Homeowner’s Contractor Companion—a behind-the-curtain, BS-proof guide to the home improvement estimate, selection, and negotiation process 

I’m a salesman for a home-improvement contractor, Kraz Construction. I’m not a project consultant. I’m not an estimator. I’m not an energy savings specialist. I could call myself any or all of those things, but that would just be the standard nonsense you’d expect from a salesman. I know this because, as I said, I’m a salesman. 

But I try not to be a salesman. You know? The stereotypical salesman is the guy who talks your ear off—slick talker, showman, charmer, blah-blah-blah enthusiast, amirite? 

Even worse than that is the salesman friend. I never want to be that guy. You know the one I’m talking about. The guy who takes the “always be closing” mantra with him to barbecues and high school band concerts, and church. You can’t so much as talk to him about the weather without him trying to sell you an umbrella. The thought of being that pushy, annoying salesman to a total stranger is painful enough; being known as such I’m on my family and friends is a fate worse than death.

But I am a salesman, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Yes, I can get you “a deal” on your next home improvement project, what a total stranger can do that for you as well. In many cases, maybe even most cases, some stranger’s company may be a better fit for your needs. My ability to get you “a deal” is not the benefit I want to bring to any relationship. What I do think I can provide is something I’ve learned by being what a real salesman has taught me. 

In my experience, a real salesman doesn’t show and tell nearly as much as he observes and listens.I do my best to listen more than I talk and observe more than I show. And in this proces of taking in more information then I dispense, I’ve learned that what customers want more than windows or siding or new roofs is trust and ease and guidance to a real solution. While I can’t ensure a painless process no matter who comes in to your home to give you a quote, I can help you prepare for the process to give you the best chance at finding a contractor you can trust at the best value for you.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been developing a guide for homeowners to use when searching for a contractor. In it, I’m including:

  • How to prioritize projects 
  • What projects add the most value to your home
  • When is the best time to get which projects done
  • What to look for when choosing which contractor to contact
  • What questions to ask during an estimate
  • Common contractor myths
  • How to negotiate a price

And more. But not much more, that’s just a technique salesmen use to make you think there’s too much great information to list. 

I expect to have the guide complete this weekend. If you’d like to be notified when it is ready, please let me know, and I’ll email it when it’s ready. 

I don’t imagine I will be able to answer every question you may have, but I’m trying to make it as thorough as possible. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them personally. Email, call, or ask any questions you may have in the comments. and happy to help however I can. 

Ecocapsule can make you live like Mork on a cruise ship

I’ve met a fair amount of happy people in my lifetime. There are some people who are just continually happy, but it’s more frequent to just happen to catch someone during a particularly happy moment, like when they’re holding a puppy or eating an ice cream sundae or watching the Cubs win the World Series . . . stuff like that. But maybe no brand of people are happier than the ones I’ve heard talking about their time on a really good cruise.

Now, I assume these people were happier when they were on their cruises than when they were simply reminiscing about said cruises whilst in my company some many months and/or years removed from the miracle of cruise-ship living. I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never been on a cruise to see in person how happy the cruisers really are in the moment. But I can say with some great certainty that the happiness level of a post-cruise person in full-on cruise storytelling mode is right up there with the happiest happiness I’ve ever observed. 

Naturally, I thought of this when I saw the promo video for the Ecocapsule living module. Yeah, I know, it shows people in the middle of an open field living in their little solar-/wind-powered versions of The Bean, not floating in the middle of the Caribbean drinking margaritas, but the ultra-compact living quarters reminds me of what I’ve heard the cabins on cruise ships are like. And it naturally got me thinking about happiness in a really cramped space.

Cruise people are happy, yet they live in tiny rooms with tiny beds and tiny bathrooms and tiny toilets and tiny showers. On a cruise, you have almost no stuff and very possibly no wifi or cell service. What they do have in bountiful supply, however, is experience. And food, sure, loads of food. And drinks. And fun. I find it so intriguing that some of the happiest times many people ever experience come in this environment that is so drastically different from the big-bedded, spacious-roomed, wifi-filled routine of their everyday homes. It’s not a complete mystery, quite the opposite, really. The mindset on a cruise is simple: you don’t go for the room, you go for the experience and luxury of everything on the ship and the various ports and points of interest. But it raises the question, Why don’t we live like that all the time? Why do we make home ownership the single-biggest expense most of us incur? Why make our own personal living quarters the place we spend most of our time? 

Well, some people are making it a point to live quite differently from that norm, and I have to say it triggers the dreaming part of my brain pretty intensely. On one of my daily podcasts, I heard a story about a couple who converted their normal home into a rental and built a small dwelling, not all that different from the Ecocapsule, on the property. They “live” in the tiny module, draw income from their house, and now teach other people to do the same. They spend most of their time traveling off of the income they pull from the training, building, and rental. It sounds pretty awesome.

I don’t know that I plan to put the money down to be one of the first 50 people to live in an Ecocapsule, but I do think it would be a phenomenal experiment and experience to live in a small shell and make the focus of life to soak in the environment, culture, people, and world that surrounds me rather than the comfort and endless streams of entertainment we find in the expanse of our homes.

I’m not a hippie, I swear.

Okay, here’s today’s easy question:

To whom did Mork from Ork report at the end of every episode of Mork & Mindy?

Oh, and the last answer? That dude bought two Papa John’s pizzas for 10,000 bitcoin, the going rate of which is now somewhere in the order of $120,000. Not too shabby.

Bit by Bitcoin

It’s essentially nerd money.

About four years ago I wrote copy for an infographic about bitcoin. I didn’t get paid in bitcoin, but now I wish I had. At the time, it was still relatively new . . . five years old or so. It started with a bunch of nerds, especially one nerd, the Kaiser Soze of nerds, Satoshi Nakamoto (not his/her/their real name, because of course). He/she/they created a digital currency governed by no one, backed by nothing but its code, and worth nothing but the digits it wasn’t even printed on. It was nothing but digital code, strings of it. The initial code block featured 50 bitcoin, worth roughly 50 bits of zilch. But hey, it was fun to have nerd Monopoly money to trade with each other whenever they needed to pay each other to keep track of their codes.

Only, it was genius. The idea was that counterfeiting would be impossible, ever generation of new bitcoin, every single transaction of any kind, would be tracked on everyone’s computer. It rolled out in the beginning of 2009 and, with a few hiccups along the way, has been consistently rising in value and in the extent that it is being taken seriously by international consumers, markets, investors, and retailers. It took a couple of years for the value to build substantially, but the value of the bitcoin reached the same worth as the US dollar by spring of 2011. When I first researched bitcoin in 2013, it spent the year fluctuating from $100 to $1200 and every point in between, normalizing around $600 or so. Its value has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride over the past several years, but still with a general climb. As of today, the value is over $1,200, making this quite possibly the worst time to buy.

Or, it’s just starting to reach the popular level, making it a better time than any. How should I know, I’m no economist.

If it’s still not making sense, here’s a link explaining bitcoin so a five year old could understand it. (Keep in mind, “so a five year old could understand it” is nerdspeak for “so a middle-aged college grad kind of gets it.” Be warned.) 

It’s all just very interesting to me, even if it makes my brain hurt.

So here’s a little bitcoin trivia: In 2010, how much did Laszlo Hanyecz pay in bitcoin for two pizzas from Papa John’s? (Price is Right rules apply; leave your answers in the comments, and I’ll keep them hidden until I reveal the answer.)

Microfossils Are We

Scientists discovered microfossils that appear to be the oldest evidence of life on this planet. Maybe that’s exciting for you, but on days when I wake up feeling like I’m 3.77 billion years old, it’s not as encouraging as one might think to know I’m not alone. I’m sure somewhere among the microfossils there’s someone saying, “Age is just a number,” or, “You don’t look a day over 3.76 billion,” or, “Hey, nerdface, keep staring at rocks in your windowless, loveless corner of the universe and see how old you look in 4 billion years,” but I bet most of them just sound like Steven Wright

Feeling old sucks. You get hurt when you almost fall. You forget which Target you’re in. Hair from the back of your head gets reincarnated on your shoulders. And, maybe worst of all the non-dying things, you realize in some areas of life, you’ve been doing it wrong this whole time. 

But. 

That’s the part that also makes me feel young again. Learning. Learning a better way of living, a better way of looking at the world. Learning to laugh when someone points out you’re being a stooge instead of slapping them like you’re Moe. 

It’s funny, nothing makes me feel younger than learning I don’t know something and that what I don’t know can be known. I realize it’s cryptic, and I realize I’m only 41, and I hope you realize that telling me this is just the beginning of getting old is not what I need right now. But now, I’m going to go learn. 
You could now learn that South America is the home to the most llamas, but I’m sure you knew that. So here’s today’s new trivia:

In what country were the 3.77-ish-year-old microfossils discovered? (Don’t look. Try to remember.)