We’re currently in the process of doing some construction work in our house - a loft conversion and potential kitchen extension. A few weeks ago, a man named Kevin McCarthy contacted us offering his company’s services. Dressed in a formal suit, he explained that Signature Extensions Ltd was a construction company that he ran and offered us a great deal for the work to be carried out. It should be noted that this was significantly cheaper (£20k cheaper) than quotes we received from two other contractors. When my mum asked why it was so much cheaper, Mr McCarthy told us that it was because they would do only the construction work, not the furnishing - a pure bare-bones project only.
A Deal Too Good to be True
Obviously such a proposition was still very enticing for us - £20k savings would allow us to pay extra to someone else for furnishing and still have saved a decent chunk of change! Furthermore, Mr McCarthy’s professional manner - smartly dressed and well presented, along with a professional looking bounded booklet which specified exactly in detail what work would be carried out, the payment schedule, and listings of numerous (40+) other works that had been carried out around Essex, all served to impress. He stood out compared to the other 2 contractors that we had reached out to (who, when they came to our house, looked as if they had either been, or were on their way to, another construction site and simply sent us an email/letter summarising the work to be carried out and total cost of the work). He also gave us a contact number for one of the nearby property’s that he had finished work on so that we could arrange a visit to see his work and get feedback from. My mum did indeed contact this number and received a Glowing (yes with a capital G) recommendation of the Amazing work he had done and scheduled to go and see the property.
All seemed well and my mum felt convinced that we had found a great deal and nearly agreed to hire Kevin Mccarthy and his Signature Extensions Ltd firm. But the skeptic within me was not so sure - this was a classic case of a deal too good to be true. As non-builders we didn’t actually understand anything in the contract he proposed and a glowing review for a bare-bones construction work? I was not sold. So I decided to use my Google-Fu and see what I could find.
The Quest for Secrets
Firstly, buried deep in the interwebs. It’s worth noting the locations mentioned in the article - “Kevin McCarthy, of Great Notley, Braintree” and “McCarthy, who runs Pasture Construction, in Lodge Lane, Grays, operated across Essex, Kent, Hertfordshire and London”. Now, granted Kevin McCarthy is a common name and yes it’s perfectly possible for there to be more than one Kevin McCarthy who owns his own construction firm in Essex.
I then switched to the amazing online resource of the UK’s companies house registrar. Using this, I found the record of Signature Extensions Ltd (the company number from Mr McCarthy’s booklet confirmed that this is the same company) and thus the man who owns it. Seems OK, although the company’s registered location differed from the address in the booklet. Bit odd but I let it pass. Scrolling down, seems as if Mr McCarthy has been involved with a few other construction firms, including a firm Jardine Construction Ltd with a registered location of 49 Lodge Lane, Grays, England. Lodge Lane, Grays - the same street from the news article? Well looks like Jardine Construction Ltd was dissolved but he’s got another company currently active called Jardine Home Extensions Ltd - in other words a slight rename and relocation of the company (which is perfectly normal by the way). Registered location is interesting here too: “54 Petworth Close, Great Notley, Braintree, United Kingdom”. Great Notley… Braintree… again, same as the article.
The Truth Revealed?
Alarm bells were ringing everywhere for me now. I then did a search for Jardine Home Extensions Ltd and found this. There’s a single review by an anonymous user who says, quote:
Please do NOT use this company. We booked them to build a single storey extension is 2012 and it is still unfinished in 2014. Leaky skylights and other unfinished work, not sorted, as Mr McCarthy ignores any attempt to contact him. Not on site all the time as promised, can’t get building certificate as work not complete to standard. NOT RECOMMENDED!
Finally, I made a call to Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline and spoke to an advisor who couldn’t find any record of Signature Extensions Ltd in their trader approved database - the advisor mentioned that this is perfectly normal by the way, many reputable companies aren’t on their database for a number of reasons. However, a week later I got a letter from a Trading Standards Enforcement Officer from the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, who informed me that Signature Extensions Ltd’s address from the booklet - the address that differed from the registered company address - is in fact a PO Box address and that there is no actual company office located here. The letter also mentioned that whilst they couldn’t pass opinions about traders, they had enclosed a press article for me to read from a few years ago - the same article that I posted above funnily enough.
I’ll leave you, reader, to make your own opinions about Mr Kevin McCarthy and Signature Extensions Limited, just as the trading enforcement officer had left me to make my own opinions. I’ll also pass on their advice to consider using approved traders via well known sites like Buy With Confidence, Consumer Codes Approval Scheme and Checkatrade. An even more interesting tip that the officer let me in on: as long as you pay £100+ on credit card then your credit card company is liable for any loss between £100 to £30k that you may incur - so if you’re planning building work for £20k for example, if you pay only £101 of a deposit for instance using your credit card, the full £20k work is insured by your credit card company! Apparently this is something the credit card companies keep quiet about and have even tried to have overturned in court many times since the Section 75 law was established in 1974 - they have thus far been unsuccessful.
Notes by the Author
Finally, my own advice - do your background research. You never know the stories you may uncover.