One Hell of a Month

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One Hell of a Month

Anyone who calculates buying vs. renting knows that it is necessary to include maintenance costs into the expense of buying.  What one can’t account for is the “gotcha!” nature of the pratfalls of ownership.  You never know what might be hidden in the walls of your home.  If you’re a renter, you don’t care; that’s someone else’s problem.

Often these problems start as a trickle and end up a river.  I’ve dealt with problems like this in the past.  It must have been my time up at bat in this game again because thanks to my home I’ve had the week month from hell.

FRIDAY – July 1st

It started with a trickle.  Not one, but two.  I noticed the emergency drainage pipe from (what I assumed was) my air conditioner was flooding the pan in my washer and dryer closet.  Around the same time I was made aware that my second bathroom had a trickle of water constantly running from the tub faucet.

SATURDAY – July 2nd

Like celebrity deaths, home problems must come in threes and on July 1st my clothes washer simply stopped working.  No power. Nothing.

A plumber was scheduled to come the following weekend for the bathroom and I had a technician come look at the washer immediately.  The technician charged me $24 to look at the machine and said it would be “maybe” $400 to fix it during the following week (this was July 4th weekend, after all – a perfect time for things to break).  I thanked him and decided to do some research.  I ended up getting sold a Sears repair deal for a $319 flat fee that seemed to be better.  The repairs and the entire machine would be covered under a year warranty.  The only catch was that I’d have to wait until July 12th for anyone to come out.

I thought I’d get my plumbing problem fixed in the interim.  I let my tenants/roommates know that I’d have a plumber come the next Saturday.  When the plumber cancelled that morning one of my roommates said he knew how to fix the leaky faucet.

SUNDAY – July 10th

The previous owner of my home had made some wacky “improvements” behind the scenes to the kitchen faucet (among other things) that made it much more difficult to replace a year and half ago.  On Sunday we spent over six hours, one trip to lowes, one trip to sears and two trips to home depot trying to find the right tools to get the bathroom faucet handles off, trying different things every time and believing we just “didn’t have the right ratchet set” etc.

Yes, I’m talking about those handles – the ones that you’re supposed to be able to twist off with your hands.  At one point my tenant managed to yank the stem/handle assembly out of the wall.  We discovered that the previous owner had (either himself or someone he hired) put pipe sealer all over the place – and most generously in places where one shouldn’t put sealant at all – effectively sealing the stem assembly to the wall.  We replaced the washer at the end and put the stem back in.  However, when it was back in I noticed that a washer from a different part of the stem assembly was still sitting on the counter.  Bad news.  We knew we had to take the stem back out.  Hours later it still wasn’t coming out.  I called a plumbing service and scheduled an appointment for Tuesday.   However, I could hear (and feel the vibration of) water in the line, which should have only happened if someone downstairs was taking a shower.  Nobody downstairs was home.   That was worse news.  I could NOT wait until Tuesday taking the risk that water was leaking out of the pipes that whole time in the wall.  I called an emergency plumber who came to examine the situation within 90 minutes (for $156).

As we already knew, the stems were cemented to the wall, making a piece that is supposed to be taken off by simple hand turning into mangled metal.  However, by 9pm he had taken both stems out and chipped off as much of the sealant as possible before changing the washers and putting them back in.  The evidence can be seen if you look closely at the handles.  That gold line is where the silver was scraped off by the wrench.  The rest of that handle is mangled, but luckily that part is mostly covered up by the removable part of the handle.

Little did I know – that fix would be the EASIEST of all the things that were breaking down around the house that month.

MONDAY – July 11th

On Monday I made contact with an AC repairman to come out the next morning.  I called my HOA and arranged for pick up (I have to leave a $100 deposit check) of a roof key that night.

TUESDAY – July 12th

A sears technician arrived around 8:30am on Tuesday the 12th and almost immediately said he couldn’t do anything because he needed another man to get the dryer off of the washer. Sears installed this set-up in the first place, so they should have known these were stacked or at least asked when they took the service appointment.  He leaves with an ambiguous statement that he’ll call me either later today or in a few days.

Shortly after that my AC man arrives to fix the AC leak.  He flushes the lines, takes $50 and leaves.  This is still morning and the AC isn’t running.

9:30am – I haven’t heard from Sears so I call and complain.  I get nowhere with their customer service, they tell me I’ll have to wait a few days or till next week till they can reschedule two technicians to come out.  I go to work after returning the roof key that the AC man didn’t end up using.

12:30pm – Original sears technician calls me from his personal phone and says he has located another technician to meet us at the house.  I drive home and meet them.

1:30pm – The technicians conclude they’ve found the faulty part, the control board, but they don’t have one with them.  They have to order the part from a shop in Van Nuys and have it couriered.  Their dispatcher tells them to go on other service calls and come back when the part is delivered.

While waiting for the delivery I throw out some water damaged items from the AC leak like this folding table:

When I try to vacuum up the mess my vacuum cleaner motor dies almost instantly.  I put it on the porch as it was literally puffing out some noxious smoke.

