Wanted: Honest, reliable stonemason

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The good news: We’re moving! To a place 5 minutes away, right next door to Christian’s parents’, and the rent will be half as much as it is now.

The bad news: It needs a new coat of paint, but first the cracked walls need to be fixed. We have to pay for this ourselves because from the landlord’s point of view, there were other people lined up to rent the place the way it was with ugly, cracked, moldy walls, so the renovation is strictly optional and therefore on our dime.

And we’ve had a devil of a time simply finding a reliable person to do this work.

Guy #1 – Set a time to come by, take a look, and give us a quote. Never showed, never called, and we never heard from him again (oh, and he doesn’t have a phone, so we can’t call him). Needless to say, we didn’t hire him.

Guy #2 – Set a time to come by, but called right beforehand asking to move it to the next day. The following day, he was an hour late, which really inconvenienced Christian. Gave an outrageously-priced estimate and then asked Christian for R$5 to get the bus back, because he’d left home “in such a hurry” that he hadn’t grabbed enough money for transport. Um, not hired.

Guy #3 – Came by, gave a reasonable quote, was hired! He and his assistant have been there for four full days so far and the work is, uh, not exactly progressing quickly. (What the heck are they doing? Building sand castles with the material?)

Here’s an example of how things are going:

There’s a column in the kitchen, and part of the agreed-upon work was to extend it up to the ceiling. The second day on the job, they called Christian to say, “Are you sure you want to extend this column? What if later you want to do some redecorating, then you’ll have to break it down again.” Christian said, “I want it done.”

The third day on the job, they asked Christian again, “Dude, don’t extend it, you could, like, decorate the top of it or something like that.” Christian said, “I want it done.”

Yesterday, they asked Christian’s father to call me and ask me to call Christian at work in order to ask the SAME FREAKING QUESTION. Christian said, “Just do it, and I don’t want to hear any more about it!”

So the guy did it, but he did it badly. He was supposed to perforate the wall behind the column so that the cement would stick, but he didn’t, he just slapped the bricks up there. Then he lied to Christian about it, saying he did the perforation. Christian said, “I don’t think you did. And if it falls down, it’ll prove you didn’t.”

Guess what happened?

Half the bricks fell down and landed on the guy’s back. (Christian: “Deus me perdoe, but it should’ve landed on his head.”) Christian tore down the other half of the bricks and sure enough – the wall had not been perforated.

It seems like everyone I’ve talked to has horror stories about manual laborers – work being done slowly, work being done badly, workers just not showing up, “confusions” about what exactly is supposed to be done, etc.

I genuinely do not understand the slowness, because they are not being paid per day (and even if they were, it’d be unethical to unduly drag it out). It’s a fixed rate for the job, no matter how long it takes. So wouldn’t it be in their best interests to finish it efficiently so that they could move on to other projects and make  more money, rather than extending a 5-day job out to a week or two?

Seriously, this experience is making me want to go into the construction business just so I can outperform all the competition simply by being honest, efficient, doing good work, and showing up when I say I will. I bet I’d have a ton of clients!

  • Unethical to drag the work out if paid by the day? Not in Bahia!

    Dragging your heels on a fixed quote? Inexplicable!

    Nice bit of instant karma with the bricks on the back!

    I’ve heard it said that all the decent pedreiros are unavailable due to the building boom here.

    Re: your last point – my brother has had a similar experience, but in Maine – where as a conscientious and competent carpenter he has caused some waves with local builders.

    • Shayna

      I’m just glad the bricks fell on him and not on, say, Christian’s nieces. Or our stove while we’re using it, etc etc.

      Interesting, I hadn’t heard that about the decent pedreiros working on the building boom.

      How have the local builders reacted to your brother? If I ever do feel like a career change, I’ll market myself as “A Pedreira Estrangeira” – has a nice ring to it 😉

      • My brother brought that up because I was complaining about Brazilian pedreiros – he made it sould like the old-school ‘good enough’ builders suddenly and much to their surprise had some competition when the new-school ‘want to do nice work’ carpenters started to show up – I don’t really know what the specific reactions were, one would hope it made the old-schoolers ratchet up the quality a bit…

        As a semi-aside, I’ve discovered that many times when I complain about something here that I get responses from folks in the States who have had very similar experiences- in the States. In spite of my grumbling I am aware that Bahia is not hell and the US is not paradise.

        Finally, and I have no idea if this is of any interest to you, but apparently the city provides engineers to come in and analyze what kind of work your house needs. I just found this out on Saturday, and I definitely plan to seek out an ‘orçamento’. This might be something your landlord has to initiate.

  • You might want to take a look at this before proceeding with the wall/s restoration. It teaches you how to identify and solve the surface problems behind an existing and faulty paint job. It is in Portuguese so the required vocab to give directions to the handyman is already included.
    Concerning the paint job to be executed after the surface has been sorted out I recommend using Coral Tinta’s Sol e Chuva line.
    It costs more than conventional paint but lasts much longer because of it is actually a Rubber Paint
    I used it to paint my exterior wall 5 years ago, and it still looks impecable. You must follow directions when applying the paint: clean and if needed desinfect the surface with water + bleach solution ( QBOA Água Sanitaria and Water is what I used). And give each coat of paint 3 hours to dry before applying the the next one ( 3 coats total). One final word of advice: just do the paint job yourself.
    Btw the Grittty flip-flop etiquette allows for Havaianas use during home improvements which don’t involve nails or heavy lifting.

    • Shayna

      Great link – that pretty much fits with our problems and what we had to do (“rebocar”). We are going to do the painting ourselves – the pedreiros, after rebocando as paredes, are just going to apply the “massa corrida” (no clue what that is in English) and sand it down. I’ll check out that tinta.

  • I gave you the wrong link for the first task in the message above. This is the right one:

  • Andrew Francis

    Well there’s something I don’t miss about Brazil. No, not the bad tradesmen. London has its fair share of that as well. I’m talking about renting a place that doesn’t come with bare essentials. I’ve seen some absolutely terrible places to rent over here but no landlord expects (or would allow) you to do building work on their property. That’s one thing I really don’t get.

    • Shayna

      Guess we’re fortunate that ours is actually letting us do the work – it’s gonna look MUCH better! I should’ve taken some before and after pics.

      • Andrew Francis

        I’m sure it will be! It’s great that you’re up for that kind of stuff. We just avoided renting places that needed work done.

  • Jenner

    I have a construction company myself and I know how you feel. The workforce requires constant supervision and the skilled ones are all hired. If you have time to micromanage them and you master the know-how, they can be quite productive. Just don’t let them think by themselves!

  • Jenner,
    Is your company in Brazil? If so in what region?

  • lenekonoir

    This was hilarious. Is it a cultural thing? Or did you just have bad luck with the lot of workers you hired?
    I think you would be rich if you could go into business as a general laborer.

    • Shayna

      It seems to be a cultural thing, but based on some other comments it’s not just a Brazilian phenomenon!

      You know, after so many years working at computer-based jobs, it might be nice to go back to really working with my hands again! I used to be a chemist, and I actually loved the physicality of lab work.

  • Laural Out Loud

    My husband and I had the same idea about starting some sort of construction business and doing things up to American standards. We’d make a killing!