Moving On

“Can you hear what I’m saying?
Well I’m hoping, I’m dreamin’, I’m prayin'”

Hide In Your Shell, written by Richard Davies and Roger Hodgson,
and recorded by Supertramp

Time for an update: it’s been a while. Back in October 2016, we decided that we needed to resolve the ongoing communication problems that we had experienced with Schwoerer from the start. We got in touch with their UK salesman, Theo Possegga, and arranged a face to face meeting. Of course, he was too busy to visit us, so Cecilia and I each took a day off work and caught the train to London.

Not Feeling Valued

The meeting didn’t start well. After 10 minutes, there was no sign of Theo, so we started making calls. We called the Schwoerer UK office and Theo’s number, but to no avail. Finally, he arrived, 20 minutes late, no time for an apology. He then spent the next ten minutes fiddling with two mobile phones, effectively ignoring us. I think if we hadn’t spent £100 on train tickets, I would have walked out right then.

When we spoke, we explained our frustration with the communication (oh the irony!). One example was telephone calls. Calls to their office number would ring then, after a while, divert to another number and ultimately end up on Theo’s mobile voice mail. That’s really unprofessional, particularly when you consider that the value of the business to be discussed is multiple hundreds of thousands of pounds.

“Why don’t you get an answering service?” I suggested, “They don’t need to cost more than £1 per incoming call.” Theo told us that Schwoerer wouldn’t pay for that.

Next we turned to email, where we explained it took (literally) weeks to get an answer by email, if indeed one was ever received. Theo explained he was often too busy to reply to emails. We pointed out that that was unacceptable, and whilst we realised that he may not have time to give an in-depth response immediately, we would appreciated an acknowledgements – “just a one line email is enough” – to let us know he’d received it, and give us some idea of when he expected to be able to provide a fuller response. He agreed that he could provide an acknowledgement response within 24 hours of receiving a mail from us.

Last Try

On the trip home we discussed things, and, to be honest, we weren’t entirely happy with the meeting, but we decided that we would have one last attempt to buy a house through Schwoerer. The week after our meeting, we mailed Theo regarding some other issues (not with Schwoerer) that we had discussed at the meeting, and took him up on an offer he had made at the meeting.

That was 16 months ago as I write. Since then, we have had no contact from Schwoerer at all. No response to our mail; no “are you still interested?” enquiries; nothing.

Schwoerer in the UK

We still think Schwoerer houses are an amazing product. When we visited them in Germany, we came away even more convinced that we wanted one. We’ve tried – as this blog has detailed – to get one. Cecilia and I are pretty determined people: running our own business has taught us that.

But we have to admit defeat with Schwoerer.

Quite why they have treated us with such utter contempt we don’t know. But we feel that they have, and we no longer want anything to do with them.

Over the past year or so, three more people have been in touch with us, two of them about their experiences with Schwoerer and one asking what we thought of Schwoerer. It seems we are not alone in being treated this way.

What’s Next?

We have, we feel, wasted three years. By now, we could – we should – have been in our new Schwoerer house, proud to be living a modern, warm, high-tech home. Instead, we’re still in that bungalow at the top of the page with all its inherent problems. Maybe we should have quit sooner. For the whole of 2017, we did nothing about the house except put off making a decision. The way our relationship with Schwoerer has played out is demoralising.

But in October last year, as we do every year, Cecilia and I went away for our planning weekend during which we plan what we want to achieve the following year. The subject of house came up, and we decided that we still want to fix the problem. Since then, we’ve been in touch with someone whom we believe can help us. Ironically, having tried to give our money to a company based in Stuttgart, Germany, this person’s business is based in Monmouth, our local town.

It’s early days, but when we send this person emails, she replies. I’d never realised what a positive sign that is. Watch this space.

Song For Schwoerer

I like the quotes at the start of each post (maybe I’m the only one who does!). Just in case there’s anyone from Schwoerer reading, here’s one for you:

“Why do a single thing today. There’s tomorrow sure as I’m here. So the days they turn into years And still no tomorrow appears.”

