Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Joys of Homeownership: Water Down Below

My Director loves watching HGTV. She insists that had we gone on the show Holmes Inspection, that guy would have found all of the nonsense that our home inspector didn't find. (One day I will tell you how we came to find out we had no heat upstairs, for example.) But with hurricane season coming I think it's prudent to talk about the elephant in the basement.

The previous homeowner assured us there had never been water in the basement. They lied. (Rookie mistake on our part.) Our idiot inspector blindly agreed with their assessment. (He has since refunded us his entire fee.) To be clear, we're talking about water here, not flooding. Seepage, if you will. Then came Hurricane Irene last year, and this:

The Lake in the Basement

Ironically, we were in the middle of getting estimates for water proofing the basement when the storm hit. Hurricane Irene speeded up the process. On top of the flooding, or as Peanut calls it, "over flooding," the basement was getting that fraternity-house-morning-after-a-party smell and mold was starting to grow.

As a sea of shysters traipsed through our moldy basement, trying to pour tens of thousands of dollars onto my ever-expanding home equity line, a handsome beacon of fresh air and coolness emerged. He is Ricardo, the half-Brazilian hunk who even had me swooning. But before he could win us over with his reasonable prices, honest delivery, and irresistible accent (is it getting hot in here?), we had invited two separate basement waterproofing "inspectors" into our home. This is what they have the nerve to call themselves.

The little pump that could
For the remainder of this post, I'm gonna call them what they are: salesmen. They come under the guise of "inspecting" your basement. They insist that both of you be home for the "inspection." (So you can't pull the old, "let me talk it over with my wife/husband" trick.) They tell you how horrible the situation in your basement is. And they bash you over the head with an obscene price to fix it.

When you balk, they instantly lower the price. Like magic. From $13,000 to $9,000. I thought the guy was kidding with the $13,000 number. He wasn't. (And that's for waterproofing the basement. Not finishing it.) When I told him $9,000 was still too high, he made a mysterious phone call to the "office" to see if they'll authorize an even lower price. Miraculously, they did, but work has to start tomorrow. A second salesman made a similar call... to the OWNER OF THE COMPANY. The one and only "Mr. Thompson." I said, "Mr Thompson's going to take your call at 11am on a Saturday?"

Serendipitously, he did. Mr. Thompson picked up on the third ring and then authorized the "absolute rock bottom price" of $6,000 because "we have crews who need work." Don't we all.

Please don't come into my home, stand in my kitchen, and then insult my intelligence by placing a staged phone call to a person you're pretending is the owner of your company. Then don't tell me that you "can't comprehend" why I won't sign a contract without checking your references or taking at least 24 hours to talk it over with my wife.

One of these persistent douchecanoes then told us he "could see that we're very educated people." And that he therefore "couldn't see why we wouldn't just sign the contract to start work on Thursday." I'm not sure how he could tell we were educated, since I had just finished a run and was in sweaty workout clothes, and My Director was wearing glorified pajamas. She does have her Masters Degree, but our diplomas aren't hanging on the wall of the kitchen. And Peanut was laying on the couch in her underwear watching Shrek Forever After. We looked like stinky white trash at best. Maybe he thought we were intelligent because we were wearing our glasses. That's it. Glasses always make you look smarter.

He didn't give up, pressuring us to sign the contract because that price would only be good that day. And he said we could always cancel the contract within three days.Welcome to Shadyville, population you. I almost relented just to get this guy out of my house. Leave it to My Director to keep her guard up, "I don't like how aggressive you're being. It actually makes me LESS likely to take your deal."

End of conversation. Did I mention how much I love this woman?

Enticed by their deep discounts, we were calling companies from those coupon mailer packs. Big mistake. These people are crooked. My Director and I are big on due diligence. When we're spending this kind of money on something we have to do and don't want to do, we want to be sure. We don't want some charlatan standing in our kitchen quoting a $13,000 price, but $9,000 if we can start tomorrow. My dad was a pool installer, a businessman, and an honest one. These guys give their industry a bad name.

Enter Ricardo, the handsome, well-dressed half-Brazilian basement water proofing guy. Turns out he spent a lot of time on our block after Irene. It was nothing salacious. Although a lot of the ladies - My Director included - also admit he's easy on the eyes. Swoon. Ricardo was nice, professional, and honest. It didn't hurt that three other neighbors hired Ricardo after their basements also received an unwelcome gift from Irene. He was one of two guys who came recommended from neighbors. We liked both, but we just liked him the best. Bonus: he had the lowest price of any of the four companies. Double swoon.

This is Ricardo. He's taken, ladies. (Not by me.)
I admit it was a bit awkward when I was home alone with Ricardo and I asked him to pose for a picture. But you do what you must for the good of the blog. Without all of the other "salesman" theatrics, $6,000 was his price. GOD that's a lot of money for ANYTHING, let alone something as lame but necessary as a dry basement.

The trench they dug
The hole for the pump
One more thing about these Valpak charlatans: They keep calling to schedule a follow-up "inspection" with their supervisor, who they promised would give us a significantly lowered price. And when I told them I would call them to reschedule, they kept calling anyway. They stopped after I had finally told them I had gone with someone else. They could not have cared less.

Learn from my experience. It turned out alright for us. Our basement is dry thanks to this little guy:
Ready to work, 24/7. Even without power.
And the air is cool thanks to this little guy:

Always keeps it at 60% humidity.
Common sense prevailed. We went with a guy we trusted. Someone honest. We didn't get soaked. And it didn't hurt that he's easy on the eyes.

The first time the new basement came in handy was when we were hit with another unexpected storm two months after Irene. You can read about that here.

This is not a paid endorsement for Ricardo's company, Rika Construction. I don't do those. I tell honest stories based on my experiences as a dad, husband, dog owner, runner, and in this case, homeowner. But I would definitely recommend Rika if you need your basement done and you live in Northern/Central New Jersey. You can find them here.


  1. Been there, once in a house I owned and another time in a rental. Water is my worst enemy when it comes to homes. I'd rather stick my hand blindly into the electric junction box than have to deal with plumbing. Glad things worked out in the end!

    1. This isn't plumbing... it's nature. But when plumbing is involved too? Double whammy.

  2. No joke, water is killer. We had a sewer line back up into our entire lower level - dead mice and all. Pretty gross. It totally ruined our summer.

    If only we'd had a Ricardo around then.

    1. Horrible. That happened to one of our neighbors. Just awful. She was the first to hire Ricardo. That kind of clinched it for us as far as hiring him ourselves.

  3. I installed the same exact system with the battery back-up. Awesome. Nothing Like a dry basement. Everytime it rained all I thought about was dreading to open the basement door to seat what soggy treat was in store for me...

    1. Same here. Now we actually look forward to a storm to watch it work. Sadists.

  4. You are freaking hilarious, even in the face of moldy surroundings. I love the directness of this post.

    1. Thanks! I am happy my missteps as a homeowner amuse you. ;-)

  5. Its times like those it comes it comes in handy being a salesman. Its also nice to be able to trust someone.

    1. These salesmen were the worst. And I have a very low tolerance for bullsh!t.

  6. You were so lucky to find an honest man! And good looking, too? Gravy!
    We had tons of damage after a hurricane about 5 years ago and the creepers came out of the woodwork trying to con people. Can I just say how awesome your Director is again? Teamwork. :)

    1. She IS awesome. And we were fortunate to find Ricardo. We had two honest guys to choose from. But people who don't know better could very easily fall into the traps of these charlatans. We almost did.

  7. Dang, crazy story and eye-opening. I'll be sure to ask around when it comes to hiring someone for major repairs. Ah, the joys of home ownership... :]


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