July 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby





THE BREAKFAST ROOM – We have all been told to get a second opinion. That is why we have appellate courts and instant replay. Second-guessing is especially popular in medicine. Whatever our doctor says, we are told to get a second opinion. We don’t, of course, because we have child-like faith in our doctors. But when a shade-tree mechanic says our car engine’s wheedle gear is twangling and the rear jerryknob needs a new fristict, we might want to seek another view.

This can lead to confusion, delays and despair. Let me explain. I am looking at a long, jagged, ugly scar across my breakfast room ceiling which no one can ignore. Friends wander by and look up, grimace, and say nothing except maybe, “Who decorates your ceilings? Michelangelo on meth?” One neighbor visits wearing a hardhat, which is not very subtle.

The crack is the result of last summer’s drought and heat which did a severe number on Texas soil. You may have endured the results of the record temperatures and Dust Bowl dryness. Some towns were almost without any water. Cattle were sold off or simply went to that great rendering plant in the sky. Swimming pools were closed. The ground changed. Water pipes broke. Sidewalks buckled. So I can’t feel terribly sorry for myself with this crack which is causing me all kinds of trouble and it means my slab foundation is split along with all the water and sewer pipes under the house, and to readjust the foundation all the tile floors will crack into confetti and I shall be out tens out thousands of dollars. Wait. Yes, I can feel very sorry for myself.

I consider smearing some white toothpaste in the cracks. One of my sons recommends, “Just hire a painter to patch and paint it.” I get an estimate: $720. But the crack might come back. I need a permanent fix. Step Number Uno is to find an expert who will fix the problem. I check with one of my many neighbors who had major surgery on their foundations. “Step Number Uno is to get an engineer to see if you really need to repair your foundation.” So a PhD in consulting engineering comes out with his instruments, makes a detailed chart of the floors, maps the entire house, then sends me four pages of drawings along with a single-spaced three-page explanation – and a bill for $475.

With all this info in hand I am ready for the foundation guys to do their thing. Right? “No, you know the effect – you’ve got a cracked slab. What’s the cause?” says my neighbor. A leak detection company comes out and determines that, sure enough, I’ve got broken pipes under the house which are washing away the soil causing the slab to crack which causes etc., etc. They make two trips. One visit costs $295. The second runs $485. Thus far I am down $1,255 and the crack is still there, but now I am ready for the foundation fixers to fix.

Not to bore you with the details, but I get estimates of – no kidding — $5,787.50 and $4,500. One comes in at $8,560, another at $10,549. The lowest bid is for $3,480. The highest is $39,275. Oh, and one says, “Just hire a painter to patch and paint it.” These experts want to either saw a small hole in the driveway or jackhammer the entire drive. One says my chimney is the culprit and needs to be jacked up. Another expert says I should put beams under the house. Yet another wants to tunnel and trench from the house across my yard to the main water and sewer lines, and none of these estimates include the biggest expense of all, replacing the shattered tile floors.

There is the East Indian story of the blind men who touch an elephant. Each touches a different part – tail, tusk, etc. – and describes a totally different animal.

But all my experts are touching the same elephant, looking at the same house, cracks and engineer’s charts, and they come up with completely different causes, solutions and prices. It makes no sense. There was a time when President John Kennedy sent a U.S. Marine general and a State Department official to check out a growing conflict in a place called Vietnam. After their return and their presentations to JFK, he asked, “Did you two gentlemen witness the same war?”

In business we have parameters or yardsticks. We know how much rent to pay per square foot for a ghetto-front pawn shop; what’s the going price to stuff an endangered bald eagle. The Secret Service knows how much to pay for entertainment. Of course, price isn’t everything. John Glenn once noted just before his first blastoff he realized he was sitting on 90,000 parts, each one made by the lowest bidder.

Deciding what to purchase is easy, although women are better at this than men. Women will compare, savor, mull. Men just take the first item offered and consider it a done deal. Repairing is a different story, although today we don’t repair, mostly we just replace. Our cars are a good example. Have you ever driven around town getting various estimates to fix your car? It’s a pain and we do it only if the initial estimate is horrendous. Our house is another. How much to paint the gazebo and horse stalls? How much is too much to wallpaper the garage? Filing your taxes is iffy. My brother sent his last year’s filled-out IRS forms, which were close to this year’s amounts, to three different CPAs asking for their price. He got fee proposals from $250 to $2,500 for the exact same job.

It would be easy to say I’m back where I started, but I am actually behind. If I knew what to do I’d fix it myself and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. That’s just my opinion. Maybe I need a second.

Ashby is confused at

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