Myself and my fiancée were living in a flat in Edinburgh when we were told by a friend about lots of new houses being built in Dunfermline, 16 miles across the Forth Bridge in Fife.

We went to see a few houses and were relatively impressed, not least by the fact that the price of a good-sized two bedroom flat in Edinburgh would buy us a four-bedroom detached house with a garage and garden in Dunfermline! None of the houses really grabbed us, though.

Until we saw the Miller showhomes. Although both ‘models’ – the Esk and the Tees were pretty much the same price, they had quite different characters.

The Tees had a superb upstairs, with a giant shower in the bathroom – along with a bath, and very spacious bedrooms, but the downstairs felt very cramped, with quite a small lounge and dining room.

The Esk, on the other hand, is more balanced. With a more spacious lounge and a huge kitchen/dining room at the back of the house, it was the first house I’d viewed that gave me that feeling of ‘rightness’, where the space just FEELS right for you.

(Aside – having since seen other Miller homes, the use of space is quite mixed, some good some less good. If you’re thinking of buying one, I’d definitely recommend looking round one beforehand – don’t buy off the plans – see later)

We fell in love with the Esk, and got lucky with our timing. Miller wanted to sell as many as possible before the end of the year (2001) and threw in free carpets for us since we bought a ‘stock’ house. The sales assistant in the office was very helpful (since left the company, unfortunately and the others aren’t anywhere near as nice) and answered all our questions honestly and efficiently.

As soon as we put down our deposit, Miller started to do strange things. Despite it being 95% complete, Miller starting muttering darkly about whether it would be ready for us in four weeks’ time. It was, in the end, but we could have done without the stress.

As with all housebuilders, Miller make a big show of ‘taking customers seriously’ and ‘dealing with faults efficiently’, etc.etc.etc… Rubbish.

When we moved in, our initial faults were fixed fairly swiftly, but we began to get fed up with coming home and having to search the house to see what had been fixed this time. There was never any warning they were coming, and often the main evidence to show where they’d been working was the mess left behind. That, or the fact they’d used a whole roll of our toilet paper clearing up their mess. One snag was particularly annoying, and provided us with the best proof of their attitude to after-sales service. Our ensuite shower.

I noticed it was leaking after 3 days and reported it. Miller sent a man round to reseal all the joints on the cabinet. A few days later, I noticed it was still leaking. They sent another man to do the same job of resealing the joints.

After this didn’t work either, I sent a terse fax to them saying that I was happy to have given them a second chance – I know showers are sometimes difficult to seal, but after the second attempt hadn’t worked either, I’d like them to strip out the shower and check for damage to the material of the house, check the tiles were sealed properly, and to check the enclosure itself for leaks.

They sent another man. To reseal the joints. Again. It still didn’t work. Given that I understand about peoples’ attention spans, I shall now move on nine months…

After another 19 attempts where Miller consistently blamed the makers of the enclosure – Aquadart (I absolve them of all blame) – finally (and perhaps after the site manager had realised I wouldn’t go away out of sheer frustration) they replaced the tiles I’d asked them to check so long before. Miraculously, the shower was fixed. It had taken very nearly ten months. Ten months of taking a bath every morning. And ten months of racking up my levels of anger with Miller (we did get a free gas fire fitted as paltry compensation). I don’t even like complaining about products, but boy did I get practice with Miller Homes!

That was almost exactly a year ago. We still have a few snags outstanding – nothing major, just some popped nails and the monoblock drive has sunk a little bit in my tyre tracks – and Miller have conveniently forgotten about us again. I KNOW when I ring them to ask if the work will ever be completed, they’ll be all nice and say they’re terribly sorry – pressure of work on other sites, oversight on their part, etc. I’m going to have to summon the energy soon because my two year warranty runs out next month. But I just can’t be bothered, frankly. I don’t know about other housebuilders (I know – I’ll find plenty of ops right here!), but Miller certainly have the art of irritating you into submission down to a tee. Can anyone answer me this simple question?: ‘How on earth can it be cheaper for them to do half a job 21 times than it is to do it once properly?’

