Already I have an update on our adventure in homeownership, and it’s only getting worse. The problem: the City of Los Angeles is broke and always has been. They can’t afford to maintain the things they’re responsible for, and now it’s costing me $5500. Sadly, if I’d bought a house across the street, I wouldn’t have this problem.

City Trees = Homeowner Headaches
When we bought our house, we didn’t notice that the tree maintenance on our street was lopsided. The city planted trees on the parkway between the street and the sidewalk. Those trees are owned by the city, not us.  The houses on the side of the street with overhead power lines have one-story trees. The houses on our side of the street have three-story trees. It’s the city’s policy to trim the trees near power lines regularly, and trim the other trees once every 7 years. Except they don’t even have the budget to do that anymore, so who knows when the trees will get trimmed.

This causes several problems:

1. Dropped limbs sometimes result in homeowner lawsuits. We have a lot of apartment dwellers parking on our street. A limb fell from an untrimmed city tree and hit one of their cars. They waited too long to sue the city, so instead they sued the homeowner. The homeowner isn’t responsible, but still had to get a lawyer to defend the lawsuit.

2. Untrimmed trees can damage our homes. I live in fear that a strong wind will break off a huge limb and send it crashing into my house. Sure, I could sue the city at that point, but it will take a while to get paid.

3. The trees drop leaves all fall and clutter the sidewalk with droppings in spring. Whose responsibility is it to clean that up? Ours.

4. The trees destroyed the sidewalk. Unmaintained trees break sidewalks. The city has a program where they’ll pay half the cost to fix the sidewalk if we pay the other half, but why should we pay $1300 to fix one small portion of our street when it’s the city’s fault in the first place?

5. The trees destroy the sewer pipes. And that brings me to our story.

Trees vs. Sewer Pipes = Huge Costs
Trees spread as far underground as they do above ground. So, the roots find their way into the sewer lines. The city has determined that homeowners are responsible for the sewer lines, even if they’re on city property (under the sidewalk and street).

Our story went like this:

We knew we had roots in the pipes so we called a plumber to roto them.

The plumber discovered that the pipe from our house is partially collapsed from the roots. So, that was $1775.

They dug a big hole in the yard and discovered that the house line and the city sewer line had been sealed together with concrete.

They then discovered that the sewer line is split in more places and could collapse beneath the street at any time. The problem? The city tree is planted right next to the sewer line and is crushing it.

We have to line the sewer pipe under the street, at a cost of $3720. The upside is that the liner will prevent crushing and future root intrusions. And it will have a 20-year-warranty, so if there is a problem, someone else has to pay for it.

We considered just taking the tree down, but the city requires us to prove repeated repairs before it will permit us to cut down trees they refuse to maintain. They’re considering making us maintain the trees at our cost, but we still wouldn’t be able to cut them down! I’d rather cut it down and plant a new tree in a better location, but it’s not my land.

The Moral of the Story
If you’re looking for a home, inspect the tree heights of the street where it’s located. If the trees on one side are significantly taller than the rest (on average), you may live in a city that doesn’t adequately maintain the trees. Save yourself a headache by buying on the side where the trees are maintained.

It’s been six weeks since my last homeownership update, and already we’ve got loads going on with our house. When it rains, it pours. Fortunately, rain damage hasn’t been one of our issues, but lots of other things have.

Always Take the Part to the Hardware Store with You
It started with a toilet running continuously. I tried tightening the float arm, but that made it worse. So I drove four miles to Home Depot. I’d looked at the part, so I sort of knew what I needed. I tried to explain it to the guy there and he handed me something that looked similar. I got it home and discovered it was completely wrong. Back I went to Home Depot. It turns out they don’t carry the part! They suggested replacing the whole assembly, for $8-11. Instead I went to Ace Hardware, which is blocks from my house. They had the part for $1.99. It took me three minutes to install it. I would have saved two hours driving back and forth if I’d done two things: 1. take the part with me, and 2. go to Ace for small parts. Home Depot doesn’t carry that stuff.

Our Emergency Fund Gets a True Emergency
We’ve been having some plumbing problems for about a month. We knew there were branches in our sewer line, so we finally called a plumber to come rooter them. Yeah, turns out there are branches there, but only because the pipe is collapsed. Fortunately it’s a small section, so it will only set us back $1775, as opposed to the $8-10,000 it cost my friend. We asked if it was past the property line, making it the city’s responsibility, but it turns out the homeowner is responsible to the middle of the street. That’s right, you might have to dig up the city street, but that’s not their problem. I’m thinking really bad words about the City of LA right now.

