#39: You Get What You Pay For

#39: You Get What You Pay For

He seemed to be everything I had been looking for! He carried the hearty recommendation of a good friend! He was available at a moment’s notice! He was responsive to my every whim! He was (ahem) well-equipped!

I am talking, of course, about my handyman.

Before putting your house on the market, you have to look at it with very particular eyes. Each bit of deferred maintenance, every shoddy paint job and broken thing will take away from your bottom line. The time to Repaint! Rearrange! & Repair! has come, and with it a long to-do list and umpteen trips to Home Depot. But you know, in your orange-aproned heart of hearts, there are some things beyond your capabilities. In fact, it could be that your attempt at one or all of the 3 R’s is what broke one of the things that now needs fixing. Some jobs do need a professional.

The professional in my case was a super nice handyman of about 65 with a van full of tools and good references. Unfortunately, he also had a time-crunching smoking habit and a serious case of plumber’s crack. But his availability was immediate, his estimates low, and in the end I was really pleased with how he handled my project list. So much so that when I moved into my new place, I started up another list for him to tackle. It never occurred to me to call anyone else.

It also didn’t occur to me that what seemed neat and clean and sufficient for the person who was buying my old house, was a totally different standard than what I wanted in my new place. I’m not talking about structural or safety issues, but cosmetic details. Things that can be transformed with caulk and touch up paint and matching hardware. Things that were not, time would prove, my chosen handyman’s specialty.

Here’s an example. My master bath is a teeny, tiny room with no window. I’m a bit claustrophobic, so I usually leave the door open (I live alone, so there is no one for this to bother). But when I, um, sat upon the throne, as it were, I was staring straight at the hinges for the door. Hinges, I’m sorry to say, that were covered in a delightful combination of old paint and ever-increasing rust.

You wouldn’t think that a set of hinges would have so much to say, but these spoke to me every day. In my mind, they were evidence that my house had not been especially well-treated by its previous owners, one of which I affectionately refer to as “that crook who sold this house to me.” Every time I sat down, the hinges whispered, “Hey, remember that time when it rained in your living room, just two days after closing? The ancient furnace that frightened your home inspectors, but Mr. Crook wouldn’t replace? The hole in the roof he ‘fixed’ with the cheap-contractor equivalent of silly putty and scotch tape?”

The state of these hinges repeatedly reinforced my fear that I had made a poor choice, had been ripped off. Until one day when I finally realized that I could throw a few dollars at the problem and have some installed that might say nice things for a change. New ones would be bright! Clean! Rust-free! What could go wrong, right?

My handyman replaced the hinges, just as I asked. And while I might have preferred them to have a tres chic oil rubbed bronze finish, the bright brass ones he selected do just as good a job attaching the door to the wall. I’m the only one who sees them, right? What earthly difference does it make that there is a monster scratch down the middle of the brass plate of the new hinge I’m facing most often?

Most homeowners would consider rust or scratches on an interior door hinge a paltry problem. I surely would have said so, the day it rained inside my living room. But it’s funny, knowing that someone else has it so very much worse doesn’t always help you deal with your own issues. At the end of the day, I’m still staring at that blasted hinge with eyes that have always been irresistibly drawn to minor imperfections. This is an essential skill in my professional life, where I “stage” writings like a house for sale, polishing every tiny detail. But this tendency is a source of endless irritation to me as a homeowner. You are never, ever, ever at a place where there is nothing that needs to be done to your house.

I have no neat ending to this wordy rant. I’ve just given a few symptoms of an overarching problem in myself that I haven’t yet figured out how to solve. And maybe that is just it, this is a tension I need to learn how to live with. So far, my best approach is, oddly enough, adapted from a song lyric: “Change the voices in your head. Make them say nice things instead.” I’m not sure I’d advocate taking many of Pink’s suggestions for life management, but that seems like a good one.

If you have any coping strategies, I would love to hear about them in the comments! And if you happen to know the name of a detail-oriented handyman in the North Atlanta area, I would really love to hear that, too. Until then, may your hinges be rust and scratch free and say only nice things to you! And your handyman’s crack be completely covered.

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