Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Money Pit

Whatever did we do before Al Gore invented the internets? In what I think is a little humorous, my husband just called to inquire about the tides. As in, the tides at the exact location of his person, 2,000 miles away from where I am sitting right now (in Kansas City). He was calling me from the boat which sits on the water that is rising and falling with the tides as we speak. I mean, can't he see the tide for himself? Why call on me for this information? Because ahead looms The Bridge under which he must go in order to get to our slip in Tacoma (did I not mention any of this already? I'll clarify what he has been up to in a moment). So, to find out how much clearance exists between him (or more specifically, the boat) and the bridge (so that the mast might not snap off like a toothpick), he is calling me. And yes, he did check the tide tables before he left Seattle, but he arrived in Tacoma earlier than expected and now needs to know how long he needs to wait until it's safe to proceed. He knows it will be safe in two hours, but what about now? Just how accurate are the tide tables anyway? Are they just predictions like a weather forecast? Or are they cast in stone, known for years in advance and unwavering in their accuracy? We did purchase navigational software that resides on my hard drive...which is also here in Kansas City, not exactly helpful to He Who is Currently Navigating. It does contain tide information, but it's static. It isn't updated via an online service or anything. So I pulled that up and told him to wait an hour to be safe. Then I looked on the internet to confirm and found this which confirmed it. As I was talking to him on the phone, a Harbor Patrol boat came along that had just passed under the bridge. My husband waved to him and asked about the clearance. The Harbor Patrolman said it was 68 ft right now but it might be risky to go under it yet...wait about an hour. Heh. "Told you," I said. :-) I should add that we are not certain how tall is the mast. You would think that this would be a vital statistic published somewhere on the specs or in the survey that we have, but we have not been able to find it. The salesman told us it is 67' and another person told us 65'. So we want to err on the side of caution until we are more familiar with the boat.

And now, some illumination on the goings on of the past week, in what is sure to be the first of many tales in the Boat As Money Pit saga. I've added a new category just for stories such as these. It's not like nobody told us this would happen. It's not like we didn't budget for it, seeing as we really did negotiate a pretty "good price" on the boat based on its need for additional work ("good price" is a bit oxymoronic in the context of boats, of course, because even if someone were to hand you a boat for free, it is an immediate liability as opposed to an asset). This is hardly the kind of story that warrants an ounce of sympathy or prayers. We knew this was coming but we plunged forth anyway. But we have vowed to share (or at least I husband might rather I keep such stories to myself...this was his big idea afterall ;-) the good, the bad and the ugly of this boating adventure (for anyone just tuning in, you may refer to the category previously known as "Sailing" for a little history...just tap on the link to "Sailing" at the bottom of this post).

Anyway, my beloved husband flew to Seattle last weekend to move the boat at last into its temporary slip in Tacoma (temporary until our name surfaces on the list in Seattle). The mechanic has had the boat on his dock ever since we purchased it back in October, including the week of Christmas when he conveniently decided to pull out the engine and all that comes with it, forcing us into a hotel for our vacation. That alone cost us an extra $600 for a hotel. We told him to take his time as we would not need the boat right away, but we didn't think that would triple the cost of repairs! The original estimate was roughtly $5,000 which we had negotiated into the purchase price of the boat, so we were prepared for that. But triple that amount and well, you can do the math. *choke* Essentially, this was to replace engine mounts and compressor brackets, and a timing cover plate on the engine. $2,500 for parts and 110 hours of labor. The engine was not replaced or rebuilt. To replace the engine would have only cost about $10,000. We were shocked. Flummoxed. Mad. And sad...sad because we trusted the shop manager who seemed so nice...honest and fair. To be fair to him, he did advise us that things "were worse than he originally thought" once he opened up the engine compartment and pulled out the engine. But he never once told us what this meant in terms of extra dollars. He didn't call to say, "hey, it's going to be an extra $10,000. Is that okay?" And we didn't ask either...lesson learned. Honestly, when he said "a lot worse" we expected the bill might be double and we were braced for that, but hoped maybe somehow, it wouldn't materialize.