In addition to that problem, we need a new pressure regulator and something is wrong with the water heater. The first problem could be causing the second one, so we’ll have to see how our home warranty company handles that.

Mike Diamond is a Rip-off
We had an estimate to install a water line from an independent plumber that was pretty reasonable, but we have a maintenance agreement with Mike Diamond from when we had our kitchen pipes replaced at Thanksgiving so we called them to get an estimate. My husband and I had a miscommunication, so he had them come out even though they charge $65 just to give an estimate, and it doesn’t count toward the cost if you have them do the work! That’s rip-off #1. The second rip-off is their inflated prices. After our 15% discount, their quote was 30% higher than the indie plumber’s quote. We ate the $65 loss and will never use them again. I’m now convinced that we didn’t need all the work they did at Thanksgiving and that we paid 30% more than we needed to. They had us over a barrel on that one, and we’ll never make that mistake again.

The Cheapest Contractor Isn’t Always the Best
In addition to all that, we have to get a cabinet in our kitchen elevated to make room for the new fridge. We got an estimate for that in December, but the guy flaked. The first guy who came out last week spent 10 minutes detailing his ethnicity (not that we cared) and giving us a song and dance about getting his own reality show. He started out saying he might not even want the job. I simply gave short answers and let him talk himself into it. He promised to follow-up with a quote, but then he would only give a ballpark. He refused to give us an actual quote unless he knew he was getting the job.

The second quote was from a cabinet company. Their quote was $400 more, but included items the first two had never mentioned and was much more thorough and professional. Even though it costs more, we went with the second company. The first one was too shady.

Now that we’ve lived in our house for several months, problems are starting to crop up. Some will require a handyman or even a major replacement, but others are things I’m learning to fix myself. My husband’s first response to most issues is to suggest calling the handyman, which is weird because his dad was a plumber. My first response is to see if we can fix it ourselves. Usually, it’s faster to do it ourselves, and a lot cheaper. Here are a few examples:

Quick Sink Repairs
The faucet had a slow leak for a few days before I discovered the cabinet under the sink was full of water. I mopped that up and then tracked down the source of the problem. I finally determined, after a few minutes of testing, that it was the connector between the pull-out faucet and the hose. When I unscrewed it, white tape came off. My husband’s best friend happened to be over and confirmed that we needed Teflon tape. We also need a new faucet head eventually because the buttons are cracked, but the tape would fix the leak pronto. Off I went to Ace Hardware. Ten minutes and 89 cents later, the problem was solved. We would have paid the handyman $50 for that.

Toilet Repairs
We have two toilet problems. One is a slow leak, which is evidenced by gasping noises from the tank. We happen to have air bubbles in our pipes right now, which made it very easy to look into the tank and see exactly where the leak is coming from. I consulted our home repair manual and will be buying a new set this weekend to install in our toilet.

The other problem was a clog. A really stubborn clog. Again, my husband wanted to call the handyman, but I didn’t want to pay $50 for a toilet clog. Instead, I consulted the internet. First I tried putting dish soap down the toilet, but that didn’t work. After bailing out the sudsy water, I consulted the home repair manual, which recommended a closet auger (toilet auger). Off to OSH I went, where I also stocked up on gardening supplies. That night, we tried the auger, but couldn’t figure it out. I called my dad, who said to keep trying. Back I went to the internet.

I love the internet. Several plumbers have posted videos showing you how to use the auger. I watched both videos, then returned to the bathroom. It was a struggle, and one of those occasions when three hands really would have been helpful, but I did it.

Cheap Weatherstripping
Our windows had terrible drafts. Again, I consulted the home repair manual to determine my options, then went to Home Depot to buy weatherstripping. It was simple to pop it into place and the room instantly felt warmer. It cost me just about $20 for the supplies and took maybe half an hour.

We could have spent far more getting a handyman in to fix those items, but it’s a lot cheaper to learn to use tools so you can solve them yourself. Especially since most of these problems tend to occur at the worst time – like Christmas. You don’t want to pay for a plumber on Christmas!

