A few years ago my wife and our found ourselves in a whirlwind of a few months as we surprisingly packed up our house and moved. Wow. That statement summarizes so much. My days were so busy I would say I did “cross fit” for 12 to 14 hours a day… packing boxes, moving things, taking donations to thrift shops or the dump, fixing things… it was exhausting.
We found ourselves in a move we didn’t imagine we’d be in. It was good, but it was a ton of work.
The plan was for us to sell our house and use the earned equity as down payment on the next house we would move into. As you can imagine, this would reduce our overall financial risk and help keep our monthly mortgage payments lower.
Unfortunately, and to everyone’s surprise, our house didn’t sell. It was a hot market, they told us. We had a great house, they told us. The location was perfect, they told us. This would be a slam dunk, and we should have multiple offers within the first couple of days.
Instead, we had no offers, even after putting a significant amount of money into some construction to fix the place up (it was sparkly nice and had that new-house-smell — so good!).
This was unplanned and scary. Plan B, which we hadn’t even thought about, became to turn our house into a rental property. So there we are, in a new learning curve, with a high sense of urgency. I didn’t want to pay for two mortgages, and was anxious to have a positive experience with renters.
We’ll four years later, I can say that has been a blessing. We’ve had amazing renters in that house since day one. We haven’t had any problems that I can think of, except one.
The first family that moved in came from out of state. They seemed like a great family (and they were… we were so happy to have them in there). They drove in late, around 9 or 10pm, and had a crew of family helping unload their truck. I was sure they would be exhausted. My wife and I made a little “welcome to our home, now your home” kit which had our favorite Papa Murphy’s pizzas in the fridge, our favorite ice cream, and some green smoothies in case they were healthier than that. We had paper plates and napkins and nice “welcome” note. We wanted to start this relationship off warmly.
I got a call from the dad as they were moving in, in November, saying the heater wasn’t working.
OH BROTHER. The heater. Stupid heater. To be honest, we hadn’t had problems with the heater before, so this was news to me. I went down to check it out and I couldn’t figure it out… I think by this time it was 10 or 11pm, and this poor, tired family just wanted to finish unpacking (there were at least a dozen guys around unloading their truck – it was chaos), and I wanted them to have a pleasant experience. I wanted to be a responsible landlord.
So I called a heating and air company. I don’t remember why I called the one I did, but they have a very big name here locally. I thought “well, if everyone else uses them, they must be good.”
You might imagine where I’m going with this.
They came out and did some diagnostics, and said something surprising: “You have a very slow carbon monoxide leak.” Carbon monoxide. This is seriously scary stuffy. The new renter was standing right next to me, but even if he wasn’t, I was scared. I was a bit panicked. I absolutely didn’t want my new, my first, renters to not wake up the next morning because of carbon monoxide.
I’m not an HVAC expert. I just knew carbon monoxide was bad. And so I had them fix it. The fix was to replace EVERYTHING. To the tune of $20,000.
That is a ton of money. I did not have that money. I would have, if I would have sold my house, but we just dumped a lot of money into finishing the basement, and fixing things up, and I was at the end. It was okay, though, because this HVAC company had a financing partner, and we could finance the whole thing.
Not fun, but I was not going to have four deaths on my name. So the only answer seemed to be YES. FIX IT.
Looking back now, I should have said, “wow, you guys, go to a hotel. A nice one. I’ll pay for it. Get a couple of rooms, rest from your trip, and I’ll make some calls in the morning to get this resolved.” It might have cost me $500 or $600 to do that, but that is a far cry better than the panicked decision-making I did that cost me $20,000 PLUS criminally high interest. Seriously, I felt, and still do, duped.
A few weeks later I read an article that said that HVAC companies have devices to measure carbon monoxide and can always detect very small, trace amounts, and that is how they convince home owners to replace their entire systems.
Fast forward a few months and we had HVAC issues at our own house. I was disgusted with this HVAC company (for more reasons, which is too much for this post), and I mentioned it to my mechanic. “Who do you use?” I asked. He said, “Oh, call Tony! He is amazing, and does all of my stuff.”
I called Tony, on my mechanic’s recommendation, and he came out and replaced a unit for maybe $4,000. One fifth of what the huge, well-marketed company charged. I was sick to my stomach. I had made a rush decision with little information when I was in a place of fear. And it cost me dearly.
Enough about that story. Here’s how it applies to you:
Lesson #1: Uninformed decision based on scare tactic
I’m not an HVAC expert. I didn’t know that many systems emit a tiny bit of carbon monoxide. I talked to someone from a different company who taught me that this is one of the ways that other company gets people to spend thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars on something they don’t really need. Shameful, horrible, but it works for that company.
Take a minute, take a breath, and decide later. “If it’s a good idea today, it will be a good idea tomorrow. Or next week.”
Like I said, I should have sent the family to a hotel and paid for their food instead of signing my name on a $20,000 contract. But I was scared, and their little poison device showed there was a danger. I just didn’t realize that might have been a normal reading.
When you are in a job search everything is scary. When will you lose your house or apartment or car? When will you not be able to buy food? When will utilities get shut off? Slow down, take a breath, and think and make decisions with a level head.
Lesson #2: Get, and value, advice and input from others
I found an honest, amazing guy who wasn’t trying to meet a quote or get me to drop way too much money on something I didn’t need. I found him by asking others I trusted. I guarantee you know someone who knows someone who knows someone they trust. Instead of asking people I went with effective marketing, and I paid the price. It’s even okay to ask multiple people. Facebook makes that easy… I see posts like that all the time. But talk to people who have been in a home for a while and they will tell you who their favorite tile person or electrician or whatever service provider is. These are people already vetted.
In the job search, ask people how they landed their job. Maybe everyone will say through job boards, or maybe most people will say they knew someone who knew someone (that is networking). You don’t have to do this alone… ask others. There is no shame in asking, and many people are more than glad to share what they have learned, help you avoid pitfalls, and learn about tactics and tools that actually work.
My tale is still something that makes me wince. But I won’t have to learn that lesson with that company again. I’m done with them. The good lessons I learned, though, will stay with me. I’ve even got my own little list of service providers I trust, and I’ll share them with my neighbors… if they ask.