Luneray’s home-buying adventure is over, but I’d like to continue to share home-ownership stories every Thursday. Fortunately, I’ve got some doozies of my own to share. For the next few weeks, I’ll describe what it’s like to move into an old house.

Two years ago — just before I developed my frugal side — my wife and I bought an old house. It was the place of our dreams: two stories, hardwood floors, lots of windows, gorgeous architectural details, several outbuildings, and three-fifths of an acre. The place wasn’t perfect. It had been occupied by the same family for nearly forty years, and it felt like it. We moved in at the end of June 2004 with a huge list of projects.

We had a few weeks to tackle these before the sale of our existing home closed. With the help of a half dozen friends, we peeled the wallpaper in the dining room, parlor, and den. Upon doing so, we discovered that we could not paint the underlying drywall (which wasn’t actually drywall in many spots). We proceeded to rip off the wallboards, revealing the old ship-lap siding beneath.

We called in drywall contractors, got bids, and scheduled a guy to start as soon as possible. Our $500 painting project had turned into a $5000 drywall project.

“You know,” said W., our drywall contractor. “While you have these walls exposed, you really ought to do some blown insulation. If you do it from the inside, the holes will be covered by the new drywall.”

“That’s a great idea!” we said. “Can you recommend anyone?”

“Sure. Try P. from GCS — he does excellent work.” Coincidentally, a close friend had also recommended P. from GCS. And a consultant from the Energy Trust recommended P. from GCS, too. P. from GCS had a high reputation for quality work.

I called P. from GCS and explained that we had drywall work starting in a couple of weeks — could he come out to give us a bid on insulating our house? He dropped by and toured the house. “This is a beautiful Old Home,” he said. “Let me assure you that we’ll take steps to provide improved insulation while preserving the Old Home’s Historical Integrity.”

“Great,” I said. “When can you start?”

“Right away,” he said. “Let me go back to the office and work up a quote.”

This was a Monday. Tuesday passed with no quote. And Wednesday. And Thursday. On Thursday afternoon I began to fret. I called P. He apologized. He’d been Swamped but would get the quote over right away.

“When can you start?” I asked, worried that he was Swamped.

“Oh, in about two weeks.”

My heart cracked in seventeen places. We felt we needed to have the insulation done before the drywall work started, and that the drywall work had to start on the twelfth. Kris and I went over P.’s price quote and selected a handful of insulation measures. I called P. on Friday morning and told him we’d like to proceed, but that we needed at least the blown insulation part of the job done by Monday the twelfth.

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said.

Friday passed with no word on what he could do. And then Independence Day weekend came and went. On Tuesday, I was in a panic.


I called P. again. “Oh, we’ll have a crew out there Thursday,” he said. But on Thursday, P. called me early in the morning. “The crew ran late yesterday. They may not get a chance to start on your house today.” Despite P.’s concern, the crew did start on Thursday. When I pulled up to the house after work, they were loading the van to leave. I could tell right away something was wrong.

“Are you the owner?” asked a young man, tattooed and sweaty. “We have a bit of a Problem,” he said. He led me into the house, through the kitchen, to the dining room. He pointed at the wainscoting. The beautiful wainscoting, the focal point of the dining room, sported nineteen two-inch diameter holes evenly spaced around the perimeter of the room.

Inside, my heart shattered. Outside, I grinned feebly and said, “Wow. P. told me that you wouldn’t touch the wainscoting.”

The young man shook his head, frowning. “He forgot to tell us.”

I called P. immediately and, with a minimum of panic, told him what happened. He had the right answer: “We’ll do whatever it takes to make it so you cannot notice the holes.” I felt reassured. Still, when Kris got home, her heart shattered, too. We agreed that on Friday morning she would have have a talk with the contractors.

Which she did. And they appeased her. And they continued their work. Then, fifteen minutes before I was scheduled to leave work, she called in panic. “There’s been another Problem,” she said. “They were putting the insulation in the attic when one of the workers fell through the ceiling.”

My shattered heart crumbled to tiny pieces.

“Come home,” said Kris. “Now.”

It’s difficult to drive home with a shattered, crumbled heart, but I managed. The sweaty, tattooed guy grimaced at me as I passed him on the lawn. “There’s another small Problem,” he said. He led me upstairs. There, in the hallway, was a large hole where the other worker had fallen through the ceiling.

I shook my head.

I wanted to talk to Kris about the Problems, but didn’t feel I could around the contractors. We headed to the Panda Chinese Buffet. Over a lunch of Szechuan chicken and Chinese dumplings, she told me about the meeting she’d had with P., who had dropped by to look in on the project.

“He was re-assuring,” she said. “He could tell that I was panicked, and he told me, ‘I know that these seem like huge problems to you. But we can deal with them, we can fix them. To us these are little problems.’ I told him that wasn’t completely reassuring, but that maybe I’d feel better later.”

We both felt more relaxed after lunch, and driving home we were even in high spirits. Then, as we walked in the back door, the same worker who had fallen through the ceiling tipped a bookshelf filled with bottles and boxes and cans of cooking supplies. The back of the shelf popped off, and foodstuffs tumbled to the ground.

“It’s like the Keystone Kops doing contracting work,” I muttered. We turned back around and left. We went to see a movie. Our new Old Home was beginning to feel like a Money Pit.

When the time came to settle the bill, P. stopped by to collect a check. We sat down at the kitchen table. “Look,” I said. “You guys have caused us a lot of trouble. What can you do to compensate?”

P. was taken aback. “We already paid the drywall folks to repair the hole in the ceiling, and we patched the holes in the wainscot. What more do you want?” I wanted some sort of discount, was what I wanted. But he wouldn’t give me one. I paid him and sent him on his way, believing this was but a momentary nightmare. I was wrong.

To be continued…

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