All home owners in Thailand, at one time or another, have shared a similar experience. Something has gone amiss in the home and you don’t know who to call. The hot water heater stopped working … there’s a leak in the ceiling … a whole room of lights stopped working … monsoons flooded your condo and warped the baseboard.
Unless you “know a guy”, you are at the mercy of some jack-of-all-trades fix-it person, probably recommended by your maid.
My experience has been hot and cold with this solution. Unfortunately, most Thai handy men aren’t trained anywhere specific and their skills can range from spectacular to non-existent. Combine that with their unwillingness to admit the limitations of their skills and you could be in for a frustrating time.
The maintenance guy/handy man at my building in Jomtien is apparently unable to repair anything without cutting a hole in the ceiling first.
And, if you are in the market for more extensive home repair or total renovation, the selection process can get even trickier. There are plenty of self-declared design and renovation firms in town. They range from expensive luxury fit-out specialists to two guys with a truck. Most of these outfits are run by expatriates utilising Thai labour. Some actually have very few workers and sub-contract jobs out to a variety of specialists like tile installers, painters and electricians.
Again, I’ve met with hot and cold results. Just because someone speaks English doesn’t mean they know how to put down a hard wood floor or paint a ceiling. The sub-contractor model leaves me too far from the control of what’s happening in my home. In the end, if I wouldn’t recommend the company to a friend, I know I’ve failed to find the right firm.
Last month I found myself once again in the position of needing home repair on my condo. It has been five years since a major renovation and my needs ranged from electrical to plumbing to paint. I also had a cracked wall mirror segment and some warped baseboards. I sat in the living room of my aging domain wondering “who do I call?”
As is the custom here, I queried several friends in businesses that should have knowledge of such providers. I figured I would probably end up hiring three different contractors. Armed with a fistful of phone numbers, I set up appointments with several recommended companies. Two were no shows, and one spent two weeks promising to give me a bid that never came.
So then I did what any other homo-sapiens walking around of planet earth would do, I consulted the oracle … I Googgled it.
Using the keywords “home maintenance Pattaya”, I found various a sundry listings for this service or that. Ultimately I followed the link on one of Thai Visa’s community boards and discovered I was not alone in my frustration. Literally dozens of members had expressed similar difficulty locating professional home maintenance help here.
More than one member responded to these pleas for help with the name “EPS”, European Painting and Electrical Services. After visiting their website at www.eps.co.th, I called to make an appointment.
At exactly the appointed time and date, my doorbell was rung by Anders Justaal and Peter Bjurqvist from EPS. After about 15 minutes of conversation I released an inner sigh; “ahhh, English-speaking Swedes with years of expertise”. Peter and Anders patiently listened as I explained the work to be done while their Thai foreman took meticulous measurements. In a few minutes their Thai plumbing expert showed up to assess the situation.
In a few days I received three separate and detailed bids; just the way I asked for them. Much to my surprise was how reasonable the quotes were. What’s more, it was easy to see from the bid how the amount was arrived at, broken down by man-hours and material.
One thing I did not expect was an extra bid on the electrical work with an explanation from Jan Persson, co-founder of EPS.
Jan explained to me that the lighting system currently installed in my home was typical for renovations five years ago, but the transformer-based halogens were burning out sections at a time. The estimate he had given me included changing out bad sectors and replacing them with the same system. He also let me know I could expect more problems with the older segments.
The second electrical bid he sent was for replacing all 60 or so fixtures with state-of-the-art LEDs. Several switches and a long stretch of LED snake-light also had to be replaced and were included in the bid.
Last year I wrote an article about the marvels of LED lighting, so I already knew the benefits, but I also knew the objections. Every light in my place is dimmable, and I like it that way. And, LED lighting is generally regarded as an expensive option, with a payoff in energy savings five years or so down the road.
Jan pointed out that he had bid this job with new, dimmable LEDs with warm white light. And, the bottom line was much less than I expected. The entire LED replacement project was estimated at Bt26,000. So, I pulled the trigger to see what EPS could do.
At exactly the appointed day and time, a crew from EPS showed up with several boxes of material and started working. Six hours later, they cleaned up, demonstrated all the lights working and politely left. The efficiency of the whole operation was astonishing.
The next day a plumber showed up, stayed 20 minutes and fixed both my toilets and stopped a hot water heater from leaking. What I thought might be a major plumbing problem cost me a whopping Bt1,200.
The bigger bid included replacement of all the baseboards in a 150 sqm condo and a total paint job. I was pleased to see all the smaller repairs like stuck sliding doors and a cracked wall mirror appear on the bid with an estimate of cost. The overall cost is about Bt70,000; much less than I expected. What’s more, I have no doubt that EPS will be able to accomplish the task expeditiously and perfectly.
With the revelation of sourcing a contractor I could trust, several projects on the back burner just moved up my priority list. I considered asking EPS to bid on a major renovation of another condo I own in Jomtien.
I called Peter to find out if there were any examples of their work in Pattaya I could look at. Jan Persson called me back and invited me to his house; apparently it is a showcase for the talent of EPS.
Jan began the tour of his house in the garage where he showed me his house’s “brains”. He beamed as he explained: “This box houses the internet connections. Every room in the house is wired with Category VI cable offering super high-speed internet throughout. This box controls the lighting which can be manipulated from one master location in the house or even from your iPhone. This box controls the CCTV cameras which can also be worked and monitored from anywhere.”
Groping for a reference, I told Jan I had only seen something like that at Silver Hills, a Swiss project in Bang Saray. Jan just grinned: “So you know our work then?” He then rolled off a list of a half dozen other local businesses that had the good fortune of hiring EPS. Akavit hoteland restaurant, News Café in Jomtien, and Beefeater restaurant in Pattaya are just a few.
Jan’s house is designed with excellent use of the indoor-outdoor living style in Thailand. His outdoor living room is floored with this cool tile that looks like planks of wood. Warmth, luxury and durability all rolled into one. Of particular note is the high gloss black and white kitchen. It is expertly designed and executed with form and function; just like a kitchen is supposed to be.
The thing that left a lasting impression with me was the wireless-ness of this house. All the major rooms have a flat screen TV mounted somewhere, connected to an Apple Mini computer. Stereo and surround-sound emanates from speakers mounted and in the ceiling; and not a wire in sight. It is pretty obvious to me that this is both a passion and a specialty with the boys from EPS.
The three Swedes began EPS in 2006 and initially just wanted to do some painting. They ended up with the job of renovating three condo units and the business took off from there. They specialised in painting and electrical work, but soon found themselves offering full-service maintenance and renovation just to make projects up to their standards.
Peter pointed out that most of the Thai staff they have were with them in the beginning. “Training our staff and word of mouth advertising has been the key to our success,” says Jan.
The next time someone puts me on the spot, and asks for a recommendation for some home maintenance service, I’ll have no problem being the “mouth” part of word-of-mouth. Everybody needs to stumble upon these guys.