I work for a chamber of commerce, which is often mistaken for a Better Business Bureau. I can’t count the times I have listened as people have spun their tales of woe: thousands of dollars paid without a single nail hammered or leak fixed, renovations that never passed the demo phase. There is nothing I can do, but I hope in some way the fact that I listen and commiserate helps. Having been burned myself, I doubt it does. After our wedding we bought a
drafty, leaky roofed, plumbing challenged piece of shit lovely older home with tons of potential back in 2003. We did what demo and rehab we could ourselves, which was actually a lot. We gutted, rewired, stripped wallpaper and hardwood floors, hung sheetrock, insulated, installed a fireplace and updated fixtures. We opted to contract for: roofing, plumbing, flooring, windows, and furnace installation. I went into each relationship thinking that they really wanted to help us, that they admired our chutzpah for taking on as much as we did, for not being wusses and having someone else do the grueling dirty work.
Knowing what I know now I think they resented not being given the bigger job for the greater mark up. I was pregnant for most of it so I couldn’t even try and play the cute, dumb chick card. I was just the bitter knocked up mouth. Together we were penny pinching jack asses to each and every one of them.
Gerry – the extraordinarily long waisted, mouth breathing, yellow toothed cousin of our banker, Jack.
Jack “Just sign here and we’ll work it all out once the baby comes” Smith. Jack “I don’t really remember saying that, it’s really just not possible” Smith.
Irv – the affable, dim, fast but shoddy carpet installer. “All I’m saying is I wouldn’t want my kid falling on the kind of pad you picked. Gonna pop down and never bounce back up. But you do whatcha want.”
Shawn- the manorexic, chains-moking ex of the blonde cross-eyed hussy from classified.
Shawn “You know that isn’t my fucking responsibility anyway” Jones.
Sloth- the slack jawed giant who’s girlfriend unexpectedly delivered a nearly full term baby they “didn’t know was in there” over the weekend and would probably be out for a few days. No quote from him, just thinking about it I start rocking back and forth, humming.
A tributary cascading down our bathroom wall created by the new roof.
Errant carpet staples, roofing nails and ductwork shavings.
Vertiginous piles of scrap metal and foul cigarette butts.
Checks already written and a maternity leave almost completely spent in the aural wake of porch destruction-
Uh, did you hear that last bang? Fuckin’ porch must be rotten. Yuh want us to tear it down?
I found myself biting my nails, cursing my luck, wearing steel toed boots and setting up rain pots. Once it was over I stood, like Scarlett over Tera, bosom heaving, calling God as my witness, and vowing to never hire a contractor again.
Two winters in the Adirondacks and it was clear our house needed something more than we could do. Try as I might to make do with blankets under doorjambs and heavy drapes on every window, the cold air found its way in as easily as if we’d thrown the doors open. You could make payments on a Maybach for what we were sending off to Nimo each month. New siding and storm doors it was.
Fred “I’ll tell ya, I’m not like these other guys. I just want to do right by my customers” Hall.
We signed the contract in July. I wrote the final check today. December 21st. 5 months. I’m no mathemetician, but it seems a touch long.
I told Fred from the get go that I needed him to be honest with me. Let me know when your guys will be working. If they aren’t coming that’s fine. I promise not to be a pain in the ass customer if you’ll just shoot straight with me.
“Absolutely Amanda. Matter’a fact, I am going to be here when the guys start. I want to make sure these guys do right by you. Ok?”
Fast forward 3 and a half months.
“Hi, Linda? This is Amanda. Fred was going to be here last week to get our job started. Could you give me an update?”
“What was Fred doing for you? Was it a roof?”
“Ah, no. Siding and doors.”
“Ok, Amanda. I am going to have to get back to you. Fred had to leave town unexpectedly.”
A week later some guys showed up to begin tearing the siding off of our house. Sean went out to talk to them and see if Fred was ok.
“Aw, yeah, Fred. Been up at a huntin’ camp for couple weeks, does it the same time every year.”
