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LCR Jul-07



The Wild West

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 however, 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 portray the construction business here a lakeside as the “Wild West”.  His concern was 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.  Ultimately, the clients in some cases were 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 it involved a lack of supervision of inept workers, in others it was ignorance of the scale of the problem and potential solutions that hindered them from finding a quality solution and result.  And in other cases it was ego that stopped them from seeking help.  

So what can you do to help protect yourself?  Simply stated is do your due diligence.  Your greatest source of information is your circle of friends and acquaintances that have used the services of a contractor or other subcontractor (special service).  Don’t just take their word as the final element of recommendation; remember to ask more questions.  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 however, ask the contractors for references.  Of course you know that he/she will not provide the list of clients that were not satisfied with their work however, the names that they do provide can be contacted and asked the same aforementioned questions and you will likely find out more information or warnings about what to expect from their contractor or sub-contractor.  

Also you may want 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, however have not specified the work clearly to each contractor and hence the proposals vary on the understanding of the scope of work, quality of work, warranties, schedule and the most debated issue of 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 selected the lowest bid of three painters however, 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 that even had been watered down to make it more “spread-able” 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 prior to the application of the paint and since it was made more “spread-able”, the paint started to fade unevenly at the end of one year.  He saved $3,000 pesos but the results never lasted as long as he had hoped and the maid’s clean up of the windows continues.  This case exemplifies that there is sometimes the standard of work or understanding of what is expected, differs from what the clients wants even when they spoke the same language.  

This is not to say all contractors are crooks and are looking to do the lowest cost, lowest quality work because 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.  

The Lake Chapala Review is a free monthly English publication available at Lake Chapala.  It is publicized on the 15th day of every month.

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All material on this web site is Copyright© J. Brad Grieve, P.Eng. MBA
Last modified: November 04, 2008