So I don’t think I have ever admitted this to you, but our renovation was actually a bit of a ruddy disaster. We made mistakes. A LOT.
Think of this post as a public service announcement which I hope may save some of you the heartaches and headaches we have had to endure along the way.
Don’t get me wrong, we have a house as an end result which is beyond anything we ever could have afforded had the work already been completed and which, on the whole I completely love, but my goodness it has easily been the most emotionally and financially draining time of our lives.
Also I need to caveat this by saying I am fully aware I am a picky cow, I make no apologies for this and guess that if you are taking the time to read an interiors blog you are probably firmly in the same boat!
OUR BIGGEST MISTAKES….
The wrong builders….
Firstly I should apologise to any builders or tradesmen reading this who are any good at what they do and I know there are plenty. Our builders most certainly were not. In fact they transpired to be pretty awful specimens.
And what really infuriates me is that I truly felt like I had done my research, I am a complete construction geek, I love anything to do with buildings, I’m even a Chartered Surveyor for a day job!
Our builders came ‘recommended’ by our Project Manager and our neighbours for whom they had recently completed an extensive renovation. In fact on quizzing them they seemed more than happy with the quality of the work. The fatal mistake I made was not asking to inspect the finished job or asking to see further examples of their work. You need to physically FEEL the quality of their work, don’t take anybody’s word for it as you are the only one that knows your own standards.
I’m adamant that had I done so I would have uncovered the truth: that they were a bunch of completely unreliable cowboys who outsourced the majority of the work to less skilled and lower paid foremen, and that the quality of their finish was embarrassingly poor! I might sound harsh but truly some of the “work” they “completed” beggared belief, and without exception every job they undertook had to be ripped up and started again.
Getting the right builders is where you should spend the majority of your time researching. We could only afford the cheapest builders who tendered and I truly believe you get what you pay for. We should have scaled back our plans and paid a bit more rather than wanting everything done on the cheap.
We escaped the building site for a week towards the end of the build in order to giver the builders a chance to get all the final bits and pieces finished. At this point the 6 week build had turned into 6 months. When we returned I burst out crying when I inspected their work – wonky tiles, scratched marble, the wrong grout, nothing was level, nothing made any sense to a reasonable human being!
In their eyes they had “completed” the work required so job done, tick, move on, ta-ta. But at no point had they actually thought to stand back and ask if it was any good, surely they didn’t believe it was? Or maybe they just didn’t give two hoots?! All the tiles had to be removed, re-ordered and re-done. In fact they re-tiled the downstairs loo so many times, incorrectly, that we had to ask them to deduct this from the final bill and instruct our own tiler. Apparently hexagonal tiles were beyond them. Sigh.
There are walls that we paid to have re-plastered which I think look worse now than if I had been let loose with a tub of Polyfilla after 2 vodka martinis on a Friday night, blindfolded and standing on one foot. At the time I doggedly asked for these to be redone, they did, and yet still to this day I think they look a bit crap in places. It got to the point where I actually just capitulated as they clearly weren’t capable of any better. I wish I hadn’t done this, it was clearly a war of attrition on their part and they ultimately won.
Not following my gut…
If it doesn’t look, sound or feel right then it isn’t.
I remember our Project Manager whose name coincidentally rhymed with D$%K, getting really irate with me over the phone as I was telling him for the 58th time how unhappy I was with the work. He spoke to me like a petulant little girl having a tantrum and I remember hanging up thinking, wait a minute, are we his clients or are the builders? He defended them to the bitter end. In hindsight I knew this wasn’t right and wish I had fired him then and there. If you are strong willed and have the vision then project manage yourself, I wish I had done this.
Don’t let builders persuade you into changing your mind on anything if there isn’t a clear and logical rationale behind the change of direction that you COMPLETELY agree with, don’t get talked-round because it makes their lives easier. If you aren’t sure ask to have some time to think about it and talk it over in bed with your other half. I was adamant I wanted our new oak floor to be laid last to ensure no scratches but yet they talked me into laying it sooner promising it would be well protected. Of course it blooming wasn’t.
The floor between our lounge and kitchen still isn’t completely level. When they knocked through the wall between the two spaces they had been instructed to level the surface in preparation for the new flooring. I remember lying on the floor with our builder with a spirit level showing him the noticeable gradient and him saying “well in all fairness love we were never told that the floor had to be level!” When I asked him if he had to walk uphill to get from his lounge to his kitchen he got my point, and yet to this day I still notice it when moving around our open-plan living space. Tones the cankles on the way to the fridge I guess….
Don’t pay if you aren’t happy…..
We refused to pay the final invoice but I wished we had held back even more. They actually had the cheek to serve us with a legal letter from their solicitor threatening to take US to court for not paying. Well that was it, I saw red. I drafted a 4 page response which would have had Judge Rinder whooping and high-fiving me. I asked my best friend, who is a solicitor, for advice and we slapped it on them Judge Judy-stylee. But this was very stressful.
Of course hindsight is a wonderfully irritating virtue isn’t it. A lot of what happened to us we never could have reasonably foreseen and plus life gets in the way of having weeks to research every little detail doesn’t it? We are all working our socks-off, many of us keeping little humans alive that sometimes we just need to make the decision that feels right at the time. But if you can benefit from my experience then surely that’s a good thing and makes me feel a little better when staring at my wonky walls and my nursery slope kitchen floor!
A renovation is all encompassing, it is more emotional than you can ever imagine. It’s ultimately all of your dreams and money wrapped up in one risky and messy project which is completely reliant upon a bunch of strangers doing a good job.
Tattoo to forehead:
- Research, research, research – only use recommendations as a launch point.
- Speak to former clients, alone if possible.
- The moment you feel unhappy with your builders make sure you call a site meeting and be spectacularly blunt when communicating your requirements/dissatisfaction
- Don’t befriend your builders, keep them at arms-length. Its hard to criticise if you have become mates.
- Expect and demand perfection, even if it means the same job is done 5 times
- Know when to cut and run. If its clear your builders are just not the right fit then dump them
- MOVE OUT – if you can remotely afford to move out during the works then do it. We didn’t and it made it a far more emotional journey, especially with young children.
- Seek legal advice if you need to, don’t ever be bullied.
And to think I thought I had a Grand Design in me one of those days……..chortle!
Good luck and remember I’m always here if you have a question about your own renovation.