Coffee heat rising

The Workman Waltz: Flirtation Stage

So here we are at the first stage of hiring workmen to replace the air conditioner and reroof the house. The insurance company ponied up about $11,100 for a new AC, a new roof, and repairs to the CoolDeck. That amount will cover the air conditioner and the roof, just barely.

I joined up Angie’s List by way of getting names of contractors who have at least not driven SOME people into fits of rage. The result was a little mixed, but I did find a roofer who’s supposedly OK. And, having become disenchanted with my own AC guy after the company changed hands, I’d already learned of one air-conditioning contractor from my neighbor Sally; the other new neighbors, who moved in to Dave’s (former) Used Car Lot, Marina, and Weed Arboretum, recommended a second one based in Sunnyslope, right around the corner from us.

M’hijito and I have used a roofer—both houses needed to be reroofed shortly after we purchased them—who did a good job and seemed to be honest. I called him and found him strangely reluctant, but he showed up and produced a bid of $7,200: almost $2,000 more than he bid five years ago to roof the same house, when he had to replace rotted plywood to the tune of $48.50 per sheet.

The Sunnyslope roofer wanted $5,400 to install a 14-seer Goodman air conditioner, the smallest SEER for which the government will disgorge a $1,500 tax kickback on a high-efficiency unit.

$5,400 + $7,200 = $12600
$12,600 – $11,100 = $1,500

Unfortunately, it’s highly  unlikely that I’ll ever see any tax refund from that federal offer, because it’s unlikely that I will pay any taxes at all this year. Thanks to the costs of Medicare B, Medicare D, Medigap, and long-term care insurance, my medical costs—before the $700 pair of glasses—far exceed 7.5% of my income. Social Security, the main source of my 2010 income, is taxed under some strange and incomprehensible system that keeps the cost fairly low, and I’ve hardly drawn down any of my savings this year. Income from teaching is even more minuscule than Social Security benefits. And the S-corporation will shelter almost all my freelance income, which was more minuscule still.

So…I’m going to have to land the best deal I can on the least cheesy product anyone will offer me.

The Sunnyslope air-conditioning guy came in with a bid of $5,400, and he proposed to defraud my insurance company by emanating a bid for a 14-SEER unit but calling it 13-SEER, since he claimed that the insurance company would pay for nothing better than 13-SEER—once again proving that crime doesn’t pay. Sally’s guy issued a bid for $5,200 for 14-SEER, hold the bullshit.

Two hundred dollars isn’t a big difference, but he didn’t propose to lie to the insurer. In my experience, if a person will cheat someone else, sooner or later he’ll cheat you, too.

Now about that $7,200 roof… The guy whose name I got from Angie’s list gave me a bid of $6,100, eleven hundred bucks better than my old roofer’s proposal. Same job, same quality of shingling (different brand, though), a little higher on replacing plywood, decking, molding, and fascia.

That’s getting down into the almost reasonable range.

$6,100 + $5,200 = $11,300

Only a couple hundred bucks more than the insurance has paid.

However, here is a very interesting site, where various kinds of contractors go online and talk shop. Get into the roofers’ forum, explore around, and eventually you’ll come to a thread where the men are chatting about a practice in which the outfits that descend on a town after a storm offer to pay a homeowner’s deductible to get their business. Well, there is an outfit in the neighborhood just now that doesn’t appear to be altogether fly-by-night. It’s a little suspicious that the company’s A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau dates from November of 2010 (and, one might note, that when one looks into how you apply for an A+ rating, one is not left with much confidence in that), but the Registrar of Contractors shows that they’ve been in business for 20 years. They’re flying through with crews of six or eight men and reroofing each house in a day or two. I could ask for a bid and find out if they’ll come down the amount of the $2,000 deductible.

The forum-going roofing guys think this practice is unethical. Some of them think it’s illegal—they think it’s insurance fraud. However, it’s hard to see how it would be fraudulent if the insurance company has already paid out and has seen bids from legitimate companies that are not basing their bids on any such schemes. Once the insurance company has paid what its representatives think is fair, it’s up to the homeowner to find the best price within the confines of the amount she has to work with.

What fun! I can hardly wait to get started on the construction.

A$k and Re¢eive, Revisited

If you ever need a reminder to get bids for every…single…project of any kind, here’s a tale with that a moral to it:

Richard the Landscaper proposed to remove the dying ash in front for for $1,000, down from the original $1,500 he thought the market would bear. When I asked if he would please also remove the moribund plantings around the tree’s base, cover the stump with a mound of dirt, spread some more gravel there and arrange the existing rocks decoratively, and then plant one of the baby vitex trees I’ve cultivated in pots, he added $200 to his bid. So, as I’m facing unemployment I’m looking at a total of $1,200 to take down the tree and repair the landscaping.


