More house costs

Before, with a vengeance

Before, with a vengeance

At the downtown house, Richard, intrepid proprietor of Dick’s Landscaping, has set his crew to ripping out the neglected debris and broken sidewalks that are the front and back yards and installing a minimalist desert landscape, the least we can get by with and still end up with a pleasing, low-water, low-maintenance yard. Dick’s has done the landscaping for my present home and for the last house I lived in, and in both cases they did a top-flight job.

I was going to have Gerardo do this, but given his tendency to show up whenever he feels like it and his taste in shady employees, I thought better of it. One of us would have had to be present at all times to be sure they didn’t do something goofy, and neither of us can be away from our jobs for a week or two…especially when part of that week or two is likely to be spent waiting for him to not appear on the job. Gerardo would have been a lot cheaper, but you get what you pay for.

On the other hand…  God Herself would have done the work for less than Richard charges. I managed to get him to come down $1,000 off his original bid, but despite the fact that AMEX charges him 11 percent for the privilege of letting me rack up the $12,000 price on my card, he wouldn’t give us a discount if we paid in cash.

Yeah, you read that right: Twelve grand. It’s actually cheap, believe it or not. You can expect to spend upwards of $20,000 to install desert landscaping in a yard that’s already infested with grass. M’hijito and I will split the cost 50-50. By putting it on my American Express card and paying it off in cash at the end of the month, we’ll “earn” (snark!) a munificent $120 kickback from AMEX, nothing like a 5 or 10 percent discount off Richard’s fee. Oh well. It’s better than a whack upside the head. Marginally.

Drawing $6,000 out of my credit-union savings account will avoid having to create a taxable event to get my hands on the cash, but it will drop my short-term emergency fund to $1,100, something that I don’t like at all. Well—not literally: that’s the balance after withholding $2,500 for to cover COBRA between canning day and my 65th birthday. If we’re wildly lucky and the State of Arizona doesn’t screw its employees on health insurance this fall (a very long shot, indeed: with the legislature balancing its budget on the backs of our children and the State’s lowest-paid workers, you can be sure the screwing will be deep and thorough), the discounted COBRA actually will be less than Medicare will cost me. So I should be able to cover that from cash flow. That means the post-landscaping emergency fund will actually amount to about $3600.

Between now and December 30 I will deposit another $2,020 into that account from my regular paychecks. And if my figures are right, I should net about $5,000 from the community college moonlighting. So that will bring the actual canning-day fund to $10,620, more than enough to serve as the cushion I believe I’ll need during the lean summer months. Even if I have to spend the $2,500 on COBRA, as I expect will happen, enough will be left to get by.

And that’s a conservative figure. We get a so-called “extra” paycheck this month; that will add another $1,000 to savings. And if somehow I can make GDU pay my back vacation pay in my last paycheck (apparently they’re supposed to do that, but I know they delayed paying it to My Bartleby for two or three pay periods after she left), that will be another $3,100 net, for a potential December 31 total of $14,720. Soooo…. I don’t feel too worried.

For our money, we will get a very large project done, with Richard and his foreman riding herd on the workmen instead of me having to do it. Also, at least one of these guys is a skilled mason—he built the courtyard in my front yard and did a gorgeous job of it. The plans include…

Jackhammer out the decrepit walkway in front
Shovel out all the parched bermudagrass and berserk weeds, front, back, both sides
Remove a large volunteer lantana blocking the side gate
Haul away the debris
Grade the decrepit driveway
Use our 15-cent-apiece bricks to build a patio around the front door and a pretty winding walkway from the patio to the street
Build a low block wall around the new front patio; plaster and paint it; cap it with red brick to match the house
Install two wrought-iron gates in this wall
Plant a good-sized desert willow in front, to shade the living-room window
Plant two bottle trees next to the west wall, to shade the westside master bedroom
Build a brick patio outside the French doors we installed in the back bedroom
Build a brick patio in the far northeast corner of the backyard, designed as a sitting area
Brick another area for outdoor cooking, to accommodate two barbecue/smokers with space for a couple of cooks to play with their food
Plant Sonoran emerald paloverdes to shade each of these patios
Plant clump grasses and other easy-on-the-eyes ornamentals around the two sitting areas
Plant a Mexican lime and a Texas ebony in back
Build planting beds around the existing patio and along the back wall
Install drip-and-bubbler watering systems front and back
Provide extra lines for us to connect drip lines as we wish to add new plantings in the future
Lay down anti-weed fabric everywhere
Lay down 75 tons of quarter-minus, front and back, also paving the driveway with quarter-minus

The only thing we had to cut to save the thousand bucks was the proposed flagstone walkway between the house and the back sitting area. This is something we can do ourselves, for a lot less than $1,000. Especially if we can work another estate sale bargain on the flags.

Could we do all this work ourselves and save about 60 percent of the cost?

Men working, in front

Men working, in front

Well…in a word, no. We could in theory do some of it. But most of it is way too heavy for us to manage, and although I’ve operated a tractor, neither of us knows how to operate a backhoe.

I have laid bricks, and I know how to build a serviceable patio. However, I was 25 when I built my last patio. I’m now almost 65. Do I really want to haul, spread, grade, and tamp several tons of sand and lay 1,500 bricks (and then some)? No. Could I even do it, at my age? Highly doubtful. Furthermore, I do not know how to build, plaster, and cap a block wall, and I don’t want to learn.

M’hijito works a truly miserable job that sends him home worn out, and so far he has shown no inclination nor talent for physical labor. As a practical matter, he’s not going to do it. So, to the extent it gets done, we either hire someone else to do it or his doddering mother and her campesino yard guy do it. I do not even want to think about the characters El Campesino is likely to trot in to spread 75 tons of quarter-minus and dig holes to plant six 24-gallon trees. Argh!

So: no, we could/would not do it ourselves. I think this project will be worth it in the long run, since one of us will be living in that house far into the foreseeable future.

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