Choose carefully your builder! This is my nightmare experience with one.
After finally finding and buying our house (and end of terrace with a front and back garden), the renovation works begun!
My boyfriend has extensive knowledge in building, having built his own house, so we already started with an advantage: we could complete most of the work ourselves, and we knew exactly how these renovation works should be done.
Nonetheless, the list of works was quite extensive! We had to tear down and build a new wall around the downstairs bathroom, finish removing the chimney breast of one of the fireplaces (which the previous owner removed only partially, on the ground floor), and remove entirely the uneven concrete floor on the ground floor and poor a new one (as to be able to fit a laminate floor over it).
Our surveyor suggested a trusted builder who could help us with those major works, so that we could focus on the minor repairs on our own, especially since we planned to have the house ready by the new year (to be able to rent two of the rooms).
The builder and his associate were very accommodating at first: they came to inspect the house and provided us with an estimate of the costs for each job, even working with us on the price to achieve a mutual understanding!
The works were to begin in a week's time, so we rushed to prepare the ground floor and master bedroom: we removed completely the existing concrete floor on the ground floor (linoleum and tiles included), the kitchen cabinets, the dividing wooden arch between the living room and dining room and the wardrobe in the master bedroom (first floor) covering the chimney breast.
To give you an idea, this is how the ground floor and master bedroom looked before and after we finished these preparation works:
The builders arrived first thing on Monday morning, and, during the week, they proceeded with all the works in a timely fashion. They were also kind enough to answer all our questions on how they intended to proceed, and keep us updated on the various works.
Initially, not knowing how it works here in Ireland, we offered to give them a deposit before the works started, but they were adamant to be paid at the end of the works.
In no time, we saw the new bathroom wall built, the chimney breast in the master bedroom removed, and an additional bit of work in the kitchen done as well, which we had requested during the week (since we were so satisfied with the works in general).
On Friday we paid €5,000 to the builders for the works that had already been finished, with an outstanding balance of €4,200 for the last big job (putting a new concrete floor on the ground floor), and a couple minor jobs such as a new insulation in the kitchen, walling up one of the windows and fixing the heating system pipes.
Regarding the new floor, we were very insistent that they put a plastic wrap underneath it (for insulation purposes and to prevent dampness) and a metal mesh. Also, it had to be at the same level as the kitchen and the entrance: in fact, the living room and dining room floor had originally different levels than the kitchen and entrance!
The builders started working on the floor on the next Monday, and, on Tuesday evening, they told me that it was completed and that I could walk on it (but for a small part in the kitchen area).
I agreed with the builders to pay the outstanding €4,200 on Wednesday morning (€1,500 where just for the floor). Until now, we were very satisfied with all the works, and they had also replaced the boiler time clock and the light in the kitchen which I found broken one evening.
We had no reason to doubt that we wouldn't be satisfied with the new floor... until I used my spirit level to check it.. and found that it was uneven all over!
Let me explain a bit why this is such a big deal (besides the obvious reasons): having an uneven floor means a creaky and uneven wooden floor, or being unable to put down level tiles. Also, once a concrete floor is dry, the only way to fix the unevenness is to either use a very, very expensive levelling compound, or remove the entire floor and start anew.
Now, since we started with a very uneven floor, and finished with a floor that was still uneven.. you can imagine that we were upset.
I asked the builders for an explanation and I showed them with my spirit level how the floor was uneven. I paid them €2,700 for all the other completed works, with the understanding that they would receive the remaining €1,500 once the floor was completed as well (meaning when they fixed it to be even all over).
This didn't go down well with the builders: apparently I wasn't holding up my end of the agreement.. this is how floors are made in Ireland... they had spend already money on the materials and labour.. they always intended to come back after a week (after the floor was dry) to put the very expensive levelling compound.. etc.
Now, in Italy we call this "climbing mirrors", which translates to clutching at straws or tilting at windmills in English.
But, I'll let you be the judges yourselves: here is the text exchange with the builder the next morning (sorry for the grammar mistakes, I got very mad, very fast! Also, Joe's a fictional name):
So what did I learn from this experience?
1 - Make it extremely clear what jobs you want done and the end results you want (
2 - Pay only when the work is finished, no advanced payments or deposits.
3 - Don't assume that builders know what they are doing or the best way to proceed. They are not all experts, so if you are not familiar with construction, it would be best to research it a bit.
4 - Never give copies to all your house keys to a builder: poor Joe doesn't realize that I actually have three locks, so even if he doesn't give me back the copies of the keys I gave him, he's still
I feel compelled to write a disclaimer now: I'm sure that there are honest, professional and competent builders in Dublin. I'm not saying that all builders are like this, this is just my personal experience whit this specific builder.
However, as with mortgage brokers, estate agents, surveyors and solicitors, there is only one person who truly cares and takes into account your interests: you.
Quick update: remember how I told 'Joe' that I didn't have to tell him that I wanted straight walls, which is why I didn't think I needed to specify that the floor had to be even too?
Well, I put together some IKEA furniture the other day.. and the wall in the master bedroom is not straight! hahaha! The sheer incompetence!