Anyone building their own home or undertaking a major renovation project must put their faith into the competency of suppliers and trust that they will have the ability to deliver (and possibly install) the materials as ordered.
If this process goes wrong, the financial and emotional impact on the client can be huge.
Mercifully, most of the time the system works. It’s fair to say that no legitimate supplier goes into business with the intention of failing to deliver what they have promised. But things can and do go wrong.
So what can we do to make sure the companies we engage with won’t let us down and are the right ones to choose?
If you’re specifying your project, you’ll have seen just how vast the choice is in all areas of a build. Making the right decisions can be a daunting prospect.
Brochures are dazzling, websites enticing and a good photographer can make anything look amazing.
With that in mind, buying major items off the internet just because a product looks fabulous and is so much cheaper than the others is a sure-fire way of being disappointed when it finally lands on your doorstep.
Plus, if you’ve ordered the wrong thing and it’s big and bulky, sending it back can be a real problem.
There’s no substitute for getting out and physically seeing and feeling a product, to get a sense of how it looks and performs in reality.
This is why it makes sense to get out to the self build exhibitions, such as Build It Live, and visit the showrooms of the larger suppliers. Visiting a firm’s premises will also give you a flavour of what they’re like to deal with.
A small family-run firm working out of modest premises might look risky compared to the experience at a major supplier’s flashy showroom, but there’s more to it than this.
Smaller businesses tend to rely on outstanding products and a personal service to compete in the market. So they will quite often go the extra mile to deliver what you’re expecting. Bad news travels 10 times faster than good, and reputation is everything to a small company.
Conversely, the larger ones might look good on the outside, but they may have a high staff turnover that can dilute the experience offered.
Plus, customer service might be less than attentive because you are just one of thousands of clients – so it won’t have the same impact if they upset you and get a poor review.
There are good and bad businesses of all sizes, of course, but personally I gravitate towards smaller local suppliers.
They may not be able to compete on price with the major players on every occasion, but you can guarantee that when you place a substantial order with them, they will be doing a little jig of celebration. When you phone them, they’re likely to remember you in person.
The big firms, meanwhile, are likely to enter you as a number on their customer relationship management database. When you call them, you’ll spend half your life repeating your name, address and order number to somebody who wouldn’t know you from Adam.
Smaller companies often work on a supply and install basis, too, meaning you have just one contract to deal with when it comes to fitting the products.
Very often a larger firm is the manufacturer or supplier of the materials, but the installation is contracted out to a third party. So you may have two or more contracts to deal with. It’s sensible to ask about this – as well as what the situation would be if the fitter failed
in their responsibilities or went bust.
The internet may not be an ideal place to buy materials unseen, but it can still be a positive tool for those of us self building or renovating.
You can now search online for feedback on just about every company out there. Review services such as Trustpilot have revolutionised customer service, and a high score with this kind of resource is usually a good indication of overall performance.
Be careful in how you digest this information, though. People love to have a whinge about anything, but are much slower to praise when a service is delivered without fuss.
So exercise your judgement and learn how to spot nitpickers. While every business would like to think its customer service is up to scratch, no company is perfect and things do go wrong for a multitude of reasons. The important thing is how any issues were resolved.
You can also run online credit checks on different companies’ history and find out their credit score. This is not necessarily a reliable indicator of current status, however, as it can take a little while for issues to filter through.
Another good option is to use members of the National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA) for your project wherever possible. All NaCSBA members sign up to
a code of practice, as well as a dispute resolution service.
It’s a sensible move to buy on a credit card. This way, any purchases you make of goods or services valued between £100 and £30,000 will be legally protected in certain circumstances. This includes issues such as if the items are faulty, never arrive or even if the supplying company has gone bust.
On the subject of payment, another thing to beware of is being asked for full payment upfront.
Whenever you make a major purchase, you’ll undoubtedly be asked for a deposit. This is fine, but asking for everything at such an early stage hints that the company might have cash flow problems. So consider this a warning sign.
When you have a contract in place with another party for goods and services, you have the right to expect the items to be of the advertised quality. You can also expect the work to be finished with reasonable care and skill.
This is enshrined in law under the Consumer Rights Act, which came into force from 1 October 2015.
Any contract entered into after this date is covered by the legislation. In addition, any work contracted before that date has the same protection, but under the Supply of Goods and Services Act of 1982.
There’s one main difference between the two schemes. Under the later Consumer Rights Act you can seek compensation for any inconvenience that was caused. It may seem a small point, but it’s important to be aware of and to use the correct terms, as it shows you know what you are entitled to.
Quoting the right act can produce the results you want, because the company involved will know you’re well informed and mean business.
If all else fails and situations with defective products or work remain unresolved, write to the supplier or tradesperson to request your money back and get in touch with the Small Claims Court.
You can use this route if the value of the claim disputed is less than £10,000 in England and Wales, and under £3,000 in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The process is straightforward so there’s no need to involve a solicitor in the process. If the sums are greater than this, you will probably need legal advice to progress your claim
through the courts.