Undertow, written by Tony Bank and recorded by Genesis

GOSH, It’s Been Quiet

“It may be rainin’, but there’s a rainbow above you”

Desperado, written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey, recorded by The Eagles

Sorry it’s been quiet here this year. I shall explain, but this has nothing to do with houses, Schwoerer or otherwise, so fast-forward to What’s Next if you’d rather skip this bit.

Long story short: in January this year, our daughter, Lucy, who was then 8, was diagnosed with a heart condition. Technically, she had developed a muscular right ventricular outflow tract obstruction, or double chambered right ventricle. Untechnically, she required open heart surgery.

Not what any parent wants to hear. We put significant parts of our lives on hold whilst we came to terms with Lucy’s condition, and did what we could to give her the best possible outcome. Suddenly our dream home wasn’t so important, and that too went on hold.

On Friday, 24th June 2016, Lucy was admitted to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London for surgery. Her operation took four hours, and it was successful. She was discharged the following Wednesday, recovering well albeit that she tired easily, and she’s gone from strength to strength since.

Gratitude

For a couple of years now, when we sit down as a family for our evening meal, before we start eating we go round the table. Each of us has to name something we’re grateful for. It may be something trivial or deep; it may affect that person only or all of us. LucyBetween us, we’ve been grateful for having unlimited clean drinking water, have supportive work colleagues, living in a war-free country and living somewhere that experiences beautiful sunsets. You get the idea.

The week after Lucy was discharged, for once we were all grateful for the same thing. The staff – surgeons, cleaners, nurses, doctors and volunteers – at Great Ormond Street Hospital are beyond amazing. Lucy is doing well; life is returning to normal; the Schwoerer story continues.

What’s Next

Putting Schwoerer on hold was easy. Getting them back off hold: not so easy. The problems of communication that have soured this project from the outset continue.

An email from the UK sales team which we received in June stated, in part:

We will be back in England at the 6th of July.

Over the weekend we will discuss with Karl the schedule for July
and get back to you as soon as possible.

On 20th July, we emailed Schwoerer:

It's now been two weeks since your scheduled return to England, but
we have heard nothing from you.

I realise that we have taken some time out because of our
daughter's surgery, but from the outset it has been very hard to
get timely responses from Schwoerer.

We absolutely need to fix that problem.

We would like to meet with Schwoerer (you and Theo, if possible)
and Karl, and discuss how this project will proceed. Ideally, we
would meet somewhere around where we live, or at least to the west
of London. However, if we need to, we can travel to London.

The agenda for our meeting will include:

 - Agree expectations about future communications
 - House size
 - House design
 - Provisional timescales

Of course, we're happy for you to add any items you'd like to
discuss, too.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,
Keith & Cecilia

Amazingly, we have received no reply. Or perhaps it isn’t amazing. While we had our project on hold, I was contacted by someone who had come across this blog whilst searching for information about Schwoerer in the UK. That person has asked to remain anonymous, so let’s call them – in a burst of inspired originality – “X”.

X had been talking to both Schwoerer and some of their competitors, and wanted to know whether we could speak on the phone. It took a while to arrange it, but one Sunday we spent about 40 minutes chatting. It seemed that X, too, had had difficulty in getting replies from Schwoerer. Telephone messages not returned; emails not answered. Not all of them ignored, but enough for it to be a concern. At the end of our conversation, X was going to consider the next move.

Since then, we’ve exchanged a few emails, and X’s frustration has grown. Finally, early this month, X contacted me and said that they had finally been able to talk to Schwoerer, but it was too late: they had decided to go with a competitor. I replied, saying I wanted to update this blog and asking if I could include their story.

This was the reply, in part, that I received:

It would be great if you'd keep up your blog. PLEASE I beg you not
to mention my name [...] But yes, do say that others ('Anonymous')
confirm similar experience re (non) timely communications.

When I was looking for info about Schwoerer, I found your blog.
Really, really helpful. So if you could, it would be useful for
others to be updated. Schwoerer as you know are new to the UK, so
there is hardly any info other than what Schwoerer themselves put
out. Brilliant that you put your email address on the blog so that
people like me could contact you. Thanks so much for all the info.
Invaluable Keith.

