Thursday, June 13, 2013

With This Deed I Thee Wed

Have you ever been on a blind date? What’s your success rate been? I’m willing to bet that a high percentage of blind date stories you’ve heard don’t have the required happy endings that were originally desired. These are stories usually shared long after the fact in a humorous, anecdotal way. The only real damage done from the experience is hours wasted, and, if you play the traditional male role of paying for the evening, a lighter wallet.

Let’s take this analogy one step further. In our Western culture we are expected to meet the person we fall in love with, date for awhile, get engaged, and then marry. While some parts of the world still rely heavily on the arranged marriage, which involves sight unseen of your mate until you say the “I do’s,” this idea is pooh-poohed in our civilized world. And yet, with all the pre-nuptial preparedness we go through to make sure you have the right one, the divorce rate is still above 50%.

Okay, so by now you’re probably saying to yourself, “why is a plumber talking about marriage?” Well, to make a very valid point. While most people wouldn’t think of marrying a mate sight unseen, there are many who will plunk a huge down payment on a condo that doesn’t even exist.

Arguments can be made that gambling on a pre built home is less expensive, but in the long run, it is much easier to buy a visibly finished product. If you’re the kind of person who likes to roll the dice, then at least let me give you a recent example of what you might be up against.

A person I know, and for the sake of argument, let’s just call him “Ralph,” made an offer on a pre-built condo. The unit was optioned for the choice of either shower or bathtub. The shower was chosen. One particular brand of toilet was shown in the model condo, with the promise that an equivalent type would be installed in the finished dwelling.

The end of construction and occupancy date was given. A price estimate was made for the municipal tax and “welcome tax” (in the province of Quebec new homeowners are expected to pay an addition tax called a “welcome tax.” Most Quebecers would prefer to be not so welcomed). Two choices of kitchen cabinet doors were shown and specific subcontractors were supposedly executing the work.

The first week of April was chosen as date of possession. The first sign for Ralph that things might be going off course was having the move-in date pushed back several times. At the time of this writing it is mid June, and just like Dorothy, all Ralph wants to do is go home, but no amount of heel clicking will get him into house any faster.

When asked to see the almost finished condo, a bathtub was installed in place of a shower. Ralph was told by the vendor that an extra charge of $4,000 would be incurred to change to the already agreed shower. It’s ironic how the price has gone up, since it was a mistake on the builder’s part and also the original selling price for either the shower or tub was the same. As if that wasn’t enough, the toilet installed was less expensive and of a different brand than originally agreed upon. Like so many people in such a stressful situation, Ralph just decided to agree on sticking with a tub. A compromise was to have glass doors installed. The end result was that now poor Ralph will have to step over the toilet bowl to enter the bathtub; a tricky Olympic maneuver that would no doubt be made even trickier with wet feet on a slippery surface.

The vendor agreed to change some but not all the mistakes made by the builder. The plumbing contractor that was supposed to execute the work was not the one chosen. Welcome tax and municipal tax was at least 20% higher than the estimated value.

So through this nightmare, what has Ralph learned? Well, he now knows that every decision, as far as style of finishing are concerned, should be documented and brought to the attention of the vendor upon completion of the work. If not, Ralph is stuck with what he’s got.

When buying a property after construction, you pay for what you can physically see. Usually in a multi-unit dwelling, mistakes are more likely to happen (whether intentional or not) because many finishing products are bought in bulk for better price.

If you still want to be as brave as Ralph and buy the proverbial sandcastle in the sky, sight unseen, then it is imperative that you hire an independent licensed building inspector. One who is legally allowed to enter a construction site. Usually if the vendor is on the up and up, they would allow this type of inspection.

Just like someone who goes into a marriage on a wing and a prayer, buying a condo that you can’t even see, might cost you way more than you bargained for in the end. When you’re making such a huge investment, make sure everything to your specifications are written down in a concrete, iron clad contract. And it doesn’t hurt to actually have the physical concrete up as well. You don’t want your condo investment to be the nightmare blind date you can’t get away from. That will eat an even bigger hole in your wallet.

See you around the drain!!!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Here's Looking At Your Pipes

I’m going to give you several opportunities to stop reading this blog post. Your first opportunity is if you’ve never seen the last line of the movie Casablanca. If you’re still procrastinating and haven’t watched this classic film that was made over 70 years ago, please skip to a YouTube video of cats playing the piano and stop reading now.

For the rest of you in the know, the last line of the classic 1942 film has Rick walking along the foggy tarmac with Louie. Rick turns to Louie and says, "Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

That line speaks volumes. It’s a friendship that is based on shared experiences and understanding someone’s expertise. Experience – there’s that word again. But it’s not what you’re thinking.

To keep one step ahead, this experience must be different from the rest. Plumbing or other trade businesses offer both sales and services to the client.

We sell material and offer our service to install. Experience in this context means a memory or feeling accepted by the client. Services rendered should not be felt by clients and trades people as a job; but an experience the client should learn from.

For example, if you were to dine in a restaurant, is the service part of the experience important to you? If not, then once again, you can stop reading this blog (and just carry on ordering your meals at the drive-thru).

In a dining experience, service should be prompt, accurate and pleasurable. If it isn’t, many customers will take their palate elsewhere. Service for the trades should also be prompt, accurate and pleasurable.

Okay, I know what you’re saying to yourself. You’re just shaking your head saying, “Dave, Dave, Dave, whatever do you mean? When I hire a plumber, electrician, etc, this will not constitute a pleasurable experience. I still have to pay them!!!” Yes, you are right, but what is the reason of the service call in the first place? Either a problem needs to be rectified or a renovation is in the making.

For many, it’s hard enough to have someone traipse through your house, let alone work in areas that make you feel a bit uncomfortable. From previous blog posts, you know when a tradesperson exits your home; there should be no “bad” trace that they worked in your house.

Well let’s go one step further and create an experience together with that service. Take advantage of the tradesperson’s knowledge and experience. Save some time and ask questions about other issues. Trust me; we are capable of working and answering your queries at the same time.

The tradesperson should be willing to explain maintenance or preventive programs and possible future pending issues or potential problems. They should also allot some time to talk about the job at hand, sort of like a mini tutorial. They should talk about various options especially in the case of a renovation. One of the worst things a tradesperson can hear is “how come you didn’t tell me that before?” Well that is the fault of the tradesperson. They should establish a trustworthy bond by mirroring the client without patronizing them. To use the restaurant analogy once again, a good waiter brings your meals promptly with a smile. A great waiter also might make suggestions of side dishes or the right beverage to go with what you have already ordered.

When it comes to plumbing, we usually show up in your most private of places. I mean, what’s more personal than someone’s bathroom! It’s always best to make a client feel comfortable when you’re working in their home. It’s heartwarming to know the tradesperson is catering to your needs . . . not just your pocketbook.

After the tradesperson leaves, the client should not only feel the job was executed correctly, but if there’s a problem, the tradesperson would act swiftly in correcting it. Of course we are not living in a perfect world. Some clients just want their problems fixed and don’t care about establishing a relationship. Same goes for some trades people. If you are in the latter category, again, you have read too far. Feel free to stop now. The cats are waiting for you.

When I leave my client’s home, I feel that they have learned something of value. Usually we exchange smiles and everybody is happy. If my clients are not interested to understand what service was just done for them, I usually cease working for them. I’m reminded of the last line of yet another classic movie; 1939’s Gone With The Wind, when Rhett Butler said, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Trades people should appreciate their clients and vice versa, because we do give a damn.

See you around the drain.