Friday, February 22, 2013

Never The Same

This morning, while the first cup of tea was  still steeping, I looked out the window to witness my neighbor lingering at the top of our driveway where his dog was making a deposit.  I felt a little cranky about this. Truth to tell,  it is not the first time I was not feeling the whole "love thy neighbor" directive toward JR.

Two years ago JR and his wife Scotch put their house on the market. There were few showings and no takers. The realtor mentioned they were a little light on curb appeal and maybe an upgrade would be helpful. JR poo-pooed that idea  and eventually the listing contract expired and that was that.   Except,  JR complained about it every time I saw him for the next year or so.  He found no logic in being advised to  improve a home he wanted to leave.  More than once he said, " I was in banking for 30 years! It is just stupid to invest in the past. It only makes sense to invest in the future."

Every time he delivered  this sermon I managed to refrain from asking what happened to his banking career. The neighborhood chat on that is he  got in a right juvenile temper up at the bank one day and walked out.  Next morning he got up, got dressed and went to work as usual . When he was still in the break room getting his coffee the president came over and asked why he was there. JR laughed saying,  "Good one!"  To his credit, the word is, the bank president pulled JR  aside to privately remind him he had  quit his job the day before and reinstatement would not be forthcoming. Subsequent trips to various law firms did not help either.

About a year ago, I went out to fetch the mail to find a service truck parked in my front yard.  One Day Bath Remodel!  was emblazoned on the side.  I felt a little cranky about the truck. Beyond that irritation, I was  truly horrified to think others would believe this designer would ever sanction  this cheaper than cheap service  or product in my own home or the home of any of my clients!

 Fortunately, before I had a stroke, JR and Scotch emerged  from their house with the driver and sent him on his way. Over by the mail boxes Scotch said,
" Fishy, what do you think about these bath tub covers".

" I don't have any experience with that particular product Scotch, what did you think about it?"
" It saves a bunch of money! You know our house started in the fifties and the original finishes are still in there. The bathroom  tiles are sorry looking and the tub is worse. These people can come take measurements one day then come back in a week with molded panels and voila! a new bath in a day."
" Do you like your Bathroom?"
" What do you mean?"
" Does it meet your needs?"
" No! It is awful. It always has been cramped  for one, nevermind two. Can you imagine sharing one small pedestal sink for 35 years?"
" No. Are you getting a larger sink?"
" No"
"Changing the floor or wall tiles you mentioned?"
"The light fixtures?"
" Any storage in there?'
" Wow. I guess I don't understand your "new bath" concept."
" Well the tub and shower will look new with the plastic wall panels and tub cover."
" Good luck with that Scotch.
When you have this done will you ask them to not park their trucks in our front yard?"
" It wasn't there very long Fishy, your grass is hardly laying down."

The next morning the phone rang. It was the neighbors asking if I would come look at their bathroom.
" You know JR, I am really busy and on my way out the door."
" Well come this evening when you get home."
" Can I call you later?"
" No, just come on over when you get home. We'll be here."

In my very first class in "Business Principles and Design Practices" architect Tom Kincaid told us to,
 pick up your pencils and write this down, " Real life 101: it is as important to know which clients to decline as it is to know which clients to accept."   I don't remember a chapter on how to reject your neighbor without causing friction.  Blowfish advised me to go do a  chatty neighbor consult and bail. I felt a little cranky.

Ultimately I went , looked, cringed and told the truth.
The bath was too small.  In fact would not pass code and would no longer be "grandfathered" if they wanted to make improvements. That meant, the space would need to be completely gutted and expanded.  Scotch asked if  I could make a plan which could expand the bathroom, not take any space out of their bedroom or the one on the other side of the bath, not take away already limited closet space and not expand through the exterior wall.

In hopes of making a gracious exit I told them it was a tough issue needing a specialist in Bath designs. I mentioned even if the footprint could not be expanded the function, finishes and fixtures could all be upgraded. JR mentioned if he was going to invest in a new bath he had to get everything he wanted or it would not be worth doing.  I recommended a  Bath design specialist and suggested they make a list of criteria to review during the appointment and made my escape.

