To build or not to build – Highs and lows of hiring a builder

To build or not to build – Highs and lows of hiring a builder

This post offers a brief insight into the murky and quirky world of local builders, at least a recap of our own experiences and a collection of thoughts from friends who have voiced similar opinions.

It’s a tricky subject even within your own native country, of picking a company that can offer what seems unattainable (at least in these parts) good price, good work and reliability. I’d settle for two out of three.

The local builder is often referred to as a paleta, a kind of jack of all trades, an all round builder that dabbles in and encompasses trades such as an electrician, plumber, heating engineer, carpenter, and maybe a few more. 

You could of course employ the individual trades if you have the stomach to do so, and the language capabilities and of course, the patience.

Just to recap, our small coastal hideaway in L’Escala needed refurbishment as it hadn’t been touched since flared trousers and jumbo collars were in fashion. White vans and pickups of all shapes and sizes whizz by that advertise ´reformas´a catch all phrase for building works.

That’s fine but where do you start in choosing a good reliable firm and getting some price quotes. Our first try was with the agent that sold us the house, he must be in the know. Cue Jordi, a local guy who dutifully appeared with notebook, tape measure and pen in hand.

We had quite a list, new bathroom, kitchen, floors, replacement doors, enough to give  any respectable builder a nice earner. Lets just add that you spend a lot of time with these individuals explaining what you want. The result, nada.

Moving on to building company number 2, recommended to us by our neighbour. Two young chaps turned up and we ran through the same spiel. Frantic notetaking is followed by the comment that we would need to move out. How long do we ask? Oh, two to three months. Okay but this is my main residence, where do I decamp to? This is looking like a non-starter. But I wait  in anticipation of an estimate. The result, nada.

I’m starting to feel a bit despondent but I will try again. This time it’s a local company, I’ve seen their shop premises in town  and made an appointment. Here we go again, notes are taken, list of jobs we want done. The result, yes, you’ve guessed, nada. What’s happening?

We´d heard that most builders here are super busy and it appears they can pick and choose which jobs they want to take on. I can understand, as during such visits (July) we were told start times would be around October. I also understand that I might not get a quote from the odd company, but three in a row. Are they so arrogant, uncaring, and not bothered?

Theories abound but I still need to find someone. A chance encounter with a local friend results in a builder who talks the talk. I decided to try him out with a few small jobs like a TV wall mount that I’ve already bought. The instructions may as well be in Chinese but he makes it look like child’s play and the price is good. I’m eager to get the bathroom redone and his answer is yes, no problem.

Post covid a lot of building material prices have shot through the roof, plus the wait is weeks not days. Ordered in August, delivered in October, and then some ordered items we got are missing. This is Leroy Merlin, a large multinational chain. My builder tells me we must complain in the strongest terms, as this is the only way to get things done.

If this is what it’s like for future projects I’m dreading the thought of how the other major works like the kitchen are going to go. That ultimately went to Ikea and may end up in part two of this saga.

My take on all of this. These paletas/builders are a law unto themselves. Jobs are started, things are done, materials appear on site then the workmen disappear into thin air. Getting to the finish line on big jobs becomes painfully slow, requiring constant chasing up. Not just us, as I’ve noticed these same patterns occurring with our next door neighbours who’ve had similar stuff done.

The more unscrupulous types look at us foreigners and see euro signs. I’ve had friends say quotes they’ve had have differed by many hundreds of euros for identical work.