I spent the better part of my adult life in the construction business, building new homes for people (none of them writers), and even dabbling in remodeling and additions. It can be wildly fun but I’ve seen the stress that it can put on people, people we referred to as “clients,” who can best be described in this manner:
Client (klīənt) noun. The person who hires a professional to do something, then questions every single thing that the professional does as if that professional crawled out of the crib yesterday and fell on his or her head in the process. A construction professional will frequently encounter female (known as “the wife”) clients who are accompanied by a male (known as “the husband”) client, who will always pretend to know every nuance of the professional’s skills, having learned them from watching an episode of This Old House back in the 1980s. No matter what, clients are to be treated with respect and courtesy, even when they call at 10:00 PM with a request to change something that they painstakingly selected, and which took fifteen hours and a lot of expensive labor and material to accomplish. In the end, their opinions will make or break a contractor—if the contractor doesn’t kill them first.
Man, I miss it. I really do. Maybe that’s why I’m hooked on TV shows such as HGTV’s The Property Brothers. This is my current favorite, but I’ll watch anything that involves a sledgehammer and a crowbar.
The Property Brothers are Canadian twin brothers who grew tired of being fashion models or soap opera actors, so they got involved in real estate. Real estate in Canada is extremely expensive, which is why people are thrilled when they only have to pay a half-million dollars for a dumpster with shutters. A half-million for a fixer-upper is a great find in Canada, but it needs work so as not to be classified as a shanty, and this is where The Brothers come into play.
One Property Brother sells the dilapidated house to the clients, who actually want a fancy house with granite doorknobs and stainless steel ceilings because nothing says luxury quite the same as granite and stainless steel anything. In fact, the real estate half of the Property Brother’s drives a stainless steel SUV with a granite dashboard to ram this point home.
The remodeling Brother eventually guts the entire half-million dollar pigsty that the clients can afford, and turns it into something in which Jay Z and Beyoncé might live. Generally speaking, clients will spend about twenty-five percent of what they paid for the house not only on remodeling, but on brand new furniture, glass bowls full of glass balls, and ovens that are so elaborate, professional chefs don’t even know how to use them.
During the hour-long show, the producers combine a routine formula of shopping for a house along with some delightful kvetching such as, “I can’t poop in a bathroom that’s less than two hundred square feet!” or “I absolutely need a bay window in the pantry!” Ultimately the clients narrow down the choices to two houses, which are given cutesy names such as The Shabby Shack or The Fifties Fiasco. The clients are then taken to the high-rise offices of Property Brothers Incorporated and are shown fabulous computerized renderings of what both houses could look like once they are completely gutted and rebuilt with granite, stainless steel, and hardwood floors culled from remnants of Noah’s Ark. The clients always, without fail, doubt that it can be done. Apparently they were plucked out of the backcountry and have never seen the show before, but they proceed anyway.
The couple will then look at each other with loving puppy eyes—eyes that will turn cold and black within five seconds after they start the project—and make their decision. “We’ll take the Shabby Shack, but only if you can get it for $750,000.00 and not a farthing more!” I think they still use farthings in Canada. This will leave them enough money to pay for some hugely expensive remodeling. I always wonder what these people do for a living, because I’m still not sure what people do in Canada besides play hockey, race snowmobiles, and brew beer.
Naturally, there is a lot of work to do once the decision is made and only six weeks to do it, so why not start by handing a sixteen pound sledgehammer to a hundred pound uninsured housewife wearing sandals and Capri pants and letting her bash into a wall full of electrical wires and plumbing? While she’s doing this, Property Brother #2 stands by, flips his bangs out of the way, and then squeegees up the sleeves on his skintight plaid shirt to show her how it’s done. He is the only construction guy I have ever seen who wears clothes that are so tight; they appear to have been woven out of Ace bandages.
Every single house that gets remodeled loses interior walls because every single client wants a house with an open concept, which is baffling because they chose a house with more walls than a rat maze. By the time they’re finished knocking out walls, all that will be left is a gymnasium with a designer kitchen. It will be completely open and devoid of any sort of porous surface. When ants walk across the finished floors, you’ll be able to hear the echoes of their tiny footsteps bouncing off of glass-topped tables, hardwood floors, tile backsplashes, granite countertops, and the abs of The Property Brothers.
People back in the old days must have been crazy putting up walls. What were these sneaky old-timers trying to hide anyway? I’m guessing heat ducts, plumbing and electrical wires but they don’t need those things anymore. Granite and stainless steel will keep things humming along, and so long as nobody flushes the wall mounted toilet/bidet/fish pond or tries to plug in a lamp, everything will be fine.
There is also a lot of “improvised” dialogue and high-tension faux disasters, which are usually solved after the commercial break with the addition of a long, expensive laminated beam or an entirely new foundation, and usually at an added cost of ten thousand dollars per surprise. It’s always ten thousand dollars. A cardboard drink tray of coffee costs ten thousand dollars in Canada.
Usually around the forty-five minute mark in the program, Property Brother #2 will tell the clients to leave until the contractors are done working because the clients have been nothing but a gigantic, throbbing pain in the ass for the past five weeks, five days and two hours—and they only have two days to finish the project. Once the clients are gone, they bring in the actual labor—the guys whose only hair product is sawdust, and who don’t give a fig about who made their jeans. They get the job done. When they finally bring back the clients, these dusty, achy construction workers are nowhere to be found, so the Property Brothers take every ounce of credit. “Look … Jonathan hoisted up that large support beam to make the open concept work. Go Cross-Fit!”
“I can’t believe it!” the wife-client will coo. “All of this is ours and for less than a million dollars! No more renting a cramped, one bedroom apartment!” From watching this show, I’ve learned that Canadian housing goes from a cramped, one bedroom rental apartment straight to a million dollar home.
The reason I like this show is simple—I know what it takes to turn a housing dud or a pile of lumber into something nice, so I do get a kick out of someone taking the initiative to save an older home and transform it into something that works in the twenty-first century. I also like armchair quarterbacking some of the technical elements, and watching the dynamics between the contractor and the clients, even though I suspect these are largely scripted. It’s a symbiotic relationship that requires a delicate touch, and if nothing else, it lets me know that the thirty years I spent doing all this and more were probably appreciated, and if not immediately, then eventually—and that makes me feel good.