By Professor Ricardo Ulivi, Ph.D.
Ten years ago my wife and I bought an apartment in Buenos Aires with the expectation that at some later point in life we would be spending more time in the city. We rented the place out for all those years and finally decided to remodel it. Our dream was about to become a reality.
We hired a very reputable architect to draw up the plans and supervise the remodel. He gave us an estimate of six months to complete the project. That seemed like an eternity, but then, time lines in Argentina seem longer than in other places.
He was very responsive during the entire process. He kept us updated with constant emails, pictures and progress reports. We sent him the money as he requested. Six months turned into nine months and the project was finally completed. We were elated. We had enjoyed the process immensely. After all, it was a dream come true.
What can go wrong?
Exactly one year after we began the remodeling project, we made our first visit to the apartment. For the inauguration, we invited my two sisters-in-law and their husbands. No problem. The apartment has three full bathrooms, and it is fully furnished, so we figured we would all have a good time. My relatives arrived around midnight, and we invited them to take showers in our never used, brand new bathrooms. The result? The showers flooded in all three bathrooms, plus we discovered that the shower floors did not drain properly. Frantic emails to the architect/contractor.
The next morning we decided to use our brand new washing machine to do our laundry. I read the manual carefully, even though I had received assurances from our architect that he had tested the machine before. I showed my wife how to operate it and left the laundry room. A minute later I heard her yelling my name, so I rushed to see why: the room was flooded, and water was spewing everywhere. Another frantic email to the architect.
After cleaning up and finishing breakfast, everyone went to brush their teeth, only to discover that the bathroom sinks wouldn’t drain. Another email to you-know-who.
At this point I was wondering what the hell I was doing in Buenos Aires, when I could have been enjoying a vacation in a nice hotel in Paris. Nostalgia is the reason. I was born and raised in the city, and as I grew older, my feelings for the city increased. My current problems, though, reminded me of some of the reasons I left in the first place, 40 years ago!
What else can happen?
The hours went by, and it was time for a nap; that’s because Buenos Aires is a night city, and you rarely go to bed before 1 am. As my sister-in-law sat on her antique bed—a furniture piece we were very proud to have acquired–it crashed, and she ended up sleeping on the mattress on the floor. I have to admit, I wondered what she must have done to the poor bed. I had never heard of one collapsing. Unbelievably, the next day all I did was sit for a second on my antique, French, Louis XVI bed, and it too came crashing to the floor. What did I do next? I located my United Airlines ticket to learn when my return trip to the USA was scheduled!
As you can imagine, at this point I was frustrated, anxious, upset and stressed out. Nothing seemed to work, which reminded me that I am actually supposed to be working. So I sat at my new computer to begin work, and all of a sudden we had a blackout. I couldn’t believe it. We were on a seventh floor–does that mean we would have to walk down the stairs to exit the building and up to enter?
Finally, I got an email from my architect explaining that he would be able to fix our problems when we return to the U.S. So I blew up,letting him know that would be completely unacceptable, and that he needs to fix these problems immediately. His response? None. Only total silence.
My wife is from Bolivia, so we decided to fly there to spend time with her family. I thought this would also, hopefully, give me an opportunity to cool off.
One day at lunch I shared my remodeling Waterloo with my two 21-year-old nieces, and one of them asked if I had paid my architect in full. When I answered positively, she rolled her eyes as if to say “what did you expect?”
To add salt to my wounds, my second niece asked me very innocently “Aren’t you a financial advisor?” which I translated to mean “Shouldn’t you know better?” Youth, to my detriment, can sometimes be very insightful!
The lessons from this experience
What have I learned from this experience? First, the obvious. It is unwise to completely delegate any project, especially a complex remodeling one. There’s nothing like showing up every day to watch progress and make suggestions. The second lesson concerns the problems that can be created by emotions. The reasons we undertook this project were nostalgic. If it weren’t for that, with the money we spent buying, remodeling and furnishing an apartment in Buenos Aires, my wife and I could have travelled around the world staying in 5 star hotels. So, be careful with nostalgia. The next time you find yourself on Facebook wondering what happened to that old love of yours–beware!
Where do we go from here? Argentina’s economy was booming for nearly 10 years between 2002 and 2012, but has stagnated recently. The government has imposed severe currency controls, so real estate prices have dropped. This is not the time to sell. Furthermore, they have just raised interest rates. They were severely negative (way below the inflation rate) so there was a consumption boom. With the rise, auto sales plunged 40%. This should remind all of us in the USA what might happen to our own economy when interest rates rise.
So if you happen to be in Buenos Aires over the next few weeks, do come visit us. I hope to have our bathrooms fixed by then, one way or another. And I am hoping nothing else falls apart!