Sorry, I really tried to keep the description as short as possible:
On 03/03/2016 we called some conservatory companies in Devon and finally made appointments with two of them for the next day for a viewing. In the afternoon we sent them a floor plan with detailed measurements and other information about what exactly we wanted. BTW We had even searched the web for reviews about the companies and found nothing negative - just one positive review.
On 04/03 an employee of the first company arrived in good time, and we noticed he had the document (which we had emailed the day before) printed out and ready for discussion! Because the negotiated price was acceptable (£8,060), and because he confirmed that they could complete the conservatory within a month, we decided to enter into a contract immediately. In the contract was stated: "Installation date: 18/03/16, 09.00" As advance payment 1/4 = £2,015 had been agreed:
On 04/03 we paid £2,015 by bank transfer.
On the same day another employee arrived to carry out a survey (as specified in the contract). He examined the house, took measurements and discussed with us and wrote down the exact positions for the doors, opening windows, roof connection etc.. We mentioned that we had already paid the advance, and he said the required parts would be ordered IMMEDIATELY!
17/03: Since we hadn't heard anything from the company, we sent an email and asked if they had received our advance payment and also asked them to confirm that the works would start on the next day as provided in the contract. No answer.
On 18/03 we waited at home the whole morning, but in vain. No one came. No information. We called them after lunch: the secretary said she would talk to the builder responsible for the groundworks. On the same day we were informed that the builder would begin on 22/03, 9.00am.
On 22/03 no one came, but the builder called us to tell us he would come one day later, 23/03, 1.00pm.
On 23/03 he came, examined the ground, and asked us additional questions regarding the groundworks. Since it is a hillside situation, he recommended insistently to build an additional retaining wall (the rain would wash the garden down to the conservatory), cost around £2,000 (making it much more expensive than other offers we had received before signing the contract with this company). He seemed to be a skilled and competent builder, and to avoid further delays, we agreed in principle and asked to calculate the exact additional costs and inform us asap. We asked when the groundworks will begin finally, but he could not give us a concrete date.
On 24/03 we sent another email to the company to declare in writing what had happened so far. We wrote that because early installation was VERY IMPORTANT to us, we were happy that they could offer us that early installation date (18/03). This was the MAIN REASON we decided in favour of their company, cancelled another appointment we had later on 04/03, signed the contract, and immediately paid the advance - just to avoid any delay. We asked them to inform us immediately in writing about when the works would begin and what exactly the extra costs for the additional work (retaining wall) would be.
29/03: Since they hadn't answered, we sent another email in the morning. We reminded them that during our initial discussion on 04/03, before signing the contract, it had been confirmed that the project could be carried out within a month, so we already made plans for the time after the installation. We stated again, that we really needed the additional space, provided by the conservatory, as soon as possible.
30/03: Since there was no reply, we sent another email, stating that it's urgent. Then the secretary called us and said she would send us an email regarding the starting date.
01/04: Again, nothing happened. We sent another email: we asked what had happened in the meantime and why there were further delays. We reminded them that we were waiting for 9 days now to get an answer regarding the costs for the additional works.
06/04: After many many attempt we finally got the manager on the phone. He told us that the groundworks will be carried out "next week". We were very relieved about that. He said he would call us back to tell us the exact date. He didn't.
07/04: We sent another email in the evening: We wrote that we tried to call him several times during the day, but in vain. Furthermore we reminded him, that we would also need to know what would be the costs*for the additional works.
08/04: The secretary called and informed us that a skip will be delivered on 13/04. We asked again, if they would already know what the additional costs would be. She just answered "not much".
On 13/04, as announced, a ridiculously small skip arrived, and one worker, without any machines, dug out some earth and moved it into the skip. A day went by, but this method was not suitable to make progress.
On 14/04 the employee who visited us on 04/03 for signing the contract came again to let us sign an additional contract about £2,000 for the extra works, and we were asked to pay this in advance, because more work needs to be done, so they would need more money in advance for material and the builder:
On 14/04 we paid £2,000 by bank transfer.
On the same day or a few days later, a larger skip had been delivered, the required machines and an excavator arrived, and intense working finally began. Great! (we thought)
On 28/04 a lot of work had already been accomplished, The manager visited us and tried to persuade us to accept that the project would cost another £1,600 (!!) more. He admitted it had taken a bit (!) longer, but he had selected "quality workers" in order to get the job done as good as possible. (Later it turned out that this builder and his men had been commissioned by him for the first time - he never knew them before!) We reminded him that we have a contract plus the additional costs of the second contract, and that we can't pay more than was agreed in these two contracts (all together £10,160). He accepted our objection, but asked us politely to pay another £2,000 in advance + £100 which we had agreed with the builder for a minor modification of the retaining wall, so that he could speed up the remaining works:
On 28/04 we paid £2,100 by bank transfer.
