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  • Oct 25, 2014
  • Updated: 2:36am
Wealth Blog
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 November, 2013, 2:40pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 November, 2013, 2:45pm

Peeing in the garden: the joys of Lantau renovation

BIO

Anna is a business writer. During her 20-year Hong Kong career, she’s written everything from stock market reports and luxury goods sector analysis to speeches for the HKSAR Chief Executive and served as president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club for two years.
 

Never again will I renovate on Lantau. I'm sure it's easier in the New Territories, but Lantau throws up very specific challenges.

First of all, the contractor. Forget getting that nice chap recommended by your friend in Mid-Levels to do the job. Construction on Lantau is what we used to call, before Mrs Thatcher dealt with the trade unions in the 1980s, a closed shop. Basically you must use the local Lantau guys. If not, strange things can happen. It's not unknown for off-island contractors' vans and building materials to be afflicted by, what shall we call them - visits from poltergeists.

Put it this way, when offered a nice job on Lantau, contractors from elsewhere start out enthusiastic, then discover what might happen if they set foot on the island and rapidly change their minds. That's just the way it is.

Local monopoly

This means the local guys have a truly levelled playing field, with much more work than the four main contractors can handle. This is largely thanks to South Lantau being colonised by foreigners, especially pilots, since it became the new Sai Kung. So you have an influx of affluent folks, inclined to home renovation and scarce contractors. Result: up go prices. Forget negotiation: you have to sweet talk contractors into doing your job at all.
 

Peeing in the garden

So having cajoled a contractor, and agreed terms, work began. The demolition gang were gentlemen from Pakistan, who found it incredibly amusing to pee in the garden to provoke my neighbour, the lady on the ground floor. I was renovating the middle and top floors of the 1970s village house.

Not content with that, they would wave her goodbye and blow kisses as they left each day.

I won't bore you with details of smashed tiles outside her door, garden piled high with cement sacks and rubbish, drain pipes left unconnected to drains, yawning gaps under doors and banister hand rails plastered in sticky white paint. Oh and downstairs cupboards filled in "because we thought it was not aesthetically pleasing." To hell with aesthetically pleasing, it was the only storage space in the place. It had to be unblocked and replastered again. 
 

Vertical towel rails

At least, as happened to another friend, I did not come home to vertical towel rails. That could be because I have, as yet, no towel rails at all.
 

Vintage features

It was sad to say goodbye to the original 1970s features: orange swirly floor tiles, mustard and bright blue bathroom furniture, complete with crazy rope designs on the tiles. Hard to believe, but some of it had acquired a certain appeal with the passage of time. The tiles could have stayed, as a retro feature, except the 35 year old electric wiring underneath had to be dug out and replaced.
 

Busted deadline

The contractors asked for 70 working days to complete. Knowing this was wildly optimistic, I added a month, then two extra weeks, to account foe excessive rain this autumn. They still had not finished everything when we moved in this week, but we were timed out and could wait no longer.

Now comes the inevitable squabble over the "defect list", called "snagging" in the UK, where I point out the unacceptable screw-ups that must be fixed before the final payment. That gives me some leverage, but some things just make you lose the will to live, like discovering only one power point in the big sitting-dining room and that all lights have been centred on every wall, making it impossible to make a picture hook hole underneath, without drilling through the electric wiring. But unless you have time to stand over them every day, daft things are inevitable. You just have to keep a sense of humour and remember you are lucky to have got a contractor at all.

anna.fenton@scmp.com

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