Not having a clue whether we were being taken for the ignorant boat owners that we are or if the work really cost that much, we asked for the complete work order and itemization of work performed. We sent this off to the engine surveyor for a 2nd opinion. His response? "This is not only excessive, it is OUTRAGEOUS!! They didn't even perform all of the repairs that I had indicated in the survey. Let me know when you come out to Seattle and I'll meet you at the boat to look it over." And so my husband flew to Seattle, called the surveyor, met him at the boat, surveyed the repairs and then the surveyor exclaimed that even some of the repairs they did do needed to be redone. And thus began a downward spiral in the relationship with "our" mechanic. He didn't like that we called in our surveyor for an inspection of the work, but I'm not sure what else we could have done. We certainly weren't capable of inspecting it ourselves. He turned all shades of red when the surveyor asked if they had done this and that ("no" and "no").

In the end, they agreed to do a bunch more work to meet the standards of the surveyor, and we agreed not to take him to court to contest the bill. We did ask him again to consider making an adjustment to the hours spent which seemed excessive, but he would not budge. The surveyor said that for the work performed by a capable mechanic, the 110 hours should have taken about 40 hours. I expected him to be willing to make some concession on the hours, but no. I work in a business where we bill by the hour and having these discussions is pretty common. My approach with the client is always to ask them what they think is fair and preserve the relationship at almost any cost. In the end, a good relationship has to be a two way street. In business, I expect to be fair to my clients and I expect them to be fair to me. If they want me to provide services for less than fair value, I'm not going to provide good service. If I want to charge them more than the work is worth, they're not going to be clients for long. I'm not interested in litigating something intangible like how much money an hour is worth. I usually find that when a client calls to complain about the bill and I ask them to tell me what they think is fair, we can arrive at an agreeable solution pretty quickly. The fact that the mechanic was willing to do more work for the money was some concession, but the complete refusal to negotiate the "labor" portion of the bill spoke volumes about his integrity. I might add that we learned in all of this that the labor was performed by a 21-year old inexperienced apprentice and apparently, without a lot of supervision. Looking at the time sheets, it appears there was a lot of "soft" time spent on our boat. I really do think we got ripped off. And I'm disappointed about that.

The good news now is, at least the boat is running beautifully, according to my husband's call. So things could be worse. And now, he just called to say they made it under the bridge with a foot and a half to spare. She is safe now, at rest in her slip.

Now, if we can just get money to grow on trees, we'll be all set.

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At 4:48 PM, February 03, 2008, Blogger Janie said...

Wheeewwww! That's a lot of dough, girl. I still think y'all should turn him in to the BBB.

And I told you you shoulda named her "Schedule C"...;)

At 5:11 PM, February 03, 2008, Blogger Gwynne said...

Janie, I agree!! I don't think we're done fighting him yet. I'm not willing to litigate (yet), but we will definitely be following up.

At 6:34 AM, February 04, 2008, Blogger Sisiggy said...

I'm no lawyer, but can you file the complaint in K.C. and make all litigation from there? We file warrants in our home county, forcing a deadbeat client to have to take a day off from work and travel to us, usually making it more expensive to fight the warrant than to just pay the bill. I don't know how that works inter-state, though.

We're also that trusting, as we were the contractors that came and went building our house. Ah, well. Hindsight is 20/20...

At 11:07 AM, February 04, 2008, Blogger DarkoV said...

Well, a tractor-trailer rig was pulling around our neighborhood and was wondering if he'd clear the train trestle bridge. We did a little figurin' 'n measurin' 'n hmmmmmin' and hawin' and we allagree that he hould let some air out of his trailer's tire so he could squeeze under.

Listen, can't your hubby, like, let some air out of the hull or have some Seahawks fans all sit on one side of the boat to tilt it so that he'd slide under the bridge w/o having to consult you 2,000 miles away?

Just wonderin'
A Landlubber

At 5:33 PM, February 04, 2008, Blogger Gwynne said...

Darko, your solution sounds like a good one, not unlike letting the air out of a bag of cheetos to squeeze it into the purse and sneak it into the movie theatre. Not that I've ever done this. 8-}

But if what you're really suggesting (after our attempts to line up the Seahawks fail) is that the solution is to poke a hole in the hull of the boat, we may get to that point eventually. ;-)

Sissigy, if you've built a house, I'm sure you know how this feels. We will definitely try to settle this out of court first, but good to think about fighting it locally, for sure.

At 5:14 PM, February 17, 2008, Blogger Rach said...

Let me know if you figure out how to do the money tree!


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