So this weekend I became the proud owner of a new pair of garden pruners. My old pruners were purchased in August of 2009. I believe I bought the cheapest pair they had. And that’s why they only lasted eight months. Of course, it didn’t help that my husband left them outside in the rain, but the rust wasn’t actually the problem. My new pair was only $10 (on sale, I think. You can’t always tell at Home Depot), but already I can tell they are vastly superior to my original pruners. I already knew this, but this little adventure reinforced the notion that it pays to invest in good garden tools.

Why It Pays to Invest in Quality Garden Tools
The blades of my pruners were slightly dulled by rust, but they still cut. The reason they broke was the spring. The pruners had a flimsy spring between the handles. After one afternoon of heavy cutting, it fell off. I reattached it a couple times, but I quickly realized this would get frustrating. When I went to Home Depot, I looked for a sturdy pair that didn’t have a visible spring. The new pruners are titanium. I don’t really know if that means they’ll lost longer, but titanium is a pretty strong metal.

When I was at Home Depot about three months ago, I grabbed a pair of gardening gloves that were only $1. They lasted precisely one day and made my hands pruney. So, this weekend I was at Costco and spotted a five-pack of gloves in different styles and materials for $17. Now I can test them all and see which I like best. I’ve already tried two of the pairs and they did a great job. Sure, they cost more, but if a $1 pair only last 1 day, I’d quickly spend far more buying replacing gloves every weekend.

Keep All Your Tools Together
This will be my next project: organizing my tools. Right now my shed is a mess and half-full of empty moving boxes. I also didn’t bring all the new tools and supplies I bought directly outside when I returned from the store. Instead, I spent a lot of time running back into the house every time I needed another tool. Not a very effective use of my time, let me tell you. I also mounted a new sprinkler box this weekend, and that required three different trips into the house to get the necessary tools because I didn’t inspect it when I read the directions.

Once I get the shed cleaned out and organized, finding my tools will be quick work. Now I just need something to carry them down from the shed when it’s time to garden. I think one of the many baskets I’ve accumulated will be just the thing. Best of all – it will be free.

Accumulate Slowly
Since we bought a foreclosure with a dying yard, we took our 20% Lowe’s coupon on a shopping spree soon after we moved in. We spent a lot of money, but also bought a whole lot of tools that we actually needed right then. That trip involved several calls to my dad for input. We bought pruners, loppers, an extendable trimmer, and a few other garden essentials. As time has gone on and we’ve started to work in the garden (as opposed to clearing it), we’ve slowly built up our tool collection to include new items, like a hose and gloves. Now I’m thinking I need a wheelbarrow. I expect to buy a compost bin this month.

I’m glad we took our time to figure out what we really needed, because we could have spent a fortune on stuff we thought we’d need. For example, we never got around to buying a lawn mower. The lawn was mostly dead and then it was dormant. Just when it was time to buy one, we hired a gardener instead. No need to buy a mower now!

So, we’re seven months into homeownership and still enjoying it. We’ve learned quite a few more lessons about owning and maintaining a home. And, of course, we learned them the hard way.

Always Double-Check the Paint Before Starting
On President’s Day weekend, I decided to paint the hallways between two of the bedrooms. It’s a fairly small hallway, and between all the doors and closets, I figured I had just enough paint left from the family room gallon and sample pint. Unfortunately, I ran out the main paint with 30 square feet left to go, and the pint turned out to be a different finish. It wasn’t supposed to be a different finish, but I didn’t realize at the time of the purchase that they’d given me semi-gloss rather than eggshell finish. So, I had to stop and wait until the morning when I could get to the paint store. Once I got a quart of paint, it took me all of 30 minutes to finish up. From now on, I will check the quantity of paint in the can BEFORE I start a project!

Gardeners Are Worth It
When we bought our house, the backyard was dead. We cleaned up the front yard ourselves and figured we’d get to the backyard eventually. Then came heavy winter rains. Suddenly weeds sprang up in the back. And not just any weeds. Fast-growing stalks with large leaves on top. We tried to cut them, but that only resulted in ugly sticks that still grew fast. Then, with my husband heading into surgery, we gave up. Fortunately, my neighbor sent his gardener over to see if we wanted to hire him. We did – at only $60 a month, it’s totally worth it to have someone else go into the back and pull up all those stalks. It’s the only way to get rid of them. It also saves us the trouble of buying a lawnmower and raking up leaves all fall. Yes, we could take care of it, but we’d rather put our energy into the parts of yard maintenance we like.

