£32,000 loft conversion turns into nightmare for Southsea mum

Melissa Ghomi (33), from Southsea, and her daughter Layla, one
Melissa Ghomi (33), from Southsea, and her daughter Layla, one
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A Southsea mum says she was left devastated and claims that a trusted builder turned a £32,000 loft conversion into a nightmare.

Pregnant Melissa Ghomi says that, despite having a signed staged payment contract with Southampton builder Home Renovation Services, owned by Robert Chmielewski, she ended up making advanced payments totalling £29,000.

Melissa’s problems started at the beginning of the year when, with another child on the way, she decided to splash out on a loft conversion.

She gave the matter a great deal of thought and narrowed down her options to three potential builders after making extensive online background checks.

Melissa decided to sign a detailed contract with the Butts Road builder because he was the only one who agreed to do all the work, including internal decoration.

She was initially happy with her choice. However, she says that the fatal flaw turned out to be the fact that the contract didn’t specify the materials to be used or who would supervise the work.

She explained: ‘He showed us bank statements, proof of address, his passport, and brought with him a contract, which he signed after we went through it together and agreed the work to be done in detail.

‘Initially everything went very well. His workers were coming on time, they were very polite and friendly.’

But around a fortnight into the job, she says Mr Chmielewski started to ask for extra cash payments to cover the cost of work which she claims that he’d already agreed to do when he’d signed on the dotted line.

She felt obliged to put her foot down and it was amicably agreed the contract price would stand.

However, Melissa accepts she dropped her guard when he regularly asked for cash advances to purchase materials ahead of the contracted stage payments.

In what turned out to be a massive mistake, she paid up because she reasoned she had the protection of the contract behind her.

Matters finally came to a head when Melissa claims she was told a bathroom drainage issue would need solving at extra cost and council approval was required.

After arranging to discuss the matter further, the builder suddenly went off sick and Melissa says that was the last she saw of him or his tradesmen on site.

At first she gave him the benefit of the doubt. But despite phoning him and sending text messages, he didn’t turn up to complete the job.

Finally he claimed he was in hospital or abroad and stopped answering any of her calls or text messages for a time.

She said: ‘Part of me wanted to believe he really was just in a sticky situation and that in a few weeks he would come back and sort it out. When I looked back over our communications he was always so nice.’

Melissa obtained an independent inspection from another builder that looked at the unfinished job. They concluded it was a poor construction and modifications were required to obtain approval.

As the materials were of the very poorest quality and couldn’t be expected to last more than a couple of years, it would be easier and cheaper to pull it down and start again.

After discussing her options with Citizens’ Advice, she wrote to the Polish builder to call it a day.

She suggested they agree an informal settlement rather than going to court.

An angry and exasperated Melissa was left thousands of pounds out of pocket. She e-mailed Streetwise to warn others and ask if we could help.

Streetwise soon learned what she was up against.

We attempted to contact the builder on numerous occasions to ask why he’d taken Melissa’s money up front but not finished the job to a satisfactory standard. All of our calls and e-mails went unanswered.

Eventually an e-mail unexpectedly arrived explaining he was about to fly abroad and didn’t know when he’d be back.

He promptly blamed his sub-contractors and suggested Melissa should contact them for compensation. He said he’d offered a settlement of £5,000, but she’d refused to accept it.

Melissa confirmed that, following our intervention, the builder backed down and finally made contact. He e-mailed to apologise and suggested a legally-binding agreement to pay her compensation in instalments.

She said: ‘The fact he is considering repayments has given me slight hope. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing. Once again, thank you for all your help.’

Portsmouth trading standards has a list of ‘Square Deal’ approved trusted tradesmen. Go to portsmouthsquaredeal.co.uk for details.