For Want of a Nail…

For Want of a Nail…..

“For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”

Last week we looked at how trying to save a small amount of money can end up costing a lot of money. In many situations this is fairly obvious – you buy the cheaper lightbulb and it burns out in 2 weeks when a better quality one at a price of only half as much again lasts 2 years. We are surrounded by these temptations to save money all the time but things are not always as straightforward as they at first appear.

The first thing to consider is that there is much greater choice in the quality of products available these days than in the past. This is particularly noticeable regarding hardware and tools and almost every item in a hardware shop will have high quality branded items sitting on the shelves next to medium quality and absolute rubbish versions of the same thing. This is particularly the case in Indonesia where there are so many different economic levels among the population. Poor people need cheap products to keep their homes liveable.

Knowing the difference between high quality products and rubbish is getting harder and harder as manufacturers get cleverer at fooling you by making rubbish look good and by using confusing brand names that sound like reputable ones.

The next thing to consider is that when you are having some work done around your house there are usually three or four parties involved and each is wanting to save money and buy cheap but for different reasons:

1. The Property owner
The first is the property owner who, of course, doesn’t want to be overcharged but, with a full understanding of any situation, would probably want to buy wisely. He (or she) wants a good product at a low cost. Unfortunately he will probably not be aware of which products are good and which are bad or of what the right price is. The owner has to trust the worker and the middleman to provide good advice and do the right thing.

2. The Worker
The second is, of course, the worker doing the job and this might be an experienced tradesman but could equally well be someone with no training and little experience.

Some workers will want to get in, do the job as quickly and cheaply (to him) as possible, charge the maximum price he can and leave. He may well want to try and make a quick bit of money on the side by buying a cheap substandard component but charge the customer for an expensive one.

Many workers will try and do the right thing but there may still be a problem. They will have been brought up in a culture of avoiding expense wherever possible, they may try and repair existing parts when they should be replaced or they may buy cheap, substandard materials because that is what they have done all their lives. This is also what the worker will assume the owner wants if he says that he wants to try and keep the cost down.

It is a good idea to communicate very clearly with the worker and make sure he understands what you expect. It might also be a good idea to insist on only branded products being used.

3. The Contractor
The third is the middleman who might be a contractor that employs the worker and may be coming from a different point of view. Some have integrity and wish to build long term reputations and ongoing relationships with their clients, they are likely to want high quality components correctly installed. Others simply wish to make the maximum amount of money at minimum cost to them, they will prefer the use of the cheapest components available.

4. The Property Management Agent
Management agents are another matter altogether. They have long term relationships with the property owners and wish to keep them satisfied but sometimes their focus is on keeping the property occupied and maintenance becomes a secondary issue.

It may be that the management fees include both rental and maintenance in the same package and so they may want to keep maintenance costs as low as they possibly can. They may know little about technical matters and simply have to trust the workers they engage. Short term cost minimisation can overtake a long term approach to property maintenance management. Without long term maintenance planning rental properties may be poorly maintained while incurring higher maintenance costs. In such cases the property renters and owners are unhappy and the management company’s reputation is jeopardised.

With so many players each trying to save money no wonder there can be problems.

A sensible long term approach to Property Maintenance is to develop a long term relationship with whoever is carrying out and managing your maintenance work. Over time you will get to know if the people involved can be trusted. Check out guarantees for work carried out and the soundness of advice and service given. Very often what at first may seem a more expensive price will turn out to be the cheapest in the long run.
Paintwork is a case in point. I remember a case where a contractor won a tender for painting internal walls, his price was two thirds what the price should have been. The work requested high quality Dulux Pentalite paint. The contractor carried out no surface preparation and only applied 2 coats instead of 3. the paint certainly contained Dulux but this was mixed half and half with much cheaper paint which was, in turn, watered down to the extent that the polymer chains in the paint broke down. The result was a very poor paint job that didn’t last very long.

Material Costs

Another thing to consider is that, unlike in western countries, in most building and maintenance work in Indonesia the cost of the materials will make up 60 or 70% of the total cost of the job. This is why contractors, tradesmen and management companies are so keen to save money by buying cheap products.

As we have already said unethical practices are becoming more and more prevalent in the manufacturing sector. Here is a typical example: the copper cable used for lightening conductors is made from many small copper wires twisted to form a large cable about a centimetre in diameter. To work correctly it has to be copper (the full diameter has to be copper) but copper is getting very expensive.

You can buy cheaper twisted copper cable however to save costs some irresponsible manufacturers are using a central core not of copper but of plastic with just a few outer layers of copper to hide the plastic core underneath. This is very dangerous of course but with lightening strikes being very rare occurrences the manufacturers are unlikely to get caught out. To tell the difference look at the end of the cable where the black plastic should be visible.

As you can appreciate it is very important (in some cases life saving) to know which materials are good and which are not. In such a jungle the customer can hardly be expected to know the difference.

If you have an ongoing relationship with a trustworthy contractor he will look after your interests and make sure you are provided with the quality you need and at the right price. He may also offer you lower cost, well thought out alternatives.

It goes without saying that it is not a good idea to send the pembantu or gardener out to buy the materials and be very wary when someone says to you “Oh I have a friend who can get you one cheap”.

To summarise all this here are some tips:

1. Consider the person you select to carry out the work with care. Ask lots of questions and get a sense of whether you can trust the person you engage or not. There are many good people out there who, when treated with respect and given proper instruction, will do very good work and look after your long term interests.

2. Build up an ongoing relationship based on trust. Loyalty is a powerful motivator for looking after each other.

3. Before the trust is proven don’t commit yourself too early, look for warning signs such as inconsistencies, vagueness or strange promises in what they tell you.

4. Once you have built up trust make sure it is that person who selects and purchases materials for you.

5. Specify what you want such as the quality or brand names of items you want to be used.

6. Remember that you get what you pay for and if you pay monkeys you’ll get small furry animals that go eek eek, you will not get Einstein. The emphasis should not be to pay the cheapest price but to pay the right price to have the job done properly with the backup of a guarantee.

7. Don’t push too hard for a cheap price or the contractor and or worker may well have to supply poor quality products just to make the job pay for itself.

8. Define what you will get, if possible include specification and brand names of materials and products that will be supplied.

9. Communicate well to clearly define what you expect. With larger jobs get a detailed quotation that clearly states what you will get.

10. If you are dealing with a management company try and separate the maintenance from the letting costs. Once again define some guidelines of what you expect in your maintenance arrangements.

Phil Wilson
Opinions are those of Phil Wilson. He can be contacted through the websites at or through the office on 0361 288 789.
Copyright © 2014 Phil Wilson
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