So, Schwoerer, what are you going to do? You’re spending tens of thousands of pounds to find valuable leads, such as X and us, and then you’re ignoring them to the extent that you’ve lost X.

Just last Thursday, we sent a follow up mail to Schwoerer. No reply yet.

Over To Germany

“What we want and what we need
Has been confused, been confused”

“Finest Worksong”, written by Bill Berry, Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Michael Mills
recorded by R.E.M.

Two days before we were due to fly to Stuttgart, it occurred to me that, although we were to be met at the airport, we didn’t know which hotel we were staying in nor did we know the address of the factory. A quick email later and we had Stefan Possegga’s
mobile number “just in case”.

We needn’t have worried. In the arrival hall at Stuttgart was a man with a sign saying, “SchwoererHaus”. That’d be us, then. He even knew our names, and after a one hour drive we arrived at Hotel Roessle. The owner, Alexander Fischer, knew we were with
Schwoerer, but he didn’t know what time we’d be collected in the morning. Maybe we should be ready for 07:00 just in case? Apparently there were some Schwoerer people around…

We were hungry, so after checking in to our room we went down to the restaurant. We were about to order when Stefan showed up and took us over to the “Schwoerer table”. We settled in for dinner, and were soon joined by Theo Possegga, Stefan’s father. Theo is the UK salesman for Schwoerer, and Stefan has recently joined him: both work from London.

The next morning, after breakfast, we set off with two other couples to the Schwoerer factory, ten minutes away. There were four items on the agenda: the show houses, the factory, the sampling centre and The Discussion.

Around The Houses

Two of the show houses

Two of the show houses

We started the day with Theo showing us around the five show houses, which was both interesting and helpful. The houses are very energy efficient and as such were beautifully warm. The heating wasn’t on despite it being around 8C outside.

 

Another showhouse

Another showhouse

They’re pretty high tech too: for a start, no keyholes in the doors, but rather a key fob that you hold close to the door to unlock it. Each house has a “plant room” that houses the heat exchanger, heat pump and so on, ensuring that that warm moist air from the kitchen and bathrooms is used to heat the cooler, dryer  air from the outside. Lots of flashing LEDs in the plant room, so we definitely need one of those.

An indoor balcony / library? Certainly, Sir.

An indoor balcony / library? Certainly, Sir.

There were lots of ideas in the show houses for using the space effectively, including a living room with a library on a little balcony accessed by a ladder! Maybe not…

One challenge we’d faced with the plans Karl had drawn up was imagining what the space he’d designed would look like in real life. How large would it be? I’m sure architects can visualise such things with their eyes shut (probably easier that way, on reflection), but we struggled. The show houses helped bring that to life: so that is what a room that’s 4m long looks like.

Two sinks? Yes please!

Two sinks? Yes please!

Tree Houses

After (an excellent) lunch, we toured the factory. This started with The Rules, including “no photography” and a claim that we were visiting the factory “at our own risk” (good luck with that, Schwoerer). We were also told to be careful of fork lift trucks, of which more later.

A good look (but not the best)

A good look (but not the best)

Before being allowed into the factory, we had to watch a two minute video which, we were told, had nice music. So, six English visitors dutifully watched the video, which appeared to show a young girl of perhaps 8 or 9 looking at different parts of the factory. Occasionally a few words of German appeared on the screen. Was it a marketing video? A safety video? A don’t-leave-your-children-unattended video? I have no idea. Once we’d seen it, we put on our safety helmets and started the tour.

The log yard: six weeks' supply for the factory.

The log yard: six weeks’ supply for the factory.

The factory tour took 1.5 hours, and essentially showed how tree trunks go in one end and house walls come out the other. A fascinating process with the conversion of tree trunks to beams being almost fully automated. The enormous tree trunk yard holds enough wood to run the factory for six weeks; the factory churns out 4-5 houses per day.

