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Friday, February 25, 2011

House Construction 10: My Building Contractor, Mr Grizzly

View From 3rd Floor

1st Storey Ceiling Height

The house is starting to look like a house because there are walls and some parts have a ceiling. With some walls up, it becomes possible to properly appreciate the size of each room. The sizes are nowhere luxurious because half the 1st storey is designed to be a self-contained apartment for my in-laws. Nonetheless, I think we will be comfortable enough there.

And I love my building contractor.

I rather think that contractors are a misunderstood bunch. Not long ago, poor Mr Grizzly was accused by one of my neighbours of trying to chat up her maids. And today, he is being made to repair parts of another neighbour's house which he did not damage. Nonetheless, he has decided to go ahead and do that little bit of extra work to maintain the goodwill of the neighbour. Not long ago, there was some issue about whether or not we ought to apply liquidated damages on him to the tune of $300/= a day because he is late and will finish the construction of my house 40 days later than he promised to.

I didn't want to apply liquidated damages on him because it seemed obvious to me that some of the delays were not his fault, and other delays were actually good for the house. There was a delay because of some issue with government authorisations. He absolutely would not cast the Household Shelter prior to having had the proper certification. He explained that the last time he did that, he was made to tear down the Household Shelter AFTER the house was built. Now, if you understand that the household shelter is a concrete box with steel bars set at very close intervals within the concrete walls, you will realize that it isn't easy to demolish. The challenges rise tenfold when you have to demolish it whilst leaving the rest of the new house intact. The huge jackhammer they brought inside to attack the wrongly built Household Shelter gave off copious amounts of carbon monoxide which was trapped indoors by the walls and ceilings. Mr Grizzly, who wanted to boost his workers' morale, was operating the giant jackhammer. He passed out and quite nearly died from breathing the odourless fumes. 2 men carried all 1.85m of him plus paunch outside.

So, Mr Grizzly absolutely WOULD NOT build the Household Shelter until the permit had come through. I don't blame him. It's not worth giving your life to earn a living eh?

Then, there was the issue of the time needed to cure the concrete. Certainly, developers who build a house to sell, wish to build it fast. Often, the concrete is not given time to properly cure before one builds upon it the next level. Time is money, and nobody can tell that the concrete did not cure properly. But hey... I am going to LIVE in that house and I want it to be strong. So I insisted that the concrete be allowed to cure as long as it was necessary. So, there were delays there too.

It turned out that in his desire to get my project, Mr Grizzly had committed to a timeline that was somewhat too aggressive for him to manage, and he would complete the work late - by 40 days. In life, there is what is legal and what is right. What is wrong may not be illegal. I thought it was quite wrong to make Mr Grizzly pay me back $300/= a day for each day of delay, when the delays were well justified.

Of course, when you apply Liquidated Damages, the contractor will mount a defense and if the delays were truly not his fault and were yours and the architect's, then YOU owe the contractor. But why go there? Why create the administrative and legal hassle of attack and defense? I would rather the man spend time supervising the construction of my house.

But from this experience, I conclude that I would never want to be a building contractor. It isn't the mud that turns me off. It's the fact that the whole world wants a piece of you, and very often gets it. Clients want freebies. Clients' neighbours want freebies. Clients take advantage of contract clauses to apply liquidated damages that cut into one's profit margin. Indeed, some contractors (not terribly educated in legal speak and rights) have folded when their clients insist on applying liquidated damages. And I also find it odd that architects can cause delays (by being late with plans... or being rather unresponsive) and not have to foot liquidated damages. Meanwhile, who has capital costs tied up on site? And who has workers to pay? Who suffers when contractors are so squeezed that they can't pay their workers? Yes... the contractor does.

It's a tough life I tell you, and nobody has a good word to say about contractors. So, you can't blame contractors when they factor in some tens of thousands of dollars as padding into the contract fee in order to protect themselves from these incidental costs. Or if you've gotten a good price, then you can't blame them for using humble materials. You also can't blame them for sometimes being rude to you either because many a times, they are the ones who get the short end of the stick. No one likes contractors like they love bankers. You get scolded and mistrusted and looked down upon. Even housewives get more respect than contractors. To be sure, there are unscrupulous contractors but so too there are unscrupulous bankers eh?

