Undercover Architect

How to leave your designer or builder


Renovating or building is not one single decision

For both renovating and building, you may make the big initial decision to do it.

Once that decision is made though, you’ll then be making lots of smaller decisions, and making them sequentially. Each decision you make leads you step by step to your finished home. And, at each decision, you can be making it alone, or in the company of those advising you – be it your team, your builder, your friends and family, or your salesperson.

It’s these decisions – and the quantity and potential impact of them – that can overwhelm most homeowners.

It doesn’t take a lot to make 3 or 4 wrong turns – or take bad advice from well-meaning people – and end up a long way from where you’re supposed to be.

You’ll spend time. You’ll spend money. And you’ll be in a position you don’t want to be. Putting up with terrible service, terrible quality, terrible results.

And because you’ve spent time and money getting there, what I often see is this reaction.

“It’s OK. I’ve already spent this time and money. I don’t want to start again. And everyone has problems when renovating or building – this is no different to the norm.”

Or, it might be something like this …

“Well, it’s not exactly what I want. But I don’t want to hurt their feelings, or be the difficult customer, or put them off side.”

Like fearing the waiter who spits in our soup if we complain, we can be the same with those helping us build or renovate our homes.

From the outside – with some perspective – we can see others in this scenario, and can easily say “I never would have let it get that bad. I would have left ages ago. I would have spoken up.” The luxury of it not being us is a ticket to objectivity.

Yet, inside the scenario, it’s not so simple. When it’s our home, it’s something we’ve not done before, and it’s lots of dollars and time, it can be easy to fall further and further into the rabbit hole.

All the while consoling ourselves that going elsewhere would only mean another rabbit hole. Better the devil you know hey?

SOOOO… What do you do when this is you?


Stop putting up with being treated poorly. Stop accepting crappy service, and bad quality work.

One of my favourite sayings is “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” (said by Lieutenant General David Lindsay Morrison AO, the Chief of Army).

This is the thing.

Whilst any one of us lets ourselves be subjected to … and pays for … bad service, bad quality materials, bad building – we say it’s ok.

While any one of us says “but this is just what happens when you build or renovate”, we let it be what exactly happens when you build or renovate. We actually enable it.

And whilst we say “but I don’t want to hurt their feelings”, we say that the feelings of the person we are paying to provide a professional service (that we possibly didn’t even meet before we commissioned them for this service), are more important than us getting what we deserve, what we’ve paid for, and what we were led to believe we’d be given.

This is the kicker…

What’s the BIG reason that we stay? Well, I think the hardest thing is admitting we made the wrong choice. That we were wrong. That – I think – is usually the biggest hurdle.

When I read this quote from Danielle La Porte, it sums this up perfectly.

“Don’t worry about how you’re going to fix what’s broke. Just notice what sucks with ruthless honesty.

It’ll be a momentary rush when you do. You might even feel a strange sense of elation. I Know It Sucks Euphoria. And when you’re high on the truth, you’ve got a new vantage point of where to go to next. Turn the lights off when you leave.

Announce your new destination.”

This post may sound super dramatic to you

However, I’ve seen it so frequently… homeowners, with their hearts on their sleeves, mortgages in their pockets and dreams in their minds, getting so poorly treated. And not walking away.

OK so you want to leave? Say no? Here’s what to do.

Anticipate worst case scenario

Go into every relationship and contract imagining the worst case scenario, and understand the consequences. Will you get your money back? Will you own the work you’ve done together? Will you owe anymore money?

Don’t be worried about looking like an idiot

Chances are it’s the first time you’ve done this, and even the most seasoned experts make mistakes and poor choices. Recognising the mistake and changing it is the smarter choice.

Don’t let the fear of hurting someone’s feelings stop you

I’m not promoting you be unkind. It’s just that when it’s about bad service, or bad treatment, it’s not personal. It’s about what someone does – not who someone is. I’ve seen time and time again (and have helped facilitate it) homeowners having difficult conversations with builders. Expressing their dissatisfaction in one moment (and resolving it) and then moving on to talk jovially about plans for the weekend. It’s not personal if you don’t personally attack them. Talk about the work, the service, not the person.

Know your rights at all times

If things do go pear-shaped, check your legal agreements, and those that exist under any governing bodies. Go in fully armed with knowing what your rights are, should you need to exert them.

Collect evidence

Put everything in writing. If things start to go south, document the journey. Build a paper trail. Conversations, meetings, phonecalls, instructions given and not followed. Write it all down.

Can I please speak to your manager?

If possible, move up the chain. Speak to management, or the head office, if you’re not getting love or traction locally.

Don’t throw good money after bad

Be prepared to cut your losses and walk away. In situations like this, you’re rarely starting from scratch when you start again. You’ll be able to move forward making decisions faster, and more clearly. Yes, you may lose some money. It sucks. But weigh it up against the overall investment you’re making. Often I see homeowners grappling with walking away from $10,000 of mistaken spending, in the big picture of a $400,000 spend overall. It’s a chunk of money, but proportionally, your overall investment means so much more is at jeopardy.

It may hurt a little to make the decision to leave, to change things, to say ‘no’.

What will hurt a lot more though?


Not only for you, your experience, and your home …

But also for every other person who comes after you along the same journey.

Because how do we improve things?

With one homeowner at a time – demanding better. If not you, then who?

Amelia Lee

Amelia Lee is the architect behind Undercover Architect. Undercover Architect operates mainly online to help homeowners (especially women) design and plan their future new homes and renovations. Think of it as your secret ally in getting it right, and saving time, money and stress - whoever you’re working with to create or transform your home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *