Twelve years ago, as we toured our 100 plus year old home on that fateful day of purchase, we chattered about our plans to mold our vinyl sided first-born into the happy compliant child of our dreams. I was so excited to own dirt to dig in. And my husband had himself some waterfront property. Who needs updated plumbing, electrical wiring, or insulation when you can watch flocks of waterfowl make an impressive landing on the river?
We were naïve first time house parents and our cluelessness thankfully spared us from comprehending all of our house-child’s “little” problems. A couple years into the renovation, I vaguely recalled the look of slight terror on our home inspector’s face. There is a hole in my heart where my sweet naïveté once lived.
With so many choices and so little money, we made some bad choice hum-dooseys. We may have been entitled to make these mistakes however I still search my heart for absolution. The retainer wall building guys and the HVAC installation guy proved that even though people are licensed, show up, give you a good price, and seem socially functional, that cheaper price might be the indication that they don’t value their work either.
It took maybe six months for our costly new retainer wall to herniate. I mentioned the change to my husband but he really didn’t want to know. With one call we discovered the company we’d hired was, not surprisingly, out of business. Maybe because they didn’t know diddle about building a wall that allows the water to flow through without knocking it down? Or someone sued them?
Disaster was our godsend when the century old sycamore tree dropped a giant limb on top of the wall. Insurance money paid for the wall to be rebuilt correctly. Our bad choice was sort of mended when the honest new guy rebuilt the wall. We wished we’d found him first, of course. I wonder what other oopsie choices we’d made since we’d become house parents. Oh right, there was the HVAC guy.
We inherited an air-conditioning system from 1983. My husband and I will tell you those stories about growing up in the steamy summer city. We immediately made repairs and maintained on our precious air conditioning system. This beast spoiled us and then died on the very hottest August day. A nice repair man found a junkyard piece and Frankensteined the unit back to life. That was the beginning of the end.
The breaking point was when our budget bill exceeded $500. Did I mention we still had electric baseboard heating? The ductwork was AC only. I said “uncle” and told my husband to call someone. He called a local guy who walked that walk and talked lots of know-it-all talk. We priced compared and fretted and in the end, my husband proudly chose to support local business guy. And we chose the cheaper bid.
The new air handling units put hot air in our ducts. Some rooms were warmer than ever before. Unfortunately, local HVAC guy was also full of hot air. Shoddy workmanship and short cuts caught up with his fast talking. When our air-conditioning drip pan in the attic wasn’t draining properly a year and a half later, the next guy revealed we’d been taken by the first guy.
New guy said we actually needed new duct work. As he explained all the wrongness and I began to comprehend HVAC air distribution concepts, I knew I didn’t want to know. I wanted my husband to be taking the brunt of all of this. I had a rare moment of rage followed by wanting to cry for the comprehension of all the money we’d thrown away.
Here was another excuse to keep my membership to the know-it-all club. But unless I know retaining wall construction, am HVAC certified, or have my real estate license, I am forced to trust people. But there are ways to hedge your bets. Where time and materials are bad, an estimate and contract are better. If they won’t guarantee their work, run fast the other way. Actually speak to three people they’ve worked for. And prioritize your money over their feelings.
Although Delmarva’s workforce has a reputation for a laid back attitude teetering on lethargy, we’ve had plenty of good experiences as well. The carpenter we hired for our big kitchen remodel and garage door installation had more integrity than any man I’ve ever met. And John the plumber crawled through the funk of ages under our house to install my washer and dryer lines. I’ve been under there. He’s my hero.
Maybe I should have sued somebody for these hack jobs but sometimes your bad choice is still your problem. The maturity date for the house payments is scheduled for 2042. By then, we’re either paid up or we’re out. I suspect the house may still be standing. We’ll see if I am as my house-child or my real child will be the death of me yet.