Five Reasons NOT to Renovate Your Bathroom with Harvey Norman

When I worked at IBM, I often heard the quote, “no one ever got fired for buying IBM”. I loved this as an idea – and still do. It neatly encompasses the robust, trustworthy status of the big blue brand. It provides customers with the promise that while the price may come at a premium, that delivery will be flawless; and it provides employees with a rallying point, something to live up to. And in my years with IBM, I saw this promise fulfilled by teams of talented people. Not only were these people experts in their field, sometimes they came close to genius.

Recently, I went through the exercise of having my bathroom renovated. Now, I like to build things in my shed, but I am far from professional. I was more than happy to turn this over to professionals. Sure it will cost, but I wanted the expertise and experience. I didn’t expect a genius, but I did expect flawless execution. I did expect them to deliver a superior customer experience.

This did not happen.

So if you are in the market for a bathroom renovation and are considering Harvey Norman Renovations, then closely read these five reasons NOT to renovate your bathroom with Harvey Norman:

  1. The sparkle ends when the contract is signed. Our designer was great. He guided us through the myriad choices and budget options. Nothing was a problem and his suggestions really did help. But once the contract is signed, you are in a whole other world. The charismatic designer is replaced by the grumpy, uncommunicative subcontractor who invades your house and sets up camp. There will be problems and a million reasons why something cannot be done – or done well. You’re in for an argument every day.
  2. Sales bait and switch. The designer will sell you a vision for your new bathroom. That’s the one that you sign up for. But the reality is quite different. Take a look at the table below to see the silver words and an explanation of what they mean.
  3. The design is the blueprint, unless it’s too much work for the contractor. If you’re like me, you will be relying on the expertise of “Harvey Norman” to complete your bathroom to the best of their abilities. You’ll be expecting them to work to the agreed design and promise. But there will be many things that just seem to be “not possible”. Where something is “not in the design” it will be classed as a “variation”, but where the design appears to involve substantial effort, work arounds will be the order of the day. Note, while Harvey Norman variations will cost you extra, your variations do not result in a discount. It’s amazing what can actually be done if you push hard enough, but then again, it’s another argument that you have to have. 
  4. The site supervisor is non-existent. When something doesn’t go to plan, who do you speak with? When you want to check or validate the work of the contractor, who do you turn to? As explained above, I’m not a building professional. I rely entirely on the expertise, experience and goodwill of what I thought was Harvey Norman. Our “site supervisor” was only “on site” one day – in three weeks. And then, for a grand total of about 15 minutes. The small changes, accommodations and variations accumulate each day. There’s no supervision and no second opinion on the direction your bathroom is taking.
  5. Start and end dates. There is no end date in your contract, so your contractor can drag your project on as long as it takes. Our contractor would start about 11am and work on and off for a few hours before heading home for a well-earned rest. As to start dates – we weren’t even scheduled to start with the contractor – the paperwork had to be “found” and the work had to be scheduled – but only after a series of phone calls that got us all off to a bad start. What were we thinking? We’d only given them TWO MONTHS NOTICE to start.

Table of Harvey Norman Renovation promises and what they really mean

Promise What it means
“We do everything but the painting” If you can badger the contractor enough to actually do his job, you might have walls that will only need a couple of days sanding before you can paint them.
“We strip out everything and you’ll get a completely new bathroom” We will replace the wall below 1200mm which will be covered with tiles anyway, but above that you’ll still have the same old gyprock you thought you were getting rid of.
“Patch and make good” Actually replacing gyprock and cornices is not part of our deal – even if we have to smash it to fit. We’ll cover it up with a dash of plaster and hope we can make it look at least half as good as it was before we got here.

So – how did it all turn out? I’ll let you know when it is actually finished. In the meantime, I will write up some tips for “getting what was expected from Harvey Norman Renovations” – and even share some of the work in progress pictures.

Note: the image above is from Flickr. It’s not my bathroom.

UPDATE: Kudos to the Harvey Norman social media team who contacted me via LinkedIn. Good to see. Here's hoping that this leads to others having a better renovation experience.

20 thoughts on “Five Reasons NOT to Renovate Your Bathroom with Harvey Norman

  1. I’m so sorry you had to go through all this Gav, but at least you can warn others!
    We’re about to renovate and we’d heard that a Harvey Norman reno involves much wailing and gnashing of teeth. We got them in to spec up plans, then used those plans to commission our own contractor with materials and appliances we’d sourced ourselves.

  2. Oh dear – sounds like a bit of a nightmare. Very reminiscent of the experience we had when building with Rivergum Homes in Queensland. Wishing you the very best with your reno.

