So one of the more interesting lessons, among the myriad of lessons I have learned as a stay-at-home dad, is that service companies, home inspectors, and contractors, still try and take advantage of stay-at-homes. I thought that practice went out with the Brady Bunch and pop rocks. Some of my own experiences along with stories from some friends leads me to believe the fleecing of stay-at-homes is alive and well.
The combination of some great trainers in the Air Force and a real fixer upper first house has given me a better than average working knowledge of just about everything in and around the house. I was an aircraft electrician, which is wildly different than residential electricity but the theory is the same. Add to that experience several of the guys who trained me and I worked with for ten years did residential and even some commercial electrical work on the side. The skill, efficiency, and seriousness these guys displayed working on the F-16 fighter completely transferred over when they worked on everything from houses to satellite dish installs, even tinting car windows. Just like on the flight line they all had different methods and philosophies, but the end result was the same, a safe, highly functioning end product. I make that last statement because I have seen some home repair types who have no interest in a job done properly or even safety for that matter. The payday was their only goal. While aircraft maintenance and methodology is much different from residential maintenance, one thing remains the same, both can be deadly when done poorly.
Ironically the one thing I never learned from any of the guys I worked with is pricing. You know, like how much stuff costs, what do you charge to put up a ceiling fan, fix an outlet, etc… I have learned quickly. From doing odd jobs for friends, whether it was plumbing, electrical, mounting TV’s, etc… I have learned what materials actually cost versus what is charged when a “professional” shows up to fix something. As for me, I don’t charge for things I do because I only do work for friends and by extension, their families. A 3 piece original and a biscuit from KFC, or an equivalent food item, normally covers all charges. Although recently I was able to secure tickets to a local sporting event; largely due to the generosity of the guy I did the work for. So while it has been interesting watching and interacting with the guys and gals who work on our houses during the day, a few events in particular convince me the service industry is still taking advantage of the homeowner, or at least trying to.
A friend of mine, for the sake of anonymity I’ll call her Barbara, asked me to take a look at a punch list she had received from a home inspector. I’ll try to be civil to home inspectors if I can. Sufficed to say, what they used to call organized crime is now called the home inspector industry. Anyway, my friends were selling their house and the buyer sent in a hit-man, or “home inspector”. We go over the list and it’s basically broken down into things that must be fixed, and stuff that would be great if fixed but it won’t be a deal breaker. I noticed one item on the already fixed list and it said, “pool outlet cover” – $90. Had to ask. Barb tells me that the cover for the electrical box out at the pool had gone missing. The home inspector estimated the job at $90. The next day the cover was back on. Apparently the guy who cleans the pool saw the cover laying on the ground, NEXT TO THE ELECTRICAL BOX, and put it back on with the one screw that holds it in place. He didn’t charge her, didn’t call in the nuclear regulatory commission, he just pulled out a screwdriver, #2 phillips if I had to guess, and put it back on. Time elapsed, 38 seconds, cost to all involved, zero American dollars. It was so insignificant the pool guy never told her he did it, he just did it. What a concept. Yet the home inspector dude wanted $90. The pool guy was apparently unaware of the fortune sitting at his feet, either that or he’s just an honest guy trying to make a living not a killing.
Now keep in mind my northern union types, we don’t play that down here. No unions required. I know on a job site in the north the plumber could not have put that cover on, he would have had to call the electrician. Yeah, not so below the Mason-Dixon line.
The list went on. It was a lot of nit picky stuff but two items really jabbed me in the shorts. One item showed complete incompetence on the home inspectors part, the other item: price gauging, as if the pool issue wasn’t already evidence of that.
The first issue was a cover missing from an electrical junction box in the crawl space. Pain in the back of my front already. So me and the hubby, I’ll call him Malachi, me and Mal head down to the crawl space. The picture taken by the home inspector shows a junction box in a corner somewhere. Well the first wall me and Mal look at has a junction box without a cover. Cool, that was easy, put on the cover, 2 screws and I just saved Mal about 38 thousand dollars or whatever the dude was going to charge for that. Safe to say it was not anywhere in the ball park of the $1.69 the cover actually costs, screws included. Well Mal gets to eyeballing the picture and he says, this is not the jucntion box in the picture. He was right. We found the junction box in the picture and it was in fact missing the cover, as were the other two junction boxes we found on this snipe hunt. The funny part was the box in the picture was in the farthest corner of the crawl space. To see it the guy had to crawl under, I say again, under the main air condition duct and past 3 other junction boxes, all 3 without covers and he never mentioned them. I forget what he was going to charge them for that but as I said earlier, it was no where close to what it would have cost him to do it, and that includes accounting for his time for a job that was not even necessary in the first place.
