team ef­fort

Tak­ing on any home im­prove­ment comes with stresses, but what should you do when things (in­evitably) go wrong with your cho­sen pro­ject team? An­dréa Childs re­veals her tips for suc­cess

Real Homes - - Contents -

How to over­come prob­lems with trades work­ing on your pro­ject

Em­bark­ing on a build­ing pro­ject is like or­gan­is­ing a wed­ding. There are the months of plan­ning and sav­ing, the end­less scout­ing trips for wed­ding dresses/bath­room taps and the joy when you find

‘the one’, book­ing the pro­fes­sion­als (vicar/elec­tri­cian) and even plan­ning the re­cep­tion/kitchen-warm­ing party. The big dif­fer­ence? When you get mar­ried, ev­ery­one un­der­stands the emo­tional in­vest­ment; they ex­pect you to go a bit Bridezilla and have a melt­down about your se­cond cousin twice re­moved up­stag­ing you in a white dress. Get­ting a loft ex­ten­sion or a new kitchen, though, is all about cold, hard cash, adding value to your prop­erty and sav­ing the cost of a house move. Ex­cept it isn’t, is it? Most of us have dreams stirred into the mor­tar and hopes tan­gled up in the rewiring. The phys­i­cal changes we make to a prop­erty might be about cre­at­ing room for a grow­ing fam­ily, hav­ing the space to launch a busi­ness from home, or sim­ply mak­ing life a lit­tle bit eas­ier and a lot more joy­ful. Which is why when things go wrong – or just not as smoothly as ex­pected – it can be a soul-sap­ping ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘We bought our house to be our “for­ever home” but it also needed a huge amount of work as it had been treated so poorly by pre­vi­ous own­ers,’ says Laura Mar­shall, who lives in a four-bed­room 1890s prop­erty with her part­ner Katy and their now five-year-old daugh­ter, Mil­lie. ‘We needed a build­ing firm who would un­der­stand our emo­tional in­vest­ment in the prop­erty. We met and got quotes from a lot of com­pa­nies and went with the ones who re­ally tried to un­der­stand how we live and what we needed the house to be – a safe place with a won­der­ful gar­den for our daugh­ter, a wel­come space for ex­tended fam­ily to stay, and some­where I can work with­out feel­ing my job is in­trud­ing on our home life.’

Laura’s ren­o­va­tion pro­ject was pretty straight­for­ward. ‘Con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion and clear bound­aries were key. We made sure we were around at the be­gin­ning and end of each day, so we could make de­ci­sions and dis­cuss how the work was pro­gress­ing,’ she says. But even a ship­shape setup like this had its is­sues. ‘We asked the builders not to work un­der Mil­lie’s room at nap time but we had a few prob­lems with noisy power tools. I came home one day to find Katy sob­bing be­cause Mil­lie hadn’t slept and they were both ex­hausted,’ Laura ad­mits. ‘And be­cause we were work­ing on both the house and gar­den, there were times when it felt never-end­ing. When we felt we were be­ing buried in mud and dust, we’d ask the dec­o­ra­tors to show us paint colours, or look at the gar­dener’s plant­ing schemes; the fun stuff helped to re­mind us why we were do­ing it and kept us go­ing.’

Es­tab­lish­ing a rap­port with trades­peo­ple can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween hav­ing a team that’s en­gaged and en­thu­si­as­tic about your pro­ject, and one that skips off to other jobs at a mo­ment’s no­tice, leav­ing you won­der­ing when – if ever – the work will con­tinue. ‘I’m self-em­ployed so I recog­nise that trades­peo­ple need to look out for them­selves,’

says Penny Alexan­der, who lives in the Peak District and re­cently re­fur­bished a 1960s car­a­van to rent out on Airbnb. ‘Our joiner took im­mense pride in the work be­cause it was a unique pro­ject, but he also had to bal­ance keep­ing reg­u­lar clients happy. We learnt to re­spect each other’s goals.’ She’s a bet­ter woman than me. I re­mem­ber feel­ing jeal­ous when ‘my’ builders left to work on an­other big­ger, more lu­cra­tive job at the end of the street. Wasn’t my house good enough for them? Should I pro­vide bet­ter bis­cuits? I re­alised that while I’d tried to ap­pear friendly, they’d seen a pushover. When I had a new roof put on my next house, I’d learnt not to treat the builders like mates and agreed a time frame for the job at the start.

