As The Old Saying Goes…

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Like most old sayings, it’s simple and true. You don’t need to know how to do everything in this world to survive. You simply need to know the right people to help you when you need it. Obviously, the more you can do for yourself, the more money you save in hiring people.

I got thinking about this topic a short time ago while my car was in the shop for some brake work. I brought my truck over to Hyannis Brake & Auto. I’ve been going to them for years because:

A. they’re good guys who know what they’re doing.

B. they don’t sell you what you don’t need.

The vibrations rippling through the cab of my truck every time I stepped on the brakes made me dread the worst. I went into this appointment being certain that I’d need new pads and would need to have the rotors machined down so they were once again smooth. Perhaps I would need all new rotors for an even bigger price tag. I was doing serious addition in my head and figured it would be in the $400-$500 range. Yikes! I even went so far as to tell them what I was thinking (certainly not something you want to do if you don’t know or trust the person with whom you’re dealing). A lesser quality business owner would seize upon that with, “Boy, you hit it right on the head! You need new everything. For a few dollars more, we’ll wash it, wax it, rotate the tires and install this genuine imitation pine tree shaped air freshener!” I knew I wasn’t dealing with that kind of company. I knew these guys have been around for a long time for a reason. I knew they could be trusted. Sure enough, my trust was rewarded. Turned out that I didn’t need new brakes at all. The rotors did need to be machined, but that was it for a grand total of $172 dollars. It’s not very often that I’m moved enough emotionally (or financially) to where I want to reach out and hug another man (for which my wife Cori is thankful), but I struggled with the urge that day.

It all goes back to trust. There is a warm sense of comfort in trusting someone…knowing that you’re being taken care of, and your problems are being solved correctly. I think that’s why it hurts so much when your trust is violated. That warm feeling is ripped away and, along with it, many of your hard earned dollars. You’re exposed and vulnerable. You’re made to play the part of the fool, and no one likes that role.

Unfortunately, some areas of business see more than their fair share of less than honorable companies. Auto repair and construction being two that leap to mind. This leads to another old saying:

“It only takes a few bad apples to spoil the bunch.”

How many times would it take you getting burned before you become jaded toward that particular industry entirely? Two? Three? Only one? It’s a shame because the good ones far outweigh the “shady characters”.

It also pays to know what you know, but more importantly to know what you don’t know. I’ve seen this scenario a number of times. Someone needs to get a project done, but doesn’t want to pay a professional to do it. It could be that a nefarious nincompoop burned this person in the past. Whatever the reason, he tries to tackle the job on his own. Around the halfway point, he has a moment of clarity and realizes he doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing. He places a call to a pro at this point. He, the decidedly unhappy homeowner, is now on the hook to pay for not only what he’s done so far, but also for the contractor to rip out all his non-handy work and start from scratch. There is definitely an overblown sense of self-ability of the person who dives into something they have no idea how to do. It also lends itself to a lack of trust in others to do for him. The truly sad situation is when people want to hire a licensed expert, but limited funds prohibit them. These are the ones who certainly can’t afford to pay for a project to be done twice and, in the end, that’s exactly what happens.

Now we come to the homeowner who knows what he knows. He knows what he doesn’t know, and he knows he’ll hire a professional to complete his project. He reaches out to local contractors. He receives a number of estimates from the various companies, and he opts for the lowest price. He has just fallen into the old saying:

“You Get What You Pay For.”

Bottom Line Buyers (BLBs), those who continuously pay for the cheapest labor and materials, will be continuously disappointed. Sometimes BLBs don’t even look at what the estimate entails. What the contractor promises to do along with the quality of the products that’ll be used and the level of detail the contractor puts into the estimate could result in shocking differences between quotes. Place the estimates side by side, and it could be a case of comparing apples to oranges. A BLB would never notice, because they’re all about the bottom line.

A classic area where a BLB will get burned is having work done by the large big box chain stores. They shop there for a new carpet, hardwood floor or even a complete kitchen. It’s actually this whole circle of BLB life. The homeowner shops at the big box store because it’s the cheapest way to go. The big box store, in turn, hires out the sub-contractor who’ll do the work…wait for it…wait for it…the cheapest! The sub (as they say in the biz) will cut corners wherever possible to get the job done fast and cheap. Fast-forward to the unhappy homeowner dealing with the problems that begin to crop up shortly after the check clears. I realize that there is a segment of us who needs to do things this way because they just don’t have the money to spend. A few thoughts on that would be to scale back the size of the project, break up the project into phases, or hold off until you’re able to save up enough cash. I understand that in this day of credit it’s a foreign concept to actually accumulate the money before spending, but perhaps the most recent recession has taught us to save before we spend. Being the jaded realist, however, I think as things slowly turned around economically, many went right back to our old spending habits. The vision of Wilma and Betty dashing out the door hollering, “Charge it!” is now playing on a loop in my head.

When planning for a project, no matter how big or small, do your homework. Investigate the companies from which you’re getting estimates. Check to make sure they have the proper insurance. Ask for proof of insurance, and have that proof mailed to you directly from the insurance company. Don’t just take the contractor’s word for it, even if he shows you his copy of “proof”. That could be an old policy that expired (or was cancelled) some time ago. Ask for references, and call those references! Follow up on them. Finally, trust your gut. Is that smile on his face a little too bright? Does he come across as a little too slick? If you feel any pressure, just walk away. You’ll be glad you did…trust me.



  1. Well written–and well said. We learned our lessons long ago. We have also found lately, that given the recession, we are able to hire the more expensive guys for a bit less than what we would have a few years ago. Real pros like Stewart Painting we’ve used around the inn and our rental property for bigger jobs. We had a few smaller projects over the years–some trim work, etc. We use to use a guy who was dirt cheap, and he was OK, not great, certainly better than myself (at the time he was–I got better and don’t get as much paint in my mouth and on my dogs as I use to). Although we would never expect Stewart paint to come in as low as that guy (nor should they), Steward Painting wanted to work with us and gave us a nice price, which was more than what we WANTED to spend, but less than what Stewart would usually command, so everyone was happy, and I know the job they did will last a good long time.
    You’re right about one thing–you have to feel good about what you’re getting into. If it’s too good to be true, it ain’t true.
    On a separate note, way to work in “nefarious nincompoop” into the blog. I wonder if Ralph Waldo Emerson knew how to put up sheetrock?

  2. I tend towards the BLB… evidenced by my recent purchase and installation of a storm door from that Orange Big Box store..haha

  3. Lyn-Hope it went well. If it did, that proves yet another saying…”Even a blind squirrel can find a nut once and a while.”

  4. Thanks Tommy D. Stewart Painting does do great work, and their paint jobs last a lot longer than the cheapies!

    I did want to write “shady s#*theads”, but thought that a bit unseemly.

    I’m guessing R.W.E. was more of a lath and plaster kind of guy.

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