I have been a homeowner for all of three years. I had rented since college and when we lived in LA, we chose to only rent because we weren’t sure we were there for good. Oh, and because it took a huge cash outlay to even be considered a serious buyer.
In these three years I have learned there are a lot of things that come with home ownership that I wasn’t aware of, especially from a maintenance perspective. Owning a home is not just about paying the mortgage and making it look pretty—it’s also about maintaining the home.
I knew we would have to replace windows at some point, but a few things I didn’t know:
- You need to clean out the dryer vent to prevent lint fires from happening
- Showers on the second floor of a home can begin leaking through a pencil size hole in the main floor ceiling
- Sump pump motors can go out
- In the Midwest and areas where it gets cold, you must have a humidifier during the winter
- Monitoring for bugs is a must and if there are issues do some remediation (think lots of spiders, termites, etc.)
In the last three years, I’ve ran into all those things happening … all of them. We had to rely on service providers to guide us through most, as we aren’t the handiest. We can do minor things, and we do our best to do some things ourselves, but these all seemed to deserve more expert eyes. They were all unexpected, and at minimum potentially expensive situations. They were situations where I was left to communicate with, question, and understand the service providers.
In two situations, I felt as if I was being taken advantage of. In one of the situations, we had excellent service.
In these three examples, we demonstrate how to be a financially savvy homeowner and how to not let others take advantage of you.
Stand your ground
The first negative situation I had was our first winter in the home. We realized in November or December that our house was unusually dry. Our skin was dry, we felt like we were getting shocked more than usual, and we knew something was off. Luckily we had a thermometer in the house that also told us the humidity in our house was lower than it should be. My husband checked on our humidifier, which was attached to our hot water heater, and realized it was not working.
We called a local maintenance company that specialized in HVAC equipment. A person came into our house to diagnose the problem. He indicated we had an odd brand for a humidifier, one they had not seen before, but that he thought they could order a part or two and it would be up and running in no time.
So, they ordered the part and within a few days, another maintenance person was in our house to fix the issue; however, the parts didn’t fix the problem. Again, the maintenance person commented on how they had never seen our humidifier before, but thought they only needed one more part to fix it.
Finally, a third person (the second one focused on fixing the problem) came into our home. He went down to the basement and came right back up. He began lecturing me about my choice of humidifier and how he couldn’t believe I was repairing it and that I should be putting in an entirely new humidifier. His language was very direct and accusatory and I was very taken aback.
I did not pick out the humidifier we had, and each of his colleagues had indicated that they could get it repaired. I don’t know if it was a generational issue, a gender issue, or if he had certain motives.
Ultimately, I felt like he was trying to pressure me into changing to completely replacing the humidifier—costlier than the repair.
I held my ground, and did not let him make me feel guilty for anything that I had no control over. I did not buy the humidifier; I did not make the choice to replace over repair, as previous individuals at his company had all been focused on the repair route. I did not let him intimidate me.
This is my home, and while he works for a different company, while he is in my home, he works for me. I told him I did not appreciate his accusatory language or his pressure. I stood my ground. He was a little shocked that I would push back, and he quickly realized he would be best suited doing the job he came into our home to do.
Within 30 minutes he had the humidifier repaired and working. Two years later, with regular maintenance, that same odd humidifier (don’t even ask what it is because I don’t know!) is still working.
We always want to be polite, which we default to, but there are situations where we must hold our ground. That instance was one of them. That man may have been having a rough or an off day, but ultimately my fear is that he will walk into someone else’s home and pressure them into something they don’t need. Which leads into my next story about a time where a sales person was pushing me into some unneeded service.
Get a second opinion
Another thing I was not prepared for were spiders. We moved into our house in April, and by mid-summer it seemed like there were huge spiders everywhere on the outside of the house. They were making huge webs on our porch, on bushes, etc. They were everywhere. We had only spotted a small spider or two within the house, but I was worried that our daughter would get herself too close to a web outside or the spiders would decide to move into our house as it started getting colder.
So, we decided to look for someone to spray around our immediate house.
We have used that company to come and look over our house for bugs about once a quarter since, and they put down a treatment for spiders outside. After about two years of using their service, they offered to do a free termite inspection, so we took them up on it. Termites had been spotted in our garage and in one spot in the basement by the prior owners. They had taken care of it well before our home inspections, and our home inspection showed no sign of any live activity.
The guy came over on a day I was at home working, and it also happened to be unseasonably cold at about 10 degrees Fahrenheit that day. He introduced himself, and asked about prior termite issues, to which I showed him the spots previously identified by the prior owners. There was no sign of any live bugs there or anywhere else he could point to form within the house (our basement was unfinished, so he could see all of the woodwork). He then went for a walk around the house.