2:45pm – I take delivery of the part from the courier and call the technician.  No idea when they’ll arrive.

3pm – I notice the AC is still leaking/dripping.  I call the AC man and he says the soonest he can come is Thursday morning, but he’ll call to confirm on Wednesday.  I call him back later and ask if I’ll need the roof key – he says no.  The pipe that is leaking can be seen in the photo below.


5:15pm – Two sears technicians finally arrive.  After 45 minutes or so they realize the new part does nothing to fix the problem.

6:30pm – The technicians say that the new part they need is not available and has to be done on “emergency” order.  They do not know when it will arrive, but the earliest they could come back is Friday (but they won’t know till tomorrow if the part would be here by then anyway).  I inform them I will not be home Friday.  They say that a scheduler will call me tomorrow (Wednesday) to set a new repair time for next week.

The technicians slide the washer back into the closet and close the top.  They move my dryer more out of the way – but my living room is still unusable (they had to remove the closet door as well).  It isn’t that I’m angry that my dryer is going to sit in the living room – it’s that it is now going to be inoperable for two weeks.  Where before I at least could wash my clothes myself and dry them in the dryer – now I have neither appliance available…

WEDNESDAY – July 13th

9:00am – nobody from Sears has called so I call in.  The first person tells me that the part should arrive at my house in the next two days.  I inform him that I work – and I won’t be home during the day to accept it.  He takes my work address and puts me on hold to attempt to reroute the package.  After being on hold for a while a new customer service agent answers the phone – with no idea that I’d talked to a previous agent.  I have to explain the whole situation again – giving all my info again. This time she says that she can’t change the routing of the package and that I’ll have to call back “later today or tomorrow” to find out the tracking number to request the package rerouted.  She also says that the technician scheduled the next visit to install the part for July 28th.  This is not good news and she says they “may be able to schedule sooner once you have the part.”  I am told to call back later.

11am – AC repairman calls to confirm that he can come around 8am Thursday morning.  This time he says he may need the roof key though.
11:30am – I call HOA to once again arrange for roof key pickup later in the day.

2pm – Called Sears again – still no tracking # so I asked them to call me when they have it.  Rep said they would call “later today”

5pm – missed call from Sears technician (the one who was at my house Tuesday) telling me he is sure the part will arrive over the weekend and I should “go ahead and schedule an appointment for Monday.”

6:30pm – another customer service agent tells me no matter what my technician said they can’t schedule my appointment before I have the parts.  They now have a UPS tracking number but “it is wrong” and I’ll have to call again the next day to get the “right” one.

THURSDAY – July 14th

8:30am – AC repairman does a more thorough flush of AC drainage system and believes the problem fixed, never using the roof key.

9am –  I call Sears and I’m given the UPS tracking number and told the soonest appointment I can get is July 25th between 1 and 5pm.  I ask the person on the phone to check the delivery status as I’m not in front of a computer (the AC guys were actually still working at this point and were making too much noise for me to go to my room to get online).  The Sears agent says she can’t access UPS’ web site from her work station so I’ll have to check the status on my own later.

9:15am – The AC repair guys leave.  I try the UPS number and it doesn’t work… call back to sears… new agent puts me on hold – comes back says there isn’t a tracking # at all… puts me on hold again… for NINE MINUTES…then told me the tracking number was a “mistake” and they’ll call me later today with a real tracking number.  I then asked if there was a complaint department.  Yesterday they said no when I asked that same question, but this agent said they “do all that through email.” I asked for the email address and was put on hold again.  After a few minutes a new customer service rep came on and started asking questions.  She then put me on hold to “see what she could do.”  After five minutes I was HUNG UP ON!  I immediately called back and was told by a new agent that I should “call back in an hour because all the managers are in a meeting.”  She also said the Sears phone lines automatically drop calls after they’ve been on hold for more than two and a half minutes.  I’m speechless….

9:30am – I return the roof key and head to work.
12pm – My roommate sees the original Sears repairman in our building going to a unit 4 doors down.  He tells my roommate the same thing he told me in the voicemail yesterday.
5pm – my roommate sends me a snapshot of the UPS infonotice by our mailbox and calls UPS to see if he can pick up the package but UPS says no because the driver never scanned in the infonotice number.
FRIDAY – July 15th

9am – Sears calls with tracking #.
2pm – I call UPS to see if I can reroute package.  UPS says it will cost $6 for me to reroute it since I’m not the sender.  They say that their driver will probably come around 6:30 on (Friday and) Monday – so maybe I should try and catch him then.  Otherwise I’ll have to pick it up in Van Nuys on Tuesday.  I have to be out of town Friday night so I won’t be able to take the package if he comes Friday.
MONDAY – July 18th

The AC is still leaking into my condo.  I try to go a different route and contact the HOA about a building plumber.  It would be another two days before they could give me the name of a plumber that knows our building.
TUESDAY – July 19th

The UPS delivery man never bothered to call me, and when I arrived home on Monday he had already come and gone.  So I had to make the 14 mile round-trip to the Van Nuys UPS warehouse after work.  Once the part was in my possession Sears refused to give me a sooner repair appointment.  I set an appointment with the plumber to come the same morning as Sears on July 25th.
SUNDAY – July 24th