When the walls leave the factory, they are close to complete. They have windows fitted, plumbing as required, wiring, ducting, insulation, the lot. All that’s left is the final finish; it’s no wonder Schwoerer only take six weeks from arrival on site to handing over the house to the new owners.

Power To The People

The waste material – mostly wood – is burnt on site, and the heat used to drive steam turbines to generate power. That power is sold to the grid, and in general they are generating about twice as much power as they need.

Their capacity to burn wood is greater that their capacity to generate waste wood, so they also buy in waste wood from outside. All of the power generated is sold, then they buy back what they need for the factory. Why? Because the cost of buying power is less than they get paid for generating it. So, sound from both an ecological and business perspective: smart!

Slick Operations

I like seeing efficient, well thought through businesses working. I’m not an industrial or factory person by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s clear that there are well-defined processes in place here and there’s a certain confidence that such an operation exudes.

One of my business watchwords is “scalable”, but I’m not sure how scalable it is to have potential customers tour the factory, at least not the way it’s done currently. There is a lot of sawdust in some places, which gets on clothes: not a problem for us, but one can imagine some customers being upset. And the fork lift trucks! Yes, we were warned, but they are a) fast and b) close at times.

Producing Samples

Selfies at Sampling

Selfies at Sampling

Next stop was the Sampling Centre. Think very large B&Q kitchen and bathroom areas, only much higher quality. Once the deal is signed to buy a Schwoerer House, two days is spent “in sampling” to choose all the fittings: windows, doors, door handles, sanitary ware, letter boxes, door bells and a myriad of other choices. The even have a height-adjustable toilet so that Schwoerer can determine the precisely optimal height for said convenience. They think of everything.

During the sampling process, the happy house owners are accompanied by one of Schwoerer’s designers to help co-ordinate the look while the customers choose. I’m not sure whether they throw in relationship counselling on day 2 or not.

After Ate

Back at the hotel, a quick change and down for dinner. Theo had a copy of the provisional plans that Karl had drawn up, and we started to discuss some ideas for making some changes. What soon came to light, though, was the fact that the house on the plans was about 50% larger than the budget Karl had agreed with us.

To be clear, these were only “first draft” plans, so the fact that they were way off doesn’t have a big, immediate impact, but it was both frustrating and disappointing, and not only to us. Theo told us that he had wanted us to sign a conditional contract during our visit, but with the plans nowhere near suitable, he wasn’t going to ask us do so.

So, we have some homework to do in terms of defining what we really need in the new house. It’s not that we will end up with a house much smaller than we want; it’s more that the revised house plans must use the space more efficiently. For example, the current plans have over 100m² allocated to hallways and landings; at an “indicative budget” price of £1250 per square meter, those are very expensive expanses of space that we won’t actively use.

It is, perhaps, a little odd that we have engaged an architect completely separately from Schwoerer. It’s good that Schwoerer can work with an external architect, and of course there are times when that will be appropriate, but we went to Schwoerer with no architect in tow. We have now engaged (and paid) Karl before having any formal arrangement with Schwoerer: were I running Schwoerer in the UK, I’d want the client to be dealing with me (even if I outsourced the architect).

We’ll Be Back

All in all, it was a very interesting couple of days. We were keen on the idea of a Schwoerer House before we went, and the visit has only underlined that idea. We were looked after fantastically well by Theo and Stefan, who both worked hard to ensure we saw all we wanted. Theo has also reassured us that, although the plans aren’t right just yet, we can and will get there.

So, we’re excited! Cecilia and I because it’s now more real, and Lucy because it’s nearly Christmas. 2016 is shaping up to be an interesting year.

Next: GOSH, It’s Been Quiet

A Visit To SchwörerHaus

Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.

– Popular Misconception

We’re going to Germany. Not because we’ve given up with the house, but to visit the Schwoerer factory.

Things have moved on a little, and it’s time to bring you up to date. Having decided to go, we mailed Karl, the architect, asked him to start, transferred the initial fees to him, and went off on holiday. We weren’t quite expecting the plans to be complete by our return, but we had expected more than a notice from our bank detecting “fraudulent activity” and declining the money transfer.

