A Builder’s Life

I have been struggling with my conscience and my apathy over this blog entry.
On the one hand, I know that I will feel hopeless if I don’t commit something to *paper*.  On the other hand I am not sure whether writing this will do anyone any good, except perhaps by way of letting me blow off steam.  My issue is: am I right to bleat about this for my own satisfaction?

So here it is, judge for yourselves…

If you have been here for a little while you will be aware that the Oh Waily family has had substantial renovations carried out on their house.  You can read all about this if you do a search (see the sidebar) for my posts on Renovations.

Well, the saga continues.  As of writing we don’t have our code compliance certificate from the council and since May have been having what amounts to a stressful and angry-making experience with our builder.
So angry, you might notice, that I have finally sat down to write about it.
Perhaps we should have seen it all coming.  Then again, I have never professed to being clairvoyant.
My first bleat was back in November, and that should have begun the alarm bells.  That bleat involved a lack of customer service skills on the part of our builder, a theme which he has managed to master in spades.
Following on from the previous aborted attempts to move back in to the house we had this bleat about customer service to move on to.  Then of course there was the curtain debacle.

I know you are all sitting reading this and thinking to yourselves – how did they ever make it to this advanced age while being patently naive?!

So, what could we possibly move on to that I haven’t shared before now?

Well, the principal work on the building finished just before Christmas.  Naturally there were things that slid through and trailed along.  But, I’d say that most things were complete by mid-January.  Then it goes quiet.
Not a peep from the builder. Nothing.  No request for final payment – nada.
While we sit and think this is unusual for a businessman, we also don’t have a particularly high estimate of this person’s business skills.  We figure that he’s probably getting the code compliance stuff sorted and will be in touch in due course with a final bill of around $20,000 – $25,000.

Now we hit the nitty and the gritty.  Mid-to-late May and we get a massive envelope in the post.  It contains the remaining invoices from the builder.  Somehow he has managed to expand, what according to his last open-listed items was work totalling what we expected, to a set of invoices in the $50,000 range.

Even now I still feel sick thinking about it.  I feel sick and disgusted.  I feel taken advantage of, treated abominably and generally really p*ssed off with what is clearly an individual who feels that he has every right to take charge of my bank account for his own benefit.
It is also funny to note that this set of invoices is the only one that came with a legal note that in my opinion amounted to attempted intimidation (pay up or else).  Do you think that someone else knew that they were in a morally corrupt position of attempting to extract money that they neither informed us about, nor in any way signalled the possibility of.  Sadly these costs should have been indicated to us prior to the building process starting, as they were a council requirement, but not one word passed the builder’s mouth to us on the subject of cost blow-outs.  Oh, and he also didn’t bother to mention that the changes also involved registering an encumbrance on our title – with the attendant ongoing costs that this means to us.

We took legal advice, as you would in these sorts of instances.  In the end we decided that despite feeling we had a better than 50/50 chance of convincing an arbitrator of our view on this matter, that it was our sanity and stress levels that were more important than prolonging the unnecessary stress.  We came to an agreement on what we would and would not pay with the builder.

I cannot stress how unpleasant this last experience has been.  In my heart I feel that perhaps we should have pushed on and taken the legal road.  But then this is countered by my experience of watching others go through mediation, arbitration and finally a court case with a builder.  It is fair to say that the law does not necessarily take the common sense view of situations and while you may feel that your case is strong, the law does not always come down on your side.  It is almost a case of gambling on a roulette wheel – will they view the situation in my favour, or not?  Or in the case of builders, avoiding responsibility for actions that are clearly theirs and theirs alone.


Ms Oh Waily’s lessons:

  1. Don’t employ builders if you can possibly avoid it. (Lots of people have agreed with me on this.)
  2. Make sure that you remove the option for provisional sums (it is an industry standard to have them, I believe) and or have a specific stated maximum increase that you will pay before re-quoting is needed.
  3. Make sure that any changes you agree to are done in writing, with a request for quoting prior to work being carried out. (If your builder is twitchy about the time this adds to his job – drop him, he will be organisationally cr*p, just like ours was.)
  4. Make sure that you have the time and inclination, if your building project is as big as ours was, to be your own project manager.  Let the builder do his thing – but you need to be watching his back like a hawk – and you need to be on his case each and every day.
  5. Keep a diary of the work.  Take notes of all meetings and their outcomes or actions to be taken.  Copy them and send them to the builder. (I know, I didn’t think I needed to do his job for him.  Turns out I was wrong.)

I think that covers most of it.

If you live in NZ, and are considering building anything of any size, I am happy to give a personal review and recommendation regarding builders – especially those who belong to a franchise where the franchise owner is happy to take the word of their franchisee rather than visit and investigate the complaints of their ultimate customer.  Hmm.  I don’t like being vindictive – but in this instance, I can truly and honestly say that I hope our builder does not survive the economic downturn.  The pain and aggravation he has caused our family is a disgrace, simply because he could not organise and communicate the important financial information that every client (in my work experience) expects from their service supplier.  Others who do not share our fortunate situation and flexibility with regards to work and financing could be left bankrupt by this sort of behaviour.

Here ends the Bleat!

4 thoughts on “A Builder’s Life

  1. Wow Lynn, sorry to hear about all the emotional and financial stress you been handed by an incompetent builder! I hope it’s all but past you now and you guys can enjoy the house and each other πŸ™‚

    PS – change the locks!


  2. Yeah, we didn’t choose the best time to embark on this work and therefore didn’t manage the process as well as we could have. (Hindsight is a great thing.)
    Still, you can’t mind-read and what you aren’t told about you can’t prepare for.

    I am a firm believer in karma. His will come to him shortly. I just hope it’s before he hurts anyone else irreparably by his poor skills and behaviours.

    We’re okay and we love our house. We just would have preferred to have it happen smoothly and without any drama. Tough luck on that one. πŸ˜‰


  3. A sorry tale I’m sorry to hear. I think writing about this sort of thing does help the grieving process (for that’s what it is). You probably have experienced the range of bereavement reactions: anger, sadness, guilt, etc. Sharing forces you to organize your thoughts in a coherent way and reflect on the experience, which is a healthier action than trying to bury it. Head on… it’s the only way to go.

    Your lesson outline is one to bookmark; this is the kind of stuff where you think “Sure, sounds like sound advice” then promptly forget about it and end up repeating someone else’s experience. So Dave and I ought to kick ourselves if we ever fall foul of the likes of your builder. You can kick us too.

    I hope your enjoyment of the reno isn’t too tainted; what I saw from your pics looked great. And you will be stronger for having survived this; mistakes give you backbone.


  4. Bruce,
    We love the house. Just not the builder. πŸ˜›

    I hadn’t really thought of it in terms of grieving. It’s fair to say that I have felt anger (lots of that), sad, guilty (for not taking the more confrontational route of arbitration) and stress.

    No one likes to be taken advantage of, and that’s a bit of a dent to the ego when you think you’re on top of things. Still, I believe the saying goes “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Although I’m not convinced that I want to keep on going through the strengthening (or backbone gaining) process, it can be very wearying.

    Still, compared to a vast majority of the world’s population, I am in no way hard done by. Must always remember to count the blessings as well as the curses. πŸ˜‰


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