Sunday, July 28, 2019

That time I got ghosted by some shoddy painters

"Ghosting" is a dating term referring to the case where one party in the relationship simply disappears with no word to the other.  They never officially break up but instead just stop answering calls and texts.  This week, I got ghosted by some shoddy painters.  Being ghosted in a romantic relationship must be extremely painful and frustrating, but actually, being ghosted by my painters was the least painful and frustrating part of this experience and probably the best outcome for me.

After my recent window and door installation, I had needed some paint touch-ups inside, and I realized that the exterior frames around the windows on the west side of the house were chipping pretty badly.  I didn't want to spend days on a ladder scraping lead paint off my window frames, so I decided to hire a painter.  I found a guy (Mark St. John from DunnRite Painting, Inc. Lic #723044) with a lead-safe certification and experience working on other old houses in this neighborhood and good reviews on Yelp.  When he came by to give me a quote, he seemed really competent and knowledgeable, and I felt good about it, so I hired him.

I waited for about 6 weeks for him to get finished with other jobs, and during that time, communication wasn't great.  I finally heard from him around 2pm on a Sunday saying they were ready to start work the following day.  I asked what time they would be arriving, and he didn't respond to my message until 7pm that evening, saying that they would be starting at 7am the next morning.  Great, thanks for the warning. <eye roll>

He arrived with his crew, went over the work to be done, and then he left, leaving just his crew to do the work.  He did not give me a written contract. I was stupid and didn't realize this or think about it until later, but actually, this probably worked in my favor in the end.

Right away, I wasn't super confident in the work the crew was doing.  They were getting dust everywhere and weren't even wearing simple dust masks (so much for lead-safe practices), they didn't take down the door I'd asked them to strip and paint but were instead just kind of scraping away at it as it was flopping around on its hinges.  They didn't strip or fully scrape off the chipping paint, and I didn't realize what was going on until they had instead filled in the cracks between the chipping paint with wood filler and then primed over it.

After they left for the day, I inspected the work more carefully and decided that I was NOT satisfied and that I needed to say something about it.  I texted the boss saying I wasn't happy and sent him some photos, asking him to come over the following morning to go over the work and discuss a solution.
They primed over still-chipping paint.

Forgot to do the side of the trim.

Used wood filler to conceal chipping paint.
All-around sloppy job on the door I asked them to strip.

My full list of complaints, which I ultimately sent to the boss later, was as follows:
  • Failure to adequately scrape or otherwise remove existing paint from surfaces, instead doing only minimal scraping and some sanding and then priming over surfaces that still had chipping paint and applying wood filler to conceal chipping paint
  • Failure to adequately control sanding dust inside the house when working outside by closing the windows or applying plastic covers to the insides of the windows when they needed to remain open
  • Failure to adequately cover floors and furniture inside when working inside
  • Failure to vacuum or adequately wipe dust from surfaces prior to painting
  • Using a shellac-based interior-rated primer on large exterior surfaces
  • Reluctance to remove door hardware prior to painting
  • Painting portions of the kitchen window trim that were not requested and without first preparing surfaces
  • Applying paint in the bathroom that was lumpy
  • Neglecting details, such as the edges of the exterior trim

This all made me very nervous because I absolutely hate having confrontations with people, and I knew this was going to be very awkward. Plus, I just felt really dumb for having made the mistake of hiring these people and not stopping them sooner in the day.  I felt that my home, my personal space, had been really violated and damaged.  So, I waited nervously all that evening and didn't get a response.  I sent an e-mail with the same photos and info as the text.  Nothing.

The next morning, nobody showed up at 7 like they said they would.  Around 8:30, one of the crew guys showed up and said he was just there to collect his stuff and that somebody else would be finishing the job.  I still had heard nothing from the boss.  I texted the boss saying that the guy had come and gone and asked what was going on.  Nothing.  Hours later, he wrote back and said "I'm not sure let me check".  Never heard from him again.

That evening, I e-mailed him to officially let him know he was fired, to give him my list of complaints (above), and to tell him that I was not going to pay him anything.  This is where it was to my advantage to not have an official contract because he would have no grounds to take me to court over this if he wanted to.

My guess is he figured that it was cheaper and easier for him to cut his losses for a day's labor and just disappear rather than come back and fix the mess the guys made. That's okay.  Good riddance.  I don't want any of his guys in my house again. now I need to hire another painter to not only do the job but to also undo the damage the other guys did.  Violated and's been a great week.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Might I have a bit of earth?

