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Unlucky number 13

Richard Renouf reports on his visit to two different homes that had something in common where the residents had been dealt a bad hand.

IT’S not uncommon to be asked to look at several properties in the same location, for example, in a housing block or property development where all the flats have been fitted with the same flooring.

It’s almost always the case that there’s the same fault, whether it’s a faulty product batch or the same inexperienced installer. It’s much rarer to be called back to the same site either to look at remedial work or, rarer still, to look at a second problem for the same customer.

This week’s was a first. The customer at 13a had obtained my details and spent some time with me on the phone explaining the issues with the flooring in his new-build home and learning about ways in which I could help – as well as the costs. Shortly afterwards, the customer at 13b called me. He’d been chatting to his neighbour and, after realising they both had complaints about their flooring, he wondered if I’d be able to inspect his at the same time…and if there’d be a discount.

The house numbers gave away that this was an infill development. Most streets don’t have a number 13, so this was very convenient for the developer when he bought a bit of waste ground down the close. He’d built two detached properties and pocketed a handsome windfall. He was already building more homes in the same village.

Customer A had a rigid LVT click flooring which had been chosen from samples provided by the developer and bought as part of the complete home package. The flooring was cracking along some of the walls, in the kitchen and at the doorway of the downstairs toilet.

In 13b the flooring was an engineered wood product and was creaking badly. There was clearly movement in the joints, and in places the flexing of the flooring could be felt underfoot. The ‘bridging effect’ of the flooring, being stiffer than the rigid LVT, made the issues less visible, but a laser scan soon revealed the unevenness of the subfloor – it appeared to have the same channels but by some of the walls and the kitchen was, as before, standing on the flooring, although it did appear that the tiles had been uplifted (or perhaps never laid) in the toilet.

The biggest difference between the two properties, however, were the customers themselves. Mr A wanted to take the developer to court at the earliest opportunity because he didn’t believe he would be willing to resolve the issues. Customer A wanted to have my report for his own satisfaction, but was not going to pass it on to the developer until after he had started a court claim.

He and his partner had been treated very badly, he felt, and it was too late for the developer to restore his confidence and reputation. I sensed his partner, or at least concern for his partner’s anger at the situation, which was his biggest motivating factor.

Customer B seemed to have had as many issues with the developer, but his approach was one of negotiation. He’d already prepared a schedule of ‘snags’, and he wanted the information from my report to ensure he hadn’t missed anything about the flooring before presenting this to the developer. He was keen for immediate action and so the report was to be held for use only if the developer did not resolve things. Customer B feared the report would result in a negative response from the developer if presented too early. A baby was on the way and any delays due to arguments would risk affecting the period when his focus needed to be elsewhere.

Which was the right approach? Neither was perfect. Customer A was at risk of losing a court claim just by withholding vital evidence (the report) and only producing it for the court, a technique commonly referred to as an ‘ambush’, which courts frown on. Don’t try to be clever, always give the ‘other side’ the opportunity to see and to respond – whether practically or argumentatively – to anything you might wish to use if court proceedings were issued.

Customer B was at risk of getting half a job done. By not disclosing the information in the report, the developer could ‘fix’ all the snags but still leave critical issues to arise over a longer period of time.

The common factor was the developer, but the floors were different and so were the customers.

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