London home planner

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A new staircase

We decided to rip out the old staircase and the wall underneath it so that we can open it up into the lounge.

Oh my goodness - I just couldn't believe the amount of rubble that is left! I will take some pictures so that I can include one on here.

It is going to look great - but at the moment it feels quite scary. Changing the fabric of the house feels like a big deal but I know it is being done properly and the correct supports are being put into place.

Already, it has opened up a dark hallway and there is now light coming in from the first floor too. This should be great as this part of the house is south-facing and should therefore grab the sunlight in the morning.

My only concern is that just as light travels - so does sound!

Has anyone else had their staircase opened up into their lounge? Does it create much more noise? Any tips to counterbalance this (apart from making less noise of course!).

New bathroom installation

New work has started on the new bathroom at last! The old bathroom is being moved from the ground floor to the first floor, which will be great. As a result, the house will lose a bedroom but gain a fantastic large bathroom. We have decided to go for white large tiles (900 x 600) and black slate floor tiles that will follow up the walls either side of a chimneybreast. We will have a huge shower and roll top bath. I cannot wait. The focal piece will be a huge mirror we found in Ikea (purely by chance and knew we had to have it).

Week 1 (Monday 13th - Sun 19th November):
Nothing much seems to have happened. Actually, this is a little unfair! Some of the pipework has been done and lots of the prep work.

My builder has reliably informed me that this preparation work always takes the longest. I do trust him and believe that this is the case.

So far we have had the pipes put into place under the floorboards, part of the chimney breast knocked down so that we have equal(ish) space either side of the chimney and so that the roll top bath will fit nicely without restricting too much valuable floorspace.

Some work has been done on ripping out the old staircase too.

Work was done on this room and other parts of the house all week - including Sunday!

Week 2 (Monday 20th - Sun 19th November):
So far (on Wednesday), the electrical socket holes have been created for the underfloor heating and we have discovered that the bathroom ceiling cannot be painted over!

Why ever not?

Well the original (Turquoise!) paint has been painted over with a coat of white paint and it has started to flake off. Our builder said that this was distemper and due to the original paints used. You may gather by my vague description that I am not 100% sure what was meant here but, the outcome was that paint wasn't doing a very good job of covering it as it was all peeling off.

We had a couple of options:
1. To sand the paint and give another couple of coats and hope
2. The more sensible (and costly) solution of replastering the ceiling and starting again.

We went for option 2!

I have now found my digital camera and so I can take some pictures and add to the site. I have been meaning to do this as it adds another dimension to the words! At least you will be able to see the changes too.

We were quoted £185 for the ceiling to be plastered and have asked for some other quotes as I get the impression that good plasterers are hard to find. Do you feel that this is the case?

More to follow soon...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Rewiring the house

Well this was a job that I wasn't looking forward to being done. Rewiring the electrics in the house was reasonably expensive with very little to show for it (although there is the piece of mind that your house won't go up in flames).

The only exciting (I might be pushing that emotion to it's limit) item to show for this job, was the new burglar alarm! I have to admit that I feel much better for havign this installed although I am living in fear of something setting it off by accident and the police being called out on a false alarm.

How sensitive are these alarms? Does it take much to set them off? (would a large fly set it off? Something falling from the wall?)

We were told to close the doors before setting due to airflow - what is that all about? I know that I am thinking of removing a door that leads from the lounge to the kitchen. Is this going to make much of a difference?

The rewiring was very dusty but we had a great electrician (Terry) who did a faultless job and has been great to work with. We were very pleased to have the whole house redone with the alarm too for just under £2,500.

A job well done.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

1st Sash Windows

I was VERY impressed with 1st Sash Windows. The sales person, Keith, was very knowledgeable and friendly with no pushy sales techniques. He asked what we were looking for and gave us a rough quote and said that he would go back to the office to finalise the price and would either call or email with a formal and final quote. Thankfully there was none of this "sign now or forever lose your promotional price" nonsense.

He measured up, chatted a while, made sure that we knew what we wanted and left.

He offered a good price and his lowest price. In his favour he has remained true to his word and the price was confirmed with none of the sales techniques that some of the companies use - i.e. lowering the price and offering time-limited "too good to be true" offers!

1st Sash Windows are at the top of our list at the moment.

Although we haven't used them yet, I would certainly commend their practices so far and would asking them to quote.

Have you, or do you know of anyone who has, used them to fit windows? Any comments would be greatly appreciated

A & A Windows

I was so disappointed with the sales person at AA Windows that I have written a formal complaint.

From their brochure, this company were at the top of the list. Their materials looked professional and their manner was pleasant over the phone.

I booked an appointment for a sales person to visit over a week before the visit was required.

