The Riverboat Gamblers

Today is a big day.  It’s the day I get my third roofing quote here at the house.

Last week, Handy and I met with roofing contractors.  It’s a small job.  I want to install a standing seam metal roof on the garage, the screen porch, and the roof over what was an addition to the house.  I agree with Handy that metal roofs are the way to go, but neither of us had any idea how much such a project might cost.

It’s an older garage, not antique, but solidly built.

The Provenance of the GarageI don’t have much experience in these types of negotiations because as you may recall, few contractors were interested in doing work for me at the chicken coop-sized condominium I lived in previously because it was, well, a chicken coop-sized job.  Too small.  Now, my real estate holdings have expanded exponentially and I’ve been able to command some attention.  Or at least get some roofing contractors to come to my house with ladders, measuring tape, and lined paper.

Plus, it’s spring.  It’s time for contractors to get moving after a long winter.

The first visit on Monday really set the tone for the rest of the week.  Bob and John showed up in a late-model Chevy Malibu.  They were early, but I was ready for them and met them in the driveway.  Bob’s title was “Sales & Finance Manager” and John didn’t have a card.  I pointed out the roof areas to be assessed and how I wanted the job quoted.  Not knowing how these jobs were priced, I decided it might be good to get a quote on the garage separate from the house so I could have some options.

Handy showed up and I introduced him as my “general contractor.”  I went in the house and waited.

It didn’t take long.  The three of them came into the house and Bob asked if he could sit in the living room to do some calculations.  He started rustling his papers, punching a calculator, and scribbling furiously while John sat down at the kitchen island in Handy’s regular seat.  He had a binder with laminated pages and he began giving a “presentation.”

Having at one time in my life been part of a sales team that made presentations, I realized I would now be subjected to a “dog and pony show” about standing seam metal roofing.  As my brother will tell you, I have a very high tolerance for boorish behavior.  I politely listened to John’s “talking points” and examined the sheets in his presentation binder.

Just as John had finished explaining the company’s “A Plus” rating with the Better Business Bureau, Bob jumped up from the couch where he’d been calculating and told me he had a price.  Handy stood off to the side and Bob sat down next to John.  I stood where I always stand, on the opposite side of the island.

Bob casually presented the yellow-lined document with the eight items that would be included in the job, including stripping loose shingles, applying roof guard and wall flashing where applicable, and a non-vented ridge cap.  As I’d requested, the job was broken down into two sections, garage and house.  The total?

A five-figure number 32% more than my new furnace.

Not being a poker player, I must have flinched because Bob asked “what do you think of the number?”

I felt like I had been stopped at a sobriety checkpoint after watching three hours of videos about Miranda rights and talking to the police.  What should I say?

I composed my thoughts and said “well, five figures are more than four.”

Then Bob asked me what price I might be more inclined to pay.

Once again, I was a deer in the headlights.  Where was I? I thought I was in my kitchen discussing roofing.  Handy and I talk about home projects in this self-same spot at least three times a week and never once have I looked over at him and thought I was counting cards and smoking cigars with a riverboat gambler.

Bob must have sensed my discomfort or else he realized I only aspired to purchase furniture from the Thomas Moser catalog on my living room coffee table, so he took back the piece of paper, flipped it over, and covertly wrote a new number.  He slid it towards me on the island and said “what do you think of this number?”

The new number was 20% less than the first number.

Handy coughed and I said “that’s a much better number.  For how long would this offer be good?”

Bob paused.  The quote would be good for 14 days, but anything longer than that would require his manager’s approval.  Seeing my escape through this chink in the conversation, I told Bob and John how much I appreciated their visit today.  I explained my policy to get three quotes before I make a financial decision involving four figures and theirs was the first.  I thanked them again, we all shook hands, and they got back into the late-model Chevy Malibu and drove off down the street.

On Thursday, two other contractors visited.  They drove trucks, the kinds you see during Super Bowl commercials, and they used ladders to take measurements.  After introductions, I let Handy do the talking.  At one point, overhearing the conversation, I laughed and realized I had no idea what they had said to each other.  It was all quite pleasant and there were no sales presentations.  Both contractors told me they would e-mail me their quotes.

I got one of the prices on Saturday and it was 32% less than the original price outlined by Bob and John on Monday.  Handy stopped by and offered to take me for a drive to look at various metal roofs in our area.  It was bright and sunny and we chatted about the roofing estimates and the Bernanke cake; he asked me where I got my blog ideas.

“Do you think these things up while you’re taking your walks?”

I told him they did sometimes come to me while I was walking, but mostly they came from the daily trials and tribulations of first world life.  The simple things, like trying to get a good cup of coffee in a coffee-saturated world or just trying to find out the true price for a standing seam metal roof.

When it comes to stories about riverboat gamblers, I’ll leave that up to Elvis Presley and Edna Ferber.  

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