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News and Comment June 2012

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20 June - Beware of Bexley council and rogue traders

House extensionThis is what Mrs. Rita Grootendorst’s house should have looked like now if her builder had proved to be more capable. As it is she is left with an insecure house open to the elements and a large hole in her finances. To some extent she has only herself to blame. Bexley council didn’t believe she was serious about an extension, suggesting the plan was a delaying tactic to defer her malicious prosecution. She was therefore in a hurry to prove them wrong.

I would have thought that a minimum requirement when engaging a builder for a job of this magnitude is to look for evidence of professional qualifications, ask to see examples of previous work, then expect him to have a waiting list because the quality of his work makes him a popular choice. In my case, because I hate the things, I’d also avoid like the plague a builder who can be contacted only via a mobile phone number.

Rita and her builder failed all those elementary tests. He quoted a price, Rita haggled only a bit and he started immediately with a five figure sum thrust into his hand.

Builder's addressDuring the two months he was on site, Chris McGuinness who is MAC Construction, didn’t achieve a lot. I found another nearby house with a very similar extension, that was begun on the same day as Rita’s. The owner said that the new outer skin was complete and watertight in two weeks. After seven weeks all that was left to be done was internal decoration. In that time all MAC Construction achieved was a film set - for a drama set in 1940. A bomb might have done less damage.

Mr. McGuinness had some bad weather to contend with, but then so did the other builder, but where he might claim to be unique is having the constant attention of Bexley council armed with cameras. No builder would welcome that and Mr. McGuinness would be no exception. Maybe he feared the standard of his work might come in for comment. Perhaps he was concerned about what else might come to notice, his prices for example.

£5,000 for removing electricsOne demand for more money was the somewhat excessive £5,000 for taking out redundant electrics. One might have thought that the new stuff could be put in for far less than that. Mrs. Grootendorst not unnaturally queried the next demand for money. Mr. McGuinness was never seen again. This is how he left her house…

Devastation Devastation Devastation Devastation

Scaffolding DevastationThere is more than one room with no floor and one has a doorway which if one absent-mindedly passed through presents an eight foot drop without warning. The photo to the left shows an attempt to clear up a room which is wide open to the world. What sort of builder is so disorganised that the whole house is disrupted at the same time?

I have looked at other nearby houses being similarly extended and whilst admiring a particularly tidy example the owner invited me inside. Apart from some missing ceiling boards exposing a few beams one would not know it was a building site. He told me how much he was paying. To avoid giving away too much personal information let us assume that Mrs. Grootendorst was asked to pay a total of £10,000 in five instalments. Please remember these figures are in effect percentages and not actual figures.

Rita negotiated the price down to £9,038 although the builder later disputed this. The helpful home owner undertaking a broadly similar job was quoted prices from £5,192 down to £3,077. He accepted the lowest. As a relatively young man willing to do some of the work himself he was going to tackle some of the plumbing and decorating himself. He also expected to pay for his windows separately. But Mrs. Grootendorst’s quote didn’t include the cost of radiators or a new boiler either, nor any restoration of the destroyed kitchen or any internal decoration, so the quotes were not totally disparate.

Rita has so far parted with £3,846 (all figures for comparison purposes only) and has asked to have some of it returned for work not done. Unsurprisingly she got nowhere with that approach. I suggested another and drafted a two sentence email asking how much money Mr. McGuinness wanted to complete the job. Rita embellished it more than I felt necessary but the message was essentially the same. She was rewarded with an almost immediate response confirming that MAC Construction would not fulfill the contract at any price. At least the contract is now formally broken.

In a conversation with Rita’s legal advisor I discussed the reasons why a builder would walk off a job as Mr. McGuinness has done. He was in no doubt at all; “Bexley’s building control would have warned him that doing a job for Rita would ensure his work would forever come in for particular scrutiny. I’ve seen it all before”. Not a word perfect quote but pretty close. With Rita’s permission I emailed Chris McGuinness from my Bonkers email address explaining that I needed to know if the suggestion was correct to ensure my report was fair and balanced. A week later and despite a reminder there has been no reply. Why would a builder be unwilling to accept any money he asked for to complete a contract that could end up seeing him sued if he wasn’t under some other pressure?

Meanwhile the Grootendorsts are left with an enormous problem and cannot leave the house unattended for fear someone will remove the scaffolding. Their house is open to all that a British summer can throw at it, Bexley council is keen to persecute them at every opportunity and they must find a builder who is able to put the damage right and who normally works outside the borough so as to be largely beyond the reach of Bexley council. The only bright thing I see in the situation as that despite handing Chris McGuinness nearly £4,000 - or should I say 40% of the price asked - there may still be enough left in her budget to cover the whole job from a more competitively priced and hopefully more competent builder.

There would appear to be two lessons to be learned here. Don’t cross Bexley council without expecting them to impose whatever sanctions they can, and avoid the name MAC Construction when looking for a builder.

Index to Grootendorst related blogs.


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