Customer Rip-off 101

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Our house is old. I have it on good authority that it was built in 1950, although we bought it in 1986. In those 25 years, we have done a lot to the place, like adding a self-contained granny flat, installing double-glazing and replacing the kitchen (twice). The one thing we haven’t touched is the roof, and by the look of it I’d say it hasn’t seen the business end of a trowel since 1950.

Our attic is a sort of adventure playground for birds. This time every year they slip in under the tiles, build their nests and raise their families. They scamper about chittering above our heads and wake us early each morning. We’ve had bees and wasps nesting up there also, at times.

In June 2009 a local roofing guy quoted my €1,000 to do the job. I accepted his quote and he said he’d do the job in August. I’ve been waiting ever since for him to start.

Last week I decided I had to do something; the birds were having what sounded like a family reunion in the roof space. I consulted the yellow pages. The first company I rang offered to do the job over the phone for €3,000. The second company sent a man in a van. He said he could do it for €750 (plus 13.5% VAT). I accepted his quote immediately, and he said he’d start the job Monday morning. He asked for a deposit of €100 which I gave him in exchange for a receipt. He said his name was Adam.

After he’d gone I took a look at the receipt. He’d signed it “Patrick”.

Monday morning 9:20 am, Adam/Patrick arrived with a colleague in a van inscribed with the name of a different roofing company. I asked him about that and he explained that they operate under 3 different names, taking up 6 full pages of the yellow pages.

They ran up two ladders and removed a couple of tiles. That was when the trouble started. “Your felt is rotten,” he says to me from atop his ladder. “I can do the job as agreed, but you really need me to lift three courses of tiles and run some new felt in before I put in the hedgehogs.” I should explain that these were not actual hedgehogs, but 4meter lengths of hairy wire that sit between the tiles and the soffits to keep the birds out. I asked how much it would cost to add the felt. “I’ll do the job for €1,500 plus VAT,” he says.

I argued with him, and he explained that the job would now take 3 full days instead of the expected 2. I told him to go ahead.

The two men worked for an hour before stopping for breakfast. They walked a half mile to the nearest shop, brought their breakfast back and ate it in the van. After breakfast they worked until midday, lifting just 2 courses of tiles to insert miserable strips of felt. At that stage the job was half finished. They left for the day as the sky looked threatening.

Day 2 they worked about 2 more hours before completing the job. I refused to pay, as he had lied to me about the amount of labour involved. We had a huge row which ended when he agreed to waive the VAT.

I have had many, many similar experiences with all sorts of tradesmen over the years, and the process is always the same. They quote a low price for the job, put up their ladders, scatter their tools about and look busy before discovering some unexpected snag and revising the price upwards. I reckon this must be the first thing these guys learn during their apprenticeship: Customer rip-off 101.

They say the country is bankrupt, but I can’t see it. I reckon our future’s in good hands.

UPDATE: 3 days have passed and the birds are back in the attic.

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