There followed a tedious and pointless conversation with The One Account about why the transfer had been refused:

“Why did you suspect it might be fraudulent?”
“We can’t tell you”
“How can I avoid this in the future?”
“If you think a transaction may be identified as fraudulent, call us”
“But you won’t tell me the criteria, so how should I decide?”

And so on. But we sorted it out, Karl received his first payment, and we settled down to wait.

Let’s See A House

As discussed before, Schwoerer currently have little presence in the UK, but we wanted to see one of their houses anyway.

“We don’t have any show houses in the UK,” they told us, “But you’re very welcome to visit the factory and see the show houses there.” “No problem,” said we, “It doesn’t need to be a show house; we’re happy to just visit a house that you’ve built in the UK”.

Turns out that they haven’t built any here for about 25 years. Viewing a house from the 1970s 1990s (is that the time already?) didn’t seem to make that much sense.

Schwoerer gave us around two weeks’ notice for “the English visit” to their factory. Well, fitting in an additional cup of coffee with two weeks’ notice would be a challenge; spending two days in Germany was out of the question.

Some emails, some juggling of business appointments, some calling in of favours to ensure we don’t have to leave Lucy at home with a tin opener, and we agreed a date.

Schwoerer Design Centre and Show Houses

Schwoerer Design Centre and Show Houses

On Tuesday, 1 December, we fly out to Stuttgart. We’ll be met at the airport and taken to the hotel, and on Wednesday we’ll visit the factory. Presumably we’ll see how to make a house (I used to have a Lego set, so this will be mostly revision for me), and we’ll also see the show houses on site. I believe there will also be a discussion around prices and plans…

A Cunning Plan

Karl, the architect, has been working on some plans for us. He sent us a first draft a couple of weeks ago, and we’ve looked at them and talked about them. It’s an interesting start. They aren’t quite right, but they’re not entirely “wrong”, either.

We did spend some time at work with the plans displayed on the 60″ monitor (gotta love a big monitor), and we drew up some feedback. It’s actually quite hard to avoid saying, “Move that wall” or “Make that room longer”, but it’s important that we remember we are not architects. We see this at work sometimes: clients telling us what they want us to do instead of describing the problem they want to solve. You don’t (typically) go to your
GP and ask for 50mg Amoxicillin: rather, you tell the doctor what your symptoms are.

So we tried to avoid “solving” problems with our feedback, and focussed on what we felt the issues were with the plans. To be fair to Karl, he’d done a good first pass of taking our rambling requirements and turning them into an idea for a home. He’d not unreasonably made one or two assumptions that aren’t quite right, and we’ve tried to refine our requirements accordingly. So, the mail has gone to Karl, and we’ve not heard back from him yet. Hopefully he hasn’t given up on us as being impossible to please.

So it’s exciting! Will Karl be in Stuttgart when we are? Will the visit fill us with admiration for Schwoerer? Will the show house inspire and please? Will it snow in Stuttgart?

We don’t know the answer to any of those questions yet, but in early December we should do. Update to follow!

Next: Over to Germany

An Architect Calls

“From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon.
And it’s not a miracle.
We just decided to go.”

— Tom Hanks, playing Jim Lovell in Apollo 13

The weeks following The National Homebuilding and Renovating Show were a little frustrating. Having decided that Schwoerer were, at the very least, worthy of serious consideration with respect to replacing our house, we wanted to meet with them to discuss the next stage. We wanted that meeting to be at our existing property, shown above, so that we could discuss how they saw one of their designs best utilizing the site.

Make Us Feel Special

But it was hard to get hold of them. We knew that the UK was effectively a new market for Schwoerer, and that there were very few staff in the UK, but they were very, very slow to reply to emails.

It’s a pet peeve of mine, and we saw something similar with other exhibitors at the show. Why do businesses spend, in some cases, huge amounts of money to attract prospects, and then throw it all away by ignoring those that put their hands up?

