Concrete project – a communications bump

The last of our concrete was poured today. It was the pool deck, which seems like the most complicated aspect of this project, and it did prove to be stressful for M.

First it was the color of the rubber pieces that are between the top of the tile and the concrete. Our existing patch of gray pool deck (poured 2 years ago when we resurfaced the pool) has a gray colored binding, and M specifically told the contractor that we wanted gray for the rest of the decking. He shows up today with black, requiring M to race over to the supply store for the gray stuff.

Then it was a transition piece, where before there was a step up to the diving board platform (removed) and we wanted a simple ramp instead. Trust me, if anyone is going to fall over that step, it is yours truly. M also wanted the ramp in order to wheel the wheelbarrow more easily from one side of the yard to the other. Forms had to be removed, soil placed and shaped to form the ramp.

Plus the water-filling pipe into the pool that was damaged during the destruction process. Somehow there was a problem in that the owner did not remember that M specifically told him that he, M, would repair this piece today before the concrete truck arrived, only M was busy racing around getting the correct color of binding at the concrete supply store. M returns from this errand to find that someone on the crew had ripped out the piece of piping and more supplies were now needed to repair/replace it, necessitating another trip to the hardware store for pieces and parts, all while under the gun of a deadline with a specialized mixing truck arriving at 11 to begin the pour.

The crew was 30 minutes late arriving this morning – they said they would be here at 7, did not arrive until 7:30, and then with the aforementioned wrong stuff. M was as irritated by these miscommunications as I have seen him in this entire process, and I think it was just because of pressure and the owner not keeping him apprised of the schedule and timing of events. M was told on Tuesday they would be pouring the pool deck on Friday, and only yesterday learned it was happening today, not tomorrow, and the fire drill that then ensued.

Finally, there is a big, huge elephant in the room about the cost of the concrete. Today I happened to be home to get my medication – I forgot it in the rush this morning to get myself and my car out of the way of the crew’s vehicles and the eventual concrete truck that was coming. M told me yesterday that we needed a check for the operator of specialized pumping machinery, so I wrote it for the amount indicated and left it with him. On the phone enroute home he tells me that the contractor needs a check, and that I need to leave a blank check for the concrete provider. (Lest you think that I am one of those financially controlling spouses, M has full access to the checkbook and could be writing these himself, only he has some weird phobia about the whole check-writing process and would rather go to the bank for cash or a cashiers check or that I come home to take care of it.) Strange that we needed to pay for the concrete directly, because it was not on the written estimate and M does not recall being told that we would be paying the concrete provider directly. But okay, we can go with the flow. Between those checks to the specialized machinery operator and the concrete provider – about one-third of what we were quoted for the job and the change orders we had requested. It was quite a shock, to say the least. Between what we have paid our contractor and paying for the actual concrete and its delivery, we have paid about two-thirds of what we were quoted for the job.

Only it’s about as clear as mud whether those materials are part of the original estimate or separate from the fee we are to pay the contractor. Now, I do this sort of thing for a living, and whether we owe him for one-third of the quoted fee or two-thirds of the quoted fee, concrete itself separate, I feel there are some business lessons to be shared here. I just do not know how to express it to the contractor. In my heart I believe what is left to be paid is one-third of the quoted fee and we will discuss it in more detail tomorrow, but in the future he should warn customers that they will be paying the concrete provider directly and separately from the labor and materials the contractor himself provides. It should be broken down in the quote.

M plans to discuss the situation with his BFF, because if he brings this concrete guy into landscape design projects with other clients, the terms and conditions need to be very clearly spelled out. We are pretty laid back around here, had the funds set aside and segregated for this project, but it was quite a surprise to be writing a check for several thousand dollars to the ready mix firm today. Other customers would more likely be steaming, and it could all be avoided with a simple breakdown on the estimate and a note that the client should expect to pay these materials providers directly.

For right now, we are enjoying the new surfaces. Our pool with it’s white pebbletec surface is nearly empty and has a lot of dirty gray mess all over the place. Tomorrow the crew will be here to settle up on our bill and do cleanup, so hopefully that means our pool and its surfaces as well. We plan to engage another tile vendor to polish our pool tile, so hopefully that will happen next week while the pool is still empty.

I am choosing not to get wound up and stressed out about the gray crap all over our beautiful pool or the financial cost situation. Our contractor will tell me tomorrow what he believes we owe and I will pay it with minimal discussion. He is still the best price, even if his bid and change order quotes did not include the cost of the concrete. Worst case, most costly scenario: he is about a grand over what other contractors quoted us for the pool deck and RV pad alone, so even worst case we got a lot of bang for our buck. M and I would have simply felt better had we known up front that we needed to plan on paying the suppliers directly before they were here and requesting a check. He and his crew were very hard-working, respectful, and unfailingly polite, and a joy for M to work with on this project. Our pool will clean up, although it may require M to be back at square one with the chemical balance and conditioning of the surface. Plus we will finally get the pool vac for our spa.

M can be a little OCD about lines being straight and parallel on geometric surfaces, but because of the way the drainage and contour of our property there was no way to make the lines and belts absolutely parallel everywhere. He is surprisingly okay with it and has been enjoying the visual contrast and seeing how they designed and incorporated the natural slopes. As I tell him, it makes for interesting stories to tell as time passes.

At the end of this project, what will stay with me is the lesson on assumptions with estimates and how I need to request a lot more detail when we are conducting business. Our regular house contractor usually looks over what we want to do and gives me a quote for the labor and whatever materials he will supply, then we go out and acquire any finish materials we want, frequently using his contractor number and receiving his discount. As the change orders come in (and we ALWAYS have change orders), he texts or emails me the amounts and I pay him as we move along. Big difference: our regular house contractor was born and raised in the US and english is his first and primary language; we have no problems understanding one another. Concrete subcontractor, there are some language barriers that will need to be fleshed out in writing.

After all the business and finance stuff is sorted out tomorrow, what I want to focus on and remembering is the tales from the days. How the concrete was destroyed and how the crews made such short work of removing it by hand and with the excavator. The tree stumps being plucked from the ground, the big pile of dirt in the front yard. The one-armed crew member spreading the surface on the driveway and then seeing him swing that pick so gracefully it reminded me of baton twirler. How quickly and efficiently the crew worked together to get the concrete poured, spread, formed, shaped, and stamped. The recipes I tried and the shy “thank yous” I received when crossing paths with the crew. Being “Mrs. M” for these last two weeks.

It seems odd to say I’ll miss them, but I will. For a short period they were here every day and working really hard to help us make a dream become reality. And the new reality of our evolving landscaping, our concrete jungle, is beautiful and worth every penny that we will spend for it.

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