Property In Medellin, Colombia

Thanks To Carlos, All Is Well In Medellin

At last…we have walls! Even, in some rooms, floors and ceilings!

Lief and I are in Medellin this week meeting with the contractor, Carlos, who has been managing the renovation of our apartment here. In the office in Panama City Tuesday morning before we left for the quick hop over to Medellin, our Customer Service Manager Karen asked, “So, Kathleen, what are you expecting to be done on your apartment by now?”

“I try to avoid expectations,” I told Karen. “That way, any progress I find when I arrive comes as a pleasant surprise…and I’m not disappointed by what hasn’t yet been accomplished.”

This visit? It’s all pleasant surprises. We spent 10 hours with Carlos yesterday, first touring the apartment to review his work, then touring the place again with the cabinet-maker, Gustavo, who’s building the kitchen, the bookcases, the doors, and the windows, and then running around the city from tile manufacturer to bathroom fixture supplier shopping.

In other words, after more than three months of tearing out and jack-hammering apart, we’re finally getting to the fun part. We’re putting the pieces back together.

A long-distance renovation like this one (this is the eighth I’ve undertaken) is tricky. Even coming and going regularly (I’ve been back to Medellin at least once a month since the work began) doesn’t mean you’re on top of things. You have to accept that going in. Decisions must be made while you’re in absentia, some of which you’ll hear about, others you won’t discover until whenever next you return to the scene…some of which you’ll think are fine, others…well, maybe you would have decided differently…

We found Carlos on the endorsed recommendation of a friend in Medellin. We interviewed him, as well as another potential contractor. Asked around about his past jobs. Visited another apartment he’d recently renovated. And then we took the plunge. We’d done the due diligence we could. But we’ve learned that, still, with a project like this one, things can as easily go very wrong as… Well, in truth, they can far more easily go wrong than right.

It’s been nearly a month since my last visit. In that time, Carlos has requested more funds twice, the second time a bigger-than-we-expected amount. With each request, he sent a detailed accounting of what he’d spent money on to that point. Frankly, reviewing those details, we were getting worried. We were more than three months into the renovation and had spent more than the entire amount of money that Lief had budgeted for the project (part of the problem here is that Lief’s budget wasn’t my budget…that, of course, is not Carlos’ fault), yet it seemed that precious little had been accomplished…and, more to the point, a great deal more remained both to be done and to be bought.

When the second request for funds came through, Lief balked. “I’m not sending anymore money until we go to see what’s what for ourselves,” he said. I couldn’t argue. I was getting a little worried myself.

Years ago, when I was running a different publishing group from a base in Waterford, Ireland, we had what we called “Local Offices” in, at one time, six other countries–Nicaragua, Honduras, Ecuador, Panama, Argentina, and France. Each Local Office had a manager. Lief and I would travel to visit each manager as often as we could, and we’d have twice-annual “Summits,” we called them, when we’d gather all Local Office managers together for three or four days of regrouping and brainstorming. Otherwise, these guys (and women) operated on their own. At a very long distance.

In between visits, Lief and I would begin to panic. The more time that passed, the more we’d find ourselves questioning our Local Office managers’ activities…or lack of activity. Why did they do that? When are they finally going to get around to doing this? What were they thinking? Why haven’t they sent that report? How could they possibly have spent that much money?

We had cases, of course, where the answer to all those questions was: The Local Office manager was incompetent or, worse, dishonest. But, most of the time, the problem was simply the distance and the lack of communication. We’d arrive for our next meeting with them, sit down, talk things over face-to-face, and realize that, in fact, all was well, more or less.

So it has been this week with Carlos. Racing around Medellin with him yesterday, Lief and I were impressed by the handle he seems to have on the job, which, to be fair to Carlos, has turned into a bigger project than any of us expected at the outset. The number of moving parts is nearly overwhelming, even for Lief and me. More than once, yesterday, Lief and I found ourselves standing in a tile manufacturer’s factory or a plumbing supply store nearly losing it. The faucet we’d chosen wouldn’t fit the sink we’d already bought…the tiles I’d spent three hours picking out on a previous trip are now discontinued and I’d have to choose new ones…Jackson (along for the ride this time) was hungry but we were already late for our next appointment…and, meantime, all day long, every single conversation was being had in Spanish.

By 7 p.m. last night, we were exhausted. We could no longer speak English, let alone Spanish. We made our way back to our hotel, ordered room service, and turned on the television.

This morning, after a good night’s sleep, we’re ready to head back over to the apartment for round 2. The still-to-be-done-list fits now on a single sheet of paper. And now that we’ve had a chance to talk things over with Carlos face-to-face, we realize that, in fact, all is well.

Kathleen Peddicord