All of us want to feel special, to feel as if we matter. All they needed to do was hire an administrator who could keep their (valuable?) prospects in the loop, and not cause us to question, as we did a number of times, whether we were making a huge mistake.

The Kick Off

Eventually, after a couple of false starts, on 16 July 2015 Karl came to visit us at our home. That, of course, gave him the opportunity to look at the site, the orientation, the outlook and the current issues we wanted to fix. He was able to spend a bit more time discussing options with us, and also reiterated the Schwoerer process.

Some work could be done by local contractors, such as the demolition of our existing property and the ground preparation for the new house. Karl suggested that, rather than having two stories only at the rear of the house, we should have two stories throughout. Because of the slope of the plot, the front lower story would be entirely underground, but that would be useful for the (necessary) plant room and could also provide some storage space.

Schwoerer could provide a pre-formed basement that would be installed by local contractors prior to the arrival of the house from Germany. We were reinvogorated: it all sounded fantastic.

The Kicker

Naturally, we discussed costs. We had a budget in mind, and we needed to know how that compared with the budget Karl had in mind. The costs broke down into a number of areas:

  • Demolition of the existing property
  • Ground works to prepare for new house
  • Supply of basement
  • Supply and erection of house
  • Insurance
  • Design fees
  • Landscaping

Karl put some estimates against each item above. We added those estimates up, and it came to about £80,000 more than our budget, and that without any contingency.

About Money

I’m very conscious, as I write these words, that we are talking about spending more money replacing a house than some can afford to spend simply buying a house in the first place.

To some extent, we’re lucky that we can do that. But we, all of us, are fortunate to live in a time where opportunity is afforded to all (at least in the first world). Too many forget that. They complain about the hand they’ve been dealt instead of building an unshakable belief that they can do better.

We’ve worked hard to get where we are (notice the naughty word missing before “hard”?). We’re not alone in working hard, of course, but we’ve tried to think about what we want to achieve and to focus our energies in taking us in that direction.

Sometimes that means hard decisions, tears of frustration, even doubt. And yes, we are nervous about doing this.

It wasn’t easy. Jus’ sayin’.

And So?

After Karl left, we felt dejected. We’d come so far. We thought that, finally, we’d found the way forwards, only to have a bigger number than we wanted put in front of us. We let it sink in for a few days.

Karl had visited us in mid-July; in mid-August we were due to go on holiday. There was a danger that we’d just go on holiday having done nothing, and in truth we’d be no further forward.

We had a discussion and agreed that we should make a decision before going away. We’d either decide we were going ahead or decide we weren’t, rather than just not decide at all.

In the movie Apollo 13, Tom Hanks, as Jim Lovell (the commander of Apollo 13), is having a barbecue in his back garden just after Neil Armstrong has walked on the moon for the first time. After the guests have left, he sits in a chair, looks at the moon, and says to his wife, “From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it’s not a miracle. We just decided to go.”

That quote is a source of inspiration to me. Everything – everything – starts with deciding to go. If NASA hadn’t decided to go, Neil Armstrong would not have walked on the moon. It’s that simple.

On the eve of our holiday, we decided to go.

Next: A Visit To SchwörerHaus

The National Homebuilding & Renovating Show

“Well, it might take years
To see through all these tears
Don’t let go
When you find it you will know”

Try and Love Again, written by Randy Meisner,
recorded by The Eagles

To be honest, it isn’t the most enthralling title for a show.

But we needed to do something. We’d spend five and a half years in our bungalow, and the sum total of our achievements was zero. We were getting a little lethargic, maybe lazy, with respect to fixing the house. We were certainly busy – bringing up a young child, running and trying to grow our business, squeezing in hobbies such as endurance riding and gliding: that kept our spare time to a minimum. And so perhaps it was convenient to put the house on the back burner, but that didn’t fix anything.

We were on some mailing lists to do with house improvements, and one of them announced The National Homebuilding and Renovating Show, which was to be held at the NEC in Birmingham. We could get tickets for free if we applied in advance, so – having arranged for someone to look after Lucy after school – we decided to go along.