Great. Strike one.
Another few weeks pass, no sign of Fred.
“Linda? It’s Amanda.”
“Hi, what can I do for you?”
“The guys haven’t been here in 3 weeks. Any chance I could talk with Fred?”
“Hmm, that’s going to be hard Amanda. Fred is out of town visiting his mom.”
“Could you have him call me when he gets back?”
“Actually we’ll be heading out on vacation and won’t be back for about 2 weeks.”
Right. That’ll be strike two.
In all fairness the guys working on the house were great. They worked in some truly horrendous weather and made a laudable effort to keep their cigarette butts out of the yard. They loved on our dog and marveled at the hunting prowess of our cat, Barnaby, who became their feline idol they day he caught a chipmunk and “turned it inside out.” And, they waved to Briar as she would supervise their progress from the windows. But then, I said contractor, not subcontractor or laborer.
Back to Fred, our contract stated that we would have 4 storm doors installed, 3 purchased by Fred and one that we already owned.
“That’s great. No problem Amanda. We’ll get those two doors and put up the 3rd you got.”
“It’s three plus the one we have.”
“Oh, oh sure, ya that’s right. Ya got the one and we’ll get three, you just pick’em out. Now tell me again Amanda, which doors are they going on?”
“One on each porch and then the back door.”
Two weeks later we got a call that our doors were ready for pick up, which we let Fred know about. A week went by.
“Linda? Hi it’s Amanda again. Just checking up on those doors.”
“Amanda, Fred says that you don’t need four doors, your house only has three.”
“No, we have four doors.”
“So Fred’ll need to buy…3 doors?”
“We already picked them out at Lowe’s. I let Fred know they are ready for pick up”
“No, three. The fourth we have.”
“Ok. We’ll get those picked up and installed.”
Two weeks later.
“Hi Amanda. What can I do for you?”
“Just wanted to check on when those doors might be getting installed.”
“Let me have Fred call you.”
Worry. Not a good sign. Fred called.
“Ah, yeah, Amanda? ‘Bout those doors. How many doors you got on your house, cause there are three doors here, but I thought you only had three doors and you have one, so one of these we don’t need, right?”
It made my head spin. Was he trying to confuse me or was it really this hard?
“No, we have four doors in need of storm doors. We own one that needs to be installed. We picked out three as per our contract with you.”
“Now see, that’s what I thought. I says to myself, now the contract says 4, and I know Amanda is a bright girl, so maybe…ya know what I’m saying?”
“Sure. It’s confusing. No worries. Can someone come by with those?”
“Sure thing. My guys’ll be there first thing tomorrow. You’ll be there, right? 8am.”
A week later.
“Let me call Fred.”
So Fred showed up with the guys and they installed the doors. One is upside down and backwards, but it does keep the cold out so what the hell do I really care if it looks like an “allep” door rather than a Pella. He also tried to collect payment on our shutters.
“So that’s $175 a pair and ya got, what, 2, 6, 9, 10, so 5 pair. And that’s, let’s see…ah shit Amanda, I don’t have a calculator, but you just do those numbers and write a check. I’ll wait”
“Ah, Fred? You quoted us $65.”
“$65? Oh, did I? Geez, did I?”
“That’s what I remember.”
“Well let’s just do whatever I told ya. I thought they were $175, but if I told you $65…”
How can you get confused between ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY FIVE DOLLARS and SIXTY FIVE? Am I that much of a tightwad? That’s like blind date/internet connection bad.
“I’m 6’1″ and blonde,” he says.
“Well, look at that. You are 5’1″ and…Thai?”
It was so inconsistent and impossible to believe I couldn’t even get mad. I just took a breath, quickly inventoried all we had done for the house and realized that moving forward anything we need will be an emergency. No more contractors, just the occasional repairman. Breathe. Be done.
$175 became $65. I wrote a check. A big fat check, though not as big and fat as he would have had me write.