Power Tools Are Fun
I already had a drill and some tools, but I didn’t have everything I needed. After borrowing a circular saw from a co-worker for my window treatment projects,  I’ve decided that’s my next purchase. I have shelves and garden boxes to build. If anyone has an affordable circular saw recommendation, let me know. My co-worker has a Ryobi, which I was pretty pleased with, so I might get that.

Angie’s List Rocks
I was hesitant to join Angie’s List because it costs $35 a year. I figured I could find what I needed on Yelp. Except then I needed to hire a bee removal service, and I needed them fast. I couldn’t find anyone on Yelp, so I joined Angie’s List, and I’m so glad I did. They listed several local services complete with reviews that included prices. I called one company and they came to my house within an hour. It cost me $55 to have two abandoned wasp’s nests removed and the property sprayed. I already plan to use Angie’s List to find a carpenter for another project.

When Replacing Weather Stripping, Take a Sample to the Store
One of my projects was to replace the weather stripping in our French doors. I meant to bring a sample, but I forgot. The first problem was the underside of the doors, which have been shaved down. That meant that the rubber gutters couldn’t be attached. I explained the problem and the salesperson helped me figure out a solution that would keep out air gusts and worms that crawl inside when it’s too wet outside.

Then I had to figure out which kind I needed to go inside the doors. He showed me a few options, and I found a kerfed style that looked similar to what we had. I didn’t have a sample and didn’t want to come back, so I called my husband to describe it over the phone. I guessed right.

The next problem was cutting the weather stripping. The kerf is made out of hard plastic, which couldn’t be sawed through with a box cutter. I finally used a pair of pruners to cut through it, but I expect that wire cutters would have worked, too.

So far, we’re doing well. I’d still like to buy that new fridge and the rest of our furniture. But first I need to hire a carpenter and my husband needs to return to work. Then we’ll feel comfortable spending again.

This weekend I embarked on a simple home improvement project that was as cheap as it was easy. I made swags to go over my kitchen windows. It didn’t require any sewing, and depending on the price of the fabric, costs as little as $30 per window. You don’t have to sew, but you will need some power tools.

No-Sew Window Swag Materials (in order)
Measuring tape
Fabric: 54-inch-wide decorator fabric (it should drape well). You’ll need a length that is 2.5 times the width of the window
1 x 2 pine board
Table, jig, or circular saw
Scissors
3/4-inch stitch witchery (iron-on hemming adhesive)
Iron
Damp cloth
Ironing board
Heavy-duty staple gun
Staples
Drill
A helper
Drywall screws
Cordless screwdriver
Level
Pushpins (optional)

No-Sew Window Swag Instructions
If you can cut, iron, and drill you can make these. If you don’t have a saw, have the mounting board cut to the right length at the hardware store. Most will make 1 or 2 cuts for free.

Step 1: Measure your windows. Buy your fabric. My fabric was $3 a yard, but I have access to the Los Angeles fabric district. You should expect to spend $5-10 a yard for a medium-weight cotton. I brought a swatch of my paint with me to match the fabric to my kitchen.

Step 2: If you have a window frame, cut the mounting board 6 inches shorter than the width of the frame. If you don’t have a frame, cut the mounting board the exact width of the window.

cut-your-fabric.jpg

Step 3: Iron the fabric to remove major folds and wrinkles. Lay it flat on your cutting surface. Normally, you’d use a sewing mat on your dining room table. I don’t have one yet, so I used my empty dining room floor and my sewing mat.

Step 4: Cut the fabric in half lengthwise. This is enough for two windows. Cut each length to 2 ½ times the width of the window. A46-inch wide window would require 115 inches (3.25 yards).

no-sew hemming

the-hemmed-fabric.jpg

Step 5: Lay the fabric wrong side up on your ironing board. Lay Stitch Witchery or another iron-on hemming adhesive about ¾ of an inch in from the edge of the fabric. Fold the fabric over so the adhesive is completely covered and flush against the edge of the fold. Heat the iron as instructed on the Stitch Witchery package. Lay a damp towel over the hem. Lay the iron on top of that and let sit for ten seconds. Lift up the iron. Do not slide it. Set it down on the next section. I found it easiest to lay a whole section of towel flat over a long section of hem so I could work through several sections at once. You need to hem all four edges. After the hem is complete, iron out any large wrinkles in the curtains.

