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Builders! Be gone!

The last time we posted an update on our house-build was back at the beginning of June, when we thought that the project might well have been coming to an end. Given that the contractual deadline had already been and gone, we became rather philosophical about the end date. Having moved in to the main house, we became used to having our couple of builders pottering around the garden.

Last week, we were told that absolutely everything would be finished on Friday 5th July. We were, of course, in the middle of our Flamenco Course, so fortunately we were not at home that much. If we had planned a relaxing weekend on the terrace, we would have been bitterly disappointed as the painters arrived to slosh white paint over the exterior walls. The terrace looked like a bomb had hit it. The painters, when moving pots filled with plants, thought that another flower bed might be a suitable new location, and squashed our lavender. We had enjoyed several weeks of relative peace and quiet in our new home, for this to be disrupted with a maelstrom of activity in an effort to get the place finished.

However, Friday 5th July came and went and the builders informed us that the final snags would now be done on Tuesday 9th July. We wait with bated breath.

The decorators did arrive today, so hopefully that part of the build will be completed by this afternoon. They have also redecorated our lovely neighbours facade, as this had been splattered in cement during the build.

It’s difficult to describe the project in its entirety, to be honest. As far as build projects go, we wouldn’t say that this has been a nightmare, or massively stressful. Of course, there have been times of stress, but on the whole it has been relatively straightforward. However, the latter stages have been difficult, mainly because lines of communication came to a halt. Our builder, Manolo, had some personal issues, we believe, and as a result everything slowed to snail’s pace. This was extremely frustrating, as we never knew from one day to the next what was due to happen. All we asked for was communication - a text to say what we could expect that day, and what work might be done.

On one particular day, one of our builders came into the house to say that he was about to rip out the bathroom balcony. In horror, we asked him what on earth he meant, and he replied that his boss had told him that we wanted a wider balcony and therefore the existing one had to be removed. This is prime example of Chinese Whispers on a build project. We had, of course, never said any such thing, and think the boss may have confused the bathroom balcony with the bannister rail! Had we actually not been here that day, we may well have ended up with a Buckingham Palace-sized balcony projecting from one of our bathrooms.

Our builder is undoubtedly charming, and has a creative eye, but his team management skills rather fell short towards the end of the project. We ended up by suggesting to our labourers that they come and tell us, at the start of every day, just what they planned to do and we could confirm whether or not that was on our list. Too much time was spent carrying out work for us to have to say it was incorrect, as the instructions we had given at a site meeting had been forgotten and not registered properly.

Our original plumber disappeared never to return, and we were never told why. Lack of information causes concern, as we started to worry that sub-contractors may not have been paid and we may well wake up one day to absolutely no builders at all. Luckily, another plumber was found to fit the shower and loo in the studio, and he proved to be extremely efficient and helpful. However, we have not seen him since.

Our labourers, Manolo and Rafa, were such a pleasant pair and really were obliging. We just felt that they were not necessarily getting the instructions or support from their boss that they should have been getting.

The carpenter who made our doors and windows has also proved to be a disappointment. He has been back to rehang our sitting room doors, as they moved as soon as the hot weather came, and in doing so he managed to crack a window pane, so he needs to come back yet again. There has been a list of issues with the windows, and we feel let down on that score, which is a shame.

These frustrations are difficult to manage, and every project will have similar hurdles to cross. There is no advice we can give to avoid problems along the way. We have always been clear as to what we have wanted, and have rarely, if ever, changed our minds to such an extent that work has to be redone. However, when work has not been done correctly, or has been rushed, then that has been annoying.

We know that our architects, Ana and Jesus, have been equally frustrated by the past month or so. Ana and Jesus recommended Manolo as the builder when we parted ways with our first contractor, and I think they feel embarrassed that Manolo has let them, and us, down. It is difficult to reassure them that we know that this is not their fault, and we completely empathise. This has always been our project, Andrew and I and Ana and Jesus, as we have worked so closely together, and with such excitement and conviction, but frustrations are tiring for everyone.

Niggles aside, we are delighted with our house. It could not be more perfect for us. Last night, we sat on our terrace having dinner and we still had to pinch ourselves that we have found ourselves living in such a perfect place. As a house, it works just as we had hoped it would work. Spaces flow freely into each other, and the house is very much connected to the outside and the landscape in which it sits. From the front, it looks like a traditional village house, but once you step through the front door, there are elements of surprise and delight. The house manages to stay comfortable in the heat, despite extensive use of glass. Breezes drift through from front to back, and wherever you are in the house, you can see through from one space to another. It is a coherent whole, filled with light. The views at the back, of course, will always be the crowning glory of the property, and we will never tire of seeing nature in all its majesty.

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Our tips for a smooth house build:

  1. Whoever you are working with, make sure that you both understand what is expected and required of each other. If you have a Project Manager, make sure their understanding of what that means is the same as yours.

  2. Keep a very close eye on the people actually working on the site. Bear in mind that what you tell the main contractor may not be the same as that information passed down from the contractor to the labourer.

  3. If you are not happy with the quality, say so. Don’t be intimidated if your Spanish is not up to the job, or if you feel that this is just the way people work here. That’s nonsense. Find a builder who understands what you are trying to achieve and they will be as passionate about the finish as you are.

  4. Problems crop up over the course of a year-long project, so expect them. If there are problems, try and find out what those problems are. Lack of communication on a build project is a killer and will lead to an escalation of problems, so if you so much as sniff an issue, raise your concerns.

  5. It may sound obvious, but have a budget, get it agreed with the builder and stick to it. If the builders starts to creep over budget, nip it in the bud and if that doesn’t work then seriously consider replacing the builder. It is not worth having a builder who keeps adding bits and pieces to the bottom line…

  6. Being on site every day saved us, I am sure, a lot of heartache, as we could almost see problems before they arose. We could second-guess what might happen next.

  7. Miscommunication is a big problem. If possible, use email or WhatsApp always, so you have a record of what you have said or sent.

Right, the builders are back again tomorrow. We have already had to whizz off messages this afternoon as there has been miscommunication regarding the studio floor finish. Roll on the day when we are builder free!

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Food and Flamenco

Food and Flamenco

Finishing Touches

Finishing Touches