It was only the day before that a sales person called and started to say how far away we were and that it might mean arriving late. Arriving 15 minutes late or so would not have been a problem. I do understand that there is traffic on the roads! However, he wanted to change the appointment by an hour and a half - which was not possible for me.

At this point the sales person began to state that the price would not be the cheapest as the cost for the travel would be included in the quote.

"So if you are having problems making the appointment to sell the windows, would you be likely to have problems when it came to fitting them?" I asked.

"I don't know".

I was stunned!

I said that price was not the leading factor in this and that I wanted a company I could trust, who had a good product and would be reliable enough to do the job. I made it clear that this interaction made me doubt A and A Windows and as a consequence I cancelled the meeting and complained to the manager.

The manager handled this very well and apologised for the actions of the sales person. I was happy with the apology, but explained that my faith had been lost and that I wouldn't be asking them to quote.

I suspect that this may have been the actions of one sales person but it sure did damage the reputation of the company in my eyes. A shame - but that's life.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Anglian Windows

If you have read my other post on windows you may know the drill - before the Anglian Windows salesperson turned up I told the customer service staff that I wanted the honest price - no games and I certainly wouldn't be signing ANY paperwork there and then. The salesperson arrived without a clue as to the type of windows we were looking for (we had been very specific on the phone). I mentioned that he had an hour, to which he retorted, "that should be enough. 55 minutes to discuss the windows and 5 minutes for the paperwork". "What paperwork? As I said on the phone we won't be signing ANY paperwork today" "Well you would if I gave you a quote for £1000 for the lot". "NO. I WOULDN'T!" What an annoying start!

The rest of the dialogue didn't go much better to be honest. With an instant dislike for his style I can't say I was the most receptive.

When asked about compensation if anything went wrong we were assured that compensation would be given. It took about 3 reiterances of the same question to elicit a response ("So what compensation is offered and what is the procedure?") At this point it was clear that the salesperson was blagging and he ended up having to read the small print on the back of the contract (for about 5 minutes) only to find that there is no compensation procedure for appointments that are not kept. This caused me to feel even more doubt and distrust.

The cost came in at £2,500 more than a previous quote (at which I clearly baulked). He then proceeded to offer knocked-down prices. By this time I had had enough and asked him to quote the lowest and truest price he could or not bother. The final price was still more expensive than
Crystal Windows.

I was very disappointed with the sales technique that
Anglian used - even when asked not to. The sales person was unable to tailor his spiel to our needs and this gave a poor impression.

We certainly won't be using
Anglian and, although I can't vouch for all of their sales staff, the one we were faced with gave a poor impression of the company.

Have you had good or bad experiences with
Anglian? Why not post and help others when they research for their window purchase?

I would certainly recommend researching on the internet before making your mind up - there are plenty of reviews of Anglian around.

Crystal Windows

They arrived to give a quote and I have to say I was impressed.

I think it was useful to speak to the customer service team when booking the visit and make sure that they know you will only give an hour of your time and that you want an honest price.

I stated that although I am not accusing their company of doing so, I was aware of all of the games that are played; offering 24 hour discounts, calling their manager to agree a "special price" that can only be guarantee if you sign up there and then...etc.

The salesperson arrived, already aware that we wanted an honest price, and I reiterated the fact that I wouldn't be signing ANYTHING that evening and that I wouldn't make any decision until I had seen all 4 companies asked to quote.

The salesperson was pleasant and knowledgeable and didn't try on any of the hard sell tactics. He was with us for about 20 minutes that was all we needed. Admittedly, we know exactly what type of windows we are after (upvc sliding sash windows - see below) and so there was no need to show the whole range.

I was impressed with Crystal Windows and the price wasn't too bad either! A decision will be made - but only after the other companies offer a quote too.

Any experience of Crystal Windows? Good after sales service? How was the fitting? Did they turn up on time and do the job well? It would be great to hear from anyone with some experience of using this company.

Shopping for Double Glazing

I certainly wasn't looking forward to this. There are so many companies. How can you choose the best? How do you know the cowboys?

My selection procedure started with scouring websites many of which are at the bottom of this post (if anyone else is having to do this it may be a good start).

We then asked for brochures - many don't offer this. We then decided on only 4 companies to ask to quote. Beware that most will offer you a no-obligation quote - but it could mean an hour or so spent in with a salesperson.

After reviewing the brochures and websites and using online review forums we made our decision based on quality and integrity of company and good value.

On our system we have decided to ask the following companies to quote for us: A&A Windows, Anglian Windows, Crystal Windows and 1st Sash Windows.

I'll post my feedback as they quote.

Please comment if you have experience of any of these companies.

Window companies (added as result of a reader's comment - thanks Ray)

Regulatory Bodies

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Lees Lloyd Whitley Solicitors

Oh dear!

