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Communicating with Contractors

J. Brad Grieve

Let's look at the construction business here at Lake Chapala. This is like many businesses in that just about anyone can hang out a sign and call himself or herself a contractor. I believe the freedom here in Mexico is great and allows young entrepreneurs to start up a business easily, with little or no bureaucratic intervention. But on the other side of the coin, there is little regulation governing their business, which could help protect the consumer.

Recently, I heard a local contractor describe the construction business here at lakeside as the "Wild West." His concern was that there were unqualified people claiming to be welders, electricians, masons, plumbers and even building professionals - and this applied to both the Mexican and foreign nationals. As a result, clients were sometimes not receiving the quality of service they demanded. In some cases, the workers were performing work beyond their capabilities and were not seeking outside help. Sometimes the problem derived from a lack of supervision of inept workers. In other cases, an ignorance of the scale of the problem and of potential solutions prevented finding a quality solution and result. And sometimes, it was ego that stopped these so-called professional from seeking help.

So what can you do to help protect yourself? Simply stated, do your due diligence. Your greatest source of information is your circle of friends and acquaintances who have used the services of a contractor or other subcontractor (special service). Don't just take their word, remember to ask more questions. Such as: Why did they like the contractor? How well and frequently did they communicate? What was the quality and cleanliness of their work during and after the process? How much supervision and guidance was provided? What was the cost? Were their any surprises or changes in the scope of the work? These are samples of questions, but you need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the contractor.

It may seem redundant, but ask the contractors for references too. Of course you know that he or she will not provide the list of clients who were dissatisfied with their work. But the names that they do provide can be contacted and asked the same aforementioned questions. In this way, you will likely find out more information or warnings about what to expect.

You may want also to talk to more than one contractor prior to starting the work. There are so many cases of clients seeking competitive bids on the work. But if they haven't clearly specified the work to each contractor, the proposals vary based upon the understanding of the scope of work, quality of work, warranties, schedule and - the most debated issue - total cost. It is always tempting to select the lowest bid, but make sure the lowest bid understands the project specifications and what is required.

One client chose the lowest bid of three painters, never discussed the quality or type of paint, schedule or quality/cleanliness of the work. They ended up with paint on windows, doors, roofs and walkways that was never cleaned up. The paint itself was of low quality and even had been watered down to make it more "spreadable" on the rough exterior of the house. The paint started to peel within the first year because the exterior surface had not been cleaned or repaired first. And since it was made more "spreadable," the paint started to fade unevenly at the end of one year. Yes, this client saved $3,000 pesos. But the results never lasted as long as he had hoped, and the window clean up continues. This case is a clear example that sometimes the standard of work or understanding of what is expected differs from what the client wants, even when they speak the same language.

This is not to say all contractors are crooks. Certainly not all are looking to do the cheapest, lowest quality work. In fact, most of them take pride in their work and want to make the client happy because for the most part, they are interested in the longevity of their business. Some of the better contractors will ask as many questions as the clients ask, so they are clear on what the client wants.

Published or Updated on: April 1, 2008 by J. Brad Grieve © 2008
Contact J. Brad Grieve

J. Brad Grieve is a professional civil engineer who has lived and worked in the Lake Chapala area since 1994. He is the owner of Ajijic Home Inspections and you can be reach him by phone: (376) 766-2836 or e-mail.

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