It wasn't to be.
The specialist was " offensively expensive".  Did I mention my neighbor carries the nickname "Scotch" because of her thriftiness?
They ambushed me at the mailboxes and stated their intentions to "hire me to design a bath for them".
I declined.
JR said,
" Now Fishy, we know you are a pro and we are prepared to pay for your services"
"JR, I cost twice as much as those specialists you found offensive".
" Well then , we will accept your good neighbor discount"

" Tell you what.  Y'all cannot hire me.  But, I will come take some measurements and see if I have a plan to offer. If I do I will  recommend  a good builder and y'all  can take it from there." So I blocked out a morning to field measure half their house  then came back to my home office to pray for a miracle. That prayer was answered by an inspired solution to their issues both spacial and budgetary. It was an awesome plan which expanded the bathroom; even allowing for privacy for the toilet and two separate  sink vanities. I presented the plan  to them the next day. During our design conference  Scotch was elated and JR got quiet. Never a good sign. When I looked up from the drawing I was shocked by JR's appearance. I  have just never seen a grown man with his pouty lip our so far. N-e-v-e-r.  When I asked him  for feedback he whined,
" This isn't fair".
"What isn't fair?"
" You gave Scotch a bigger vanity!  Mine is smaller and in the same space as the toilet!"   Since for the past 35 years this man has had a sink and a toilet in the same room,
I was not sure why he found this "unfair".

Taking in  a big, calming breath I responded, "Actually JR, ownership of these sinks  has not been assigned to any one party. There is a slight difference in the widths of these vanities, but it is actually only 3". What has been planned  is  a bathroom expansion with two zones.  One has a sink, storage and a shower.  The other has a sink, storage  and a toilet. My thoughts are the sinks would be used as needed when in either zone."

Yeah, there was more lip.

Ultimately the plans  conference ended with me giving them the builder's card and them declaring their need  to think about the investment.  They did call the builder  so a week later I went on over there to meet with the builder to  review the plans with him and answer all his what if questions before he spent time on an estimate.   After that, when I ran into one of them out by the mailboxes they either waved and left or said they were still " weighing their options".  A few months  later the plastic bath cover up people were back over there. I think there might have been a problem. Not just because JR's pouty lip resembled Pinocchio's nose but  because their installation crew came back and back and back  every few days for weeks. My grass looked bad and I felt a bit cranky about it all.

I have never been able to think the same way about these neighbors as I did before this experience. I think it is probably pretty ordinary to have  thoughts of our  friends and neighbors evolve as we add history and learn more about each other. In  this case,  every time I see JR  I hear his whiny voice  in my head and wonder what kind of  man  pouts about a sink?   I could have gone my whole life and been happy to have  never seen that close up view of his lip or her thriftiness. This morning I was thinking I should take JR  a plastic baggie. To put over his head.


Aunty Belle said...

try this heah tactic:

Why mercy! Yeh-yus I would be dee lighted to hep y'all wif' yore bathroom revamp. Now y'all doan worry yore pretty little haids, dear folks wif' mahvelous taste is mah forte ( for-t aaaay) Fishy can deliver an amazin' new bath. Now doan worry one minute more 'bout that weenie teenie bath, we'll make it fit for a king! Jes' send a wee deposit of ten thousand dollars to mah office--non-refundable of course, but y'all is bidness people an' ya unnerstand all that silly stuff the accountants make us do. Very tiresome, but what can one DO?? --
An' once we git that leetle teeny check out of the way, why I'll be over to take a looky see.

Jenny said...

I think the title of this post says it all "Never Again." In the "New World" we all think about how we spend very differently than perhaps we did pre-2008. I know you are a true professional and I admire the fact you kindly gave over your expertise for FREE. Aunty's comment made me chuckle and did the concept of the neighbor dog making a "deposit."
All I can say is, you're not alone in the New World of business.

fishy said...

You are a stitch!
I can see how come it is you want to adopt Kym out in Oklahoma ... she thinks along the same lines as you do.

Truth is I did not want these neighbors as clients so I did not want to be contracted to serve them or to be bound by any deposits.

It is tough as heck in this New Business Order. I regularly tell Blowfish I have got to find another way to generate income. I just LOATHE the mindset of those who grew up as video gamers, always in pursuit of the next level, who now are forty somethings and running those massive rewards or networking programs and pounding artisan businesses into dust.

Since the interior design business is tied to both new construction and real estate we have been hard hit these past 4 years. In fact, I read a trade report this weekend which claimed their polls indicated about 31% of designers have left the business since 2008. My guess is if you counted true design jobs, not related industry jobs, the actual number is closer to 50%.

