Consumer rights: House nightmare – from the builder's point of view
Customer who ignored advice won't pay the full amount
Sunday 09 October 2011
Q. I have just spent 10 days doing building work on a customer's home.
Before we started the work, which included laying a wooden floor, rebuilding her porch and putting in new garage doors, I visited, measured up, gave her information and recommendations on all the materials she needed and gave her a detailed quote for labour. She bought and paid for the materials but some of them weren't as good quality as I had advised.
We agreed that she would pay half of the money for the labour when half of the work was done and the rest on completion. Along the way she changed her mind several times on various details and, as a result, the whole thing has taken longer than it should have done. However, I like to keep my customers happy and do the best possible job so that they recommend me to other people, so in the end I just charged her the agreed outstanding amount.
She has now paid me but held back half of that amount (a quarter of the total) because she says she's not happy with the wooden floor and wants me to put it right. The floor has been laid to a very high standard. It's true that it would have looked better if she'd bought the more expensive wood I suggested in the first place, but I can't change anything without taking up the whole floor and laying it again with different wood – all of which would cost me more than she still owes me. I have tried to explain all that but she isn't listening. I'm out of pocket as it is. I feel she is trying to get the job on the cheap. How do I get her to hand over the rest of the money?
A. This is a difficult one. If your customer had written to me she'd have said she withheld a quarter of your money until you put right a wooden floor that hadn't been finished properly. She'd have asked me how to get you to come back and finish the job. She's seeing the end result and it's not as good as she imagined when she decided to have the work done. You're seeing work well done despite the inferior materials that were her choice.
It's very difficult for a third party, without any experience of these types of jobs, to decide who is right and who is wrong. So you need an independent expert to give an assessment of the job and negotiate a settlement. I hope you still have all the paperwork, including details of the materials you advised her to buy. If the expert says the floor is well laid and convinces your customer that the fault lies in the materials she bought, she may give in and pay up. Do you belong to a trade association which offers a dispute resolution service? If so, I suggest it as a way forward.
If you can't get the situation resolved through mediation, you have two choices: cut your losses and walk away or make a claim in the county court through the process that deals with small claims. I wonder whether you took any photographs of the disputed work. If not, it's not likely that your customer will let you back into the house to take some; without detailed photos it's your word against hers in court.
The judge isn't likely to be a flooring expert and, unless he or she decides an independent assessor should assess the quality of the work. it will come down to who does the best job of convincing the judge that they are in the right. You do have your workers who can act as witnesses but they may not be seen to be unbiased. You'll have to decide whether to take your chances and risk losing the court fees and the time the case takes.
Q. My parents have recently bought a stair lift which cost them several thousand pounds that they can't afford. Someone called at the house and I get the impression they stayed until my dad cracked and signed an agreement. The irony is that they can both get up and down the stairs fine at the moment and have always intended to sell the house and move into a flat near me when they get too much to cope with. I think they've been pressured into this agreement. I've called the company and asked them to cancel it but they say it's too late and that they won't deal with me. Can it be cancelled and is there anyone we can complain to?
A. Pressure selling to elderly people of items such as stair lifts isn't a new complaint. As you weren't there at the time it might be difficult to get to the bottom of how this visit came about. Try to find out from your parents whether the representative of this company turned up on the doorstep without invitation or visited following an initial unsolicited phone call.
If, as it seems from what you say, your parents had an unsolicited call from the rep, they should have had a seven-day cooling off period and that should have been put in writing. If it wasn't, the contract is void and they should get their money back. Stair lifts are mobility items and so the company selling them is obliged to carry out a proper needs assessment. It sounds unlikely that they did.
Get on to the company straight away. If you still get nowhere, call your local trading standards department at your local authority.
Do you have a consumer complaint?
Write to Julian Knight at The Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF
Dirty tricks in a divorce can cause some nasty surprises
Weekly Money: the personal finance stories you might have missed 27 to 31 July
10 tips for taking out a personal loan
Have you checked your pension? Make sure you're not sleepwalking into problems later in your life
The most expensive cities in the world 2015
- 1 Stuart Baggs dies: Apprentice star 'The Brand' found dead aged 27
- 2 As the world mourned the death of Cecil the lion, five endangered elephants were killed in Kenya
- 3 Amazon Prime - how to cancel: after Top Gear hiring, instructions on how to leave premium service
- 4 What is halal meat and why is it controversial?
- 5 Living in Spain and commuting to London 'cheaper than actually working in London'
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn says 'we can learn a great deal from Karl Marx'
Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims
Public anger after French sunbather beaten up by gang for wearing a bikini in Reims park
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband
While we fixate on Calais, the Home Office is quietly deporting dozens of migrants on 'ghost flights'
iJobs Money & Business
£35 - £50k DOE: Guru Careers: A Tax Manager / Accountant (ACA / CA / CTA) is n...
£19000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ope...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company prides itself on its ability to p...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company prides itself on its ability to p...
Day In a Page
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
With five bedrooms, this spacious home offers beautiful gardens and modern interiors - set within the popular market town of Bingley.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
In the pretty market town of Bungay, this grade II-listed Mill House is arranged over four floors, offering four bedrooms and three reception areas.