In the garage the guy wanted all outlets to be GFI or ground fault interrupted. Shock protection basically. If something causes a spark or shock the outlet trips off the power. Great idea, great invention, especially for types like my boy “Mal” who might get himself into trouble with stuff that uses electricity. But the request shows the home inspector is a moron and a thief. First off he wanted $180 to do the job. GFI outlets go for $9; $12 for higher end stuff and the job takes 20 minutes. Even at $80 an hour, and they will stick you for the full hour even if it takes 10 minutes, that job would cost $92. Now they have to make some money or what would be the point. We all can’t live on a 3-piece original and a biscuit but that’s some mark up. Second, the instructions on the box of a GFI outlet explicitly warn the installer not to put more than one GFI on a circuit. In fact the way GFI outlets have to be wired, putting more than one GFI on a circuit normally renders them useless. Exciting stuff I know but it clearly demonstrates the idiocy and price gouging of the home inspector/general contractor types. Both should know better, but both only see the following: a woman, a sale sign, moving boxes, and a to do list a mile long. The gamble being Barb has way to much going on to keep track of this stuff, and even if she could or wanted to keep up she wouldn’t know anything about it anyway. I have bought and sold 3 houses so I could go on forever but I’ll spare you. To me home inspectors are nothing but Tramps and Thieves. Now for the Gypsies.
The tornados that ripped through the south, (the storms that destroyed parts of Georgia and Alabama), earlier this year set the stage for the resurgence of the gypsy population. And when I say Gypsies I of course mean all the insurance salesmen and newly minted contractors who chase storm damage. I believe Knoxville reported some 2000 roofing licenses issued in the weeks after the deadly storms. Read here – Storm Stats
After the storms passed and damaged starting being assessed it became clear in the Knoxville area that roofing, siding, and guttering would be in high demand. Now my insurance company was johnny on the spot. The guy came in, did an estimate, and sent me a check within a few weeks. He also said that he believed the estimate would probably have to be adjusted a few times and to just send in the work orders and they would send more money. Awesome, what a relief. It was however, up to me to find someone to do the work. Enter the gypsies.
A dude knocks on my door and wants to talk roofing and siding. One whole side of our house was destroyed and the roof was decimated which made it very obvious from the street that we would need work done. So I let old boy in and we get to “chattin”. Thick appalachia accent on this one. He spoke plainly, was very straightforward and got right to the point. We went out to do a quick assessment. Back in the house to talk numbers and all of a sudden he’s a politician. I asked how much and he countered with “How much did you get?” I said why does that matter, tell me how much it is. He says “it ain’t workin that a way”. I replied that in this kitchen it most assuredly is “workin that a way.” Appalachia Guy or AG said he would have to work with my insurance company. Me – No need I already have the check. AG – Well how much is it fer? Me – Don’t worry about it, what’s the job going to cost? AG – It don’t work that a way. Yeah this was a heinous rendition of Abbot and Costello’s Who’s On First routine. Yes look it up. Or go here. Oldie but a goodie.
That went on for a bit. He then said he couldn’t give me a price if he wanted to because he has to put the numbers into his computer program. He said that in an elongated style as if it was a foreign language. I asked him how long he’s been doing roofing. He replies, Oh I don’t do roofing, I just got the job 2 weeks ago to go around a sign people up then The Company comes in a does the work. Me – Really? The company eh? Who might that be? AG – A roofer in Pittsburgh. Me- So he trucks guys all the way from Pittsburgh eh? That must cost a lot? AG – Oh no he hires them from the guys on the corner downtown. Me – Ok, time to go my man, nice “chattin wit ya.” He was completely befuddled as to why I wasn’t hiring him.
Gypsy #2 knocks on the door about 3 days later. I let him in because it was lunch time and I like entertainment when I eat. I normally have a two year old for that but Frank took himself upstairs for an early nap. Anyway, Tracy had decided to come home for lunch and came in right when Gypsy #2 was asking how much my insurance check was “fer” and I was telling him to get the hell out of my house. I wasn’t that hungry anyway.
We eventually found a local guy to do the job and he turned the tables on me. When we sat down to talk I opened with “If you want to see the insurance settlement you might as well go home, you’re wasting your time.” He shoots back, “bro I don’t need to see that. My estimate is accurate to within a few dollars. If your check is lower than my estimate, they lied to ya. If it’s higher, then you made out.” My kind of guy. His estimate was lower by $90 when all was said an done. We got lucky. Not on the price but on the honesty and integrity of the guy who fixed our roof, siding, and gutters. Another guy just trying to make a living, not a killing.
Gypsy #3 came by about 6 months later. Walked right into the back yard where me and Frank were hitting golf balls. Never looked up, never glanced around. Just walked up and asked to sign us up to get our roof fixed. Frank looked up at me and I swear the look on his face was “Are you serious bro?” I asked if I was his first customer. He looked at me funny. I said you ain’t no roofer boy. Frank walked away. Gypsy 3# started to mumble something. I asked how he could look at that roof and think it needed repair, could you not see the new shingles? He said he never even looked at it. I said well you can take a good look on your way back out to the street. Away he went.
The next ball I hit was a glancing blow off Frank’s head. It was a whiffle ball so everyone take a breath. Frank’s look at me after the ball hit him in his mellon – “Don’t golf angry bro, they’re just gypsies, tramps, and thieves.”
That kid is a lot smarter than I am.
For the original song Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves by Cher – go here Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour