It was time for a Very Deep Breath.
Jane, our intrepid property manager, had asked a local guy named Humberto to come out and take a look at the unfinished side of our house and give us an estimate on how much he’d charge to plaster and paint it.
Everything had gone fine at first.
And then, without warning, the whole thing had fallen apart very fast.
Pointing toward the most decrepit of our windows, Humberto let loose a volley of complaints, laments and warnings, all in perfect English (a language we had been told he didn’t speak). “You are wasting your money and my time asking me to work around those old-time windows, which are crap,” he said, addressing Michael.
“They are rotten. The plaster that I apply around them will fall away from them and you will blame me. This is a bad investment. You must buy new windows.”
Who knew windows could stir such depths of emotion?
Jane had entreated us to ignore Humberto if he mentioned windows, but ignoring this particular verbal eruption was like asking the citizens of Chernobyl to ignore that pesky little explosion down the road.
“And where would we buy these windows?” I asked. Jane stared at me for a moment in stunned silence, then threw up her hands and walked away.
“From me, of course,” was Humberto’s straightforward answer.
“And how much would they cost?”
“$800 each,” was his excited reply, to which Roberto chimed in: “Excellent price.”
Jane, meanwhile, was pacing back and forth across the top of the yard, fit to be tied. Her carefully planned meeting had devolved into chaos.
“We’ll think about it,” Michael replied treacherously.
Humberto’s radiant smile returned. “Very reasonable price,” he said. “You won’t regret.”
“Harumph,” Jane said.
“I tried to protect you boys from yourselves,” Jane said after the rickety truck sputtered away.
That was the thing about Jane. As annoying as she’d been all afternoon, she really did have our best interests at heart. We had named our price ceiling and she had duly noted it and done everything in her power to ensure we didn’t overspend.
But sometimes she got a little carried away.
“So how big do you think his mark-up is?” I asked, struggling to wrestle the conversation back into the realm of fact.
“Huge!” she said . “Probably a hundred percent.”
This wasn’t particularly helpful. I doubted that the retail price of the windows was less than $600.
“Maybe we’ll just stop by the hardware store to find out,” Michael said, in such a firm tone that Jane finally clammed up and began talking about something else.
The windows retailed for $625.
I called Humberto myself and said he could replace all of them if his $800 price tag included installation.
Jane was furious.
But on our next visit, as she stood with us in the side yard admiring Humberto’s craftsmanship, she said, “You know, this guy is absolutely great. He just replaced all the windows in one of my rentals up the road. And his prices are so reasonable!”