Friday, January 26, 2007

What is 'quality' anyway?

If you have had or are ever considering having remodeling work done in your home or apartment, you should read this. It might leave you wondering if there is a word in Korean for "quality."
My in-laws live in an older apartment building and it is in dire need of a facelift. Particularly the bathroom is in need of a paint job. So, being a good son-in-law and also having a hankering for a little D.I.Y. time, I volunteered to take on the job. So, I went to a local paint store and picked out a color that I thought would look good I asked about spackle (called 'puddy' here) for fixing the imperfections and cracks in the wall and I started talking to the guy about paint remover. His response was a bit strange. Instead of telling me how much the remover was, he asked me why I need remover. To remove the old paint from the wall, of course, I replied. He told me that I didn't need to do that and that I could just fill in the places where the wall was cracked and the paint had chipped away with the spackle, smooth it out and paint over it!! I cringed a bit but tried to smile and rather than annoying the guy, I decided that I would buy remover elsewhere.
Having spent a few summers with a part time job painting houses, I have always been taught that a good paint job is 90% preperation of the surface and 10% painting; the paint job is only as good as the surface that it is painted on and not removing the old paint (particularly paint that is already chipping off in areas) means that the new paint will eventually peel and chip off as well. The best way is, without a doubt, to remove the old paint, spackle the cracks and pits, then paint. But this idea seemed to be lost on this gentleman. I guess he just thought a do-it-yourselfer would not need to do a 'quality' job.
This brings me to another story: Last year, I purchaced a used apartment. It was a 12 year old apartment that had never had any remodelling done. We decided that it needed a lot of work. After about 9 million won of work and about a week it was done and ready for inspection. Prior to the work being done, i mentioned to the contractor that the last time I had wallpaper done in my apartment, the 'paperer' did not completely remove the old paper and it therefore left indentations that could easily be seen in the right light and I didn't like that. I wanted all the paper removed this time. He assured me that the problem before was "cheap and thin wallpaper" this time I had chosen an expensive and hopefully longlasting silk wallpaper. He assured me that once the paper was done, it would be smooth as a baby's proverbial behind. WRONG!! The work was done and I inspected before the wallpaper was hung. The old wallpaper was not completely removed and the surface of the wall was not appropriately prepped (corners were also cracked or pitted and in need of some spackling.). The resulting job was less than the perfect job I expected (or at least that I would have expected if I had it done it myself). I was not happy but once it is done, showing them the imperfections recieved only mild amusement and a request for something to be done about it was an exercise in futility.
Along with the wallpaper, the pvc flooring (called "jangpan") was the most expensive brand but because the floor was not properly spackled and repaired before laying the flooring, the same problem with the wallpaper was evident in the flooring and the cracks in the floor were now bumps in my expensive imitation wood flooring (we opted not to do the wood type flooring because of the kids, spills, toilet accidents and other watery accidents wreak havoc on the particle board flooring and the real wood stuff is prohibitively expensive)
One of the comments the contractor made to me (and in Korean to several other people along the way) was that foreigners were much more difficult than Koreans. We are more demanding and expect the details to be perfect. He seemed politely annoyed by my constant questioning and inspecting and dissatisfaction. He also commented that "Koreans build home interiors and fixtures to last about 6 to 10 years, and Americans build them to last 100 years." His words not mine. Obviously trying to blow smoke somewhere down there.
WARNING TO THE WISE: If you are having any remodeling work done, be prepared to go to the TOP contractors (avoid the neighborhood guys in the small shops) and make sure they know up front the work you expect and are willing to pay for. Inspect everything at every step of the process and be FIRM about your demands letting them know that you are willing to pay for the extra work (I was not, this was my problem; financially overextended). I suggest having your whole home done by someone like the local "Hanssem" dealer or one of the other big kitchen fixture people. They did a wonderful job on MY kitchen (except the guy that did the tiles but seemed to have left his level at home, DUH!) and I think they would have done a much better (but much more expensive) job on the house. forewarned.

Also, a big welcome to anyone who is visiting from Marmot's aggregator or blog list. Thanks Marmot!!


Jon Allen said...

Those comments could apply anywhere in the world,
except perhaps Switzerland.

We had a lot of work done on our place in the UK
and it was very very painful. Best not dwell on the painful details but workmen the world over rarely seem to want to do a perfect job, but would rather bodge it and hope for the best.

Anonymous said...

Great topic. The handymen will drive you batty. The ones the landlords sent over are often reeking of booze--the painters are the worst as they're drinking makoli at 8 am whilst inhaling those fumes. They don't plan well, if at all, so you'll have a section of wallpaper 4 inches wide in the middle of the wall. Though they take shortcuts, they don't take smart ones. While wallpaper was being hung I was removing the ceiling-mounted lights and the face plates of electrical outlets and light switches. The workers found it odd until they realized it made easier to hang paper. And good luck getting them to do any clean up once they finish.

My worst experience involved the drunk the landlord hired to "seal" the roof with green paint. The landlord didn't tell anyone about this so no one moved their cars. Sure enough green paint was dripping on three cars. And once the rainy season started those "sealed" cracks were proven to be not.

GI Korea said...

You should see the crappy work the contractors do when they refurbish US military buildings and barracks.