We thought buying a flat in Hong Kong was painful, but that was before we started renovating our new place. Now, just the thought of it is enough to make me sit bolt upright in bed at 3am, with dry mouth and fast-beating heart.
Here's why: It isn't easy dealing with Hong Kong builders at the best of times. But now we're dealing with Mui Wo builders. And believe me, this is a whole different breed.
They are the prima donna of contractors.
Firstly, they know they have a captive audience because access to the South Lantau Road (the only road in and out of Mui Wo) is restricted. Contractors from other parts of Hong Kong would have to apply for a special permit for their trucks. Most prefer to turn down jobs rather than put up with the hassle of dealing with the authorities -- which leaves the field open to the few contractors living in South Lantau to grab all the business.
Secondly, many village houses have been bought by rich expats wanting a bit of country life. They have deep pockets and are willing to pay for all the extras -- like open kitchens, French windows, new bathrooms -- put in. They're an easy source of income for the contractors, who would understandably prefer those jobs over our measly one-bathroom renovation.
Which meant that, we were left in the strange position of having to woo contractors to take up our project instead of the other way round. We spoke to six, got rejected by three (one didn't even bother to come over to take a look, turning us down by email) and only got three who looked even mildly interested.
Of the two, one quoted HK$145,000, another HK$100,000 and the third, HK$55,000. Yup, all for doing the same work and providing the same materials. Before we could even decide, the HK$100,000 one dropped out. "Ho mong," was his reason. Too busy.
And then there were two. We went with the cheaper one, gave him the deposit and waited for demolition to begin. Finally, we could relax.
Or could we? Yesterday, he called. They had started removing the bathroom fixings but remember he promised we would be able to get a washing machine in the bathroom? Er well, maybe not, according to his measurements. Funnily enough, when we offered to pay a bit more, the measurements suddenly expanded to accommodate the machine.
Tomorrow, we're meeting him again. The sink needs "accommodating". I think it's our pockets we need renovated by the end of this ordeal.