Discover more from Expat in Portugal
Why Did I Think We Were Different?
Everyone told us to add 2 or 3 months to any timeline provided by our builder. Everyone! But for some reason, I choose not to believe them. Why, oh why, did I think our experience would be different?
Too Trusting…Too Arrogant
I waiver between thinking I was too trusting or too arrogant. When our builder gave us a move-in date of 15 June, just 15 days later than he had originally promised, I smiled to myself. Despite language barriers, ignorance, and lots of frustration we managed to keep our builder to delivering the house only 15 days beyond its due date. Portuguese government agencies may be slow. “Na próxima semana” may not really mean “next week”. But because of American ingenuity, persistence, and hard work, we managed the process and brought the house in pretty much on time.
It was a Portuguese miracle.
Yeah …. right.
But after our last meeting on 27 April, work seemed to slow. Yes, I was encouraged by the plaster walls and the installation of the ceiling. But on most days the ceiling guy worked alone. His estimate of “duas semanas…mais ou menos”1 was very, very “mais”. In the middle of the project, he disappeared for three days. In week three, he was just beginning to apply the tape and joint compound. Alone!
Then our builder began to lose staff. First, there was Samuel … a burly, jolly fellow we affectionately called “the Schlepper” because his primary role seemed to be to move heavy objects from point A to point B. He was the fellow hoisting the bucket of tile adhesive to the roof in our prior post. I ran into him while on my morning walk. He was sporting a shirt with the VRSA Marina logo on it and explained he had changed jobs because his back could not take the heavy lifting.
A few days later I happened to run into José João (our builder) at the job site. He explained Alex had quit suddenly…without notice. He offered him €250 more…but Alex would not return. Alex was supposed to install our floor … Alex was the most skilled and hardest worker on the team. I wished he had offered him the wage he deserved before he quit!
Really, Really Pissed
My blood pressure typically runs in the lower range of normal … 106/68. But since mid-May, I am certain it has been at a much higher level. I also have not had a good night’s sleep and am even more difficult to live with than normal. (Which I will admit is NOT a good thing.)
Was this because work slowed? We did not begin painting in April as planned… the floor still sits in boxes in the guest room. I will admit these are contributing factors. But the most infuriating part is that our builder went MIA.2 He did not answer my phone calls, emails or respond to texts. It typically took my architect 15-20 calls before he picked up. He wouldn’t schedule a meeting!
After three weeks of no contact, I called our realtor (who had sold us the building and recommended the builder) and asked him to try to reach him. José João took his call on the first try. Perhaps I needed to buy burner phones so he didn’t recognize the number!
Long Story, Long
Finally, on 24 May, Ana and I once more met with José João. If he could have avoided the meeting, I am certain he would have. But, he was forced to meet with us because our building license was set to expire on 31 May. He needed to provide me with paperwork so I could go to the city and extend it by two months.3
Before the meeting, I had created a list of all the items that needed to be completed. Some like painting, installing the floor, finishing the electric, grouting, and installing at least one bathroom and kitchen…were on “the must-have to move in” list. Others like installing the stairs to the rooftop, a second coat of paint on the exterior, installing the guest bath, installing the mail slot, etc. were on the “it can be done after we move in” list.
Ana and I tried to get him to review the list item by item. It was an impossible task. He has the ability to divert your attention to a ridiculously mundane item in mid-sentence. We will also take a phone call at any moment and scream at the caller for 3-5 minutes before returning his focus to you. He is a bully.4 The meeting ended with another date…15 July. He admitted there may be punch-list items after that date but he was 100% certain we could move it then. This, of course, all depends on my ability to get the subs (the kitchen guy, the hot water/underfloor heating/air conditioning guy, etc) to complete their tasks within the new schedule.5
So Wednesday night I sent a bunch of emails…providing new dates to everyone whose assistance is required to complete the project. For those that did not respond by Thursday afternoon, I started calling. And calling, and calling! Around 4:30 Friday afternoon I received the final confirmation. It took 2 emails, 2 texts, and 10 phone calls before I finally reached Reinaldo (the water, heating, a/c guy). With the exception of the solar panels, everyone is scheduled. I have also contacted our current landlord to extend our lease. Questions remain:
Will this be the last extension?
How can Denise survive another 45 days living with me like this?
How many days will more than one person be working on the house at a time?
Should I have my liver enzymes tested?
When exactly did José João make me project manager? (See footnote 5)
Does anyone want to start a pool to pick the real move-in date?
Am I still too trusting?
No doubt, I am still too arrogant!
Ainda zangado e frustrado em VRSA….tchau
Final Note: I asked Denise to read this post before publishing it. She agrees it is an accurate representation of the past month but says I sound “whiny”. Sorry…I thought the liver enzymes line might cause one to smile. I hope so. Cheers!🍺🥃🍷🍻🍸🥂🧉
Two weeks, more or less.
For most of my career, I was in management. At first before email and texts. But regardless of the technology, I had one rule. You return a customer’s call, email, text, whatever within 24 hours even if you did not yet have the answer (let alone the answer the customer wanted). Yes, they may be unhappy and may even be rude…but things will only escalate if you don’t respond. And escalation typically meant they called me. Clearly, José João will not have survived on my team.
Yes, he has a bad case of “short man” syndrome!
If you have never project managed a renovation this is the biggest gotcha. When you miss the original installation window you told the sub he doesn’t hang out waiting for your call. He typically takes another job. When you call him 2-4 weeks later to say “we are ready now”, he doesn't drop everything and come right over. He looks at his schedule to determine what month he can fit you in.