Even with design business at all slow if not dead stop status, I still did not want these neighbors as customers!

So nice of you to be around the blogs again. You have been missed.

Aunty Belle said...

Eggsactly, Fishy, ya din't want 'em as clients, thas' why the hefty deposit( $$, not pet deposit)--to discourage any more inquiries from those folks.

@ Boxer-babe

"new world". Well, now, Pappy Cracker has tole us'uns that in his view, which has a loooong stretch back over the past, this heah new world is the new normal.

He say, "doan be thinkin' there'll be a return to the pre-2008 times. Ain't happenin', chile. Debt is too high, work ethic is too low, and gubmint sucks the life outa any remaining bidness man wif' an ounce of gumption"

soon, few of us will work much--why both if the gubmint takes it all?

moi said...

Glad you didn't take them on. Sometimes, it's just not worth it.

We revamped our guest bathroom this summer. I was shocked that the new deep-soak jetted tub I ordered for a month's pay wasn't porcelain. When I asked the salesperson why not, he looked at me like I was out of my mind. Apparently, porcelain has gone the way of the dinosaur unless you want to shell out a year's pay.

fishy said...

Most I see of them these days is a nod at the mail boxes with some minimal chit chat. Or when they bring the dog over. I don't think they are pleased with their decision or their results. They never mention the bath and they sure never have invited me to come see what was done. Thank God!

Sounds like the advice from your Pappy Cracker is similar to our own
ElderFish who advises us to get what we need doing done now cause the dollar is shrinking and so is the work force.

I am trying to track down an elderly man in a nearby city rumored to be the only fella in these parts who still knows how to vat strip and restore a vintage cast porcelain finished sink . We have 5 in need of restoration.

A few months back we had to replace some of the Kitchen pipes. The plumber said we might have to replace the sink too. Because it is a vintage triple width stainless the replacement cost at Ferguson's was $2800. A lesser quality one at the big box store was $1800. I finally located one I loved at the
Habitat for Humanity Resale store for $55.

One of my clients has a new, copper, footed, free standing soaker tub she adores. Sadly with new construction cost over runs she could not "justify" spending $10,000 on the tub of her dreams. Lucky for her, I was at a trade show on the last day when they were breaking down the displays. I passed a showroom with the exact tub she wanted and mentioned I had a client who coveted that tub ... they offered it at $3500 if it was picked up that day.

I will say a non porcelain, jetted, deep tub is better than not having one :-)

Buzz Kill said...

"Well then, we will accept your good neighbor discount." - I would have never had the balls to ask that let alone demand it the way your neighbor did.

Having just gone through an addition last year, the sticker shock is - shocking. But you get what you pay for and our contractor did an excelent job.

I'm all for helping out a neighbor, but when it goes from shoveling snow off the walk to a structural analysis of a foundation, that's where the line gets drawn.

A good neighbor is a fellow who smiles at you over the back fence, but doesn't climb over it.

pam said...

Fishy! I love this story. The value of the remodel isn't in the price you pay when you do it. It is in the life you lead afterwards and the sales price you might be able to get for it on the market. Sounds like this guy will never get his price -- things are worth more to him than to others. Meanwhile, your good neighbor discount should have also included a drawing fee or plan fee for your time.

fishy said...

You can imagine how annoyed Blowfish was ... he did not want any difficulties with neighbors and he did not want his wife to be "used at a discount" either. He does not agree with my logic of giving them free (neighborly) counsel removes their ability to
be "discount users".

I did tell Blowfish, if I accepted any money from the neighbors, full price or "good neighbor" I would be obligated to provide services. The way I did this, the drawing was provided in quarter scale on grid paper, not printed with company logo, etc. thus, I had no legal obligation, or liability, to these neighbors.

You are right!
The value is not always in the initial investment but in the improvement in one's daily life. In this case, if ever they did try to list their house again at least the bathroom would have met code and be legal so there would be resale value as well.

There is thrifty and there is stupid. These neighbors never seem to learn the "thrifty" purchases they have made are now the "disappointments" they lament having paid "good money" for.
Cheep, cheep, cheep!!!!!!

Fleurdeleo said...

Hi, Fishy! Haiku Monday is chez moi this week! Theme is "bloom". See you there!

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