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Cowboy Builders From Hell—Six Mistakes to Avoid

Juliette Kando has designed and renovated many houses over the years. This true story helps distinguish prank builders from professionals.


I have been renovating and building houses for many years. The current project is to build a small shower room from scratch, as an extension to the little house as shown in this plan.


The builder I usually employ had to stop work for personal reasons, so the job is only half-finished. To find a replacement, I posted the following message in Facebook-Market-Place in our local community:

“Can anyone recommend a good builder?”

First Mistake

Don’t try to find a builder on Facebook. In my impatience, instead of waiting for recommendations, I responded to builders themselves fishing for jobs. I should have known better. Good builders are never out of work. I ended up choosing Antonio who was very nice, charming, and very friendly. I should have asked for a reference from previous clients, preferably from friends I trust.

January 18

Antonio arrives at mid-day to inspect the job. “Ah, you don't want to tile only the shower and sink areas, I think you should tile the whole room with big white ties from top to bottom. I'll provide the tiles. He gives me a reasonable quote, promising to finish the job in 10 days. Great! When can you start? Tomorrow. How much? We agree on half the money upfront, the balance upon completion.

Second Mistake

Don't allow the builder to persuade you to change your plans. What I didn't know at the time is that when Antonio attempted to render the outside walls, it clearly showed that he was not capable of rendering a wall to a satisfactory standard. That is why Antonio had offered to tile the whole room directly over building blocks.

January 19 12:30

Antonio plus 2 mates, his girlfriend, and even his giant Alsatian dog, twice the size of my dog, arrive to enjoy a nice day out in the campo. Two guys are set to work on tiling while Antonio takes a nap in my hammock. A few days later, I find a large half-empty beer bottle under the hammock!

January 23

Four days into the job, it drizzles a bit, so Antonio doesn't show up at all for two days‒no phone call, nor does he pick up. By now, upon his daily begging for more money, I have already paid him in bits and drabs, over 50% of the quote. So him blanking me for two days nearly gives me an anxiety attack. Help! He’s not coming back, he ran off with my money, and played a prank on me!

Third Mistake

I parted with money over the agreed initial percentage of the quote. I should have stopped paying Antonio when assessing the terrible standard of his work.

January 24

They show up at 3.30. By now my plan is not to give him a penny more until the job is finished. Where were you for the last two days? Why don’t you pick up your phone? “Oh, I wasn’t well,” he says, coughing demonstratively. They muddle on but the more work is done, the worse the results. The whole place is beginning to look like a bomb site, with discarded packaging, and hardened cement patches, all over the floors and windows.


January 29

One of my many messages to Antonio

Hello Antonio, you said in your quote that it would take 10 days to finish the job. You started on January 19. We are now 10 days later and nothing is finished (I include a long list of all that still needs doing).

Response: OK miss. Don’t worry, it’ll be finished in a couple of days.

Fourth Mistake

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To beat the competition, Antonio had given me an unrealistic quote. Living 30 km away, he didn't budget for petrol costs, which would be minimal to a local builder. Neither was there sufficient provision in his quote to pay all the people he asked to do the jobs he cannot do. When it is undoubtedly clear that the job is not going to get done for the price and the time quoted, sack the builder immediately.

Shower base and Soap Dish

Shower base and Soap Dish

February 2

Today, Antonio comes in at 4:30 pm, not with the materials we need, but with a big old-style mirror with lights which he tries to trade with me. The thing is not to my taste at all, besides, I don’t need it. I already have a top cabinet with drawers, a mirror, and lights. When they leave, a couple of hours later, part of the drainage is done but nothing else. That’s it! That is the moment when I finally decide to sack Antonio by sending him the following message:

Hello Antonio,

Tomorrow will be your last day. I just want you to finish the drains, tile, and grout the top of the shower room. Leave the toilet, cistern, shower, and faucets to my plumber and electrician. If you can do that, I'll still pay you the rest of your money even though the job isn't finished. I think that's very fair and generous.

His response: OK

Fifth Mistake

Don't be nice to incompetent deceitful people.

February 3rd 4:45 ‒ The Final Straw

I have been waiting all day for Antonio. As usual, thinking: will he come, won’t he come, all day long. Eventually, at 4:45, I hear his van pulling up. My phone rings. It’s Antonio ordering me: ”Go and buy a tube of glue to stick the drain pipes together.” This is the very last droplet into the overflowing bucket of disasters during the last couple of weeks.

For him to now dare ask me, his client, to break up my day, drive to the village to get a tube of flipping glue! Is he insane? Does he think I’m an idiot? I am now at the end of my tether, fuming with rage. I stop my work and resolutely walk to the little house where the guys are unloading long drainage pipes. STOP! I shout. That’s it, no more, you’re going home NOW! I’ve had enough. Where is Antonio? Antonio is sitting in his van, listening to music. The girlfriend goes to fetch him.

When he appears, I say to him, "Getting glue for the pipes is your responsibility! You just passed the shop, why didn't you bring it with you? Who's working for whom here? I am your client, or am I a dog that goes to fetch things at your command?“

The Battle

Follows a half-hour long tug of war with 4m long drain pipes that I paid for the previous day, pipes that Antonio now wants to take away unless I pay him in full. Finally, while screaming and swearing in broken Spanish, I put, all the pipes and attachments safely inside the house. “Now give me back my keys and go!”. Another half-hour catch me if you can game trying to get my keys back. Antonio repeatedly shouts furiously, “I'm not giving you your keys until you give me my money. I’ll call the police!”

“Yes please do call the police, then they can see what a marvelous builder you are!”

He dangles the keys in front of my face. “I’ll come back with your keys and break everything inside your house!”

Upon this, I turn my back to him and firmly walk away to pick up my phone. When I return, I proceed to take pictures of the shoddy work he has done and threaten to expose him by posting pictures of his terrible work on Facebook. That worked. Eventually, Antonio gives me back the keys, but to be sure, I had already booked the locksmith to come and change the locks.


Final Report

Except for the tiling done by Pedro who sort of knew what he was doing but never finished tiling, the work is sloppy ‒ a totally unprofessional bodge job.

  • Planning and organization 0/10.
  • Time-keeping 3/10. Antonio never turned up before 3 pm.
  • Quality of work 3/10.
  • Honesty 5/10. Antonio kept saying he was at the doctor’s or feeling ill, when in fact, he admitted later, that they were working elsewhere in the mornings.

Sixth Mistake

Lock up your own tools. Antonio didn’t even carry a tape measure! He stole several of my tools, which he probably needed to use on the other job. For example, when I discovered that the big leveler had gone, I made them search the van, and there it was. So I recuperated it and brought it back to the house. The next day, it had gone again! Don’t try to be helpful by lending a cowboy builder any tools, you’ll never see those tools again.

On the Bright Side

On the bright side, because there is always a silver lining to a disaster, for me, having a verbal match with Antonio has improved my Spanish no end. For you, dear readers, I hope that this sad, aggravating story helps you in avoiding cowboy builders.

© 2022 Juliette Kando FI Chor

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