When I was a
fabulous teenager, I used to dream of being a grown up and being able to customize, design and DIY interior decorate my house by myself. I'd spend hours poring through my mum's better homes and garden magazine thinking one day, I too shall have a fabulous house done to my taste.
Now that I'm all grown up, I realise that our dream home will face two large hurdles; having to work hard and save the moola and then going through the stress of construction in Abuja.
Fixing up a house by itself is stressful. Add life in Nigeria, which is super stressful by itself into the mix and you've got double the stress. Of course this would be manageable if you've got reliable contractors. But if you find yourself in Abuja, where the workers are trying to cheat you 90% of the time, then you've got to be vigilant. Here are some lessons I've learnt along the way.
- Have a Budget! Then multiply it by 1.5. That's how much you're actually going to spend. Maybe even a little bit more. Many little annoying charges that should have been communicated earlier will pop up, so it's best to be prepared before hand. Even after paying them up, they'll come to you with requests like;
- Transportation, which should have been included in your bill!
- Cleaning up! Because painters, plasterers tend to have a tough time staying within the lines! They'll stain your tiles, electricals and even your doors!
- "Missing" or "Broken" materials. Yup. The nerve!
- Some will change their mind about the price you agreed upon earlier and will give you excuses like "I didn't know how much work it would be."
- Do not allow them to commence work before a price agreement has been reached.
2. Do the legwork: Don't just sit there and wait for the electrician to bring you a bill for your fittings! You've got to get up and look for yourself. I hate going to markets, but I just had to do it after I got a ridiculous quote from an electrician. Not only will it help you come up with ideas, but it'll give you the real price range so that you won't be cheated. If you're thinking of renovating, you need to visit;
- Gudu Market: tiles, faucets, electrical fittings, lights, chandeliers, nearly everything!
- Dulux: They have the widest paint Range in town and they'll even give you a chart free.
- Next: the hardware section has a little bit of everything:- textured paints and paint mixers
- Wallpaper world
- Alibert, Alfemo for your furniture and decorations
- Just make sure you have an idea of the cost and range of items available. Do not just trust the contractor. Why? That's my next point.
3. Contractors lie: they also steal and cheat. Not all of them, of course. But some have done so, giving them a bad name. Mr. H tells me it's Abuja contractors that are notorious for this! Over the past few months we've worked with some relatively honest contractors (the carpenter) and some despicable ones (the painter, the removalists). So they're not all bad. You just have to be able to suss out the wheat from the chaff.
- "Aunty, we go finish am by tomorrow." But tomorrow will never come.
- "Aunty, I no call price for you o. I dey do am for double, but because na you, I reduce am." Lies!
- "This one na imported, that's why e dey expensive. That one you see na local one." Lies!
- The easiest way to cheat you is to inflate the cost of materials, that's why you have to have an idea of prices before you even meet a contractor!
- Make sure you buy only what you need at that time or else the items might just mysteriously go missing.
- Another way to cheat you is by inflating the magnitude of work to be done, which leads me to my next point...
4. Know your measurements: Don't just know your measurements, but know them in meters inches, square meters and square footage! I remember one guy had a funny way of measuring width. Instead of stretching the tape flat, he did it at an angle diagonally, so he added nearly 7 inches to each measurement. He didn't know I caught him and I already had the exact values! Ironically he wouldn't have gained up to N2000 with the cheat figures. Why not just be honest? Sigh.
- Invest in a tape measure with both metric and imperial systems.
- Measure the area required for floorings, furnishing, curtains or blinds and keep. They'll surely come in handy.
- Monitor the contractor when they're measuring.
- Know the cost of your item (flooring/curtains/blinds/tiles) per square meter before buying.
5. Don't be the first: Use reputable contractors. Ask around with friends or family for the workers they used. That way, you're sure of what you're getting and the chances of being disappointed are minimized.
6. You must Micromanage: it's okay to check your work every now and then. In fact you need to be on top of everything all the time, before and during construction. Not just calling on the phone, but be there in person when possible. This will ensure you and the workers are on the same page
- Communicate with photos. Give pictures where possible of your expectations as a guide.
- Don't just print out your entire pinterest board though! Just one or two with the exact results you're after or the end concept
- I always hand draw what I want from my carpenter (labeled with dimensions) and for the 3 years I've been using him, I've never been disappointed.
- Let them show you what they've done before. Everyone has a smart phone these days and that's the best way to know their strengths.
- Ask questions when you're not sure:
- "This isn't how you're going to leave this, right?
- "Does something else go over this?"
- "Is this the final coat?"
- "Are you going to polish this afterwards?
7. Don't be shy, Negotiate!: Haggle, if you must! If you think the quote you received is exorbitant, say it! My rule of thumb is to never accept the first quote I get because many contractors quote ridiculous prices at first thinking you'll negotiate! They try their luck to see if you'll fall mugu, so you have to be tactful too! Take this painter, who seemed all nice and honest at first. So we trusted him to come up with a quote for painting an entire apartment. He quoted N95,000 for workmanship alone! What is he painting, the Sistine chapel? Luckily we knew the standard going price for painters in Abuja and called him out sharply.
- Labour isn't expensive, so use your judgment on the magnitude of work to estimate what you're getting from the workers
- Ask around what the going rate for that particular service is.
- Ask for an itemized quote: how much do the materials cost?
- It is okay to tip your workers. Just make sure you differentiate which one is out of their payment and which is from your kindness.
8. Document everything: receipts, payments, deposits, measurements, agreements, outstanding balances, phone numbers,
- It's not unusual to have paid up all your fees but get a call one or two days later saying you still have some money outstanding. See points 1, 2, & 3 above
- We had a bill of 50,000 to pay, so we paid 30,000 upfront as a deposit with the remaining balance (20,000) to be paid pending completion. When it was time to pay, the guy said that the outstanding fee was 30,000, not 20,000. Where on earth did the extra 10,000 come from? Some workers try their luck to cheat you at every turn. He thought I hadn't written everything down! How wrong he was.
- Keep bank tellers, so you don't have to deal with "I no receive alert."
9. Work with time: Give the workers a time frame, even if it's a fake one to motivate them to work efficiently
- Contractors in Abuja often take on many jobs at the same time, so if you don't appear to need your work soon, they'll concentrate on all those other jobs and be sloppy and tardy with yours.
- If you have an actual deadline make sure you tell the workers you need it done half the time. For instance, if you need something done in two weeks make sure you tell them you only have a week or 5 days. That way if they delay or mess it up, you have more than enough time to fix it up.
- Show the extent if your disappointment if they don't meet up to the deadline, however you must also reiterate that you will not accept a shoddy rush job either!
10. Pay up strategically: Do not pay up the total bill before the service is provided. Give a deposit first, even if you think they don't need it. It'll motivate them to work. Then on successful completion of your work, you pay the remaining.
- The most annoying issue was with our painter who was given a handsome deposit to commence work but instead, sent "one of his boys" who did an absolutely shitty job! First of all, they mixed up the colours for the rooms! The guest room didn't need to be painted at all and the baby room was supposed to be painted a baby blue and sorbet pink. Instead, they painted the guest room baby blue and sorbet pink (imagine!) with a shitty job at the line of demarcation and just left the baby room unpainted! He didn't buy the agreed amount for the living room paint and some areas were suspiciously patchy, it looked like the paint was diluted with water! I was beyond furious, but I let Mr. H deal with it. The dude apologized but was never heard from again. We were so glad we didn't pay it all. And we used the balance on another painter to clean up the mess.