My husband and I are both sadly lacking in any home maintenance aptitude. Consequently, almost all our home repairs, except for the occasional light bulb change, have involved the hiring of professionals. Our daughter understood her parents' deficiency quite early. When she was 3 and working on an art project, she found the glue container stuck shut. So she threw her hands in the air and said, "We'll have to get someone in."
To me, any kind of construction is a mystery at its onset and a miracle at its completion. I am in awe of people who build or fix things. When I look at a blueprint, I feel as though I'm seeing a page from a sorcerer's book of magic spells.
Still, because I know that home repair is a business, I try to maintain a balance between trust and skepticism. It's a professional relationship unlike any other – the business is being conducted in your own home. The contractor and his crew may be spending entire days "living" with you. They learn things about you and give advice. We had a plumber in who fingered the toilet tissue and told us not to waste the good stuff on the kids – single ply was sufficient for them, he scolded us.
Sometimes, though, they are much less judgmental. The carpenter who remodeled a bedroom closet came in each morning with his tools, a radio, a bottle of water, and a vacuum. He arrived at 8, shut the door, and worked without any interruption until 3 p.m., at which time he vacuumed and left. He kept his opinions to himself.
Few people really like having a job going on in their home. But as hard as it may be on an owner to feel that his house is a public place for six to eight weeks, I'm sure it's just as hard on workers, who have to acclimate to different surroundings all the time. They also have to maintain the proper demeanor and distance to put everyone at ease.
We've had a range of people working on our house in different capacities, and, predictably, they've had vastly different personalities. Understandably, the roofer replacing the flashing doesn't hone his "people skills" as much as the carpenter putting in kitchen cabinets.
When we had siding installed, the guy doing the work knocked on the door, clearly uncomfortable having to cross the threshold. His helper had cut his hand, he explained, and wanted masking tape to bind it up. When I offered bandages, he said his helper wouldn't use them. Sure enough, I watched as the second man wound the masking task around his hand, bit off the end with his teeth, and got back on the ladder.
In contrast, we had a very friendly indoor painter who so enjoyed conversation while he worked that if no one was available, he sang to our dog, who sat attentively watching and listening at the doorway.
I appreciate the skill and ingenuity of those who take pride in their work. When our bathroom pipes were clogged, the plumber emerged like a conquering hero with a huge mass of hair on the snake. "It wasn't easy, but I did it," he said, wiping his brow.
I was happy to let him have his moment. After all, when my house looks good, it reflects well on me, even if all I did was find the right person for the job.