At long, long last we have banished the last of the beige in this house. There was much rejoicing and some shouting with glee to be heard, that's for sure. The last remaining area was the vast, echoing living-room, dining-room area and the transformative powers of having a color I don't despise on the walls cannot be underestimated. I wish I could hug the entire room at once, now that it has stopped offending my eyes. I'll attach pictures in a bit, after I take them, that is.
In photographs that color just looks dull, or neutral. In life it looked like the sad after effect of food poisoning following the consumption of oatmeal. Grayish-brown, tinged with an underlying bile-yellow. Despite looking like a course of antibiotics was needed to cure the walls of some dreadful infection, it had been in place for years before we got here.
Although we frequently do our own painting, we opted for pros in the two-story room. Visions of plummeting from scaffolding or high ladders danced in our heads, so we called in people who merrily balance atop these precarious perches as a profession. Really, that's just not something you wish to discover is outside of your skill set in the middle of a project. Gravity being a harsh task master, and all that.
At our old house we were the veterans of many a remodeling project. During one six-month period we had an addition constructed that was close to 1000 square feet. On another occasion we had the kitchen and bath ripped down to the studs and reconstructed from scratch, thereby releasing dust circa 1912. Even the dust was made of tougher stuff a century ago. Swiffers were not equal to the task, by a long shot, I had to mop the walls to be rid of the last of it, and even then, I have my doubts. There is likely a pile of it remaining in that old house, and it is probably hatching a plot for world domination even as I type. The darned stuff clung with such determination that I can only assume it had an actual, sentient quality to it. It seemed to elude me with ease. That's a story for another time, though.
Just saying, we've danced our way through many a quote process, and dealt with contractors of every description. We even had one general contractor (briefly) die mid-project. His heart stopped entirely in the midst of a round of golf, and four retired Navy SEALs waiting to play through brought the man back from complete heart failure. We could never quite decide if that meant we had been cursed by some really perverse fairy or not. After all, I've heard a lot of remodeling horror stories but we are the only people I know who experienced a work stoppage because their contractor was recovering from a brief bout with death.
In a complete aside, my very favorite part about that story is that the four men who saved Hal went on to play the rest of the round before stopping by the hospital to see how he was doing. I'm no shrinking violet, but I think having someone briefly perish in front of me would likely fell me like a tree for, at least, the rest of the day. For these guys, a man down on the seventh hole was something that happened before the eighth, I guess.
We've been around the block and heard the various stories that people will put forth to try and disparage their competition. It's just the nature of the business, and in a tough economy, it becomes more so as various contractors wrangle for jobs. Now, with painting, there are only so many ways a job can go wrong. It's not like construction, where other contractors will hint that so-and-sos company didn't lay duct work correctly, and their poor clients now live in an airless box, to this day. Pretty much the worst a painting contractor can imply about an interior job is that so-and-so won't provide proper coverage, or will buy inferior paint while charging for the superior stuff. Or paint everything puce before disappearing into the ether forever, money in hand.
The quotes ranged around so wildly there was absolutely no way to determine how much the actual job was worth. The highest quote was well over three thousand, leading me to remark that I assumed the paint would be kissed onto the walls by a host of angels for that price. The lowest turned out to be eight hundred and I can only assume that involves hopefully hurling paint around by the bucketful and calling it a day.
But the strangest sales technique I encountered was from a painter I had used previously, one I knew to quote a bit high, but do good work. He actually didn't end up quoting on the job. I had him scheduled, he had to cancel, and we re-scheduled. In the interim, I met the painter I hired, and who did a beautiful job, I might add. So I sent off an email telling the other painter that I had no wish to waste his time, and that hopefully we could work together in the future. Thus began the weirdest volley of emails I've ever had from any contractor.
I probably shouldn't have mentioned the fact that the reason I was canceling was that I'd received a low quote that, having worked with him before, I was sure he wasn't going to be able to match. I completely understand that anyone trying to keep a business afloat in tough times would be irked by that. I wish I'd thought of that before, you see, it might have stopped this painter, who I'll call Ted, from implying that the men I hired were likely vagabonds, thieves and would-be murders.
This is one of those instances wherein people reading can end up thinking, "Oh har, har, surely you are overstating for humor." You'd think, right? So I'm going to cut and paste from the emails:
"Does he have current liability insurance?
Do you know the reference and/or the kind of work he has done for the references?
Has he given you a thorough estimate that spells out the project?
Okay, now first of all that's none of his concern, but I'm not rude by nature. They are also fair questions to ask when hiring someone. I answered in the affirmative on the first two, and knew enough about contractors and estimates to know that the third one is actually one of the bigger tricks contractors pull. For instance, one contractor looked me dead in the eye and gave me a piece of paper that listed the paint cost as $775 dollars, which only if the meaning of life is contained in the pigment could that be true, and I've done enough painting to know that. Another told me it would be over a thousand for paint and materials. The painter who did the job gave me the receipts and the actual cost on paint and materials: $238.49. Just because there's a number in a box on an estimate, it doesn't mean much.
I didn't bother to tell Ted that because implying that a person is in a trade involving much broad fiction is not exactly a polite move.
