The world of home improvement contractors

roof
Roof – Not my roof

I live in an old house and it has an old roof that has been leaking on and off between and after repairs for some time now. It is time for a new roof. I know people who roof houses so I make some calls and get some people to give me a bid for a new roof.

There are a few other things the house needs but I am learning to keep my mouth shut about that and do one thing at a time.

Maybe my standards are too high. After all, I have been supporting my family for some time working as a salesperson on a 100% commission basis.

The first salesperson spent most of our time together answering questions that I didn’t have. My husband and I were forced to listen as he would not deviate from his script.  He did provide a written estimate but did not share any measurements. I ended up getting my own measurements so that I have a clue.

After his pitch, he wanted to know if he could wait out on the porch while we made a decision. He even promised a discount for an on the spot decision because making one less trip to our house would save him money.

We pretty much ruled the contractor out because we don’t want to see him three more times and we intensely dislike sales pitches and high-pressure sales tactics.

Another person we met with we called because they do roofs and windows. We asked them questions about replacement windows and they refused to give us any bids on the windows because it was a window company that recommended them to me. The reason why they were recommended is because they also do storm windows, the company that recommended them does not.

The salesperson believes he is being “ethical” since I want more than one bid and at that point, I didn’t have any bids I thought he was being a jerk. He actually told me that the company in question doesn’t do a very good job.  I would never talk to a potential client the way he talked to me. When I am asked to do something I think is unethical I just say no and I won’t bad mouth a competitor, not ever.

Another contractor stopped by at or invitation and actually brought a ladder and a roofer with. I didn’t have to ask about vents and gutters and flashing. He told me about it all and answered most of my questions before I even asked.  They promptly sent an estimate that was lower and far more complete than those of their competitors.

When they left our house my husband and I both felt better a little less worried and more confident about re-roofing.

When I meet with homeowners I like to be positive and assure them that I can do the work. People are far more interested in their own house and their own needs than they are in my company. I like to leave them a little information about who I am but I don’t use a script. There is no one size fits all script for every situation.

I would never make someone wait for an answer to a question while I give a sales pitch. I try to keep my focus on the needs of the homeowner because it is about them. They have a lot of choices because there are too many real estate agents in the area and many who can do an excellent job. In fact, it is a privilege and an honor to be invited into someone’s home.

Does anyone really like to be sold to? I don’t think so. I know from experience that there are ways to promote my services without ever using a hard sell, talking down to someone or being a jerk. When I offer my “free no-obligation consultation” I mean it and so do all agents affiliated with my company.

The clock is ticking and we need a roof before the ice dam season. We are waiting for three more estimates and hope that the company we choose can actually re-roof the house.

Some of the storm windows that are falling apart but I think we can make it another year which is probably how long it will take me to find someone who can do the work without being a jerk.

 

Get the house ready to be inspected

Here are a few simple things homeowners can do to head off common issues found during inspections conducted by buyers inspectors.

  1. Remove any old parts the contractor left by the furnace or water heater. Leftover parts may confuse inspectors and buyers and can lead to all sorts of negative assumptions about the condition of furnace and water heater.
  2. Make sure every light fixture in the house has a working light bulb in it. Inspectors may suggest a fixture isn’t working if the bulb is burned out.
  3. If there is a fuse box remove any old and all-new extra fuses and put them away.
  4. Clean the surfaces of the water heater and furnace.
  5. Make sure all of the windows have screens on them.
  6. Make sure all windows open and close.
  7. Check under every sink and remove any buckets if there is no leak present.
  8. Make sure all electrical outlets and light switches have covers.
  9. If extension cords are being used due to lack of outlets disconnect and remove the extension cords.
  10. Change the furnace filter.

Some of the items I am mentioning will just help to keep the list of items that need attention shorter which will leave a better impression on the buyer.

Some home inspectors don’t know what they are doing and others are excellent. There isn’t any licensure or even qualifications to be a home inspector in Minnesota. Over the years I have seen all sorts of crazy on home inspections. Sometimes home buyers kind of freak out and so do sellers when confronted with a list of repair requests.

Also, see the City of St. Paul Truth in Housing Inspection 

Older houses with older electrical systems

One of the wonderful things about old houses is they can be retrofitted. Even if a house was built without electricity or central heating it probably has both today and maybe Wifi too.

The answer is breakers. There are houses in St. Paul that still have old electrical boxes with fuses instead of breakers. Fuses seem to work fine but those boxes are at least 50 years old and some are much older. Having an ancient electrical system means having fewer circuits. Insurance companies do not like fuses and will charge more or they won’t provide insurance at all.

If the power is 100 amp and the fuse box does not have to be relocated prices for upgrading to breakers start at about $1500.00. It can cost twice as much if there is 60 AMP service or if the electrical box needs to be relocated.  It is easy enough to get an estimate from an electrician.

Any home can be sold as is but for homeowners who want to make improvements before they sell, I recommend upgrading the electrical system. It may actually save money.

We use our houses much differently today than we did in the 1950s. We use a lot more electricity. I have seen old fuse boxes with four or five circuits for the whole house. Newer electrical systems will include that many circuits just for the kitchen.

fuses and breakers
Electrical panels

 

Cold rainy spring

Hostas
Hostas

It has been a wonderful spring for hostas. My plants have never been so huge. This is what they looked like on June 1st.  Hostas are shade plants. I have several varieties along the north side of the house instead of a lawn. They are bee and butterfly friendly but won’t bloom for another month or so.

The vegetables and annual flower in the garden are not doing as well. Cooler weather has stunted their growth.

Got buckthorn?

Buckthorn is on the Minnesota DNR’s list of restricted noxious weeds. It is an invasive species that was imported from Europe and used for hedges. You may recall a couple of years ago goats were hired to eat the buckthorn growing in Indian Mounds Park.

This year I found some buckthorn in my yard and my neighbors are growing a large buckthorn bush along a fence. The way to get rid of buckthorn is to pull it out and dig out the roots. The plant I found was fairly small and easy to remove. It was hiding near my lilac bushes.

The plant is fairly easy to identify. When in doubt look for thorns at the base of the leaves where they join the stem.

Buckthorn plants that are two inches in diameter or larger are best controlled by cutting the stem at the soil surface and then covering or treating the stump to prevent re-sprouting. Cutting can be effectively done with hand tools (for a few plants), chain saws or brush cutters.

The Minnesota DNR has a lot of information about the plant and how to remove it. You will need a permit to have goats in your St. Paul yard but I suppose that is an option too.

Buckthorn Bush
buckthorn
Buckthorn

 

 

Bad landscaping Vs. Good landscaping

Great landscaping around a home has a high return on the dollar. It can be a great investment. Homeowners can do there own landscaping but should do a little research first.

Here is a short list of common landscaping mistakes that I see often.

  1. Shade plants in sunny areas.
  2. Sun-loving plants in the shade.
  3. Plants put too close together so that they are crowded and do not have room to grow.
  4. Planting too close to the house.
  5. Too many plants for the size of the space.
  6. Bushes and trees that completely block the view from the house to the street.

There are numerous books about landscaping. They can even be found at home improvement stores.

Neighborhood nurseries often offer advice and will answer questions about plants and landscaping for those who want to do it themselves.

When searching the internet for ideas make sure that the websites are for Minnesota gardens.

I have made just about every landscaping mistake a person can make. My biggest mistake was planting a small every green bush that was 6 inches high but grew to be eight feet tall.

Removing plants is not nearly as much fun and sometimes much more expensive than planting them.

It is important to have a plan and to choose the right plants for the plan. It helps to have an understanding of what size the plants will be as they mature and how much space, water and light each plant needs.