Just a little while ago, my remodeling buddy, Nameless, called me to talk about the conundrums we all face in these trying times.
"Jowers," he said, "people are calling me day and night wanting me to remodel their already fancy houses, turn them into grand palaces, and then get those houses LEED certified so they can get into Greenie Heaven."
"Sounds like a pretty good opportunity for fixing up some houses and making some honest money," I said.
"Well, sure," Nameless responded. "'But they all want me to do it on the cheap. I just spent a few hours talking to a nice lady about me fixing up her already fancy house the way she wants it, and how much that fixing up would cost. But the first words out of her mouth were, 'Times are tough — can you lower your price?' "
"What did you say to her?" I asked Nameless.
"Try that lower-your-price trick at the grocery store," Nameless offered. "Steak costs what steak costs. Same with hamburger and hot dogs. Same with concrete blocks, two-by-fours, heat-and air systems, flat-screen TVs and trips to Belize. You might've noticed that every man on my crew drives an old pickup truck. If you look outside and see a half-dozen Escalades lined up in your driveway, each with one of my crew members in it, you might want to try again to ask me for a better price."
At this point in the conversation, Nameless' client brought up saving the planet. "We want it LEED certified," she said.
"So," Nameless asked her, "you want us to put up a windmill, fasten solar panels to your roof, dig up your yard, put in a geothermal heating and cooling system, and while we're at it, make sure nobody sets foot on your property while in the possession of rare Brazilian rosewood? And you want me to lose money while I'm doing all this?"
"No," Nameless' client replied, "I'll just have to hire the contractor I talked to yesterday, and see what he can do."
"Oh," Nameless retorted, "that'd be my rival. I call his company Other Guy Construction. My rival will tell you that he'll do your job for less than I will," Nameless said. "Then he'll most likely show up the next day with inadequate materials, worn-out equipment and little or no crew. But don't take my word for it. Hire him and see how the job turns out."
Back when I was in the home inspection business, I ran into many inadequately trained home inspectors. During that spell, I learned that there is an even bigger — and more costly — problem with unscrupulous home defectors. I can't remember how many times I was hired to look at a house that was half-assedly built by unskilled, untrained builders and inspected by unskilled, untrained home inspectors who'd pack up their gear and drive away as soon as the homeowner turned his or her head. I recall one such job that ended with all the commodes in the house being mudded into the bathroom floors, which meant that the commodes would be immovable until somebody came along with a jackhammer.
The builder — if you could call him that — told the unfortunate homeowners he couldn't finish the job. He disappeared, and left those homeowners $100,000 poorer. No offense to anybody, but this building defector was just one of many who displayed the Ichthys (aka "Jesus Fish") on his business card and license plate.
Now don't go by me, but if somebody who's trying to sell you something offers you a business card with an Ichthys on it, I say don't buy what he's selling. According to Nameless, who's run into a lot of Jesus Fish peddlers, "It's not a good idea to work with the guy with the fish cards. It always ends badly."
I side with Nameless on this one. If an unscrupulous builder, home inspector, or fly-by-night knucklehead who was working at the carnival yesterday can't make an honest sale without reeling you in with the fish, move away from that knucklehead quickly.
You fortunate folks with nice houses, listen to me: Try to appreciate the nice house that you have, and be nice to the folks who do your dirty work. Please don't try to pick the pockets of the men who wear blue jeans, drive pickup trucks and pull dead possums out of your crawl space. It's just not sporting.
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