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Step 6: Lay the fabric on your cutting mat right side up. Fold it to find the exact center and mark it on the hem. Find the exact center of the narrow side of your mounting board and mark it. Unfold the fabric and lay the marked center over the center of the narrow side of your mounting board. Staple the edge of the fabric to the edge of the board so it covers one side. Pull taut and staple each end. Staple several places in between.

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Step 7: Drill two small holes about three inches from the end of each board. Poke the nail through the holes to make holes in the fabric that will be against the wall.

Step 8: Place the mounting board on the wall about 1 ½ inches above a frameless window, or at the top of the frame. Mark the spots where the holes go. Have someone hold the board in place with the stapled side at the bottom and a wide side against the wall. Drape the fabric over the top and front of the board. Use a cordless screwdriver to screw the drywall screw through the board and wall. You may need someone to hold the drape out of the way. Don’t tighten the screw completely yet.

level-the-swag.jpg

Step 9: Place a level on top of the board. Adjust it until it’s completely straight. Drive the other screw tightly into the wall, then tighten the first one.

Step 10: Tie loose knots at either end of the window. If the knot droops more than you’d like, poke pushpins through the insides to hold them in place.

Ta da! No sew curtains that you can make in an afternoon.

no-sew-window-swag.jpg

We’re already refinancing our mortgage due to the recent rate drops (it’s a free refi that doesn’t increase our loan balance). So, we had to get reappraised. I didn’t think we’d see a value increase because it’s only been 4 months. Well, I was wrong. Our appraised value went up 2% in four months, and I think I’ve figured out why. If you’re planning to sell your house in a traditional sale, take these steps to improve your home value and your chances of getting the price you need.

Polish or Refinish the Floors
We bought a foreclosure with bamboo floors. Unfortunately, the previous owners used it as a rental property and the tenants had a dog. Bamboo floors and dogs don’t mix. The floors in the main living areas had deep dirty grooves in them. We had the floors refinished before we moved in. All the scratches are gone and they gleam beautifully.

Apply Fresh Interior Paint
When we bought our house, all of the walls were Swiss Coffee – the classic rental color. It’s also boring as hell and the walls were filthy. The furnace had never been cleaned (it has been now), so it had 5-7 years worth of dust and grime in it. That black grime was on the ceilings and the walls in the rooms closest to the furnace. We scrubbed the walls and applied fresh paint in several attractive colors. The walls look fresh and bright and new.

Install Shutters and Blinds
We didn’t install shutters and blinds in the whole house, just in the rooms where we’re not making curtains. These stay with the house when you leave, so they also add to the value.

Clean Up the Yard
Although it’s not really supposed to influence the appraisal, a messy yard can. Our yard wasn’t raked, but we’ve trimmed the trees and removed two dead ones. Even if it doesn’t affect the home value, overgrown trees can detract from a buyer’s impression of the house because they’ll factor in the cost to trim them.

Paint the Trim
When the termite company repaired the termite damage, they didn’t prime the replacement boards on the front of the house or in the carport. They just left it bare wood. I recently primed and painted those boards. At the same time, I peeled off some of the paint in areas where it was visibly peeling and cracking and painted that, too. I had the paint matched perfectly, so you can’t even tell where I touched up. The house looks much better with fresh trim.

I can’t say for sure how much these things improved the value, but the living room paint was five days old when the appraiser came. He even commented that it was a nice color, as did our handyman and my parents. I walked him through and showed him everything we’d fixed or had done.

Now, if you want the bank to agree to a short sale, don’t do any of these things. You want the house to look bad and overgrown so the bank will think it’s worth less and won’t get much as a foreclosure.

It feels almost like a pregnancy, except it won’t be over in nine months. Maybe I’ll just stop counting by the time nine months have passed! This last month has presented us with several more challenges, but what some of my homeowner friends are going through is much, much, much worse.