This first-floor flat comes with two bedrooms, an impressive open-plan reception room and two lovely roof terraces.
This five-bedroom home comes with a range of outbuildings including a large barn which could be converted into a self-contained granny-flat or rental.
Moored at Taggs Island and reached via a pretty garden, this two-bedroom houseboat has a vaulted reception room and skylit garden studio - currently a beauty salon.
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
A contemporary house spread over three storeys, this three-bedroom detached home has large sliding doors that open out to the River Quaggy.
Moored in Chelsea's Cheyne Walk, this houseboat offers two double bedrooms and a teak deck that's ideal for al-fresco dining.
This former village bakery, dating back to the 17th century, is now a three-bedroom detached home just a few miles from the East Sussex coast.
On the picturesque Isle of Man, this four-bedroom character home has a ground-floor shop that's currently run as a newsagents and a flat that would make an ideal holiday let.
In a new collection of flats, this first-floor two-bedroom apartment offers ample entertaining space and a prime view of Furze Green from a private balcony.
This three-bedroom stone-built cottage currently trades as the village store with a restaurant in the annexe and family accommodation on the upper floors.
Previously two semi-detached properties, this five-bedroom home is spread over three floors with a large breakfast kitchen, orangery, office and gym on the second floor.
This five-bedroom home enjoys countryside views over the Blyth estuary to Southwold, offering flexible living space with a ground-floor annexe - ideal for use as a holiday let.
Close to the market town of Eye, this four-bedroom detached home offers a double-height living room which takes the place of the original, 19th-century, chapel nave.
Dating back to the 19th century, this four-bedroom home needs modernising. Spanning three storeys, the red-brick house has a fireplace, a small terrace and a cellar.
Just outside of Cambridge, this single-storey home offers three double bedrooms, a living room with vaulted timber ceiling and ladder steps that lead to a mezzanine study area.
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn.
A former coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, an attached office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Located beside an impressive Victorian viaduct, this four-bedroom home has an open-plan living area that is glazed on two sides, with skylights and high ceilings.
A former furniture workshop, this three-bedroom home has high ceilings and painted brick walls, in a village setting only fifteen miles from the coast.
This five-bedroom stone townhouse features a pine staircase and an Inglenuk fireplace, double doors from the lounge give access to an enclosed courtyard.
This five-bedroom, detached home blends traditional and modern design; the sleek kitchen features a gas hob and oven set within an exposed chimney breast.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B or countryside retreat, subject to change of use permissions.
This Grade II-listed three-bedroom home is situated on a private road, just a short walk from the sandy beaches of Frinton-on-Sea.
Less than five miles from Malmesbury, this four-bedroom cottage comes with equestrian facilities and gardens that extend to approximately three acres.
Spanning three storeys, this late-Victorian five-bedroom farmhouse is a spacious family home with a modern interior and B&B potential.
With an original church arch, this triplex one-bedroom church conversion has a light, spacious, feel and comes with a secure off-street parking space.
This recently-refurbished three-bedroom home has bi-folding doors that lead out to a decked seating area - ideal for alfresco dining this summer.
Well-located for coastal walks and popular restaurants, this detached four-bedroom home offers views over farmland, to the Solent, the Purbecks and Bournemouth.
If you love high ceilings, school conversions like this one are bang on the money. This two-bedroom flat is minutes from Burgess Park and the foodie haven at Borough Market.
Set within a church conversion in Bermondsey, this two-bedroom maisonette combines existing features, such as original arches and brickwork, with a contemporary finish.
This four-bedroom Edwardian home offers a combination of original features and contemporary design after a renovation by the current owners.
This four-bedroom home offers a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining with doors that open to the patio and garden.
On the market for the first time in more than 50 years, this six-bedroom home is a project with vast potential - spread over three floors of living space.
Surrounded by rolling countryside, this four-bedroom barn conversion comes with a self-contained, one-bedroom annexe that could serve as an office or a holiday let.
Located near Harrogate town centre, this five-bedroom Victorian terrace is arranged over three storeys while a current study serves as an optional sixth bedroom.
A ground-floor flat in a country house, located a mile from Sway; this two-bedroom home would make an ideal weekend retreat on the edge of the New Forest.
On a popular residential lane in Caterham on the Hill, this four-bedroom family home offers a secluded garden and a convenient location for local schools and public transport.
Just a short walk from Westerham green, this three-bedroom cottage has a light kitchen with exposed brickwork and double doors that lead to a south-facing garden.
In a prime spot opposite the River Thames, this one-bedroom flat has an 18sq ft reception room with glass doors that open out to a private terrace.
Set in the hills above Llanwrda Village, west Wales, this 18th-century three-bedroom farmhouse has holiday-let potential from a separate barn conversion and annexe.
This charming end-of-terrace townhouse is arranged over three floors, with two double bedrooms and a private courtyard garden located at the rear of the property.
Located in the University area, this semi-detached five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors - there's even a rear garden and off-road parking too.
Only a few minutes' drive from the charming town of Marlow, this two-bedroom home sits on the private riverside estate of Harleyford.
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.