O Brother where art thou?

Things have been pretty busy here at the shop, with new and ongoing projects with some really lovely clients but there have also been some changes. Every business and person in the U.K. needs to make a plan for Brexit if they think they might be affected when EU laws and treaties cease to apply to the U.K. at midnight on the 29th of March 2019. Here at Kings Heath Towers we have decided that the best way to protect ourselves from whatever is coming is to leave the U.K. and move to Germany. We didn’t want to do this in the middle of the school year, or wait too long, so we moved in late summer to our new home in Solingen, which is between Düsseldorf and Cologne. So, not too far away.

I still have a block of projects and new work to progress and I apologise to my clients for some delays – the move and refurbishment work has taken me out of the office for about six weeks. Thanks for your patience, we will get there. I will be back in Kings Heath for site visits and surveys, but I will do these in blocks (rather than just cycling over to your house of an evening) and I will continue to work with some of the brilliant builders and professionals on both sides of the Alcester road.

I would like to see how the work goes over the next few months and it’s possible that I will reduce the volume of Kings Heath work I take on, or alter the office programme to work in sequence rather than batches. The service and quality come first, so thank you for your patience once again.

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Kings Road

For this project we had two phases – a loft room and a deep and narrow extension into the garden. The full width (at under four metres maybe that’s not the right expression) extension normally breaches planning rules but in this case we have a terraced house with the back of the neighbour’s wing in both sides. A special circumstance. In order to comply with fire regulations we had to fit a ground floor domestic sprinkler. These are heat activated so they don’t go off when you make toast and they work off mains feed, so no extra water tank is needed. 

We were able to fit a new stair to the loft room above the existing stairs and gain a small loft storage area under the eaves opposite the room. We could also fit in a tiny ensuite above hanging over the stairs. 


At the ground floor we used three steels in an H shape to let us build open plan below the existing wing and roof lights to bring some daylight into the deep room. The dining space is on the sunny side, the kitchen in the middle and the lounge is near the centre of the house. Thanks to Phil, our builder, for making me climb the top ladder!

Is my builder dodgy AF?

I recently had the educational experience of working with a builder best avoided. Let’s call him El Malo.

There are some builders who are disorganised, have trouble, make mistakes, or get the quote wrong. Like El Feo. It’s bad luck to get a builder like that but with enough flattery, threats or bribery you can usually get 95% of the outcome you were hoping for. 

Builders like El Malo are not like that. When they take on the job, they have no intention of delivering what they think will be a good scheme. They only want to take your money. They make for the horror stories of the building trade. 

The play

El Malo is looking out for clients who need work and can be fooled into paying out money without the work being done. He then offers them a low price, an early start but also an emotional connection. He then convinces the client to hand over increasingly large amounts of money, sometimes for no visible site progress. As long as the money keeps coming, so do the promises. Whenever the client behaves the way El Malo wants, he tells them what they want to hear. Whenever the client asks questions or delays payment, El Malo responds with threats – risks to the project, danger of delay, aggression or intimidation. The client wants to believe the promises and is afraid of the bad side. This is how after months of disaster, the client can still be handing over money. 

The signs

Is your builder like El Malo or are you just stuck with an El Feo? One is a bit incompetent, the other malevolent. If your builder has no address, or a fake address, no landline, no Google history, no paper invoice, no company number these are danger signs. Also look out for a really low price and early availability. But what are the killer tells that you are being double crossed? The key is that you are being emotionally manipulated into believing the lies. Try this. Ask your builder to do something extra that you know should cost money – El Feo will try to charge you or avoid adding it to the contract, El Malo will use it to control you – it’s no problem, no cost, but it will make it more important that you make the next payment. 

What you can do

Say goodbye to your money and your project. Don’t make it worse. If you try to negotiate or confront El Malo, he will look for your emotional vulnerability. Go to trading standards or citizens advice. You can try to go to court, but make sure trading standards are on board. With no contract, no address or even the name of the builder you have a problem. Warn your neighbours. 

El Bueno

El Bueno can give you a reference. He (or she) is not the cheapest. You will get a letter contract or a written agreement with a real address. You will pay VAT (unless it is a specialist micro project business like stained glass or Minton floor restoration). If you want to hire them, you will wait. If you want something extra, it costs money. El Bueno gives you a payment schedule, which can include a deposit, but the payment stages and amounts are defined. El Bueno wants to get the job done and make a profit but they also want to walk away knowing that you will give them a recommendation.