I have a secret weapon, however. My neighbour has obtained the e-mail address of Mr Miller himself, and apparently being summoned by him doesn’t half put the willies up his staff…

Many of our neighbours feel the same about them, by the way. It became a normal topic of conversation – ‘So, how are YOU getting on with your snags? Any progress?’. The best one was a gentleman I saw in the site office one day, when I was in complaining too. I recognised him as part of the family who’d just bought a Severn round the corner from us (biggest house model on our development – very posh). The one where Miller had cleverly built the detached garage 10 feet in front of the dining room window. What a pleasant view! I wish I’d had the audacity to hear the rest of his conversation, but I didn’t unfortunately… It certainly made me think twice about buying off plans as he evidently had.

A word of advice for anyone buying a new-build house. Keep a record of EVERY communication you have with the builders. Don’t skimp on this – it may prove very valuable if you have to speak to a superior in the company. When you can recite back to them the facts of all your dealings with them, there’s nothing they can say but be extremely embarrassed by the litany of disasters perpetrated by their staff. That’s what got us our free gas fire, anyway.

We love our house. Nothing major has gone wrong since we got the shower fixed. It still is a nice place to be. We’ve put our mark on it, just the way we wanted, and we’re very happy here. It’s just that it’s all in SPITE of Miller, not because of them.

**UPDATE 24/11/2003 **

Well, I DID e-mail the MD, and DID get a call within 48 hours full of apologies and saying that they had thought all the work was done. Turns out their site workers had been lying to them, saying the work had been done. Beats me why they thought they’d get away with that one… Anyway, imminent meeting with Customer Service Manager to agree plan to finish work once and for all. At least they seem genuinely concerned. We’ll see…

** UPDATE 15/12/2003 **

We met the CS Manager, along with the Contracts Manager and the Site Manager. They were very keen to make sure all our work is completed – it’ll be January, because they’re under pressure to finish off other houses for people moving in before Christmas – I figured it’s better to let them resource it properly when they can than bully them when there’s not much they can do about it.

Compensation claim apparently falls on deaf ears now – they have a new senior manager who refuses point-blank to give compensation. However, I might get a new switchplate fitted in the kitchen for free, so that’s something anyway.

Altogether – relatively happy with the meeting. Miller do seem to want to ensure I’m finally satisfied with something they’ve done. What a shame my opinion of them is already irrevocably tarnished…

** UPDATE 03/02/04 **

Well, the Miller men came last week to fix the majority of the outstanding faults. The others will be fixed shortly and aren’t urgent anyway.

By coincidence, my wife was in the house most of the time they were working, and was impressed by their courtesy, their cleanliness, and their keenness to ensure that we were happy with the work they’d done.

Although we didn’t get the light switch fitted in the kitchen, the men did paint the stairwell in our hall, which we’d been waiting until after they’d fixed the popped nails to do. That was probably worth twice what it would cost me to get a man to fit the light switch anyway, so I’m happy with that.

So, being kind to them, they were – finally – very thorough, and charming. But the cynical side of me would suggest that they were only like that because Mr Miller told them he’d better not get any more e-mails from me.

Either way, the vast majority of the remaining faults have now been fixed to a standard beyond our expectations, and we’re looking forward to finally enjoying the house we thought we’d bought in the first place.

Ultimately, after all the anger and frustration I had with Miller, I’m comfortable that, as a company, they do actually have a genuine concern for ensuring the customers are satisfied. I’ve heard horror stories much worse than what we had to go through.

Which only leaves one question – in a very competitive market, why should one company’s (at times) extremely incompetent customer service department come out as probably about average? No wonder there are a couple of the ‘premium’ companies who have a great reputation for getting it right. They’re not up against stiff competition!

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