Potton

We made an appointment to talk to someone at the Potton stand, and so once we’d negotiated the NEC traffic, we went to see them. I’d known of Potton for many years, and they have a good reputation in the so-called “self-build” market, so they were an obvious first choice to chat with.

They were helpful, answered a few of our questions, but were clearly keen to get us to book an appointment for after the show. We took some details and left the Potton stand. They were seeing lots of people there, but it felt somehow impersonal. We were just another couple talking to them; we weren’t individual. That’s understandable to a degree, but the budget to build a home from scratch runs to multiple hundreds of thousands of pounds. The little child in me wanted to be loved a little bit more.

How Not To Run A Stand

A lot of the stands at the show were appallingly run. We repeatedly saw the staff on stands eating, and there’s something off-putting about that. We didn’t feel that we wanted to talk to people – or be spoken to by people – who were trying to eat. Apparently, we weren’t alone in feeling that way as those stands contained only staff.

Other stands treated us with indifference, as if they resented members of the public interrupting their day. At one stand, we spent ten minutes or so looking at photos of the beautiful oak beam houses they build, and we starting discussing between us whether we could have a house like that. There were plenty of staff on this stand, but none asked if they could help. Eventually, we went over to one staff member who was doing something on his phone, and said, “Excuse me” (we’re so embarrassingly British sometimes, aren’t we?). His reply: “Hang on a sec”. We left: if his mobile phone is more important than potential clients, we already know all we need to about this company.

So, sales managers, why do you let your staff eat on the stands? Why do you let them even have mobile phones on the stand, let alone use them in preference to talking to prospects? Why do you spend thousands of pounds on a stand and then ignore those from whom you can recoup that outlay? It’s easy to blame the staff on the stands, but the real muppets are those who let them get away with it.

SchwörerHaus

We’d never heard of Schwoerer before visiting the show, but their stand suggested that they might be able to help us. As soon as we started talking to them – and presumably they realised we were serious buyers, not “just looking” – we were invited to sit at the back of the stand.We were speaking with Karl Lowe, who, it turns out, runs his own architectural practice rather than working for SchwörerHaus directly; however, he co-ordinates all Schwoerer houses in the UK.

Karl was excellent. He listened to our outpouring describing what the situation was and what we wanted to achieve; he asked a few questions, and then he explained how Schwoerer worked. He paused every now and again to check we understood; in particular, this was helpful for Cecilia, who is deaf: lip reading is not quite the exact science that the films would have us believe.

Karl explained that they were kit houses, but each was individually designed. The kit would be manufactured in Germany and shipped to the UK complete with a multi-disciplined team who would erect the house on a pre-formed base. It would take 3-4 days to get the house weather-tight, and a total of around 8 weeks from start to moving in.

Schwoerer are very big on low energy use: all windows are triple glazed, and there is a heat recovery system built into the house. That takes warm, moist air from the kitchen and bathroom, passes it through a heat exchanger and vents it externally. Meanwhile, dry, cool air is pumped in from the outside, warmed in the heat exchanger, and distributed throughout the house.

Heating would be underfloor, something we had decided some time ago would be best for us. The water for the underfloor heating would be warmed via an air-source heat pump. There would be no need for an oil or gas boiler. In the summer, the heat pump can work in reverse and cool the house – perfect for that one week every six years when it’s too hot to sleep in the UK.

Karl showed us the timber used to build the frame of the house, and how it compared (favourably, of course!) with that used by other manufacturers. The Schwoerer factory, near Stuttgart in Germany, also produces all the timber it needs.

Walking Away

We spent 45 minuter with Karl on the Schwoerer stand. As we were walking away, I was hoping that Cecilia liked them. They seemed to be able to meet all of our requirements; they had good designs; they were economic to run; in short, they got what we wanted. But would she feel the same way?

She turned to me and said, “That’s what we’re doing, then!”. Excellent! We spent another hour or so looking at things at the show (“a time-lapse camera to film the build! Yes!”), but our hearts weren’t in it any more.

We knew what we wanted.

Next: An Architect Calls