It's all very well talking the talk, but does being trustmark registered actually mean anything when it comes to carrying out the work? We visited three homes that have recently undergone major works to get the views of the client and contractor. and As the following pages show, there are a lot of happy customers out there.
#1 The builder
Jill Appleby hired James Allen Construction to reconfigure the poorly built loft conversion of her south London house into living quarters for her nanny. Contracts manager Richard Morgan oversaw the job
Jill: My sister-in-law had employed James Allen to do some work at her house and that's why I went to them. There wasn't a bad word between us - and given that I was seven months pregnant at the beginning of the job and the mother of a three-month-old baby at the end, that is no mean feat. I only lost it on the day I was due to give birth. Elizabeth was 16 days late, but on my actual due date only one room in my house was habitable and my bedroom ceiling was being propped up by what could have passed for a lap dancing pole. I complained and within hours Richard had four guys fixing the ceiling.
That was typical of him. He was always helpful and I never had the feeling he was trying to fleece me, not least because he is Jehova's Witness - he is simply not allowed to lie. Very reassuring. His faith also means that, unlike most builders, his language is impeccable. Mine wasn't and I think his team sometimes found that shocking. I'd march into the kitchen when they were having tea, invariably a herbal infusion, they didn't touch the enormous box of PG Tips I bought for them, and ask them to effing sweep up. At the end of every day they spent an hour cleaning!
Richard: Jill kept it together pretty well, considering the baby factor. She was quite assertive, but that was fine.
It is good to have clients who know what they want. And she was accommodating. Some customers are so hardline they won't even let you use their loo. Workwise she had reasonable expectations and that, frankly, is what makes a good customer. People who start talking about finishes when a job has just started are generally bad news. It means they don't know what building work involves - Jill obviously did.
The only problem with this £100,000 job is that we didn't make a profit.
Our spec was a quote Jill had got from another firm and because we never cut corners it ended up being impossible to make any money. Jill is pretty gutted about that and says if she ever wins the lottery, she'll pay the profit we've lost.
#2 The plumber
For as long as elizabeth goodrich could remember the top floor of her Blackheath house had been stone-cold. Wilgar Plumbing & Heating's director Billy Wilgar oversaw a £6300 microbore pipe overhaul and it's now tropical year round
Elizabeth: A couple of months ago I got stuck behind one of Billy's vans on the school run. I was looking for a plumber to sort out our heating problem and emailed him via the firm's website. I got a reply the same day which really impressed me. When I first saw Billy I was even more impressed: he looked awesome. He was wearing a smart shirt and crisp chinos. All the other plumbers I got quotes from came to my home wearing overalls caked in other people's grime.
I also got a quote on the spot. Billy's laptop has a programme which builds and costs an order simultaneously. It is great to know a quote isn't guesswork. The job itself was plain sailing too. First, because it took the seven days Billy said it would. Second, because although it was a big job that involved every room in the house, the guys cleaned up meticulously at the end of every day with their own vacuum cleaners and mops. When my husband came home at 7pm there was no evidence of the day's activities.
I am not sure I was such a great client. I probably badgered the hell out of them with my questions. But you want to know what's going on in your home. How often do you get the chance to look under your floorboards?
Billy: Elizabeth represents the increasingly informed and engaged client. I think that's great. If customers knew more the industry probably wouldn't have such a poor reputation because people would hire better plumbers.
I knew she would be a pleasure to work for the moment we started talking. We do work for all sorts of people in all sorts of properties, but when you enter a nice family home like this you get a good feeling. Elizabeth's first query was not about money. When people start talking about getting the cheapest quote or telling you they have had 17 other plumbers round, you know they aren't going to hire you.
Our mission is not to be the cheapest, it is to allay customers' plumber fears. This is why we give customers a reference from a job completed the week before theirs starts and why we do things such as send out confirmation letters before a job starts. We are all about communication. I think Elizabeth appreciated that.
#3 The electrician
the electrical wiring in Sheila Thomas's rural Surrey home was 40 years old and when a problem with the incoming mains supply nearly set Sheila and her estate, home to Britain's oldest working windmill, on fire, she called in David Pope of Electrix UK
Sheila: David was nothing short of wonderful. He made me feel secure in my home and nothing can beat that feeling. As a woman living on my own, and without any neighbours, I can feel quite vulnerable at times and I have certainly had dealings with unscrupulous tradespeople. With David I could leave my handbag in full view on the kitchen table. When he began the job it emerged that virtually every wire in my home was either unearthed or live. He explained what needed to be done before he actually did it, so I always felt in control and knew what I was spending and on what. He also explained his Trustmark accreditation, which was very reassuring too. I knew I was in safe hands.
I suffer from Parkinson's disease. I fell into David's arms on several occasions when I lost my balance. He was very understanding of my illness and was always offering to do things such as put up shelves and go shopping for me. Plus he was very conscientious. He charges £200 a day whether he finishes at 5pm or 8pm. And he always arrives at 8am on the dot.
David: the problem with jobs in old buildings is they almost always turns out to be bigger than you initially estimate. Complications emerge once the work has started. You find that, over the years, people have added on bits of wiring, usually illegally. That was certainly the case here - what was going to be a one-week job ended up being almost three. I understand how unsettling that can be so I tried to keep an open dialogue. Otherwise, Mrs Thomas might have wondered what on earth I was doing in her house for so long. I wouldn't want her to have that concern. Since she cannot move freely I took pictures of the work for her. That way she could see the problems for herself. I think she trusts me. I certainly hope so.
James Allen Construction is TrustMark accredited through the FMB Masterbond scheme. Tel: 01372 810062, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wilgar Plumbing & Heating is TrustMark accredited through the Heating and Ventilating Contractors' Association. Tel: 01689 891011, Email: email@example.com
Electrix UK is TrustMark accredited through the National Association of Professional Inspectors and Testers. Tel: 020 8668 4205 or 01293 821 981, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org