once a builder has received a deposit or advance payment from the Client, it is quite common for Clients to feel ‘locked-in’ to dealing with the builder.
Anyway, as you can probably guess, chaos now ensued, and this is where the project becomes ‘a construction nightmare’.
The contractor was late starting onsite. They missed their start date by a couple of weeks. The homeowner had moved their furniture into storage and was angry that whilst they were paying for storage the builder had not even started.
All throughout the build, the contractor seemed to have no advance planning. The demolition was completed and then there was a delay before the foundations started and then another delay before the next trade started. This is common in construction; a lot of builders are not great project managers.
The contractor went on several holidays during the build which meant slow progress. The Site supervisor who was meant to cover for the builder did not seem to be very good and was not always onsite.
The local building inspector constantly found issues every week.
The homeowner hired a construction surveyor who surveyed the property and found lots of defects including incorrect materials being used, lack of flashing around external doors and so forth.
The worst event was that the contractor built the new extension higher than the council would allow. They built the walls too high, and no one noticed until the roof was fully completed.
The council insisted that the roof be removed and that the works were re-built to match local regulations.
Now, the Client tried to get the builder to do this work and the builder promised they would. But if they were slow doing the original work, then now they really went at a snail’s pace.
Eventually, after several weeks, the Client terminated the contract and moved onto a different builder.
Obviously, the Client lost the money they had paid the builder and now had to pay another builder to remove part of the works and rebuild.
The homeowner rang the builder constantly during which the builder listened to their complaints and essentially fobbed them off.
Several letters were sent to the builder. The builder never responded to any of the letters formally.
The Client met the builder onsite and was promised progression, but it never really happened. A worker might turn up for a couple of hours and then leave.
But look, this is the same story in so many cases. The builder promises and promises but never delivers.
The homeowner has made the mistake in buying into all the builders marketing. Just because someone has amazing marketing it does not mean that its true!
Now, the Client made their second mistake by trusting just one party, the builder. They hired the builder to do the design, obtain planning permission and to construct the building. The Client hired no other consultant and was therefore totally dependent on the builder. The problem with this procurement approach is that no independent review of the drawings take place. Also, if you want to get rid of your builder then the next builder has to try and understand the original design (which might not be very good).
The Client made their third mistake thinking that their builder is going to be an expert. All their actions from day one works from this assumption. People must remember that builders are not rocket scientists. They are generally say, bricklayers or plumbers who grow their business from one trade into managing the whole building works. They are not construction gurus, you cannot just trust they will take of everything. Builders must be managed. You cannot assume a builder is going to be great. Assume they are going to be awful and that you will have to manage every step of the way. (this means that you will increase your chances of being pleasantly surprised).
Overall, this is a typical story we hear from homeowners. For some reason they trust a builder is going to be good at what they do. It’s a bad mistake. Builders need to be checked by consultants every week otherwise issues will arise, and the homeowner will end up having issues guaranteed.
If you are considering a design and build contractor you need to budget for external independent advice like an Architect, Structural engineer or Quantity surveyor.