Until 05/05 (with some interruptions of several days) the builder had completed the groundworks and brickwalls, however there is still some work left for him to do, which he can't do before the other conservatory parts will be built up. That is the reason why material, some debris and the last skip (which has already ruined the lawn in front of the house in the meantime) had been left here at the construction site. (BTW: It turned out that the ground is solid ROCK, so the wall wouldn't have been required - according to horticultural advice it could also have been fixed with cheap retaining wire netting!)
On 06/05 the manager called us and asked us to pay another £2,000. He said he had to pay bills for many skips, pay the builder and buy further material. Again, he said this would speed up the completion. Because it was already more than a month after the expected completion date, and we really wanted this project to be finished as soon as possible, we accepted his request:
On 06/05 we paid £2,000 by bank transfer.
On 09/05 the employee who took measurements on 04/03 came once again for more detailed measurements.
On the same day we sent an email and asked if the works would continue the next day. No answer.
On 11/05 we tried to reach someone of the company on their various phone numbers. We could only reach the employee who visited us for signing the contracts. We asked him when the works would continue. He said in about a week.
Later we could also reach the manager via phone, and he claimed that the groundwork would require 2 weeks to stabilise! According to this we would have to wait until 23/05. (Later the builder confirmed that this isn't true at all!)
On 23/05, we stayed at home and waited for the work to continue - again, in vain. We tried to reach the manager via phone, but in vain. Again, we could only reach the employee who visited us for signing the contracts. He assured he would contact the manager and call us back. He never did.
On 24/05, again, we stayed at home and waited - again, in vain. We tried to reach anyone by phone. Since no one answered, we sent another email. No answer.
On 25/05 we could reach the employee who took measurements. He informed the manager who finally let his secretary call us back. She said, the problem would be that the "roof takes longer to arrive"; estimated day of arrival: 31/05.
On 26/05 the builder visited us privately on his own initiative and informed us that he hadn't received any money from the manager, though it was him who did all the work until 05/05. He warned us NOT TO PAY any more money in advance (what we hadn't done anyway). He said, the remaining work could be done within three days. It would NOT have been required to wait to let the groundwork stabilise!
For many days we tried to contact the manager, but we had only been cajoled and put off by a new, young employee whom we had never known before.
On 07/06 we reached the manager by phone! He said he would call us back soon or confirm via email to guarantee that the works will be completed from 14/06.
On 08/06 in the morning he called and offered to complete the conservatory from 21/06 (about another two weeks later!).
Since we still wanted to get the earlier date (14/06), we sent another email reminding him what he had said the day before. We also tried to call him again, but there was just his answering machine! We sent another email in the late evening and asked for a confirmation for 14//06 again.
On 09/06 we could reach him by phone in the morning. What he had suggested, he had also confirmed by email in the morning:
"Further to our telephone conversation this morning, I have been speaking to our manufacturers about a possible earlier delivery for your conservatory roof. As I explained in the telephone conversation, they will need a payment upfront to prioritise the roof which could lead to a delivery to us on the 13/06. We will need to payment of £1500 for the roof to get this prioritised and allow us to complete the conservatory sooner. I also would like to confirm that I have offered you a discount [£500] on the total left outstanding which I have taken off the contract."
We answered via email, that we had believed him that the 3 additional payments he had already asked for (£2,000 + £2,100 + £2,000) would speed up the conservatory works, and we had always paid! Nevertheless the project had been delayed by months, which caused many serious problems and financial loss for our family. At this point we couldn't take an additional financial risk. We suggested to arrange the delivery of the roof (direct to us) and the payment direct with the manufacturer. We wrote we would also pay the rest (£2,045 minus price of roof) after completion and that we won't make use of the offered £500 discount.
When we came back home we noticed that the manager had tried to call us back (caller ID), but he hadn't left a message. We sent him another email, that we had noticed that he wanted to call us, and that we wouldn't want further phone calls, but a WRITTEN answer in this case.
We waited the rest of the day for his reply, but again in vain. We sent another friendly email later in the evening and asked him to answer.
On 10/06 we waited until the evening and then wrote another email:
Because he hadn't replied to our suggestion regarding the payment of the roof, we decided to accept his previous offer (which he made via phone on 08/06) to complete the conservatory from 21/06. Because in this case a prioritised delivery of the roof*wouldn't be required, we would pay the remaining £2,045 after completion. We asked him to confirm this in writing until 14/06. He didn't reply.
On 14/06 we sent him a "Reminder with fixing of a period of time" As time limit for completing the remaining works we allowed 2 MORE WEEKS, until 28/06 (included). We had sent this as emails and as RM Signed for letter.
On 06/07 the letter came back (undeliverable and not collected from the PO).
In the meantime we found two extremely negative reviews on Google about him - unfortunately posted after we had signed the initial contract. The other customers got their work done, but with immense delays, and without obtaining promised discounts.
We know we made mistakes: We waited too long. We paid too much in advance. Nevertheless, what can we do to get this solved? Offer him a bit more money? (Sometimes paying a bit more is better than fighting longer.) Go to a solicitor? Trading standards? We really need a fast solution now. Our nerves are on edge...