Property: A good job I haven't paid you yet

How can that nice bloke who has spent the last few months transforming your home suddenly become so difficult? Penny Jackson highlights the problems many home owners face as a building job ends, and offers some tips.

Never mind all those cups of tea and friendly chats; now he has the money, he can't get out of the house fast enough. What happened to his concern about the wonky tiling, untidy wiring and possible leak in the new conservatory roof? They disappeared down the garden path as rapidly as the cheque.

The story is familiar. Not the one about the builders from hell, but the ostensibly reliable company that may even have come with a personal recommendation.

Everything goes swimmingly until, shortly before the work is finished, payment is requested. "We've only got a couple of days' more work, the lads need paying ..." So you settle up, reminding yourself that he isn't a cowboy builder, and anyway he's been really good about feeding the cat and talking football to the kids. Up to that point the work has been satisfactory; you trust him to finish the job to the same standard.

But anyone embarking on home improvements for the first time finds out that the waters can be treacherous. Deborah Brunero can still get upset when she recalls how miserably her loft conversion ended.

To make matters worse, Deborah was pregnant and finding everything a struggle. She says: "We had been scrupulous in paying the agreed instalments, and were very happy with the work. But it all went wrong at the end. The main guy disappeared and we had a mish-mash of people."

"In the last week he came to ask for the final payment of pounds 1,500, saying they would be finished in a few days. I couldn't think of a good reason why not, so I gave it to him. From that moment he lost interest. Even though, among other things, we had serious problems with the plumbing, he wouldn't come back.

"I found it extremely upsetting, and still do. I trusted him, and treated him as I would expect to be treated myself. It got very unpleasant. I would have recommended him to anyone before that. I wish I'd not paid him until we were completely happy."

It was a hard lesson for the Bruneros. As is common for a large job, they had agreed to staged payments for the job, paying an initial deposit of 10 per cent, 30 per cent when work started, another 30 per cent on day eight, a pre-plastering payment of 25 per cent, and the final 5 per cent on completion.

The advice from the Office of Fair Trading is that in general a deposit should not be paid to a contractor. Even if it seems fair to pay in advance for specialist materials or fittings, it is better to order the goods yourself and have them delivered direct to you.

The National Consumer Council makes the point that any reputable company should have lines of credit from suppliers, and not ask for money in advance from customers. Since guarantees can be worthless - Deborah Brunero's was for only five years - there is a good case for keeping back an agreed amount for a reasonable period, which could range from two weeks for decorating work to 12 months for a central heating system.

Another issue that can cause problems when building work has been finalised, is the list of extras. Agree the costs as they arise, advises the OFT. One elderly couple were not so endeared to their builder after he billed them for what they thought had been his kindness in tending to an emergency while working in the house.

Certainly, all consumer groups recommend that a credit card is used where possible, because of the extra protection it offers. This can also apply to any loans linked to the work.

Of course, all protection goes out of the window if transactions are made in cash for a cheaper job. With "nothing in writing" as its guiding principle, this provides a field day for the unscrupulous. Anyone who does pursue a claim could find it embarrassing to explain in court why there is no documentation, says Gordon Powell, from Westminster Council's trading standards service.

A schedule of work and costings is to everyone's advantage; after all, there are plenty of customers who will find any excuse not to pay what they owe. Emma Perring, who employs builders and decorators regularly through her company Perring Designs, applied the same approach to work on her family home, a barn conversion.

"We drew up a detailed work plan which our builder stuck to well. It's a good way of keeping pace with the work, especially if you are not there to oversee it. You have to take the bull by the horns, and insist on employing someone only on that basis."

In her case, the local reputation of their builder meant that his guarantee was worth the paper it was written on. Everyone has their own way of reducing the chances of a final showdown. One London couple frequently use their second home as a carrot. "A week's holiday in the Lake District if the job is done entirely to our satisfaction. Two if you do some repair work while you are there." It works wonders.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

    Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

    £35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

    Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most