  3. That’s a bugger Gav. As a tradesman myself and having built and renovated more than I want to admit this is bad form. I can’t help but wonder if Harvey Norman are so tight on the monies that get passed across to the contractor only ‘Dodgie Brothers Bathroom Reno Team’ would take the job.
    There are plenty of good builders out there but they often charge more than some of the hard nosed competitive types and maybe Harvey Norman are skimming too much off the top.

  4. Thanks Ian – I think the end result will be fine. But we’ve had to argue to get there. Luckily a trusted friend has been able to help us out with some of the finishing.

  5. Hey Gavin, that’s my bathroom there, and it was not a ‘subcontract’ job! I can’t imagine how much it would have cost to get it to the standard I wanted, to my design; or indeed if there is a company out there that could take on the job and actually do it.
    I did use a select number of trusted tradesmen for tiles and plasterwork, and I wasn’t in a hurry. All rest, plumbing, electrics, cabinetry and the finishing detail was my own work. I don’t think I could remain sane whilst having incompetents take money from me whilst breaking all promises.
    My wife regards me as someone who is on the contractors ‘blacklist’ as a customer not to do work for! Who’s right and who’s wrong?
    Cheers, Ken

  6. Well as per my knowledge the value property, and the bath is the capital cost of the renovation work, the worth of this property, then you are doing to improve. Obviously such, then it is not worth it to find out the capital. Property location is another factor.

  7. I have been in the design game for 10 years (wardrobes,kitchens,outdoor areas)and find alot of what you said to be quite a shame. Unfortunately the job is only as good as the contractors and depending on the availability of good contractors this can vary. I would hazard a guess that your installer no longer works for the company in question. Please note however that I have never worked for a company that will paint walls. It just opens up way too many possible problems as no paint is ever matched perfectly. The reason they only replaced the gyprock to that height is any higher and you have to start replacing cornice and possibly ceilings, unless this is necessary it simply will not happen. As for start dates etc I find that either hard to believe or someone had dropped the ball as it is imperative the contractors are booked and know when and where they need to be.
    As a consumer it is important to understand how big a job it is to preform any type of renovation, things can go wrong,its not magic. The main questions to ask outside of how good the “insert work here” will be when done, is whats involved in the case of variations, are they using a check measurer, and start/completion dates after finalization of design has been agreed to. All the companies I have worked with use a check measurer. This means that no work is started until any variations are made to the design if in fact the original design wont work. This ensures everyone is on the same page before any work is undertaken.
    Hope that helps guys!

  8. What a read! I only wish I had known about this blog before WE had a kitchen renovation from Harvey Norman. PART of the kitchen arrived in September and was put in – it didn’t fit! Ran into a doorway and an entrance, not enough room to put the cornice above the cupboards, wrong colour, pantry cupboards looked like they’d come cheap from the recycling centre at the local tip, etc.
    THEN it took another 3 months for the rest of the kitchen to arrive, they arrived to put it in on one of the days we had specifically told them couldn’t be accomodated Not only that, ABSOLUTELY NO help from Harvey Norman. We are still contesting the problem with HN and haven’t had a kitchen for 6 months.
    But don’t let any of that put you off! Go ahead! Buy a kitchen from Harvey Norman – why should you have the same trouble any of the rest of us did?

  9. I have also experienced the contractor nightmare, and have since become proficient (not expert, but better than the *** contractor)at installing slate tile, glass tile, toilets, sinks, vanities,light fixtures and fixing drywall. Never again will I rely on contractors (and I’m a 61 year old grandmother who really did not plan on owning all these power tools!). But I’m proud of the finished bathrooms and overall it is much less agony than dealing with the rude installers who show up instead of the slick contractor who initially quoted the job.

  10. So regretting I am only reading this now as I am experiencing everything you said…….so so so angry with HN. Recommend everyone planning to renovate to shun HN!!!

  11. Hi everyone,
    Just an undate I would like to let everyone know.
    Havery Norman Renovations is closing down. HNR will no longer sell bathroom or kitchens renovations any longer as of yesterday.
    I’m so happy.
    I don’t have to do anymore service calls to all the poor people the got rip off.
    Also Harvey Norman Renovations are even builders.
    They have tilers, plumbers, waterproofers etc doing there renovations for them.
    Bathrooms and kitchens must be do by a builder.
    Don’t know how they got away with it.

  12. Well Oscar what you did is horrible. You used a company that would of had to do your drawings at a huge expense and you had no intnetion of using them. I dont work or have any connection to harvey norman. Just what you have done to a business is sicking. If you wanted drawing from a designer you should of paid an interior designer to put them together for you. You my friend are what is wrong with the world today. Using people that are trying to survive and get by.

