If you dream enough I guess you shouldn’t be surprised by an occasional nightmare. Mine came in the form of Pompadour Construction.
After buying my house in Uzerche I returned to the states to earn money for the renovations. My goal was two-fold: I wanted to pay as I went so there would be no debt against the house and I wanted to have the major work done before I retired.
When I saved enough to make a good start on renovations I returned to Uzerche joined by my daughter, Mary (acting as my humble translator*) and my grandson, Derek. They both love Uzerche and felt at home there right away.
Mary helped with getting automatic payments set up for taxes and with paying the house insurance as well as meeting with some local French builders to get devis (cost estimates). The owners of the hotel where we stayed, Hotel Ambrois, recommended a company that had done some work for them. I got estimates from two other companies also.
Although I liked the recommended builders there were things in their devis that I didn’t understand. Pompadour Construction was run by British builders who had set up a company in France. This is a rather common occurrence since there are many Brits buying property for renovation in France. We thought they would be a good choice since there shouldn’t be a communication problem. (Of course communication requires that one party actually pays attention to what the other party is communicating.)
The first priority was to replace a portion of the beams at the back of the house. The beams ran the length of the house from front to back. The house was built with the back against a hill and moisture came in from the back wall. Since it hadn’t been lived in for a very long time there had been no heat to keep it dry. The result was that the ends of the beams against the back wall had some dry-rot damage. The cost of replacing the full beams would have been quite high. I proposed mounting a cross beam to support the existing beams at the front with partial replacements at the back.
The fireplace was missing the support beam across the front so that needed to be replaced and the surrounding stone repaired.
In addition there was a curved stone structure in the back corner that the existing drainage pipe led into. I wanted that removed and the pipe needed to be replaced.
I met with Tony & Steve, the Pompadour Construction team, to discuss the project and have them provide a devis; when signed the devis became the contract. After the initial meeting our communication was all done via email.
I returned to the states and worked up a more detailed plan of what I wanted done. In this plan I made some changes and added the removal of the corner stone structure which wasn’t in the original devis. Where possible I included pictures along with descriptions. I did not provide architectural plans but they had said that was not necessary. I did however provide scale drawings, laid out on a measured grid, of my overall plan. I also gave a precise measurement of where I wanted the crossbeam to be placed.
There were some delays in starting the work which was not a problem for me. When they were ready to get started I reiterated desired the location of the crossbeam to which Steve replied “We will work to your specifications.”
Well they did not work to my specifications. The crossbeam was placed in the center instead of nearer the back as I had requested. That location interferes with where I want the new stairs built. They tried to tell me it wasn’t a problem but in fact it was (and still is). They offered to have me work with an architect, at no charge to me, providing I was willing to change my house plans. I suppose I should have given it a shot but the reality was I did not want to change my plans. I had spent a lot of time and I knew what I wanted.
Fortunately I had laid out the work in phases. The beam replacement was the first phase and (after inspection and approval) they would have proceeded to the second phase of rebuilding the floors and stairs. Obviously they never made it to phase II.
I had been paying as the work proceeded on phase I, with pictures verifying progress, and the final 10% was to be paid upon completion. I refused to pay the final 10%.
I had full documentation of our communications including where the crossbeam should have been placed as well as acknowledgement of that information. In the U.S. I could have taken them to court and easily won the case. In France the problem was three-fold: the cost of the trip, I would have needed a translator, and all they would have had to do was delay the case long enough that I would have to return to my job in the states potentially causing me to forfeit.
Even though I was aware that I could not easily recoup what I had already paid I stuck to my guns on not paying the final 10%. Steve, who was the email contact, got rather nasty in some of his emails. I tried not to but I can’t say I always succeeded. (Mary worked hard as my editor and censor, reviewing my replies before I’d send them.) After several months of back and forth emails there was a break in the communications. I let it go for a while then tried to make contact again with no result. A few months later I got an email from Tony requesting the final payment.
Since my previous communications had been with Steve and I wasn’t sure how much of my side of the coin Tony had seen I gave a brief overview and said I had no intention of paying the final 10% since I was not pleased with the work. Tony said that he had dissolved the partnership with Steve because of problems with him. At first read I felt kind of bad that Tony was left holding the bag for a flakey partner but on second thought there were some other issues with their work which he was part of and I felt he still had accountability for the problems I was left with. So I requested a formal letter stating that we canceled the contract by mutual agreement without further payment. I did eventually receive the letter.
Once bitten, twice shy – I wanted to have the major work done before I retired but now I didn’t want to try to proceed unless I could be there.
End of nightmare – but not the end of problems created by the nightmare.
(* Reference to my humble translator comes from a line in the film Everything Is Illuminated and has stuck over the years.)