Attention to detail is an issue with desi handymen

Pradip Rodrigues

We are in the process of doing some minor renovations around the house and like many Southhome Asians we are not quite equipped to get the job done on our own. Our Caucasian neighbors were baffled when we asked if they knew a handyman to do a few things around our home. “It’s simple, you can do it,” he said after hearing what I needed. If only.
After scouting around, we settled for a genial Caucasian man for $25 an hour which I think is reasonable. Not so for some other South Asian friends who insisted I was being taken to the cleaners. “Get a desi guy, he will be so much cheaper,” one friend counseled. I did take that advice once before and he was right, it cost me a lot less, but the finish was poor. Nothing was done to code, electric wiring was done wrong, tiles were mis-aligned and there were yawning gaps that started to show up a few months after my desi contractor laid out the laminate flooring. A sure sign that it was not done right.

Many South Asian contractors lack attention to detail

I have spoken to other friends who’ve used desi contractors and concede that although they are cheaper, they often lack attention to detail. They are so busy juggling jobs that they are rushing through and doing a shoddy job. There is absolutely no accountability.
This is not to say that all Caucasian handymen have a great work ethnic or ethics in general.
I went with our contractor to a home improvement store last weekend and there were at least three South Asian men who came along with their Caucasian contractors. We actually represent a huge market for home improvement specialists because by and large we eschew manual labor and those of us who’ve grown up in India are accustomed to having everything done around the house by hired help. The Caucasian and other Canadians came alone or with their young sons who were there to help and learn or their wives who would most probably be helping with the project.

We drive hard bargains

Our Caucasian contractor tells us that South Asians could quite possibly be a source of contracts. But he admitted he found it hard to connect with South Asian customers who call him but end up using a desi because he is ‘too expensive’.
The problem is our mindset. A while ago an acquaintance was getting quotes for doing his basement. He got eight quotes in all, three of them were desi who were atleast $ 5,000 cheaper than their nearest competitor. He took the desi contractor after managing to wrestle him down to get the job done even cheaper. The desi contractor agreed, started the work and then stopped for a couple of weeks. The acquaintance had to keep calling him up but he was stuck on another project. The basement was completed weeks behind schedule and nothing was done according to code. The wiring was faulty, the height of the railing was wrong, the flooring was done badly. He eventually had to get a professional contractor to come in and rectify the problems. He has since vowed never to use a desi contractor.
Meanwhile there are non-South Asian contractors out there who have vowed never to work for our ethnic group. Someone I know called two young men to do some work around his house, first of all he wore them down with some very hard bargaining, not used to such pressure, the two men agreed. Then the homeowners started to ask them for ‘favors’- hooks to hang bikes in the garage. Fix their leaky faucets… Finally the men told them they would have to charge more because the actual work was taking longer thanks to all the extra work they were being asked to do. The South Asians agreed very reluctantly but when it came time to settle, they started to find fault with their work. Insisted they re-do some of their work if they wanted to be paid extra. The two men walked away instead.

Pick a contractor who has the required experience

There are more and more South Asian contractors getting into the business, while there are some desi contractors who can do a decent job, many do it part-time and aren’t really trained. That is dangerous and could prove costly. A friend had his basement done years ago by a desi contractor, a year later he needed to get some more lighting and called in a Caucasian handyman who took one look at the wiring and refused to touch it. He told him that the wiring was faulty and needed a certified electrician to sort it out. He scrambled to find one who wanted to know who did the wiring and shamefully he explained that it was their contractor who specialized in flooring!
At the end of the day you get what you paid for. There are too many times a bargain is too good to be true. Duct cleaning for $99 may seem to be a steal when professional Duct cleaners charge almost double. But the professionals will take longer and do a more thorough job. An uncertified electrician could cost way lower than a certified one, but we take the risk when we employ unlicensed, uncertified and unverified desi contractors. There is nothing wrong in finding someone to do a job cheaply regardless of race, but we also need to realize that a licensed plumber or electrician will charge more given his credentials. It could one day come back to haunt us.

Pradip Rodrigues started out as a journalist at Society magazine, part of the Magna Group in Mumbai. He wrote extensively on a variety of subjects. He later moved to the Times of India where he was instrumental in starting the now defunct E-times, a television magazine. He conceptualized Bombay Times and became its first assistant editor where he handled features and page three. Since coming to Canada in 2000, he has freelanced for newspapers and magazines in India and written autobiographies for seniors.

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