Please can anyone help restore my sanity?
We are over six months into building an extension to our home. The
small local builder we engaged to do the job said it would be finished
in 5 months, and signed a contract to that effect.
But, rather than appearing to work extra hard to get the job finished
as it's late, he is still absent half the time and seems unable to get
his subcontractors - such as the plumber - on-site when he promises.
Frankly, we have given up believing anything the builder says. The
problem appears to be that our builder is slow to pay his
subcontractors, and they are naturally reluctant to do more for him
until they see his money. Also, his qualities as an optimist are not
matched by his skills in time estimation and organisation.
We have been paying our builder in instalments, and there is still
money due to be paid at completion, plus 5% to be held back for up to
3 months or so in case any minor things need fixing. (All in the
What can we do to put pressure on the builder? Do I need to write a
formal letter to him stating a final deadline after which I will
engage a different builder, or something? If so what should I say,
what deadline must I give? After this time, what action can I take?
Any advice really appreciated!
D W Green
[cross-posted to uk.legal, and uk.d-i-y]
You could sack him, and get someone else to complete it.
I am guessing that the contract did not specify penalties for exceeding
the 5 months. If not, you might be able to suggest appropriate damages
for the delay and make it clear that these will be imposed. He may sue
you, and you would have to be reasonably sure you would win. Perhaps
take a solicitor and barristers advice and opinion.
Only if the contractor has clearly failed to progress with reasonable
expedition and diligence, which usually requires a process of
If you try it and get it wrong the contractor can then take YOU as
having unjustifiably repudiated the contract, quit work and sue you for
his lost profit.
You can't just add damages (or any other provisions) into a contract
after it's been originally agreed, unless both parties agree.
If David did as you suggested he would certainly lose.
If David has money to spare he would be better off spending it on an
Architect, Surveyor or other project manager to superintend his contract
Legal advice comes later when he wants to terminate the contract and sue
David seems to want to do something to make something happen. The
alternative to some kind of serious threat is to cajole the builder, and
he will just carry on as normal.
I suggested legal advice exactly for the reasons you give. The legal
advice should provide the process by which the things I suggest should
Damn right. That's exactly what you have to do.
Getting the legal remedy, namely terminating the contract then suing the
contractor for the cost of having the work completed by others is, as I
have explained in another post:
* procedurally risky,
* prone to problems in finding another contractor willing to take over
* likely to run up costs (if only psychic and in terms of the owner's
lost time) that can't be recovered.
As people in uk.legal will tell you time and time again:
* don't take legal action if there is ANY OTHER WAY of solving a
* don't threaten to take legal action unless you are going to do it.
It's no use trying to make a builder fear you and your lawyer: builders
are fearless (or too dumb to know the difference).
By no means necessarily: most small contractors are honest people of
good will: they just don't do the job right: the cajolery comes in in
making them _want_ to do the job right for you and then "helping" them
and making sure that they do do it.
It might be a bit late for this recommendation, but if you're near a
bookshop and don't mind spending a tenner, you could look at "Getting the
builders in" by Paul J Grimaldi, that goes into all this sort of thing,
including samples of letters you should write to the builder, disputes,
payments, etc. ISBN 0-7160-3012-8.
Or by a miracle it might be in your local library!
<lots of really good advice from others snipped>
God, your experience sounds identical to mine 2 or 3 years ago, which
SWMBO and I rank as one of the most stressfull periods of our lives.
We're still suffering now; eg long after the builder left I still have
a new loo and sink lying on the floorboards of our new second
bathroom, waiting for me to do my stuff and causing plenty of marital
I would strongly advise the 'pleading, cajoling' route rather than
getting heavy-handed; use the legal route as an absolute last resort.
I think you're unlikely to get a good result that way. You say the
guy is a small builder (like mine was) and that he's slow to pay his
subbies (like mine was). Turned out my bloke was about 50p away from
bankruptcy; he'd been stiffed on an earlier job and had been diverting
funds from my project to pay off the previous one, and once I said
'enough is enough', ie stopped the staged payments because not enough
work was being done, he wasn't interested any more. Which may be
where you are. Problem is if you try to sue him, you'll may well find
he has no cash or assets worth anything, and you may win, but all you
do is force him into bankruptcy and have to cover not only the rest of
the building work but also legal costs too.
I don't know how much you've paid in installments; maybe like me you
reckon you've paid roughly according to how much work has been done;
however we found that the reality was that at crunch time, there was
so much 'bitty' work left over, involving loads of subbies for small
amounts of time, that it would have been a lousy job for any other
builder to take on, and the costs would have been disproportionate to
the amount of work left over.
Although what I really felt like doing was kicking the guy's backside,
we ended up paying our builder a bit more cash, ie over and above the
agreed price, and on a strictly daily basis, just to do the bits I
really couldn't do, and then I did (am doing!) the rest myself. It
really grated to pay more, but the reality was that this was the
cheapest option open to us to get the job (sort-of) done.
Very best of luck...
A lot of builders will front load the job, so the basic structure goes
up fast, you pay money, thinking ;'its nearly there'
Then comes the time conbsuming and expensive part : Getting teh trdaes
in to do the real work - electrical plumbing plastering etc. At this
point teh builder isn't working much on the job, and couldn't give a
stuff. He is happy to walk away half wayt throuigh, with his profit,
leaving you with the messy job of project management and subcontractor
The key is to pay fair whack for every stage - not over, not under.
Otheriwse teh builder has an incentive to be sacked - he has got more
than a fair whack, and whats left is more hours, les money.
Which may be
<snip>> I would strongly advise the 'pleading, cajoling' route rather than
Cash flow does seem to be a likely cause of the problem.
One other thing you might try is to change your builder's role from overall
contractor and paymaster to site foreman and builder.
If you undertake to pay the sub-contractors directly you could avoid the
history of payment problems between the builder and the subbies.
This gives the builder an incentive to complete the work, to take his profit
from the job, and also gives the sub-contractors confidence that they will
be paid for their work. Pay them promptly in cash and the word will get
This involves you doing some of the management that you were paying the
builder for, but might let you complete the work to the original budget.
You may also have to pay for building materials directly as a builder who
cannot pay his subbies is probably also struggling to pay the builders
I guess you would also need to get a written agreement to the changes in
procedure and an agreement that 'time was of the essence' and that if the
work was not completed in a reasonable time then all bets were off.
Bottom line is that you do not pay any more money directly to the builder
until the work is completed, but you allow him to schedule in
sub-contractors and specify materials to be ordered. If pushed you could pay
him a small amount for time spent doing constructive things on site but hold
back most of the remaining money as the carrot to complete the work quickly.
If he can see an achievable result in a reasonably short time you could go
back to the top of his list for resource.
I would also suggest a visit to your local Citizens Advice Bureau where you
can get good advice and quite often a free chat with a solicitor.
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