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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Saved by my Friends

There is no other way to say this except to use the Chinese expression "get eaten up by someone".

I, Petunia, was very nearly eaten up by a Construction Consultant (Mr CC) who seemed more keen to help his favourite building contractors maintain a healthy profit margin, than to help me build the house I wanted.

But my friends saved me.

I began to suspect something amiss when Mr CC seemed keen to recommend some particular building contractors. But I was told that in the building industry, virtual teams of contractors and consultants move from project to project together simply because they are familiar with one another. Which was quite reasonable, I thought.

I suspected something even more amiss when Mr CC probed for the existence of my "reserve funds" after we had agreed on a reasonable budget. Alarm bells rang softly when Mr CC refused to be too specific in writing up the tender documentation, leaving too much wiggle room for the contractor later to demand more money in the form of Variation Works Orders. Alarm bells rang again when Mr CC presented an informal building quotation that was 30% above my already very reasonable budget.

Then all hell broke loose when I found out that I had been quoted double the sum it took to demolish a 2-storey house, in order to demolish my single storey house. Hell's fires raged further when I further noted that my structural works cost twice the amount of a friend's much larger house currently under construction. Alarm bells fairly fell out my ears when a competing quotation was presented with a price that Mr CC said was "really low that it wasn't possible" and I was encouraged to quickly lock in that price.

"What game was afoot? Is this the relative price strategy?" I asked myself. Something is cheap only in comparison to a more expensive something else. In which case, the cheaper quote isn't really cheap at all, eh? It only looks so.

There was enough to make me very uncomfortable. I began the long and tedious process of triangulating information. Organisational science researchers like me do that you know. We are trained to do so. Nothing is true and certain unless 3 sources, at least, agree it is. They form a triangle looking upon the same situation and agreeing on a common fact. It didn't take long for me to find more than 3 sources (other Construction Consultants, other Civil Engineers, other House Owners and various internet sources) who completely agreed, that they disagreed with Mr CC's assertions as follows.

"There aren't many building contractors who want to do houses. Most of them prefer government contracts. These contractors I know are happy to build houses... and this is what they charge" said Mr CC. It wasn't difficult to find 10 building contractors keen to build my house. So there now, you've 10 people who heartily agreed with each other that they disagreed with Mr CC.

"Materials costs have gone up" said Mr CC. When I subscribed to online streams of data on materials costs, I learned that such costs have gone down.

"It'll take 14 months to build a house like yours" said Mr CC. I promptly found about 7 experts whose eyes opened wide and who, with shaking heads said "8 months tops!"

"Even if you use the cheapest tiles and fittings, you'll still bust your budget" said Mr CC. Three other knowledgeable people looked askance at me and said "With your budget, you can afford marble if you want it".

"The maintenance period retention fee is 2.5%. That is standard in the industry." said Mr CC. Something in his body language made me wonder. So I went and looked at a standard contract published by a reputable professional body in the building industry. It was 5%.

Building a house is not an easy thing for me. There is so much I don't know. And to begin with, I don't even like renovating houses.

I felt dependent on Mr CC, who encouraged this unhealthy dependence by frowning upon any of my attempts to triangulate information. Listen only to him. Trust only him. I was actually afraid of him, didn't want to offend him... and Mr CC would openly show his displeasure when I questioned or disagreed. I didn't want to displease him.

Then The Husband asked "Why are you scared of him? What is he to you?" And then my training as a Psychologist kicked in and I recognised some of the mind control strategies being used on me. And a caring friend of more than 3 decades said "You don't have to put up with this. There is always recourse. This is a highly regulated professional domain with strong professional oversight".

I woke up. And then I had a bit of fun playing some mind games of my own. I am a Psychologist after all.

It seems like I have come out of a dark tunnel where a bogeyman whispered vague stories of nameless fears so that I would do as he bade me. I've emerged from there into the sunshine again, with all fear gone. To all the friends who called me out of the tunnel with clear-headed logic, accurate information, and sms-es that cared, I want to say a big thank-you.

If not for these friends, I might have lost sums of money that are huge by my reckoning... and as the Chinese put it, I might have been all eaten up, meat and bones all.

I now have a new Mr CC. A not at all dodgy one.


Open Kitchen Concept said...

Good for you! Glad that you no longer have to work with Mr Dodgy CC!

petunialee said...

Thanks OKC! I too am so relieved!!

Blur Ting said...

It's a lot of money saved! You're a wise woman!

petunialee said...

It was A LOTTA money!! Given that amount of money at stake, I feel stupid that I almost fell for it... and I feel wimpish that I didn't stand up to him earlier. If not for wise and well-informed friends, I'd be a goner I'll tell you that.

Malar said...

This is scary actually! He nearly conned you! even worst if you took his deal and he drag the house construction....! phew......
You have been saved by hubby and friends!

petunialee said...

Malar - Yup! It was a close call. I am upset with myself that I was so stupid I didn't recognise it at first. If not for friends, I would be crying buckets by now.

daelight said...

Close shave! Thank goodness you didn't get conned.

My friend had a terrible time with her contractor recently too (and it was merely for the standard HDB reno). In the end had to call in an emergency team she put together at the last minute. It's really difficult to understand how some people can be so unethical!

petunialee said...

Eeks!! I haven't appointed a contractor yet. Must open eyes big big!!