My contractor gave me a good price. I know it because everyone I know who has built a house has said so. I am afraid that if I squeeze him, the poor fellow will end up building me a house at his cost. Now, everyone will say that it's his business but why should business have to be cut-throat? Besides, my contractor is really patient with me. He explains the different options, highlights impracticalities in my requests, worries about where I will be drying my clothes so that he can help me plan my yard. He encourages me to think through my lifestyle, wants and desires...

He even does what is necessary to build a strong house without being told, and without attempting to charge me more. I have 2 very wide windows on the 1st storey and a very high ceiling. He added required supports to strengthen the lintels just above that window because it was clear that with such a wide window, the brick wall above that window would weigh down too heavily upon the lintel (the reinforced concrete beam that holds up the brick wall above your window). Regularly, he walks me through my house so that I can see the impact of my decisions. And he always gives me time to think... and never ever scolds me for changing my mind.

I love Mr Grizzly. But I won't tell you who he is YET. You see, Selfish Petunia would like to keep his identity secret until he has about completed my house. This way, he'll be able to focus on my house without getting unduly stressed by having to make proposals and compile tender documents and whatnot.

So watch this space. The identity of Mr Grizzly will be revealed in time to come. Akan datang.


Anonymous said...

Petunia, u have my vote, if u were standing for election (and I'm not a building contractor). U see both sides; not just the side that's beneficial to you.

Yet this world is full of pple who don't mind paying $300 for a meal and then make a song and dance when a hawker charges $5 for a bowl of noodles. They see value when they pay more and when they pay little or nothing, they doubt they r getting value.

Or mayb the explanation is simply that they kow-tow to the mighty and kick those beneath their notice?

Open Kitchen Concept said...

I've so enjoyed reading this.. Petunia.. May I make a very small request...? (Pls don't be upset) Ar... could you try to use a slightly different font? For some reason, this font on your blog now makes reading a bit hard.. I wonder if it is my computer.. or is it because it is white words against a dark background.. You can reject this comment so this doesn't get published! :)

petunialee said...

Auntie Lucia - Awwwww... that's a nice thing to say. Fortunately though, I don't need anyone's vote. Haha!

petunialee said...

OKC - I am so not offended. You wouldn't be letting me know if you hadn't wanted to read my blog. And it is sweet that you wanna read my blog. So, as you can see, I've changed everything back to what it was or to as closely as I remember it to be.

My SINFONIA said...

Coming up nicely. How many floors will there be? Excited heh?

My builder is also late with our contract but we are so pleased with the building standard, we did not make a fuss about it too.

Blur Ting said...

Your contractor must be so pleased to have such an understanding customer. You know, both my dad and brother are in the construction business. It's not an easy job and accordingly to my dad, the toughest projects to built are houses because the follw-up is never ending. The house owner discovers new defects everyday! Maybe that's the reason why they specialse in factories and commercial buildings.

Malar said...

Wow! Such a responsible contractor! Looks like you and your contractor have done a good job! I can wait to see your completed house pic!

Jenny said...

You guys seem so happy with the contractor/ builder. Anyway you can share the contacts? I'm having hard time selecting a contractor for a new contruction of semi-D.

Anvelia said...

Possible to share who's your wonderful contractor /builder..
Looking at rebuild mine next year..
Million thanks..

petunialee said...

Leave me an email.

petunialee said...

Anvelia - I emailed you sometime ago. Did you receive?

Winston said...

Hi Petunia,

Congrats on your project turning out well!the high ceiling looks awesome!

BTW, ca you share with me your builder's contacts? I'm thinking of rebuilding my terrace as well.


petunialee said...

Winston - If you will leave me YOUR email address, I will get in touch with you. If you don't receive a response, then please check your junk folder OR leave me another note here.

Samuel Trust said...

Yah! It's a tough and nobody has a good word to say about contractors and we can't blame contractors when they factor in some tens of thousands of dollars as padding into the contract fee in order to protect themselves from incidental costs. But still construction companies are there to help us build our dreams.