BUYER BEWARE: WHAT SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR?
So you've seen an advert from a company on-line with a lovely website offering garden rooms and offices. Looks good, but what do you know about them and their products?
Building a garden room or office that is designed to last in excess of 30yrs is not as simple as some people think. If you're looking for a cheap shed, and want a couple of local lads to knock you one up, then fair enough. You get what you pay for in most cases.
The truth is that a number of companies are indeed not all they seem to be - some have been bust a number of times and have resurfaced as 'Pheonix Companies" rising from the ashes. Some are small time joiners who will offer to build you one, but what comebacks do you have when things go wrong?
Of course there are times when companies fail through no fault of their own, but the ones to worry about are those which do so deliberately to reduce their long term liabilities (and cancel their guarantees), or to capitalise on the large deposits they've received from unwary customers.
So, to help you differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys here's a list of things we think you should check:
- Do they have a fixed operating address or a showroom? Rogue traders are less likely to have either of these, and certainly are unlikely to declare where they operate from to make it difficult to trace them in the event of problems
- Do they only have a mobile phone as a way of contacting them? Any self respecting business will have a landline but be careful, even numbers which look like landlines can actually be mobiles these days
- Do they show photographs of the Directors or staff on their website? Be very careful if they don’t, as this is a way of concealing who is behind the business so that if they go bust, they can start again without being recognised as owners of the previous business
- Are they members of Trade Organisations? Be careful as some trade bodies will accept ANYONE without carrying out any checks so long as they pay the fee
- Do they ask for a large deposit upon placing the order? Anything above 10% is unreasonable and risky for you in our opinion. The remaining payments schedule should then be over the course of the build so you see what you’re getting before you pay up.
- Do they issue a comprehensive Contract with all T&Cs clearly defined? Again Rogue Traders do not like formal contracts as they prefer to leave things 'open ended'. That way they can claim for 'extras' that you thought were included in the price.
- Do they employ their own staff? Some companies (particularly those who offer a ‘National’ Installation service) employ foreign labour as they are cheap and will happily use sub-standard accommodation whilst working away to save money. They are usually on a ‘Job and Finish’ arrangement which means the quicker they get yours done the quicker they get paid and can move on. Remember, these people have no vested interest in the long term interests of the business. Or in you for that matter. So, as long as everything looks alright when they are done, they can get customer sign-off, get paid and move on. In this situation, corner cutting is rife, as they are all too eager to get finished and start the next job, and thereby make more money. Long-term liabilities are not a problem for these people as they won't be around to pick up the pieces..
- Are their Staff DBS Checked? The company should be able to show certificates from The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) which proves that staff have been checked for criminal records and child safety. This is important when working at customer properties for obvious reasons.
- Do they show videos and photographs of genuine customers talking about their experiences on their website? Rogue Traders are unlikely to have many, if any of these - and it’s usually easy to spot ‘staged’ shots or videos of their friends or relatives. Remember - the objective of a Rogue Trader is to hide their true identity - they don't want you knocking on their door anytime soon..
- How are customer reviews presented? Lots of on-line reviews can be faked. Watch out for 'Americanisms' or pigeon English in the text. Has the business replied to the review? If it’s a short paragraph from ‘Mr G in Warrington who says they are great’ then that could easily be fake, as can other reviews from Feefo or such like. Remember, there are lots of companies out there who will generate fake company reviews subject to a small fee.
- Do they show detailed ‘Case Studies’ on the website? These are much more likely to be genuine particularly if supported by customer photos showing them happy with their new room and better still, videos with customers talking through their experiences.
- Have they won Awards? There is a lot of time and effort required in entering and winning awards. Plus the company that has these has a vested interest in its own longevity. Rogue Traders don’t win Awards...
- Are they ‘Trading Standards Approved? It is very difficult to get this approval as Trading Standards carry out thorough checks of any business listed and also carry out annual audits. Rogue Traders cannot get registered with Trading Standards...
- Are the building specifications clear and detailed? You need to know what you’re getting for your money as things can look similar on the outside but the beggar is in the detail. As we say: "It's what's under the bonnet that counts". A garden building is not just about what you see. It’s about what’s hidden inside, underneath, in the base, the walls, and the roof, that makes it rot or fail in 5-10yrs, or last a lifetime. It’s important that the foundations are built correctly and solid, that the Roof voids are ventilated, that the Roof timbers are engineered for snow loadings and a host of other crucial details. It’s easy to make it look good on the surface inside and out, but what’s in between matters far more when it’s Built to Last in excess of 30yrs.
- Do they include the Base Foundations? You will find that a lot of companies suggest that it will be cheaper for you to get your own base laid. Truth is, they don't want to install the base because this is the part which is most likely to fail in the longer term. Even our smallest buildings weigh around 4tons, so its imperative that the foundations are installed correctly. We prefer to fit our own base and we guarantee the whole installation on that basis. If someone else does it then the liability is with the 3rd party.
- Do they use SIPs Panels? The main benefit of SIPs panels is that they are a quick way to build a garden room, so installers love them. Three days on-site instead of seven? More money can be made. They also slightly improve the U-Values. However, the big problem is they don’t breathe, they lock in moist air and the building rots from the inside out. Yes, SIPs are used by large House Builders, but they have to work to Building Regs and install proper air circulation and extraction systems to avoid these problems. Garden room companies don't do this because its impractical and expensive. Some fit an extractor fan and say keep a window open (!) but most don’t even do that..be warned!
**Rubicon Garden Rooms are Trading Standards approved - click on the link for more details:**