He came back into the house to announce he had identified wood rot from termites. He said there was a post out back, which was likely from an old deck, through which he could push his pen. Therefore, we needed to do termite treatment.
He started educating me on how a queen lived 30 feet below our house and was likely attached to the prior issues that were identified. He then immediately started going into the treatment process. They would come lay out bait stations, which would have an upfront cost of $200 and then a $50 fee for every month for two years. So basically, a total of $1400 for it all. He was ready for me to sign on the bottom line to get this treatment plan in motion.
Absolutely, not, I thought.
I looked at him in shock. I couldn’t believe it, and my senses were saying that his pitch didn’t feel right. If there were real termite issues, even with it being cold, he would have walked me around to show me the evidence and show me the real need. So, involuntarily, I said to him, “you expect me to pay you $1400 for this and you haven’t even shown me any real evidence of anything going on.” As is my way of getting myself out of one-on-one discussions like this, I said I would have to talk with Mark about it and we would get back with him.
He said he would send me a report, the standard practice for his company, and be in touch. He then left to head to his next appointment. He was maybe at our property for 15 minutes.
That night we looked at our email, we had an invoice for termite treatment, but no report related to the identified issue or any pictures of the damaged area. It was basically, sign here on this dotted line to hand over $1400 bucks in return for some termite treatment. Listen, if there are actual termites, that is serious and I get that we would need to take that seriously, but this situation felt wrong.
I went to look at the post myself the following day. It was simply a post, in the ground, that was rotted due to weather. There were not any termites, for which I watched several YouTube videos about how to detect active termites.
The guy called asking why we hadn’t signed the contract, to which we told him we were extremely disappointed with the sales process and that we thought there were a lot of misrepresentations. We ultimately decided to go somewhere else for the spider control, too, because at that point I felt like I was not dealing with an honest company.
I’m sure that one guy was using the company lines, and doing what he was told to do by superiors, for which I don’t blame him but am curious to know what he thinks of his job. We have since had additional termite inspections from another company and have not had any recommendations for any type of treatment. It’s always important to get a second opinion when you aren’t confident in the first.
Trust professionals who take their time
Now, let’s talk about a great experience, because that’s as great of a lesson as the negative situations. And it is important to know and recognize that not all companies/service professionals are just out pushing expensive, unnecessary things and instead are truly providing us with services for which we should be grateful.
Our basement previously had a water issue, which we corrected by regarding the outside landscaping. The previous owners had put in a sump pump and French drain to deal with the issue while they lived here.
One fall day, after a few days of lots of rain, Mark heard a weird noise in the basement, so he went down to inspect. When he came up from the basement he was covered in water from head to toe. He looked like Ace Ventura walking out of the bathroom after wrestling with the shark. I laughed and asked what had happened. He said it was the sump pump making an odd noise, and when he opened the lid water sprayed everywhere. Something was clearly wrong with the sump pump.
We are not experts on sump pumps, clearly, so we looked up plumbing services in the area. I think it was a Sunday, so most plumbing businesses were closed, but one answered and said they could have someone to our house in an hour. The person showed up and did some diagnostics and quickly determined the motor needed to be replaced. It was going to be expensive, but we knew we wanted to keep the basement dry and, with the number of rainy days in the forecast, the sump pump was immediately necessary.
She took the time to explain to Mark and showed him where the piece in the old motor was broken. She really educated him on why that piece was so important and why that was the cause of the water spraying. This made us confident in her diagnosis of the issue.
She then explained to us multiple options including that she would give us all of the information to go buy and install a motor ourselves, to save us labor costs, or she could take care of it all. She was in no rush to get out of the door and answered every question.
Ultimately we made our choice on what we wanted and we went ahead and had her procure the motor and install it herself. The cost of the install was offset by the time it would save us having to go buy the motor, and the time to install it and question if we got it right.
We hadn’t planned to write that check that day for her service, but the service was timely, appropriate, and we felt like we were respected through the entire process.
I am not an expert in any of these things: sump pumps, termite control, or humidifier repairs. I never have been and never will be. There will be more situations in our home where things go awry, and we will need to seek out experts to help us. I am confident that with respect to anything that happens, I will take them as they come and be a skeptical consumer, so that I don’t get taken advantage of.
I will not be pressured into making hasty decisions, I will get second opinions if needed, I will not be treated as an inferior person or disrespected because I don’t know the ins and outs of their trade.
I will find people that will answer my questions and reasonably educate me on my needs.
As consumers, we often feel like we don’t have a voice or that we shouldn’t push back, and we need to make it clear that our voices will be heard or there is no business to be done.
- I will not make hasty financial decisions in high-pressure situations.
- I will stand my ground when I feel someone is trying to take financial advantage of me.
- I will seek providers who answer my questions fully and educate me on my needs.