The Secret Garden has been one of my favorite books ever since my mom first read it to me when I was four years old.  The book is filled with vivid descriptions of the wonders of growing things and the miracle of springtime.  I would love to have a set of beautiful English walled gardens I could watch through the seasons.  Unfortunately, SoCal is not England.  Our seasons range from warm to hot, it never rains, and we don't really have a dramatic springtime.  If you were to lock up a garden and leave it alone for ten years, it wouldn't turn into a wild paradise. It would just die.  The central metaphors of The Secret Garden would have utterly failed if the garden had been here in SoCal.  Mary, Colin, and Mr. Craven would have all gotten even more miserable and then died, and Dickon would have gone off into the chaparral and started a forest fire.

When I bought my house nearly 6 years ago, I imagined turning my backyard into a wonderland of drought-tolerant shrubbery, and I imagined by the nicely xeriscaped front yard would just sit there and look nice and not get overtaken by weeds.  Neither of these things have come to pass.  I learned very quickly that I actually have no interest in gardening, and I don't really like spending time outside here because it's always hot and dry and excessively sunny.

Plus, there's a huge learning curve for an Easterner like me.  I just didn't even know where to start.  The couple of times I've gone to plant nurseries, I've been overwhelmed by choices and lack of information, and when you ask the staff what to do, they give you 500 options and don't seem to really know what they're talking about.  I just wanted someone to point and like three different things and say "plant this".

Also, most of the stuff I see in nurseries seems geared toward people who have irrigation systems of some sort in place, either traditional sprinklers for grass or drip irrigation for more drought tolerant stuff.  I don't want to garden like that.  I want to get it established and then leave it alone.  When I say this to the nursery staff, they look at me like I'm an idiot.  Maybe I am.  But, I do see trees and shrubs around in locations where they're clearly not being watered, so I don't know why then nurseries aren't just selling that stuff.  Or maybe it's in there, but I don't know how to find it, and the staff doesn't know how to guide me to it.  Maybe in the future, I should just go for a drive or a hike and take pictures of all the stuff I see growing with no water and then try to figure out what it is and plant that stuff.

Anyway, thinking somewhat along those lines, six years is enough time to observe the growth patterns of what's already in the yard and to determine what will thrive and what will die.  In the xeriscaped front yard, patchy grass and other weeds grew back up through the weed cloth and decomposed granite.  Most of the shrubs died or just failed to thrive.  The exception is the magnificent Russian sage plant that flowers gloriously for about six months until the lesser goldfinches eat up the remnants in the fall, and then it goes dormant in the winter.  I never prune or water it, and it's unquestionably ecstatically happy.
Thriving Russian sage, July 2019

The deodar cedar tree, which was a scrawny little thing six years ago, has grown triumphantly, also with no water.  Looking at it now, it's hard to believe I managed to use it as a Christmas tree just a few years ago.

Deodar cedar, Dec 2013
Deodar cedar, July 2019

In the backyard, getting rid of the tree of heaven was a choice I have never regretted even slightly.  The palo verde has thrived with no water, though I wish the previous owner had planted a large shade tree in that location instead.

Palo verde, Oct 2013

Palo verde, July 2019

There's a large deciduous shade tree in the far back, and although someone told me it was a Chinese elm, I haven't been able to confirm that identification.  It looks more like a weeping cherry tree, but it doesn't make any flowers.  The guy at the nursery I asked couldn't figure it out.  It makes copious leaves and branches that grow chaotically, and it needs a yearly haircut to keep it above head level.

So, anyway, I want more shade trees, and I want more shrubs that will cover up the ground and reduce the amount of scraggly grass and weeds that have to be trimmed.  Guess I'm finally going to give this gardening thing a bit of a go, hoping that with a year or two of care, I can get some new stuff established and then leave it alone.

Since the Russian sage is an obvious winner, the plan is to put them everywhere.  I'm also experimenting with a tam juniper in the front yard.  A tam juniper grows low to the ground and wide, so you can use it as a ground cover, and it's pretty!  If I can successfully not kill this, then I'll put it all over the place.  After planting four shrubs from 5-gallon pots, I must say, planting is an absolutely miserable activity.  Definitely paying the nursery or my yard crew to do it next time.  Hats off to those of you who actually like gardening.

New Russian sage (foreground) and tam juniper (right)

I want to plant some more trees in the backyard, but I need to do more research first to make sure I have the right kind of space for them when they mature. They have to not drop detritus everywhere, grow over roofs, or destroy the foundations of my garage.