Talk­ing to peo­ple for this ar­ti­cle, it soon be­came clear that wing­ing it doesn’t work when it comes to house projects. It sounds con­tra­dic­tory, but if you want to keep life even rel­a­tively re­laxed, you need to find your in­ner con­trol freak. ‘I’ve done three huge ren­o­va­tions and the se­cret to suc­cess is all in the pa­per­work,’ says Toni Sum­mers Har­gis, who lives in Sur­rey. ‘Don’t leave any­thing un­spec­i­fied, make sure the builders and trades­peo­ple know ex­actly what you want, and in­sist they get any changes down on paper. Don’t take quotes that don’t split labour and ma­te­ri­als and itemise ev­ery­thing. If you ac­cept a fuzzy es­ti­mate it will have tons of con­tin­gen­cies

‘I hate it when peo­ple give builders sep­a­rate mugs and rent a Por­taloo so they don’t use their house’s toi­let. It’s like say­ing they’re not good enough to be in their house; not cool’

built into it. For a big pro­ject, agree pay­ment in por­tions. Keep a bal­ance back un­til the very end and don’t cave in to de­mands for pay­ment if you’re not happy with the work. Yes, it pays to be nice, but if it starts go­ing pear-shaped, don’t take any BS.’

Mak­ing sure the builders know your ground rules is key, be­cause they’re dif­fer­ent for us all. ‘We asked the team to take their shoes off when walk­ing through parts of the house, so they didn’t tramp dust ev­ery­where,’ says Laura Mar­shall. ‘We had two pre-school­ers at home, so had a no “power tools left unat­tended” rule, plus ev­ery­thing needed to be left tidy at the end of the day,’ says Olivia Vandyk from Hert­ford­shire. In re­turn, show them you ap­pre­ci­ate their ef­forts to keep the work on track and you happy. ‘I had a team of Pol­ish builders, so I bought them Pol­ish beer ev­ery Fri­day,’ says Ju­lia Crouch from Brighton. Brid­get Mon­a­han, from Liver­pool, agrees with the ben­e­fits of be­ing hos­pitable. ‘I hate it when peo­ple give builders sep­a­rate mugs and rent a Por­taloo so they don’t use their house’s toi­let,’ she says. ‘It’s like say­ing they’re not good enough to be in their house; not cool.’

When your builders be­come your en­e­mies, not the an­gels help­ing you con­struct your dream house, the fall­out goes far be­yond re­crim­i­na­tions and fol­low-up re­pairs. ‘We had such a bad build­ing ex­pe­ri­ence (and suc­cess­fully had the build­ing firm pros­e­cuted by trad­ing stan­dards) that I ac­tu­ally can’t think about it with­out get­ting very stressed,’ says Jo Den­ver from Sid­cup. ‘I’d say it’s over but it still up­sets me two and a half years after they started. Part of me wants to sell up and move on but I don’t want to feel the builders have taken my home away from me.’

Most of us will be able to re­solve is­sues be­fore they get that far. If plan­ning and com­mu­ni­ca­tion doesn’t do it, then the abil­ity to com­pro­mise should keep you out of court. ‘I brought in the builders to re­con­fig­ure my flat, giv­ing it an ex­tra bed­room and in­stalling a new bath­room and kitchen, funded through re­mort­gag­ing and sav­ing hard,’ says Jenny Greene from Lon­don. ‘I didn’t keep track of ad­di­tional spend­ing as each was just a small amount each time, but it added up. When I re­ceived the fi­nal bill, I had this sick­en­ing sense of shock. I could just about af­ford it, but it would wipe out all my emer­gency funds. For­tu­nately, my builder agreed he could have been clearer about the costs and agreed to meet me half­way on the amount.’

Em­bark­ing on build­ing work is about cus­tomis­ing our home for our ideal life­style. Each job, large or small, is a dream pro­ject be­cause it’s about our hopes and de­sires. Which is why the team we choose to cre­ate that vi­sion, and our re­la­tion­ship with them, is so im­por­tant. So here’s my recipe for the ul­ti­mate build. Over­share like crazy at the be­gin­ning – bring out mood­boards, fam­ily pho­tos, sketches, what­ever it takes to con­vey your pas­sion and mo­ti­va­tion for the pro­ject. When you’ve found the ex­perts you be­lieve can de­liver that, it’s time to get to the nitty gritty. Ask ques­tions, make lists, check in­voices and never feel you’re be­ing a nag. This is a huge emo­tional and fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment, so you need to know the true costs. When it all gets too much, re­mem­ber you’re a per­son, not just a pro­ject man­ager, and do some­thing to treat your­self. A bub­ble bath, prosecco, it’s up to you. Fi­nally, when the last builder has gone and the dust has set­tled, put the pain be­hind you and en­joy your new home. ‘Ex­tend­ing into our base­ment was like child­birth,’ says Ju­lia Crouch. ‘Ex­cru­ci­at­ing at times, but ul­ti­mately worth it for what it brought us.’

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