Friday, 21 November 2008

Bloody Builders! (Yep, it's a rant)

I can't believe it. Ages ago I set about getting estimates for having the shower and the shower enclosure replaced. Here in Britain it's not too uncommon to have a both bathtub and a separate shower stall. Why they do that I'm not sure, but the house came that way. We began thinking about changes when the tiling around the shower started to give way. The narrow bath is quite practical, but it's too narrow to put a shower over it. For a while we thought we'd look at re-doing the bathroom, but eventually decided just to replace the shower, only using plastic sheeting instead of tile.

We arrived at this after visiting a couple of local showrooms. In the first, the guy dragged us upstairs to show us his most prized item, something he was really proud to be selling. It was a huge silver shower stall with a black stone floor. It had jets at the side in addition to the overhead stream of water. It had multiple temperature settings for each member of the family, so the poor dears wouldn't have to re-adjust the water temperature every time they took a shower. It had several other features that one would take for granted in a modern shower, like ensuring that the pressure and temperature weren't affected by use of water taps elsewhere (which ours currently doesn't have), and perhaps a few more I don't remember.

The main things I do remember were that it had a
remote control to turn it on (if you're that lazy, do you bother to bathe at all?). Also, it cost £10,000. For a shower. There was something about those two things together that so help me I had to restrain myself from grabbing the remote control and hitting this short male idiot over the head with it.

I wanted to leave right then, but Bill was the man with the checkbook and he did a deal for the guy to come out and measure, etc., and give us an estimate for replacing the shower and/or re-doing the whole bathroom. I was careful to explain that we were not in the market for David Beckham's bathroom and had no interest in spending £10,000 for a shower of any description. He required a £25 deposit for the estimate and design, which Bill paid. In the end he came back with a £4,000 bid for the shower replacement (but cautioned us that this didn't include his project management skills). Having that estimate, we never went in to look at his whole bathroom idea.

We looked at another showroom across the road, but there were literally so many things to choose from it was tough to even narrow it down to a few. We were still thinking possibly about doing the whole bathroom then, mind. Another problem with that place was that it only sold the fixtures; you still needed to find someone to do the labour.

Another guy from another company came out (for free) and gave us an estimate of about £2,000. He was nice enough, but somehow when he learned I used to work for the NHS, he felt he needed to tell me all about his medical history that I really didn't want to know, though I tried to make appropriately sympathetic noises. Given his size, I don't think his medical future looks too great either. I was hoping to get some references from other people they'd done work for, as they'd only been in this line of work for 18 months. I forget what else they'd done for ages, flooring maybe. Getting references is a very American idea, apparently. It's just not done in Britain and Bill told me I had no hope. That was a reasonable answer but the one I got was that they weren't allowed to provide me with references because of the 'Data Protection Act.' (There really is such a thing, but it's nothing to do with what I was asking for). That was the point where they began to lose credibility, but I figured it was my mistake for trying on foreign ideas. It did annoy me how many times he told me that the Data Protection Act was the problem. I think he liked how official it sounded.

We went into their shop and liked the materials and the workmanship on display. Bill was happy enough with that until the guy mentioned they required 80% of the charges up front, before they even set foot in the door. The guy was really disappointed when I told him we wouldn't be using their service. He kept saying "It's usual business practice" like if he said it enough times I'd believe him.

Another two guys came out to the house, one of whom looked just like Ozzy Osbourne, except without his money. They looked the shower cubicle over, had a chat and volunteered to do the job for £1,100, which was great, except I rang their company 4 times, chasing a written estimate, which never came. Another builder told me those people only did electric showers, quick and cheap work apparently with about a 90% mark-up for labour. They would never want to bother with a shower enclosure. So why didn't they just say so?

I finally got three more estimates. One guy sounded like he wanted to knock holes in the outside wall, another wanted half the money up front. The third guy seemed reasonable enough, though his bid was actually the highest of the last 3, about £1,800. I called and spoke with his wife to confirm they didn't want money up front and she said not. We scheduled the job for Wednesday, the week before Jane and Chris were to arrive.

On the Tuesday evening, he called and said he couldn't do the job as he had another scheduled for that day and the wife had underestimated the time it would take him.
It was a disappointment as Bill had taken out the carpeting in preparation for the work to be done, but since we wouldn't likely have replaced the carpet anyhow, this wasn't major. We thought about doing it the Monday they arrived, but 3 people without a bathroom, 2 of them jet lagged, didn't sound very good. We rescheduled the work for this past Monday. Chris and Jane had their showers in an enclosure that was part tile, part green bin liner and duct tape. Fortunately, Chris does a lot of his own building work and Jane is therefore used to living in a building site, so they handled it OK.

The shower guy rang Monday morning at 8 am to say that he was at the suppliers and they didn't have any white shower surround, only something called 'marble effect'. I asked what colour it was and he asked if I knew what 'marble effect' was. I said, "Yeah, but marble comes in lots of colours, doesn't it?" He found the label: blue agar. I explained that the bathroom was now green with brown floors and I didn't want a blue shower. He said he couldn't get the white surround until Thursday.

I said I would call Bill and get his opinion and call the guy back. He didn't know his mobile phone number. I said I could dial '1471' and it would tell me his number. It didn't, he'd withheld the number when he called. Bill wasn't at work yet. I went to get dressed and couldn't find half the stuff, it having been moved to the East Wing in preparation for the work in the bathroom. By this time I was yelling out loud, the house being empty and me have some frustration to vent!

Travis, the shower guy, called back. I told him I didn't have an answer for him yet, he needed to hang up, figure out his phone number, then call me back and give it to me. He did so. Bill eventually called and agreed we wanted a white shower. I called Travis back and he said he was available to do the work on Thursday and would come with white materials. Half an our later the wife rang and said they were cancelling the job, it was too big to do without a deposit for the materials.

Someone from the running club recommended a Polish outfit, saying they did really good work for a reasonable price and they were incredibly reliable. I believe it, as they are completely booked through Christmas.

I guess I should have gone and bought some blue paint...


Rick Stone said...

I take it they don't have a neighborhood Home Depot or Lowe's Home Center, with a great staff for the do-it-yourselfers, in your area. Although we are surrounded with those places I'm really not the type to utilize them myself. ;->

Shelley said...

I think we are heading in the DIY (do it yourself) direction. Meanwhile, I've put more duct tape on the tile and that seems to be holding complete collapse at bay for now. Crosses my mind that we could buy a lot of bin liners and duct tape for £2,000....just kidding.