I again bid him a good day, and told him I was pleased he was so busy, as he assured me he was. I'm quite willing to believe that, his company does very good work. I was a little surprised that he was fighting so hard to try and dissuade me from hiring someone else, but hey, in that kind of business you really do have to expect that contractors will do their best to win your business. It was actually the paragraph proceeding it that made my jaw drop:
"I am not trying to scare you, but a lot of times when guys are in the desperate mode, they do irrational things. I would be highly suspect if the guy is half of what others have quoted you. I know we are not the least expensive out there, but know that we provide exceptional value for the quality we provide. Not to mention the caliber of individuals that I would bring into your home."
Holy crow. Desperate and irrational? Plus an implication that I was hiring criminals? Also, in my personal experience, when anyone says, "I'm not trying to scare you..." and it isn't a close friend? They're doing their level best to scare the tar out of you.
There's always some risk attendant to letting people you don't know well into your home. It's just part of the risk of being alive. Or in leaving the house, for that matter. I'm even willing to believe that Ted was honestly concerned about our welfare, because I had mentioned that I knew this guy had quoted low because he needed the work. I knew this because the man had told me that, to my face. In turn I had asked him, "Okay, so what would your quote be normally?" He said, "On labor, it's a twelve hundred dollar job. Don't let anyone charge you more than that."
That's the guy I ended up hiring, and I paid his regular price. He'd showed up on time, been very forthright, and he didn't impugn anyone else's character to get the job.
In my own turn I lobbed back something to Ted that, while true, is also a way of pulling a passive aggressive end to a debate. I told Ted, truthfully, that this was a painter my husband had found, and that when stubborn people marry you end up ceding to each other on a regular basis. It's true, but it was also an attempt to shut the door on the conversation. Another thing I've found is that male contractors tend to back down when someone, in this case me, produces a stubborn 6'4" husband as the buck-stops-there. People may assume, because my appearance doesn't quite match my interior, that I'm easy to push around. Oddly enough, no one ever assumes that about my husband. So yes, I played the card that essentially reads, "Yeah, take that up with my large, obstinate husband, it'll go well. Ha. Ha. Ha."
There's only one thing that gave me pause. Back when I met Ted and had him paint our kitchen/family room I had asked him another important question, "Do you use subcontractors for any of your work?"
I asked him because it's an important question, and one I urge people to ask. Some contractors use subs for labor, which is fine, but make sure they use the same ones over and over. That they are not contracting people they don't know well. Hal, our risen contractor, made a big mistake on our addition. He hired a sub contractor on drywall that he'd never worked with before. The crew did great work, but Hal, due to the entire "briefly dead, back soon!" footnote on our project, didn't pay this contractor in a timely manner. Causing the biggest drywalling crew boss in the land to walk into the half completed addition, knock on an interior door, and try to muscle a check out of me right then and there, by means of threatening me.
I'm married to a big guy, I barely even notice when someone tops six feet these days, because my daily reality is a guy who dwells far above me. This drywaller was Gigantic. Paul Bunyan's cousin who went into contracting, essentially. Probably somewhere around 6'8" and he was clearly trying to use that to his advantage. He encountered the fact that, realistically, I may look a bit China Doll-ish, but that conceals my inner Roller Derby Queen, who only comes out in special circumstances. For instance, when a mammoth contractor demands a check, while attempting to chase me backwards through my house. For the approximately six seconds I was backing away in confusion, I'll bet he thought it was working. The seventh second proved him wrong when I blew up like a volcano directly in his face. People across the street heard me, and we lived in a brick house. The man's hair practically blew back in the gale force of my extreme fury .
I simply lucked out in that the guy was all bluster, and not dangerous, but believe me when I say, the entire reason I flew into the loudest, and most threatening rage of my life was that as I took one last step backwards in shock, it occurred to me: The security door on the front door behind me was locked, if I didn't back that man out of my house, and he actually had any ill intent, I was in very, very serious trouble.
He retreated, practically cowering. I called Hal to inform him that the man needed to be paid by the end of the day, or there would be consequences beyond the telling of it. Make no mistake though, that had scared the bejeebers out of me and I've been very careful ever since. A further footnote to that is that my husband does not yell. I've heard him yell on exactly three occasions, the man doesn't shout unless safety is on the line and, to understate it, he got a little loud in his own turn. Poor Hal.
I mention this because, after I had retrieved my jaw from the floor, and rounded up my eyebrows from the lap they were taking around my entire skull after reading Ted's email, I remembered something. I'd told Ted the story of the Towering Drywall Man.
"I'm not trying to scare you, but..."
I do have to wonder if the end of that sentence should really have been, "...I know how to."
It remains possible that Ted truly was just concerned that the painter I'd hired was going to murder us all in our beds, and that I'd end up having my body identified by means of the remnants of my tattered left earlobe.
The last I heard from Ted and his portents of doom was to not pony up any dough until the job was done. That's sound advice.
I've dealt with a lot of contractors, I've seen a lot of sales techniques that range from the above-board to the sly implication, but I'll tell you something, I don't think Ted would have chosen that approach had he been communicating solely with my husband. Gender intimidation as a sales technique?