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

As a first time buyer I was expecting more from a solicitor. Is it too much to ask for a solicitor to bring your attention to items in a survey? To call back when they promise they will? Although the solicitors did proceed our case and enable us to exchange contracts and complete, we felt that they were not so good with customer service.

The company we used for our conveyancing was Lees Lloyd Whitley and we certainly would never use them again. They were contracted by our mortgage providers and we thought that it would be easier to keep everything together - alas no.

We were hoping for a little more guidance from them as to what we should be raising with the vendors and with the surveyors. We ended up asking our solicitors to do all of this.

At one point, I had to stay up until gone 3am to compile a list of things that were outstanding for them as they weren't sure what they should be doing on our behalf. I couldn't believe that I had to do this for them - surely they should have been in charge of their own workloads?!

All I can say is look around and compare solicitors before you use them and make sure that they will be right for you.

I would choose a local company who were small enough to care about their clients. I didn't feel that Lees Lloyd Whitley offered any guidance and as a client, I felt that they didn't give a damn!

Has anyone else had poor experiences with solicitors? Do you feel that they should be offering some guidance? Were we expecting too much?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Diamond Removals

On September 22nd we moved from a 2-bedroomed flat in North London to a 3-bedroomed terraced house in East London. We booked a removal company called Diamond Removals.
We opted for their Silver Service which seemed very reasonable and we were quoted £450 for the move including packing breakables and dismantling furniture and assembling at the other end. Now that is what I call a good service and value for money.
Now being a stickler for good organisation, I have to admit to being somewhat nervous. But nervous about what? You want a list? OK… Will they turn up on time? Will the van be big enough? Will they charge us more when we get there? What if the lift breaks down? What if their van breaks down What if they don’t turn up at the other end? What if they break everything? What if we have to claim on their insurance? What if nothing fits in at the other end? What? Why? How? When? Will? Can? And so it goes on!

Anyway, the completion date arrived and we were packed ready. Everything at our end was fine.

Yes, I was agitated once the delivery people were running late but I was keeping a lid on it.

Once they arrived (only about 30 minutes late and I had spoken to their customer service team who reassured me that they were on their way), the loading began.

There were 3 guys who worked well together to get everything loaded onto the van. They also packed the breakables - very carefully. We were impressed.

Apparently they say that moving is the most stressful thing you will do on your life - how could it be? After all, everything was running so smoothly.

Until later!

When we arrived at the property we had bought thinking how swimmingly well it was all going, we had a huge shock.

The vendors had left all of their belongings in the property. I don't mean the odd things here and there, I mean all beds (fully made), wardrobes, wall units, sofas, washing machine, and so on...

Well we hit the roof and phoned our solicitors to check what could be done and to make sure that we weren't responsible for their crap - ooops I mean property. We weren't and so out on to the street it went.

Now the vendors were divorcing and the woman wouldn't move the sale along at all. In the end we had to threaten to pull out - which we would have done as it was dragging along. From offer being accepted to moving in, Mrs Vendor (as she will now be termed for politeness) was vile to communicate with. Mr Vendor was in contact with us and more amenable, which meant I could call him once we had the problem of their belongings in situ.

Mr Vendor couldn't understand why all of their belongings had to be out of the property on the day of completion and thought he would be able to come and collect at a later date. This was not going to happen as we had so much in the removal van that we couldn't move items in.

This is where our removal company came were brilliant. They helped us to move all of their junk out before moving ours in. We gave them a healthy tip of £90 (£30 each), as they had remained civilised and calm throughout. They didn't complain and ended up leaving at about 7.30pm on a Friday without a grumble.

The only item we were unable to move into the house was a large 3-piece suite as the doorframes were too narrow. They have taken this back and placed in storage until we ask them to redeliver (when we get our windows replaced it can go through the hole!).

All I can say is that Diamond Removals were great value for money, professional, friendly and calm and they helped a complete nightmare to be less hellish! I would recommend them highly.

Oh and there is a moral to this tale - watch out if you decide to buy from a couple who are divorcing - they may decide to take out their grievances with each other on you! Has anyone else suffered in a similar way?

It's all new to me!

Both blogging and buying a new house are new to me.

The reason for this blog is to attempt to share ideas and act as a resource for redesigning your home. Maybe with the odd rant to two about the current state of large company customer services (but more about that in future posts).

After buying a new house and moving in toward the end of September I have realised that there is so much to do. Being able to speak to others in the same situation would have been helpful. I have spent many hours trawling various websites but not always getting the answers required – I can’t be the only one.

So, the (naive?) hope is to have a place where we can share ideas and help each other out whilst having a forum to let off steam when the dodgy solicitors don’t send the paperwork they promise and the telecom company keeps you on hold for 30 minutes at a time!

I hope that this blog develops in style and content just as my new home develops in habitability and comfort and that a small community of like-minded individuals can share thoughts and ideas.
Let’s blog, build and improve!