What Have We Gotten Ourselves Into?
“We’re very happy with the house, but, yes, boy, we did learn a thing or two in the process,” Jerry explained, shaking his head.
I had asked a friend about his recent experience building a house on the coast of Veraguas, the west coast of Panama’s Azuero Peninsula, where Lief and I are about to build a house of our own. I was looking for some boots-on-the-ground insights.
“Most important, you have to be really clear about what’s included in the contract with your builder,” Jerry explained. “A number of things that we believed were included in the quote our builder gave us weren’t, so some things we wanted just didn’t get done in the end.”
“Right,” our Project Manager Gary offered, “you want to be sure to stipulate that the plans supersede the contract.”
“Also,” Jerry continued, “you have to be careful about subcontracted labor. We were happy with the work our builder and his crew did themselves. However, our builder used subcontractors for the electrical and the plumbing. Those guys didn’t have any idea what they were doing, and the builder wasn’t on-site regularly enough to monitor them. I should have been at the building site every day during those stages.”
I’ve told you already about the groundbreaking event we held last weekend at Los Islotes. Saturday morning, the mayor, police chief, and other government officials joined Lief, me, our family, friends, and the Los Islotes crew to throw the first shovels-full of dirt and take a few swipes with a bulldozer. Then we drank a champagne toast and enjoyed a bar-b-que lunch at our rancho overlooking the ocean. It was a great day at the beach, and we really enjoyed the great show of local support.
Then the reality of what we’d undertaken began to settle in.
Monday morning after the groundbreaking, we met with Alberto, who will be our builder for this project. He had questions about some details of the plans our architect Ricardo had provided for him.
“The plans call for all the steel to be sandblasted,” Alberto said. “I have to tell you, we don’t do that in this part of the country. We don’t even have access out here to a sandblaster.”
“We’ll provide one for you,” I replied. “We’ve been building in Panama long enough to know that we want to do everything we can to guard against rust.”
“What about the concrete block?” Alberto asked. “The specs your plans call for, again, aren’t really available out here. Local blocks aren’t going to be nearly the density you’re asking for.”
“Right,” Lief replied, “the local quality isn’t what we want, so our Project Manager Gary is prepared to make his own. He’s shopping for a block maker now.”
“How big a crew will you need?” I asked.
“At least 15 guys,” Alberto replied, “and they’ll need to be able to stay on-site.”
“Yes, we understand,” Lief said. “Gary is scouting out a piece of land nearby Los Islotes where we plan to build some worker housing.”
“My biggest challenge right now,” Alberto continued, “is logistics. I need to figure out how to get all the materials I’m going to need delivered when I need them.”
“We agree,” Lief offered. “But Gary has been planning for this for some time. He has some systems in place and can work with you to create whatever others you might need.”
“Your plans call for hardwood for the window and door casings and frames. What kind of wood and what finish do you want?”
“Mahogany with a waxed finish,” I replied. “Varnishing doesn’t work in this climate.”
“What about the roof?”
“Red clay tiles. We’d prefer salvaged tiles from an old structure somewhere. Could that be possible?”
“Possible, maybe,” Alberto replied, “but I don’t recommend it. It’s tough enough in this part of the world to lay a roof that doesn’t leak under the best of circumstances. Salvaged tiles will have cracks and chips that will make it even harder to make the roof watertight.
“I have to add,” Alberto continued, “that I’m a little nervous. Your specs are for a very high-end house. This will be like nothing else that has ever been built in this part of this country. There’s nothing else like this on this coast anywhere. I don’t want to disappoint you…”
“What do you think?” Lief asked me after we’d left the meeting.
“I think Alberto is a good guy. He has years of experience and lots of connections in this part of Panama. And he has the right sensibilities. He understands our affinity for the Spanish-colonial style and our intention to use only real materials–wood, stone, clay tiles, etc. I think he gets us. And he wants to do a good job. He wants us to be happy.
“So onward,” I said.
“This will go wrong a hundred ways,” I continued. “We’ll have every problem we can imagine and many we can’t right now. It will take longer than we expect and cost more.
“In other words, it will be like every other construction project we’ve ever undertaken.
“But this guy Alberto, I can work with him,” I concluded.
“And this time next year, the next 12 months will be behind us, and we’ll have our Founder’s Lodge.”
I can hardly wait.
P.S. You can find out more about the long-term plan for Los Islotes here.