A few days back, I got a call from my buddy Nameless. Of course, his name isn't really Nameless, but I'm going to have to call him Nameless because his wife gives him the finger-wag when I call him by his real name in one of my columns.
"Jowers," Nameless said. "Now that the flood waters have settled back into the rivers, creeks and gulleys, you can warn your readers about "Other Guy Construction."
"What's 'Other Guy Construction?' I asked.'"
"It's the second wave of handymen — the quick-and-dirty ones — who start showing up as soon as the first wave of fix-it guys have done their work and moved on," he explained.
"It works something like this: Let's say a homeowner calls a reputable structural engineer to look at a basement wall that's been leaning a little since the flood. The engineer explains that the wall needs some work, and the repairs will cost, say, about $2,000. Then, other guy — the one in the raggedy pickup truck with stolen tools in the bed — shows up and says he can fix it for 500 bucks."
"Funny you should say that," I said to Nameless. "Just this morning, somebody was asking me why he shouldn't hire the guy who'd bid a job for half the cost of the preceding bidder."
"Half the cost," Nameless said. "Ten times the misery."
Nameless is correct. A couple years back, I explained in this column that if you're one of those people who always hires the cheap guy to fix things, that means you're a habitual waster of money, like folks who think they'll win the Powerball. You wishful folk, listen to me. Next time you find yourself about to hire the cheap guy to work on your house, do this instead: Gather up all of your $100 bills, put them in an envelope, bring them to my front porch, ring the doorbell and hand me the cash. That way, you will have at least done the good deed of de-funding a jackleg contractor, which is a good thing.
After a couple decades of being an old-house fixer, a how-to writer and a curmudgeonly home inspector, I've learned one thing very well. If you want something at your house fixed, hiring the cheap guy is the worst thing you can do. You'll lose money, your house will be worse than it was, and you might even cause the property values in your neighborhood to drop.
In my little neighborhood, most of the houses are old and clad with brick veneer. There are a lot of cracks in that old brick veneer. The usual fix is to have an unskilled or semi-skilled handyman patch up the cracks with Portland cement. It's an inexpensive job. Problem is, the original mortar was a soft mix, with more lime and aggregate (little rocks) than modern Portland cement, which is very hard. Over time, the differences in the two types of mortar will cause more cracking. Cheap mortar-patchers don't even know this. Hire the cheap guy, and the next patch job will require tedious removal of the Portland cement. Patching the mortar the right way will require the skills of a talented old-school brick mason—if you can find one. If you do find one, you can be sure that he won't come cheap.
The list goes on. Hire a cheap unskilled landscaper to plant your trees and bushes, and he'll likely plant them too deep or too shallow. Either way, it's almost certain that the plants will die. Then you'll have to spend more money paying for "Other Guy Landscapers" to dig up your dead plants and plant new ones.
In the last couple years, I've seen six-figure renovations sullied and muddled by cheap roofers, cheap gutter installers and cheap framers. For every dollar the owners think they saved, they'll pay out much more to correct the mistakes.
I say, don't turn a contractor loose on your house until you've confirmed that he's the very best at what he does – not the almost-good-enough guy, not the well-meaning but clueless guy, not the guy who you like because he's nice and he cleans up at the end of the day. You want the best guy, not the other guy. The cheap guys, the jacklegs and the itinerants are like termites. Every day they work on your house, things get a little worse. Believe me when I tell you. It'll always cost less to fix things right the first time.
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