  13. Hi all,
    Not sure who everyone has been dealing with, but i have nothing but good things to say. I had a kitchen and 2 bathrooms renovated only 4 months ago and apart from a few small hiccuups which where rectified quickly and proffesionally i am more than happy with the service recieved. The end product is unbelievable and you will find my kitchen in the new Belle magazine. They truly transformed my way of living and i would reccommend them to everyone.
    I think where people go wrong is dealing with the electricals guys or bathroom retail sections who refer smaller companies which is not actually harvey norman renovations.
    I looked around for 6 months and could not believe the poor service i got elsewhere. In the end it was down to a small cabinet maker who was only a couple of grand cheaper and a small bathroom company, with both i had to manage a fair amount of work myself, or fork a bit extra to have the whole lot managed by 1 company. Im glad i went for the second option.
    Everyones experience is different of course but i thought i would just give everyone my experience.
    Dean M

  14. I will say firstly I do not work for Harvey Norman.
    Renovating a Bathroom is the most labour intensive renovation that you can ever undertake. There is every trade involved except a roof tiler so the process is never going to be clean and easy. The Designer can only look at the surface of the old room you wish to renovate, they don’t have x-ray vision and this is usually where the ‘variations’ are common. If you expected new ceilings, cornice and wall sheets above the tile line you should have asked – this is never included in a standard contract renovation – make good is the standard.
    It sounds like you really did not know the extent of this work and what the process would be; sometimes designs just cant happen in practicallity after the room has been stripped. I’m sure this total process has not been easy for you and I do understand why but I’m sure most of your complaints would be similar with any contractor that was used. Experience- 30+ years in the Building Industry- 20+ in Bathrooms.

    1. Nice try Julie but just a tad disingenuous.
      Firstly, any professional renovator has, at the very minimum, a duty to be clear with the client what the service will provide.
      Secondly, the renovator and the renovarors designer are the supposed experts. The need to provide the client with sufficeint technical advice so that the client may mak an informed decision. Thirdly, yes there is the old saw of caveat emptor but when a renovator says “complete strip out” he/she is quite frankly lying if the real intent is simply “make good”. If you go to a renovator looking for a new bathroom, it is more than reasonable to expect this, not just a “smash and patch”.

      Here are a few tips
      1) Check credentials not only of the head company (be it Harvey Norman or Acme). Get the details of the subcontractors they are intending to use and their licence numbers and check them – it’s only a phone call away.
      2) Get references for the sub contractors for their past work and check them. Again just a few calls.
      3) Remember a verbal agreement may well not be worth the paper it is written on. Write EVERYTHING down and get your notes initialled by the renovator. If they jibe at that and you cannot agree at this stage guess what this portends for the job.
      4) Get more than one renovators quote. You may be amazed at the differences in price AND the scope of the work.
      5) During the work, if you are unsure or dissatisfied with ANYTHING ask questions. If in any doubt at all put it in writing. This does not have to be confrontational, any decent subbie will discuss the job with you – if they won’t then, well, you get the message. A small carbon book from the newsagent is a good tool for this
      6) Make sure the quote from the Renovator clearly states the costings, the progress payments AND the time frame.
      7) It is reasonable for the Renovator to request some money up front. The percentace will vary but a good guideline is the higher the upfront requested the closer you need to examine the proposal. However, NEVER make a final payment before the works are complete. The holding back of the final payment is (excepting for the good will of the contractor; and it vcery frequently does exist) the only hold you have to maintain some assurance that the works will be properly completed.

      Please dont take the above as an overall tarring of the industry. On the contrary there are many terrific people out there. Unfortunately though, the building and renovation industry does attract more than it’s share of dispute. On the bright side. if you go through the processes above the cream will float to the top and they, most likely will not object to your care.

      Lastly, seriously consider getting some professional advice. If you are considering entering into a multi thousand dollar contract then a few hundred dollars to get an experienced eye to run over the proposal is good insurance.

      Good Luck

  15. I’ve had exactly the same problem except with a couple of high end kitchens. Lots of love until the contract is signed then its all elbow your way to get attention. At one point we decided to lose the $20K deposit and go elsewhere, only to change our mind when we finally got a call back. In retrospect that was a mistake. With the kitchens now 3 weeks behind we would have been better off cutting our losses and starting afresh.

  16. I had a kitchen done with Harvey Norman renovations. Would not recommend using them either.

    We got the bait and switch too. We were promised Blum hinges and instead got some cheap brand. One year later some started to fail. It’s taken 3 months now and half of them have been replaced under warranty but the contractor won’t return my calls about fixing the other half.

  17. Hi Gavin,

    I actually had the exact same experience…maybe even worse dare I say..with my kitchen reno. I went through Wholesale Kitchens which actually is Harvey Norman’s kitchen guys, so wouldn’t be surprised if it’s exactly the same company. The level of incompetence was actually astonishing. I just don’t know how people can run a business that way and get away with it! Now when I hear the word ‘reno’ I run a mile!!


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