Monday, October 6, 2008

The Money Pit Mason

I've been saving this story for awhile, but now that the masons are working on the house, I think it's time to trot it out.

Finding masons to do residential tuckpointing is not easy. Masons are accustomed to working on government buildings, churches and schools, but there are very few all-brick homes in this part of the country, which means a low demand for those types of services.

When we bought the house I knew that I wanted to get the masonry tuckpointed. There were a lot of voids and step cracks. There were also a few loose bricks and even one broken one. I had no idea though how to go about finding a mason to do tuckpointing. Asking around led me nowhere. Nobody else knew of anyone who tuckpointed brickwork. Somebody suggested a mason, but they specialized in building chimneys from field stone. That type of mason might have worked, but I wanted a mason who specialized in building repair. I also wanted somebody local.

This meant I had to do about the worst thing to find a contractor. I opened the yellow pages and started looking through the listings. I found only one entry. I called the number and left a message. Mostly I was looking for a quote. The research I'd done hinted that it was going to be expensive to tuckpoint the brick. Material costs were practically zero (sand and mortar), but the labor was very intensive.

I can't remember the name of the mason that I first spoke to, but I remember with crystal clarity our conversations. I'll call him M (for mason). The first phone call went like this after the pleasantries were dispensed and I explained to him what I wanted.

K: When do you think you could come out and take a look at the house? I can run out over lunch or I get off of work after 3:00 most days. I could meet you out there and we could talk about what the scope of work is and costs.
M: I've got a job out in that area so I could swing by anytime.
K: Great! How does Tuesday or Wednesday sound? (This being Monday).
M: I can't schedule that way. I'll just swing out and take a look.

I can't schedule that way? What does that mean? Anyway we left it at that and I waited for him to come out and take a look. A week or two went by before I contacted him again. After several unreturned phone calls, I was concerned that the only mason I could find was not going to take the job. Imagine my surprise when I received a phone call from him at 4:00 one day.

M: I'm in the area. I'll swing by and take a look.
K: Sounds great! I'm on my way home.

Except he never showed. He called about 5:30 to say that he had gotten busy and would have to swing out some other time.

Another week went by and he called at 3:55.

M: I'll be out to your place in five minutes if you can be there.
K: No, I'm sorry but I have to work late.

Finally after another few days, I took a day off to work on the house. The stars had lined up just right and the mason and I were finally going to meet. He pulled into the driveway in a pink Cadillac. He was in his middle forties, had dark brown hair, a great tan, and a wardrobe that looked like it should have been left in the seventies. It was complete with the open V neck shirt and gold chains. At this point, "The Money Pit" seemed like my future. We walked around the building talking around each other - what I wanted, what he could do, how much it might cost, etc. It went like this.

K: We'll be applying for the historical tax credit for this work, so I need to be sure that the mortar matches closely and that it is the softer Type O mortar. We'll also need to do a test patch first, just to make sure that the work is acceptable.
M: Hmmm. You don't want to get involved with the historical society. They're just a hassle. I've walked away from jobs because of them.
K: Really? What problems have you seen?
M: They are too particular. Look, we can come in and put a new bead of concrete on your joints. Do the whole house for you. You'll love the results.
K: Wait. Don't you chisel out the old mortar first? I thought that if you didn't remove the old stuff first, the new stuff wouldn't stick.
M: (looking indignant) I've been at this twenty years and we've never had a problem with the mortar falling out. We can put new mortar in, make it flush with your brick and it will look great.

At this point I was horribly torn. This guy was talking about doing things I'd read were a bad idea (like not chiseling out the old mortar) and on top of it, changing the look of the house. The brickwork was meant to have recessed mortar. He was also the ONLY mason I'd found.

We got around to the front of the house and I knew we were getting close to the end of the conversation.

K: So what's a ballpark figure to take care of the house?
M: We'll we'd come in for a few weeks, do the whole's hard to say. But I know that you'd love the work. My guys are fantastic at what they do. And I'm extremely particular. I make sure the work they do is first rate.
K: Great! So what are we talking? $5,000? $10,000? $50,000?
M: A building this size...Probably around $20,000. But that includes caulking too. Don't have somebody else out to caulk around the doors and windows. You won't be happy and we'll just have to come out and redo it. And that will save you tons in heating costs.
K: OK. Well how much to just go around and caulk all the windows?

(We had to walk around the house again, because I guess he didn't take that into account the first time we walked around.)

M: It'd be about $2,000 to $3,000 to caulk all the windows and doors. But we really don't like working for that little amount of money. You give me a call when you're ready to do the whole house and we'll talk.

He left and the only thing I regret about that whole exchange is that I didn't have the presence of mind to tell him to get off my property and never come back again. I resolved that the House of 42 Doors would fall down before that guy ever set foot on my land again.

After a few weeks of cool down time, I sent an e-mail to the previous owner of the House of 42 Doors (who was an architect) and asked him if he knew of any masons. He came back with Larry, and thankfully, the story has come out with a happy ending.

1 comment:

Syl said...

I'm continually impressed by how much you know about this house, how much work you two are doing (with 2 kids in tow), and how much you have already gotten done. Kudos for knowing better than to hire Larry from Three's Company to do the work!