What I didn’t realise, and probably most prospective customers don’t either, is that these companies charge the tradesperson a nice fat fee to to use their service. A reputable builder explained that even impressive acronyms for what might seem to us novices as representing solid-as-rock trade organisations, are often meaningless - “Just an opportunity to hike-up the price,” he suggested, and went on to say, “The only way to be sure of a good builder is either to see their work, or, through the recommendation of someone you completely trust”. I entirely agree. These customer-review sites are simply opportunities for tradespeople to advertise their skills and should definitely be seen as such; undoubtedly there are some good people on these sites, but they are easily open to abuse; the danger lies in the perception (which they have a vested interest in promoting) that customers are dealing with an authoritative voice that can be unequivocally trusted ... again, I say, beware!
After I’d sacked the builders I’d taken on via this well-known website, I rang to make a formal complaint. The girl on the phone was warm and expressed dismay that we had had a bad experience with one of their tradesmen. She said she’d put me through to their ‘Complaints Department’, pointing out that there may be no-one in that office at this time, but reassured me that if I left my name and telephone number someone would be sure get back to me promptly. Ten days later I’d heard nothing and rang again. I was about to be put through to their complaints department once more until I mentioned this was the second time I’d called. I got the distinct impression that most people give up before they make the second call. The apologetic chap I spoke to suggested, as I hadn’t been given an invoice number by the tradesman, that I leave my feedback on their website, which they would understandably, for the sake of fairness (presumably because I might be an unrealistically demanding or even vindictive customer) allow the tradesman an opportunity to comment on and offer his explanation, or perhaps he might be able to put the work right ... after twenty-one days if the matter wasn’t resolved and the tradesman couldn’t justify himself, my comments would be posted on their site. I suggested their organisation, to ensure fairness, might like to send someone over to examine for themselves the builders’ thoroughly dreadful work ... witness for themselves the mortar they’d thinly smeared over paintwork to make it look like they had ground-out and repaired a joint, or see their wafer thin pointing that would no doubt ‘ping-out’ at the first frost. He gently explained that they were not able to make site visits at that time (whatever that meant!).
It’s quite a big thing to get rid of your builders once works are underway, because by this time you generally have quite a lot invested already in what they’re doing. At first you try to convince yourselves that maybe they just got off to a bad start ... maybe next week their time-keeping and perhaps even their work might improve ... in your heart you already know you’re deluding yourselves ... the sleepless nights have already started! There were four of them and I don’t think I ever saw one of them before 9 am ... some days I didn’t see them at all ... the last straw was when only one of them rolled up for work in the second week at about 11am, broke for an hour’s lunch at 12.30pm, then condescended to do an hour more in the afternoon before packing up for the day. Their on site presence was as rare as a hen’s teeth (as someone who works from home, I took to jotting down their hours) ... four guys over two weeks totalling 72 hours present on site (I suspect time actually working was far less) isn’t going to win any gold medals for diligence and hard work. The moment arrived when they just had to go! And once I’d bitten the bullet it immediately felt better - no work is better than rotten work that is going to require a good deal of putting right.
However, there were inevitably consequences to bear: I’d agreed to what I’d considered to be a reasonable payment at the end of each week’s work, so we were taken for some money - but in the great scheme of things and against the overall cost of the job, we didn’t suffer too badly. There’s certainly no way of getting any money back, they’re the sort of guys who if you took them to the small claims court, it would not only end up costing you more money, they’d probably claim to having no money at all and would probably be allowed to pay you back at £1 a week. I’d suggest that if a builder requests any interim payments, that you discuss this thoroughly with them before agreeing to it and make any agreed payments a week in lieu. Hindsight is a great thing!
Once the builders were finally gone we then encountered a couple of weeks of disturbed if not entirely sleepless nights - our home was now surrounded by a large scaffold, costing us money as it lay idle. There has been something of a building boom in the south-east of England this year; the number of other houses in the surrounding streets that bear their own scaffolds confirms this. For over two weeks every reputable builder I approached who came recommended to me turned out to be busy. The situation seemed impossible ... I was comforted by a story I knew from Eastern wisdom about the transience of all things ... “This too will pass” I assured myself many times. And to ease my frustration and to save my nails from being bitten down to the quick, I launched myself at the house’s gable end (not literally!), and my son lent a hand too - I don’t possess the skill to dismantle and rebuild a chimney, but I could certainly grind out and repoint brickwork that would ultimately be painted again. I persisted in looking for new builders and eventually some of the good guys in white Stetsons turned up and took on the more skilled work. We are very grateful to them.