Drainage problems, no storage, a painted bathtub (little bits stick to your feet when the water is really hot, so we didn't even try sitting down in there), humidity in the closet in the next room...
And then the old-school kitchen, built in a time when live-in maids did all your cooking and you did all your eating at a fancy dining room table. We don't have a live-in maid and we are more kitchen-eaters than formal-diners. The layout was just not practical, and while the oven still worked, I was keen on one that had more temperatures than hot and super-hot and that did not leave cakes and bread crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside. Yum.
So we started saving, collecting ideas, pinning pictures, reading home magazines, and making an awful lot of trips to Ikea and the hardware depot. We also started gathering professional opinions and quotes.
As we started our research, we were alerted to two issues. Firstly, this was going to be a major job: Electric and plumbing needed to be replaced throughout the flat. Yikes! Secondly, we hadn't lived there yet, so we couldn't really say exactly what we needed and wanted. Time to pick out a contractor.
I knew our guy was "the one" from the moment I laid eyes on his office door. The handles were letters, an H and a C. Could it be any more obvious? Apparently it could be, because I had to explain it to Tall Guy,
"Those are the initials of our surnames!" I cried, "We have to hire him!"
Tall Guy, ever practical, thought we should hear what he had to say first, check up on his reputation, visit some of his job sites, and see if the price was right. I wasn't worried, I knew it would work out, and it did - HC start construction in a few days!
Our advice for finding a contractor (in Madrid or anywhere, I guess!) is, firstly, unless you're doing the whole project by yourself, use a contractor! Trying to coordinate everyone is extremely difficult, especially in Spain. Oh, Spain, the land of vague appointment times, where "soon" can mean anything from actually "soon" to "six days later" to "when I get around to it". USE A CONTRACTOR. It does not have to be more expensive. We are in fact saving money and cutting down on time.
Second, use someone who is licenced to do the work. Especially if you're in a flat, you'll probably need permission to move walls or add bathrooms, etc. I for one do not plan to waste hours or possibly days of my life shuffling around the town hall trying to get paperwork signed. Been there, done that, not going back. It would also really not be good to put in a toilet only to find that it's leaking into your downstairs neighbour's living room, because you read your house plan wrong and connected it to the wrong drainage tube.
Third, try to know what you're talking about. Tall Guy did a lot of research, for which I am especially grateful. I have no interest in what type of cable the stove needs to function properly and safely, and maybe Tall Guy doesn't either, but he found out and it pays to know these things. There's a Spanish saying, lo barato sale caro - cheap things get expensive. One guy suggested cutting costs by using cables not thick enough according to the building code. Adios, amigo - we don't want electrical problems!
Fourth, check references, but go with your gut. Signs, instincts, these feelings happen for a reason. If someone feels right or wrong, take that into consideration. Check into them, of course - visit places they've worked on, check up on finishing times and budgets, but don't feel bad for not hiring someone because they looked good on paper but you still had a bad feeling. Better spend more time meeting contractors than worrying about the work they're doing in your home.
Fifth, personality. Our guy is very friendly and hard-working. He's up on design and building trends, and while sometimes his ideas are a little too modern for our tastes, it's good to know he's in the loop. He tells us when he thinks our ideas won't work and suggests ways to improve them.