Home Improvement for Cheapskates

When you live in a house for 43 years, it makes sense to spruce up its looks once in every 10 years or so, right? Ma decided to ask a handyman to come over a week ago Sunday morning to take a look at several things in and out of the house to determine if he could repair it and how much it would cost. What she neglected to do was tell me because I was the one who would have to escort the fellow to the various spots and explain to him what she wanted done.

I got a call about 9:15 in the morning from Ma and she asked if I could come over almost immediately.
What could I do? Still using a walker because of the broken hip, she could not go up and down the stairs so readily to show him things on the second floor, the basement and even in the back of the house. Still, Ma was very patriotic and she was doing her thing to try to spur the economy.

I rushed over and greet this short Eastern European accented fellow who called himself Jack now that he was paying taxes to Uncle Sam- at least I think he was. I still was smarting from about a dozen years ago when I hired a fellow Ma raved about to paint three rooms in my condo apartment. What I didn’t know at the time after we sealed the deal was that the stinker hired an old friend or uncle- who knows?- to assist him. This meant that the wonderful guy Ma recommended would go to another job in which he was getting paid a lot more moolah and dump his loser assistant on me. The guy was a sloppy painter and didn’t speak a word of English. To top it off, I was asked to write two thirds of the agreed amount in a check to the contractor and to give the rest in cash to the dimwitted laborer. It didn’t take a genius to figure that the laborer was an illegal worker or one so fresh off the boat that he hadn’t had time to steal a social security number yet.

I didn’t learn from my mistake and a couple of years ago I hired another Eastern European origin handyman to lay ceramic tile in an area of my apartment. This time around, though, I was more sophisticated and elicited from a downstairs neighbor two guys to offer bids. My buddy had used both to do work at his real estate properties. Naturally, I took the guy who spoke better English and not necessarily cheaper. The fact is no matter what anyone quotes you, it will always end up costing 10 to 20 percent more because of unforeseen problems. As it turned out, the guy spent half the time while working talking to his wife on his cell phone. I couldn’t tell him not to because at least he did the work himself and did not sub it out to someone else. The only issue I had was his effort to put into place a nice floor divider or whatever you call it between each room that adjoined the tiled area.

In Ma’s situation, there were about five things that needed to be done but the two most critical were installing a new screen door to the front of the house and hand railings on the wall to the basement stairs. The handyman spoke English like I spoke his native language. But numbers and money he could count well. He said he was going over to Home Depot to check out a screen door among other things.
He called thirty minutes later and said he found the perfect door for $144 plus sales tax. Naturally, I asked him why he didn’t go to a store in the suburbs where the sales tax was a half percent less. In perfect broken English, he said, “Vhat’s a few dollars?” He then asked me to come over to the store to take a look at the door and approve it.

At the store I saw the door and asked why we couldn’t use the one that was 50 dollars cheaper. He said, “look- there are ones that go for over $200. This is the best for the money.” Especially since it wasn’t his. Ma said, “do whatever he says.” I asked Ma how she got the guy and she said that he was referred to him by her physical therapist. I commented that this was the same therapist who wanted Ma to throw away the walker and do handstands two weeks after she left the rehab joint. I was outvoted.

I saw how all the things Ma wanted done was going to pile up into a nice windfall for the handyman. I asked him what he thought the total project would cost. He smiled and said, “we’ll figure it out after I’m done.”

It ended up that the store did not have the door with handle facing the way it needed to open out. Instead of calling other stores, he took his time going to two others and wasted precious work time. As it turned out, I told him about a store that would have it in stock and he finally went to it and got it.

Every time he worked on something, he would show me how other things needed to be done. The project ended up costing about 300 dollars more than I anticipated. At least he was happy and I decided to call him again when I needed to have someone negotiate my next business deal.