Not a writing post this one, just a document detailing some thoughts about getting a garden office because frankly I couldn’t see anyone else having done so and it might prove useful to others.
With the baby on the way, and the search for a puppy starting, I realised a few months back that I need to get an office to put in the garden. The previous owners had had one so I’d seen it in the space and it looked like a great idea, but knowing very little about the process I spent a long time googling companies and trying to work out what I wanted, plus what I could afford. I must admit it hasn’t turned out the best way, but I think I do (or rather will) have something I can use for a good few years to come. So anyways...
A whole lot of googling started me off. Pretty quickly I found this blog which is a good starting point for just getting an idea of what was out there. http://www.prefabgardenoffice.com/
Now you can easily spend 15/20 grand on an office if you want, but my budget just didn’t stretch that far and I was starting with a hope I could find something good enough for more like £5k. In the end this was revised to £7k, plus more than a few extras I hadn’t counted on, but life’s complicated enough at the moment so I’m just chalking them up to experience.
My front runner was a company called Future Rooms who seemed to blow the others out the water when it came to price. Additionally, they were willing to come out to do a free site visit and talk to me about the office – something I certainly needed so we ended up with a spec worked out for about £5500 I believe. And it was there the wheels came off rather. There are some rather slick computer generated images on their website, but weirdly no actual photos and none were provided to me, nor were there testimonials or any other evidence that they’d ever actually built any such office before. Coupled with that was the worrying detail that Future Rooms isn’t a company and I started to back out. They perfectly reasonably wanted a deposit, but the details quoted were for the man who came to do the site visit, in fact he was the only one who answered the phone or emails. So this company which had built loads of these offices didn’t do enough trade to have a dedicated company for it? I know lots of people who have their own companies because it’s a simply thing to do and a quick companies house search told me the guy did have one or two, one being a building firm if memory serves, but there was no such place as Future Rooms.
So I said thanks but no thanks and started looking again with a revised budget. This time round I came up with three firms that looked good, with products I could afford. These were O-Pod - http://officeingarden.co.uk/ - Sanctum http://www.sanctumgardenstudios.com/ - and Warwick Buildings http://www.warwickbuildings.co.uk/
All three looking at their contemporary rectangular designs, about 3m x 2.5m with glass down one side including the door and some sort of window on another wall.
In the interests of mentioning why I didn’t go with some others – Henley Offices were too expensive for the size I wanted as were Cotsmill & Booth’s – and so I believe were Oazis (but checking their website again I can’t remember exactly why, probably VAT on top of their prices but there was something that ruled them out). Smart Garden offices were in the price range but were designed off classic British design – and unfortunately the classic design was 1960s prefab so they look really ugly to my mind, especially in comparison to the designs of other places.
So we were left with O-pod, who’d built the very nice one for the previous owner and therefore were the front runner. I liked their design best too, the Space Pod, but it makes things harder when a company takes at least two weeks to answer any emails and in the end I gave up chasing them. I think they finally got me a quote once I’d gone with one of the others but when they were going to be able to do the work was anyone’s guess. Sanctum weren’t great at responding, but they did get things to me in time and while the price was comparable in the end – factoring other costs such as the base etc – they could install for a few months and I was hoping to get the office in before the puppy arrived as I didn’t want her upstairs where there was carpet for the first couple of months.
Which left me one, Warwick buildings. No. 3 on my shortlist, but they could install relatively quickly. The base I’d been left turned out to be insufficient for anyone so I got a local builder to concrete it, one of several added costs which put the whole project to more like £8k.
Being a bear of very little brain, especially when I’m more focused on other things, I hadn’t fully thought about the details of the electrics side. I had a cable running to the office but hadn’t realised I’d need an electrician to physically install the plugs, and lights, and light switch, and junction box – thinking it was only needed to hook up the cable to said junction box. On top of that cost, I should have factored in the cost of getting proper flooring in, something many companies do as included along with the plugs, but it’s another couple of hundred to get a local firm in to install laminate flooring. As I type there’s a nice man contending with Ripley trying to eat his shoelaces while he does just that.
There were other issues with Warwick I hadn’t expected, the main one being money. I’d assumed all these companies wanted to be paid the same way, deposit down and then payment on completion, but apparently not. Warwick wanted a third on deposit, fair enough if everything being build to order, but the balance ten days BEFORE installation, with just 500 left over for completion. That threw me a bit and almost made me wait for Sanctum to do the work (something in hindsight I should have done but there’s the fun of hindsight) but after a few emails and calls with me pointing out it was highly unprofessional, non-standard and frankly an invitation to defraud me or do a shoddy job, they agreed the bulk could be paid after installation. Which was nice.
Installation itself was a far easier process. They came on time, did a good job and also, importantly to my mind, were nice guys willing to work hard. As a rule I find builders are either really good or a bunch of bad-tempered dicks so I was glad to find these guys came from the first category.
Another bad note however, was the mention in their after-care pack that I should really put another coat of wood protector on the office once they had finished, at least within three months of installation. Maybe this was mentioned earlier, but they were using treated wood and I don’t recall it, but that’s something for others to bear in mind and ask about before agreeing to anything. Now while this is probably just a couple of hours work, I don’t really see why their wood isn’t treated to stand up to the weather on principle.
So, that’s a quick run-down on getting the office, in case it’s any sort of guide for other people doing the same thing. We live and learn, but the potential frustration when you’re spending your remaining savings is such that learning in advance would have been preferable! Once it's all finally completed and I'm in there working I'll post a photo of the final result. Unfortunately, three weeks after installation and I'm yet to see said result.
well by their attitudes you'd think everyone was doing really well and they couldn't be busier! but yes, especially when i've said to a company they're my first choice to do the work you'd think they might actually try to get into a position for me to pay them money...
Oh, very nice. The Warwick ones look good on the site, too. The treatment later on sounds like a pain in the ass. That said, I recall when my parents built a deck when I was a child, I was told something about wood changing if it was relatively new (or something, this is getting on 15 years now). I think they should come out and do the treatment themselves, though, if that's the case (especially since my parents might have been fed a line of bullshit from the contractor).
The experience with Future Rooms is eyebrow-raising. It sounds like a scam, or at least an individual who did not think out what people would want to know about his business!
I'm loving your comments about your experience in purchasing your garden office. It's a real eye opener - even for someone who has been in the sector from the beginning.
Firstly, and of course, I don't agree with your thoughts about the look of the Smart Garden Office range, but there's never any argument about taste!! We try to keep the look of our buildings "timeless". Buildings should last a long time so we avoid anything remotely faddish or fashionable, nevertheless I'm sorry your impression of the Smart Solo was 1960s!
I'm so sad that you've had such a torrid time with other suppliers. It's an immature market with plenty of "opportunists" and your experience of some of the companies you have dealt with (and walked away from) is certainly not unique.
You've gone with Warwick who are one of the few garden office suppliers that I like ( and will sometimes recommend) so you've chosen a good building from a reputable outfit. Their payment schedule though is outrageous, and you are quite right to have negotiated a more appropriate payment plan. Standard is 25% deposit, balance on completion. I had no idea that Warwick were making such demands. Their credit rating is fine, so they shouldn't need to do this.
Similarly, second coats and integral electrics really shouldn't need to be your responsibility...it seems strange this wasn't factory done.
I'm sure you'll love your love garden office once it's completed - I've never met anyone who has ever regretted buying a (proper) garden office.
Have fun !