Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Caveat Emptor - Buyer Beware!

I'd like to think that people who knew me would say that I am relatively smart.  But they might also say I am trusting and try to avoid confrontation.  Despite the former, a combination of the last two seems to have gotten me into a world of trouble and I am not sure what to do.

You may remember that we are having the garden done. Yes, that is present tense, it still isn't complete despite it being over twelve weeks since I first handed over some of our hard earned cash.

I found our landscaper in the local paper.  His advert said that they are the locals who are on time and get the job done.  He seemed very nice, was flexible with our ever evolving plans, and his work was pretty good. 

My instinct is to get everything in writing - you should see my 'house book'.  Every conversation with every tradie who ever walked through these doors, or picked up the phone has been written down, with names, dates and details.  My second instinct is also to protect myself by withholding some of the payment where possible until I am satisfied.

My instincts have failed me this time.  No contract, nothing in writing, thousands of dollars paid out.

Up to a point all was going well.  Then, about 6 weeks ago after the bulk of the work had been complete, the garden guy disappeared onto a new job.  True, only a small part of the job remained - completing the reticulation in the back yard, and fixing up a couple of bricks - but the job remains unfinished (and all but $200 has been paid).

A fortnight ago, I saw the garden guy briefly when he came to investigate a large hole that had formed by the new soakwell.  I asked when he would be finishing the retic and he explained he was in the middle of another big job, and the owner was threatening to fire him if he left site once again.  He told me he would be back in a week.

I did wonder at the time why he was so scared by this other fellow but didn't seemed to care that I too, (despite being young, female and relatively friendly) was also a client with an unfinished job, but I guess I just answered that.

Last week came and went with no sight of the garden guy.  I sent a few text messages asking when I could expect him, and received nothing in reply.

I began getting quite shitty.

Today I picked up the phone.  If you know me, you will know this is a major thing. I hate using the phone and I hate confrontations, yet when he picked up I asked him what was going on, and when I could expect to see him to finish the job.  He denied having told me he would be back last week to finish the job, he actually told me he hadn't told any of his clients anything in the previous ten days. (So there are more us!).  He told me not to push him or else I should find someone else to finish the job.  I needed to be more patient, he said.  I told him that I had been very patient and it had already been 12 weeks.

'That's it,' he said.  Then he hung up on me.

So I picked up the phone again. This time I called the Department of Consumer Protection.

It turns out that landscaping comes under the Home Building Contracts Act 1991, and for all work between $7,500 and $500,000 (which this does) the builder (or garden guy) needs to provide a whole swag of goodies including a written contract, a notice to the homeowner and cannot ask for a deposit greater than 6.5% of the total cost.  We paid a 30% deposit.  Cash.

Turns out this fellow has broken a whole raft of laws and should I proceed with a formal complaint, he could be the one in a whole world of trouble, with fines in excess of $50,000.

I don't want to the be the person who takes away someone's livelihood.  But I do want my job finished and I don't want any hassles. I also want to make sure that someone else doesn't fall victim to the same thing.  The thing is, he's certainly not at the same level as those dodgy guys you see on Today Tonight who have taken pensioners for thousands of dollars, or who do bad work that falls apart. If he had come last week to finish the job I would probably be singing a very different tune.

But his last words to me were that I 'blew it'.  So it sounds like he doesn't intend to return.  And would I really want him back here after being treated like that?

So what do I do?  Cut my losses and find someone else?  Call again and threaten him with a formal complaint?  Play nice and wait patiently for him to find a few hours to finish the job?  I'd greatly appreciate your advice.


  1. oh shannon this is a toughy. my instincts say to get back on the phone and tell him the info you got from consumer affairs. he has been very rude to you and has no right to dismiss you in such a way because you have asked for an agreed upon job to be finished. shame you didn't have it all written down in a contract but still. i think you have the power here and he would be singing a different tune if he knew that you had been in touch with consumer affairs. Don't be afraid to stand up for your rights I say :) good luck xx

  2. I agree with Rach. Go for it and good luck!

  3. Whatever happened with this Shan? Gosh, it would be difficult to make a decision with this.

  4. This is what finally ended up happening: I engaged another company to come out and finish the job. What was going to cost $200 ended up costing almost $900, but quite simply, no one was interested in fixing up someone else's half-done mess. I had decided I would wait and see what the second company thought about the quality of the work already done. If they thought it was dodgy or dangerous or could present problems in the future, I would take the complaint further. If they said it was ok, I was going to leave it. Ultimately the second company said the work that had been complete looked fine, so I have decided to let the matter rest. I'm not really in the habit of destroying livelihoods. But I have learned some important lessons.


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