The tradesman who made me see stars
Communication at the start of an interior makeover is key to avoiding tricky situations
“The honeymoon period at the start of the job when everyone is trying to be best mates can cloud the finer detail.”
I think I’m fairly mild-mannered , I don’t go in for drama. Unless, that is, I hire a tradesman to do a big job in my house. Then it can end in tears and tantrums; usually mine.
This time, I told myself, it was going to be different. I and the guy I’d hired to paint my house were going to get along famously. His Facebook page was twinkling with five-star reviews. He said he phoned a woman who gave him a miserly four stars to ask her what he had done to deserve such a bad review. With such high standards, what could possibly go wrong?
On the first day of the job I was bowled over by his enthusiasm for colour. He encouraged me not to go with the usual greens and burgundys (old hat apparently) and to go for bold change. He showed me colour cards with greys-blues , taupes and teals that are currently in hot demand, He said the damson pink I’d chosen for the hall would be too overpowering, to keep it to a feature wall. He was right.
Dust sheets down, very neat paint job, neighbours and friends all raving about the blue-grey in the sitting room. So far, so five-star review.
The next day I left them at it for a few hours to go to the shops. When I came back it was as if I had entered a twilight zone. The front room was submerged in a thick layer of teak-coloured dust, which dappled my newly painted walls like a strange 1980s paint effect. One of the team had used an electric sander on the window sill and nothing in the room had been covered. Cue tantrum (mine), quickly followed by a frantic scurry with a vacuum cleaner by the painter. I’m not petty, five stars still intact.
Painting downstairs finished, looking good, but the internal doors were not varnished. Why? “You didn’t ask me to do that,” he replied, informing me it would be an extra €150. “Are you going to varnish the top of the bannisters then?” I asked. He hadn’t planned to but would do it for me as a “special favour”.
I’d asked for my windows to be painted, but apparently didn’t specify I wanted the insides done, as well as the outsides . “But why did you do the window sill in the front room if you weren’t going to do the rest of the frame?” I asked. As a favour, apparently, so the room would look nice. Cue second tantrum (mine). With all the favours he was doing me, I should have been grateful but I was seething that I would now have to go and pay someone else to paint the frames.
A few days after his team had finished, he texted me. “I am sorry we had a difference over the inside of the windows, I just want to do a good job and have happy customers. So when I get back off my holidays and have a rest I will drop around and do them for you.” That was decent of him, I thought. Or was it that he could sense something less than a five-star review in the wind?
I have yet to hear from him, and that was early May. The moral is I will never again assume that, if I ask for the entire downstairs of my house to be painted, that everything will be included. If I’m getting my windows done, I’ll make sure I specify inside and out. If I’m getting internal doors painted , I’ll make sure to say that I mean front and back.
From talking to friends and colleagues about their experiences, it seems very clear that communication at the start is key to avoiding these situations. The honeymoon period at the start of the job when everyone is trying to be best mates can cloud the finer detail. One colleague told me she had a very genial relationship with a tradesman until, in her absence, he decided that the new window she had ordered for a room could just as easily be replaced by one he’d had “out the back” , which was far larger and uglier than what she’d intended. She ended up living with the big brown monstrosity for some time rather than hurt the guy’s feelings but it grated and she didn’s use him again. Mind you, that was in the days before Facebook reviews.
Of course there are the people who get major work done on their homes and everything seems to go to plan. If I veer from my local handyman who is able to do pretty much any job around the house but doesn’t like painting and won’t touch anything to do with gas, I end up regretting it. Another colleague of mine had major work done on his house recently and he told me how his wife got a fantastic price for an extension, attic conversion and a new kitchen. Seriously, I’ve heard of people paying more for wooden garden rooms (aka big sheds with plumbing).
I couldn’t help being a little envious when he told me that the entire job went swimmingly, the builder was finished in less than eight weeks and everyone is still on excellent terms. He says this builder is well-liked locally, which would indicate loads of happy customers. Maybe next time I’m getting a big job done, I should get him over to do it and if it doesn’t end well, I’ll know it’s me and not the tradesmen.
I’ve been itching to put the cat among the pigeons and post a stinging three-star review, but would this be purely an act of revenge? I look at the overall job, and my house looks good. Should I get bogged down in the detail? No: life is too short. But it would serve him right if I did.