Lessons from a Crawling Nightmare

We recently through an experience that I think might provide some practical financial lessons for you

I knew the crawl space under our house was somewhat damp, especially after a rain but somehow even knowing a good bit more than the average homeowner about construction, somehow it did not occur to me that we should have had an ongoing termite inspection/treatment program or that the crawl space was damp enough to maybe grow some mold.

So when we found out we had termites it was kind of a shock, but the real shock came when I started getting estimates. What I learned might help you, and not just on termites.

Lesson 1 – There are some companies making eye-popping profits in that industry. Some of them are just plain rip-offs.

Lesson 2 – Just because a company has thousands of 5-star reviews doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best company. Why? Well in this case, the owner that earned all those great reviews sold not too long ago, and the new company is not the same, giving estimates way, way higher than the old ownership.

How much higher? How about $75,000 vs. our best high-quality estimate of $23,000 from someone that knew the old owner of the other company and said they used to give estimates similar to his? I feel really sorry for the many homeowners who got taken for an extra $52,000 because they relied solely on Google reviews.

Lesson 3 – Get at least three estimates. Our three estimates were for $23,000, $37,000, and $75,000 for the same work. The second estimate itemized, and I found things like $2,000 to spend an hour pulling down insulation and $4,000 to roll out new plastic underlayment that I priced at Lowe’s for $450. You’ll also learn something from each estimate that will help you with your evaluation.

Lesson 4 – Go with someone you know, and if not, be skeptical. In the end, we went with someone we know from church who has been doing this for 25 years. He was also the most honest and helpful, gave us a discount, and brought in someone he knows well to do the repair on the band seal who in turn gave us the best estimate on that part of the work. We never would have found that person because he doesn’t advertise and just works with industry pros.

Lesson 5 – Find legitimate ways to save. I was able to save money by not tearing out a whole sunroom of tile but just repairing a small corner section of bad subfloor from below. I saved more because I am capable of installing the new back door assembly and I’ll save still more by buying it new or nearly new on Facebook Marketplace.

Lesson 6 – Keep a healthy savings account. I had just finished paying cash for a 2-year-old truck and a 50th anniversary trip to Europe when this struck, along with a gas leak, A/C issues, a washing machine repair, and a copay on my auto insurance because someone vandalized my truck while I was inside a restaurant. Things like this often come in waves. You don’t want to put tens of thousands of dollars on a credit card. If you need to borrow, see the credit union about an auto loan or home equity loan, but it is far better if you have savings.

Lesson 7 – Get regular termite inspections – Let me finish with the obvious. Spending $300/year for a termite program would have saved us $7,800 in repairs and treatment. Getting our crawl space encapsulated in the beginning when I found it was damp might have turned out to be our only expense.