Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Near Swindle

I don't know if anyone reads this blog anymore, and if you don't, I can't blame you.  Of course, if you don't, you didn't get the message, and you, dear reader, clearly stuck with me through the quiet times and for that I am eternally grateful.

So it's been nearly eight years I've been living in my house, far and away the longest time I have ever lived anywhere.  An unlikely spot to land perhaps, but here I am, and will stay at least for the foreseeable future.  As you may know, before we moved in to this place we implemented an ambitious renovation of the house, six months of craziness that had to be finished before a certain wedding and the birth of a certain child who will be, you guessed it- eight this year.

The renovation is starting to show its age, although not as badly as the renovation of our largo, which happened at roughly the same time.  If it was up to me, we'd do it all over again, or at least the last 20 percent of it, which involved painting and making the place look nice.

The troubling bit is a big beam we put in in order to 'open up' our kitchen - it involved removing a big old column that was supporting... a lot of weight... and now it appears as though it is bending a bit.  There are cracks in the kitchen and clearly things are shifting around.  It's not the kind of thing that can be left alone, it needs to be remedied, and it needs to be remedied now.  At least, that's what they told me a couple months ago when I had it looked at by a professional.  Not trusting any of the builders I know here (or much of anyone else for that matter) I tried to get a recommendation from someone, anyone, I trusted.  This resulted in me finding nobody and spending a lot of time calling a neighbor of mine who supposedly had all these good leads, none of which panned out as the dude spends so much time talking that he doesn't actually do much of anything else.

So I grabbed the phone book and started calling.

I hate doing that.

After a few dead ends I got a positive response: yes, we do residential renovations, someone will call you.  And he did.  A representative of one of the biggest building firms in the city - actually, bigger than the city, it's headquartered in São Paulo.

The guy, who I'll call Everaldo because that's his name, came by and was a model of calm competency.  This was odd, because he essentially told us that the house was going to collapse tomorrow if we didn't hire him immediately to fix it.  I was flipped out and he made me much more so, although he was offering, selling actually, a solution.  The next day he arranged to have some steel supports sent over to prop up the impending doom hanging over our heads and also sent me a contract which was... very expensive.

I didn't spend two minutes thinking about it, I told him let's do it and get it over with.

You know where this is headed.

I've been reading a fair amount of fantasy books lately, which has been fun, but let me tell you something: don't start reading a trilogy or a septology or whatever the thing is going to be until the author actually finishes the thing.  It's most annoying to be caught up in the middle of a story and then have to wait around for the author to finish the next book.  It's not a problem I've encountered before - it was not an issue with Lord of the Rings nor with the Dragon Tattoo novels, which weren't actually fantasy.  If I'm not mistaken both of these examples were intended to be single, mammoth volumes until their editors convinced them to split them up into smaller chunks.  A practical decision, at least in the pre-electronic-book age, when I can carry my whole damn library around with two fingers.

But I digress.  The whole reason I brought up the fantasy novels is that in one of them (the first 2/3 of Patrick Rothfuss' The Kingkiller Chronicle) there's a lot of talk about the 'sleeping mind.'  The sleeping mind, it turns out, is much smarter than the waking mind, and is essential to the making of magic.  Well,  to the naming of things actually, but I'm not going to get into that here.

Although I have had little success in the making of magic, and a spotty record when it comes to naming things, I am a firm believer in the sleeping mind.  My mind in particular.  Most of it is sleeping most of the time, even when I'm awake, which, contrary to popular belief, I am most of the time.  The sleeping mind knows what it wants.  The sleeping mind takes time to reach a decision, but it decides.  The sleeping mind speaks loudly, even if I don't know what it's trying to tell me most of the time.

This decision of mine to contract Everaldo to work on my house drove my sleeping mind into overdrive.  It also occupied the waking part, but the whole brain was roiling with the pros and cons, benefits and repercussions of having this guy come in and take care of it.  I was really annoyed with myself because I'd been determined to get at least three estimates before I chose one after careful deliberation, and then I'd gone and done just the opposite.  I figured it was worth spending the extra money if I had the resources of a mighty construction company at my disposal.  I'm a guy who's willing to spend a bit more, providing it means that I'll get a really good job done.

Unfortunately, history has not borne this out, at least not for me.  I've paid a little bit more and gotten a more than a little less, on multiple occasions.  If someone's going to overcharge you, they tend to assume that you are an idiot in all respects, and that not only don't you know what a job is worth that you also won't know if the job is well done.

So this was bothering me.  I spent a couple very bad nights, where I slept little and also poorly, as my mind went over the thing, and over, and over, and over it again.  After the first bad night I realized I wasn't actually ready to sign the contract, which was probably the smartest decision I've made all year.

My wife, who is much smarter than me about many things, smelled a rat.  The dude had a truck with the name of the business on the side (which is Predial by the way) and the contract was on the company letterhead, but he seemed to be acting on his own.  He didn't bring an engineer over to evaluate the situation, which was something I'd been using as a starting point - evaluation by structural engineer.  I showed the contract to my accountant for some reason, not sure why, and he didn't like it either.  He pointed out that the guy was asking for a very large percentage up front, which is unusual.

After my second bad night of sleep I started stalling.  I told Everaldo that I was going to have to wait a week to get started, with the intention of getting the other estimates I'd wanted in the beginning.  I also told him I was waiting on a response from my lawyer (actually my accountant) who was looking over the contract.  I can't tell you what a relief it was to tell him that I'd call him next week.

I had another professional look at the job today, a much more reasonable sounding guy who isn't representing a large corporation.  He hasn't given me the estimate yet so we'll see how reasonable he really is.  I have another guy coming tomorrow, who was recommended to me, which is what I wanted in the first place.

And I did something else today.  I called Predial at their headquarters in São Paulo to feel them out and see if there was anything irregular about the situation.  As I was explaining the whole thing the woman cut me off to inform me that Predial does not do residential jobs.  So Everaldo is officially full of shit.

It all seems so obvious in the retelling.  It also seems like I could have told the story more concisely, perhaps by cutting out the bit about the fantasy novels and the sleeping mind, but that was my favorite part.  All I can say is that I'm glad I didn't sign the contract, and all that remains is to get rid of this guy.

I could do a couple things at this point - I could do 'the right thing' and go into Crusader Mode and report the guy so he doesn't take advantage of other people.  Probably by calling the right person I could get him fired.  He's committing fraud by using the company's name and reputation to line his own pockets - I think he probably works for them, and I don't think they'd be happy to see the contract he wrote up.  I could also vindicate myself by confronting him with my knowledge of his shady scheme.  But you want to know something?  I'm tired.  I'm working too much and I'm stressed out.  I'm too tired to write blog posts.  So I'll just do what my wife suggested, which is to tell Mister Shyster that we aren't going to do the work right now and maybe I'll give him a call when I get things sorted out.

But I do hope the bit about the lawyer made him at least a little nervous...