Renovating: The Reality

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!

This was the kitchen when we viewed the house for the first time. It was fine to live with for a year but it was falling apart.

And this was the master bedroom – I could totally see its potential as its a massive and really light space.

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.

This was a rather worrying part of the renovation when nothing appeared to be holding up the upstairs! This is, what is now, Hamish’s nursery!

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.

Accepting mediocrity….

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.

They actually thought that this was OK! The tiles were completely scratched, the grout was crumbling and the newly plastered and painted walls were ruined!!

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.

This is what the back of our house looked like for over 6 months. The original build duration was meant to be 6 weeks!! This was a rather challenging environment with two small kids! Some rather fetching holes in the brickwork too – they finally returned to fill those after much begging.

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.

I wish you could see the size of the gap that they left underneath our old front door for the duration of the renovation, it was at least two inches and meant that the house was utterly freezing. I asked them approximately 200 times to sort it and they just ignored me. Furthermore it wasn’t secure at all, I’m surprised we weren’t burgled. Although they probably thought from the state of the front of the house that nothing of any value could possibly live inside!

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….

It’s perhaps hard to decipher here but there is a noticeable slope in the floor from the hallway to the open plan living area. The builders had used self-levelling screed but perhaps had taken this a little too literally and not thought to actually check it was level before laying the oak flooring!

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.

They had attempted to tile this fireplace when the floor wasn’t level and they also inserted a skirting board inside the recess. It all had to be ripped up and this is how they left it. They never returned to rectify it and instead said they would rather just deduct it from the invoice which I think is very telling!

……………………………………………………………………………………….

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.

Thankfully the builders were not responsible for the new kitchen! I cannot describe how happy I was when I returned from work one day to find it completed! Our kitchen installers and the carpenters we used were absolutely amazing and ultimately saved this renovation for us!

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.

Lucy x

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18 Comments

  1. Sophia
    April 4, 2019 / 6:10 pm

    It’s great to read someone else’s experience. Sounds like You’ve really learnt some tough lessons. Would you do it all again?

    • April 4, 2019 / 9:18 pm

      thank you! Yes I would do it again -the pain subsides!!! I feel I would do things so differently!xx

  2. Vicky
    April 4, 2019 / 7:19 pm

    Thank you that’s really useful. We are due to start an extension in a couple of weeks and it’s such a worry if you have the right builder – even if you have done the research. I know from experience that things don’t always run smoothly and unforeseen problems can occur but I think the proof of a good builder is how those issues are dealt with.

    • April 4, 2019 / 9:19 pm

      I totally agreed – if they had dealt with the issues and rectified them properly I would have felt very differently!! good luck with your extension xxxx

  3. Jacqueline
    April 4, 2019 / 7:52 pm

    What a terrible experience! We did a full house renovation 6 years ago. Our friend was the project manager and he sourced the various tradesmen. They were all amazing and the standard of work was excellent. In fact we can still call upon them if we have any small jobs. My darling mum used to say “buy cheap , buy twice “ and it sounds as though that happened to you. I suppose once all the furniture and bits and bobs go in then it becomes your home despite the imperfections!

    • April 4, 2019 / 9:21 pm

      yes I agree, but the only way we could achieve what we wanted was to go cheaper unfortunately – we has a tight budget xx

  4. Adam
    April 4, 2019 / 8:32 pm

    I never usually comment on blogs but this was a great read for a homeowner on the brink of committing to a big renovation! Your home looks great (in the end!) However difficult it was and I thank you for the advice. Fingers crossed, my family and I have a better experience.

    • April 4, 2019 / 9:22 pm

      aw i’m sure you will we were just unlucky and naive!! Thanks for taking the time to read and I’m so glad you found it helpful!xxx

  5. Antonia
    April 4, 2019 / 8:49 pm

    Wow, this is the most honest account of a renovation I have ever read. I’m sure everyone thinking or doing a renovation is now sending you a huge vote of thanks after reading this – especially the tattoo bit!!

    • April 4, 2019 / 9:23 pm

      Aw thank you for such a lovely comment! I would definitely do another so it hasn’t put me off but my god I learned the hard way!!!! xxx

  6. Emily
    April 4, 2019 / 8:50 pm

    This is so helpful! We’ve only had one job done so far which was the bathroom and I was so disappointed with the quality of work. I should of gone with my gut half way through the project but stuck with them. We have a counter top basin and they put the cabinet top on the unit upside down (it was gloss so not hard to figure out which way it went!) then sealed the basin on top. The shower has never worked properly you have to shake the shower head for about 3 minute before any water appears and they fitted the taps onto the bath in the wrong place so the bath panel keeps popping off!

    This has helped me feel more confident about the next job as now I know it’s not just me! I want to someone who will treat the job as if they were doing it in their own home and take care and pride in their work.

    • April 4, 2019 / 9:24 pm

      I’m really sorry to hear this, its amazing what you learn to live with isn’t it. I’m so glad you have found the advice helpful, Your next project will be a success I’m sure of it xxx

  7. Heather
    April 4, 2019 / 9:29 pm

    Fantastic blog entry. Love your honesty. We’re waiting to exchange on a renovation and I’m equal parts excited and terrified! This has been really helpful.

    • June 4, 2019 / 12:54 pm

      Hi Heather,

      So glad you found it useful! It is so daunting isn’t it, but worth it in the end!! Just about 😉 L xx

  8. Alison
    April 8, 2019 / 7:33 pm

    What a time you had, it must have been exhausting and all consuming. Great advice here and so pleased you had that wonderful vision of your kitchen all beautifully crafted after all that nonsense. It’s gorgeous X

    • June 4, 2019 / 12:53 pm

      Hi Alison,

      It was so horrible at the time and tbh took a long time for me to see past this even when it was all finished!!! Its put me off another for a long time I think!L xx

  9. Una
    April 9, 2019 / 5:32 am

    Thanks so much for this .We are about to look into replacing our kitchen and knocking it it the conservatory for extra space ,hopefully I’ll remember your words

    • June 4, 2019 / 12:52 pm

      Hi Una,

      Thanks for the message and best of luck with your reno!! L xx

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