Don’t Buy New Construction
This isn’t my lesson, this is my friend’s lesson. So far he’s discovered that his brand new condo was improperly plumbed (found courtesy of a major leak) and improperly wired (found courtesy of sparks shooting out of the wall after he plugged something in.) Those aren’t minor issues. Meanwhile most of the problems in my 60-year-old home have been minor, or are at least big things that can wait and that are to be expected in an older home. If you’re thinking of buying a condo, do not buy new. Buy one that’s at least five years old. True, it may not have of-the-moment fixtures, but you also won’t be the one to discover the bad wiring, plumbing, etc.

Even the Simple Things Go Wrong
So, in my last homeownership update, I talked about the surprising cost of blinds and shutters. Now a new problem has developed. The major company we went with screwed up our order. I discovered it during the installation. I immediately called and was assured that the replacement shutters would be ordered. Fast forward a week and I haven’t been able to get confirmation of the order. Finally I called the shutter company – they have no order. I called the company’s local office – no order. I was assured that they’ll contact the consultant to sort it out and then call me tomorrow about fixing it. I’m not hopeful. Meanwhile I’ve got a wrong set of shutters that are only half installed.

Eventually the Warranty Has to Cover Something
My friends who recently bought have had nothing but good things to say about their warranty. This morning was my fifth claim, and the first thing to get covered. I think my warranty sort-of sucks.

Claim 1: Leak next to the dishwasher. It turned out the leak was from a disconnected tube under the faucet. Dishwasher guy didn’t fix it – I found a valve and turned it the other way to see what would happen.

Claim 2: Mysterious damp spot on the upper corner of the wall that forms nightly. They sent an AC guy – nothing. They sent a plumber – nothing. Finally our roofer went up there and patched it. It’s not entirely gone, but it’s better. I’m considering going up into the attic and poking at the insulation to see if that’s the problem.

Claim 3: Inadequate heat in the back bedrooms and a weird rattle in one register. The heater guy adjusted some registers to balance the heat, and determined that it was too cold in the back because the “standard-sized” ducts are too big for the rooms next to the furnace, and too small for the rest of the house. New ducts: not covered, but not in dire need of replacing. Meanwhile it’s 5-8 degrees cooler in the back part of my house.

Claim 4: Circuit breaker trips when we use more than one kitchen appliance at a time and some of the breakers are wiggly. The appliance issue is insufficient wiring: not covered. He said the wiggling was normal. Except that he knocked out power to whole house before he left and then the bathroom didn’t come back on because of that wiggly circuit. Once again we had to go out there and jiggle it until it came on. I called warranty, and the electrician insisted the bathroom problem was from the kitchen wiring and refuses to see if it might be unrelated unless we either a. fix the wiring in the kitchen, or b. have our own technician diagnose the problem. If he deems it’s not related, warranty will consider covering it.

Claim 5: Plumbing stoppage this weekend. Warranty called to warn me that if my cleanout was outside the foundation of the house, they wouldn’t cover it. Fortunately, the plumber snaked it and they did cover it. Finally, we got one thing covered. And it only cost us $260 in claims to get there. Sigh.

Make Sure You Buy the Right Paint
We had to paint one of our ceilings. I went to the paint store and asked for “flat white for the ceiling.” What I got was the pastel base with no color mixed in. We discovered this after applying the first coat late Saturday night. It was splotchy and uneven. We scoured the internet for a paint store that was open Sunday, thinking we needed the same paint for a second coat. That’s when we found out the base looks white, but can be transparent. And it’s not meant for ceilings. My husband came home with a can labeled “ceiling paint” that had been tinted “ceiling white.” Problem solved, but we wasted money and three hours on that first can.

Isn’t home ownership grand?

A few months ago I checked out gardening books to settle on those that are best for my local area. Now it’s time to buy a home maintenance book to help solve those simple problems without having to call Dad, search the internet for a reliable solution, or call a handyman. I borrowed five potential books from the library. Here are my reviews for all of them.

Home Maintenance for Dummies
Just about everyone I know owns at least one Dummies book. They really are well-written and informative, despite the title. This book is no different. It’s quite comprehensive and includes both pretty big fixes that you can DIY as well as tips for annual maintenance and inspections that will help you avoid costly repair bills. It includes EVERYTHING in your home, from the foundation to the roof and everything in between. However, I do wish it had more step-by-step instructions and illustrations. It’s very text-heavy.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Simple Home Repair
This competitor to the Dummies series is equally well-written. It has more illustrations and step-by-step instructions, but it’s not quite as comprehensive. It also covers from foundation to ceiling, but I couldn’t find some small to medium fix-it issues that I found in the Dummies guide. For example, I have a draft in my French door sidelights. The Dummies guide told me how to fix door drafts, but the Idiots guide doesn’t. On the other hand, the Idiot’s guide shows how to fix a bent track of a sliding door, but the Dummies guide doesn’t even mention it.

