In recent months I have sold houses or apartments to a German, a Frenchman, a Belgian and an Englishman. This may sound like the beginning of a joke, but decorating a newly bought home in Shanghai is no joke. It is an emotionally charged and highly frustrating process. A few tips are given in the following few paragraphs.
Get a local wife / husband who can manage the contractor.
Keep a sense of humour.
When a worker hammers a nail through the water pipe he installed the day before try not to let it get you too upset. The contractor will fix it. On the other hand, if you find they have put the bathroom tiles on upside down, by all means feel free to let rip.
Take a ‘hands on’ approach.
A friend of mine sent me an SMS message saying he was on the back of an open truck crossing the Lupu Bridge having been to pick up materials. If you have the time go on site every day do so. Pay particular attention to hot water systems, air conditioning and wiring.
Get your contractor to give you a ‘proper’ quotation.
What I call a ‘proper’ quotation is a list of materials and labour at cost price with a reasonable profit added at the end. In this way you negotiate on the cost of the inputs and the profit separately and the inevitable variations to what has been agreed can be easily calculated.
Manage your own procurement.
Buy all the materials yourself, or at least the high value ones. Believe it or not, your friendly contractor may try to make a bit extra on the side. Keep a good supply of cigarettes and drinks with you. If you are decorating a house on a compound you will get frequent visits from the property management staff wanting to poke around and find out what you are up to. Keep them on side by plying them with smokes and drinks. Take this one further and visit the management office in advance for a chat with a box of chocolates and tea, the staff are probably bored and will be willing to help if approached in this way.
Get a full set of drawings.
Your contractor should give you drawings of electrical wiring and pipes as well as the full work schedule. When further work is needed to the house at a later date you will need to know where the pipes and wires are.
Withhold the last 5 or 10% of payment until 2 or 3 months after completion. If any remedial work needs to be done after you move in this gives your contractor the incentive needed to make him do it, if they do not come back to do the work you have cash in hand to pay someone else to.
Shanghai is likely to make basic decoration a requirement of all new properties. This will come as a welcome relief to most buyers except those with a penchant for riding across bridges on the back of open trucks.