I called the Desert Botanical Garden, which has a master gardener training program, and asked if they could refer any of their graduates. Forthwith came in the e-mail a list of a dozen certified arborists. So I called one—let’s call him Mike the Arborist. He just came by to view the jungle that is my yard and give me some estimates on the large amounts of pruning that need doing.

He said he would take out the dead ash tree for $500!!!!!

More ordinary tree trimming comes in the vicinity of $40 to $100, depending on the complexity and size of the job.

Covered with sharp thorns the size of tiger claws
Sharp thorns the size of tiger claws...trimmed back from the sidewalk less than a month ago!

For $225, he’ll also remove the ferocious palo brea on the south side, which has become a dangerous menace—passersby risk facial scratches and eye-gouges if they have the temerity to use the sidewalk in front of my house. For about $40 apiece, he’ll trim up the two trees the palo brea is crushing to help them fill out properly. For a few dollars more, he’ll trim the olive inside the front courtyard, restoring it to its former graceful splendor. With the job in the front yard, he’ll clean up the desert willow and restore the passageway between it and the Texas ebony free of charge.

In the back yard, he proposed some judicious trimming of the exuberant emerald paloverde—not enough to infringe on its shade-giving properties but a little pruning to keep it off the roof and discourage crossed limbs. And though he disapproved of  Satan‘s westside weeping acacia (yes—he and Proserpine actually planted two devil-pod trees in back, one where it would drop plaster-staining junk into the pool and the other where its limbs could snap off and fall on the house—or on the neighbor’s house), he recommended against removing it and suggested simply cleaning up the lower limbs, which are dying off  because they’re not getting enough light.

So, instantly the guy drove away, Richard got a call canceling the job he had yet to do. I think he’d forgotten about it, to tell the truth. Thank goodness! It looks to me like I can get ALL the pruning and tree removal—take out the dead ash and the nuisance palo brea, prune the palo verde, the olive, the vitex, the desert willow, and one of the hideous willow acacias in back, plus build the mound and move the stones onto it—for not a helluva lot more than Richard proposed for the ash and the mound (all told, R. wanted $1,200 for those jobs).

Wow! I was braced for an $800 to $1,000 bid just to do the basic trimming, to say nothing of removing the palo brea. Can you imagine?

Asked him what his background is and how he came to start a business. He said he and his wife had moved back to the US from Germany, where they’d started their family (she’s German), because they wanted more space and Arizona was where they could afford it. He started working for a large landscaping firm that was doing all the maintenance for the huge new developments out on the west and east sides. There he learned how to climb and prune trees, ended up as a manager, and started studying landscaping seriously. He became a certified arborist, and then after the economic collapse he and a partner bought an existing landscaping company that had about 35 accounts. He said their plan is to target small to medium-sized developments that are too small for the huge landscape maintenance firms to bother with. So…it sounds like he knows what he’s doing and he has some experience. He’s very clean-cut, well-spoken, and even though he’s a gringo he doesn’t look like an escaped convict.

My yard is desperately overgrown. It not only needs to have a huge, mature (dead!) ash tree removed, it needs serious work that verges on relandscaping. Some of that work really should be done by an expert. Unless I miss my guess, this single call to just one other contractor is going to save about $1,000 on the total job.

Get those estimates!

dollarWhenever you need to get work done by a contractor—any contractor—be sure to ask for several estimates. The range of prices you’re offered can be amazing!

Case in point: We need to have three short lengths of gutter installed along the freshly painted eaves of the downtown house. I’d like to get those seamless make-it-onsite things, which don’t cost much and which come in so many colors you can usually get one that closely matches the paint job.

Day before yesterday, I called three outfits that advertised free estimates. Two responded. The first sales rep, who called me back within minutes, showed up that very day and said he’d do the job for $600. The second outfit agreed to send an estimator over at 8:00 yesterday morning. She made the same measurements and pulled out an identical book of color chips…and then presented a bid of $430.

That’s a difference of $170! For the same, exact job with the same, exact product.


It gets better: The next estimator stalked around the house, measured, cogitated, waved his calculator, and disgorged an estimate of $325…just a little over half the amount the first guy wanted. Amazing!

Next: to find out how much it would cost to buy the materials at Home Depot and get a handyman to hang the stuff from the fasciaboards & rafters. This should be innaresting…