The Reader’s Digest Do-It-Yourself Guide to Preventing Costly Home Repairs
Like the title implies, this book is geared towards saving you money. It tells you just how much you can expect to save by making simple home repairs or maintenance. It was published last year, so the figures are still fairly accurate. You could walk through your house with this book and check everything listed using the Care and Maintenance tips. It also provides quick fixes, but most of the items are relatively minor. There aren’t any mid-size or large jobs in this book. For example, it simply recommends installing weather-stripping, but doesn’t offer details.

Knack Home Repair and Maintenance
This book is organized into projects, like repairing a chipped finish or installing a pet door. It has very detailed pictures and instructions for most of the projects you might attempt around your house, including in your yard. Most projects get a two-page spread with 3-4 pictures and tips. The weather-stripping section is the most detailed of all the books.

The First-Time Homeowner’s Survival Guide
This book covers some repairs, but it’s mostly geared toward helping new homeowners figure out how things work. It provides advice for planning renovations, hiring contractors, paying taxes, and buying insurance. In some ways, it feels written for flippers rather than long-term owners.

If I were only buying one book, I’d personally get the Dummies guide, but the Idiot’s guide and Knack book are strong runners-up. I’d recommend checking all three out of your library and choosing the one that’s best for your home and needs. I like the Reader’s Digest book, but I want something more detailed and more hands-on for my home repair manual.

I’ll admit that I sometimes get sucked into that crappy show “Rehab,” if only to wonder why people willingly pay $50-$150 for admission and $20 a drink to hang out at a pool. This week featured one of the waitresses serving a cabana of Brits, whom she assumed wouldn’t tip. She reminded them that they needed to tip her repeatedly, to the point of being obnoxious, and then chased them down when the tip wasn’t sufficient. That, combined with my experience of ordering blinds, got me thinking – what’s the price of good customer service?

Do Servers Always Deserve 20%?
Sure, I have to agree that a bunch of guys with a $3200 a bar bill should have tipped their waitress more than $200. At the same time, was it appropriate to chase them out and tell them they “owed her” $600? She may think she gave them great service, but they may think that constant hounding for a tip was irritating and she therefore deserved less. I know servers work hard, and I never tip less than 15%, but I still think 20% is only for excellent service. Crying and carrying on because she got less than she thought she deserved was childish. If the establishment requires servers to tip-out, then that’s something they should take up with the establishment, not their customers.

Are You Willing to Pay More for Good Customer Service?
In some respects, I would be willing to pay more for a product if I thought I would need regular customer service. For example, when buying a computer, I would choose a manufacturer known for good customer service over one known for bad customer service. The prices would probably be comparable, but I might pay $100 more for a better manufacturer because something is very likely to go wrong.

On the other hand, I wasn’t willing to pay several hundred dollars more to buy blinds from the independent blind salesman who stressed his reputation and business manner. Instead I opted for 3-Day Blinds, which is also known for producing a quality product, and whose sales rep was equally nice and responsive. If anything, she was better because she wasn’t obviously nonplussed when we didn’t place the order on the spot.

The independent seller offered to look at the second estimate and “get within the range,” but that still sounded like he’d cost more. I don’t expect to need a lot of ongoing customer service for window blinds, so I opted for the better deal from a well-known company.

Does the Length of Involvement Play a Role?
At what point is the price more important than good customer service? If the service is part of the experience then I’ll pay more for it. When I bought homeowners insurance, I opted to pay a little more for a policy from an insurance agent who represented one of the bigger insurance agencies than to add homeowner’s to my current low-cost auto policy. The biggest reason was the customer service – the insurance agent was very friendly and attentive while preparing my quotes. She also thanked me for calling her. My current insurance company sent me to a call center, even thought I’d called the office where we bought the insurance. When it comes to insurance, this is a long-term relationship. Paying a slightly higher premium for an agent I know will be there for me is worth it to me.

What about you? Are you willing to pay a premium for good service? Where do you draw the line?

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