10pm – on my way home from West Los Angeles my check engine light comes on. Audible expletives can be heard inside my automobile.  I have an appointment on Tuesday in Thousand Oaks (about 30 miles away) to get all my immunizations for my upcoming Thailand trip.  That appointment may now be in jeopardy.  The shots for Hep A/B need to be taken 30 days apart and if I don’t get the first shot by Tuesday I won’t have time to get the second before the trip.  I cross my fingers that both the washer and the AC drain can be fixed in the morning on Monday and I can drop my car off on the way to work.
MONDAY- July 25th

9:30am – the plumber arrives and discovers that there has been vandalism in the garage.  A piece of copper pipe was stolen – thus kinking the line and preventing any condensation from dripping to the garage (where it was intended to empty out).  He says he’ll bill the HOA directly and that should do it.  In the photo below you can see a pipe ending before it’s holster.  The section that should have gone through that holster was stolen and crimped off.  
In a stroke of genius, the original architects for the building just had the AC condensation come down (for both units) and drain into the garage.  This is a lovely pool of mosquito prone water sitting next to my car.  Not to mention how it is dripping onto the tracks for the electric garage door opener.
Here is a shot of the crimped pipe that the plumber snipped.  The clean end is his cut, and the crimped end is where the vandals tore off the rest.
Well – at least the problem is solved, right?
(you know where this is going, don’t you?)
9:45am – I return to my condo (after taking a look at the vandalized pipe in the garage) to find the pipe in the ceiling still dripping!  The plumber has already moved on to a sewage pipe problem downstairs in another unit – but he says he’ll come back when he is done down there.
11am – Sears still hasn’t showed up.  Time is running out for me to fix all the home problems and get my car to the Mazda shop in order to have it returned the same day.
11:40am – Sears automated service calls and says they are “experiencing service delays and may not be able to come by 12pm.”
1pm – Sears has not come yet.  I wander downstairs looking for the plumber.  He tells me the only option left is to open up the lines in the garage and blow air in.  There are two lines and they don’t know which one is mine – so they have to cut the pipe and cap it to do each one individually.  They tell me they can do this without me being there and they will call me after they’ve done it either today or tomorrow.  He also says this is something that should be done anyway since the crimped pipe may have backed up the lines.
1:15pm – Sears has not come yet – I call their customer service and I’m told “the technicians are on their way with an estimated arrival of 1:30pm – they will call you.”
1:45pm – Sears has not arrived or called.
2:30pm – Sears’ driver calls and says he is on his way…arrives a few minutes later and gets to work.
3:30pm – plumber blows C02 through drainage pipe and discovers the pipe that was vandalized is the floor drain for the washer – nothing to do with the AC.
3:45pm – Sears finally puts washer back together, tests and leaves.
4pm – Plumber throws hands up in the air and says he can’t do anything more – the drain is capped somewhere in the wall and to get to it you’d have to rip out drywall with a contractor.  He charges me $85 (apparently for the c02 pipe flush) and tells me I’ll have to install a tube myself taking the drainage to the washer drain or rip out the wall and fix the piping – my choice.  Of course, in his opinion, the only way this would even happen is if the previous owner did some illegal piping changes during a renovation.  Great.
TUESDAY – July 26th

8pm After picking up my car and dropping $100 for a “cracked evap tube” I drive to Thousand Oaks for my Thailand trip immunizations.  The immunizations will cost me about $700.  My insurance is fantastic so of course it doesn’t cover any of this.  I have an HSA for this purpose though and try to use the credit card for that account.  The card is denied.  I am embarrassed.  After it is denied several times I call the bank.  I am informed that the card is deactivated if it isn’t used for six months.  Let me repeat that.  A card that you ONLY use for health purchases is deactivated if you don’t use it for six months.  So unless I get sick all the time… I’m punished with a deactivation.  That makes sense, right?  The card is reactivated and after over three hours at the immunization clinic I’m finally on my way.
8pm – I pick up a tube for the AC drain at Home Depot and drop off my prescriptions for Malaria and “asia stomach virus” antibiotics at the pharmacy.
8:30pm – Now that the washer and dryer are back in place in front of the dryer drain, getting a rubber tube into the drainage pipe is no easy task. There was only about four inches clearance behind the washer and dryer to wiggle the tube into the drainage pipe.  The pipe already had the washer pipe in it – which was NOT pliable, a harder thicker plastic.  That black vertical line in the photo below – that’s the tube.
After ten minutes I had it in there good enough (I hope) and proceeded to climb on a chair and try to clamp down the other end of the tube onto the pipe coming out of the ceiling.  With the dryer giving maybe seven inches of clearance from the top of the closet door – and the sliding door pushing in from the side, this was also a difficult maneuver.
10pm – this day would not be finished without another refused credit card charge though.  At 9pm Sam and I tried to finalize our trip to Phuket while in Thailand.  When I tried to purchase our flights around 10pm I filled out everything and when it was supposed to charge me I was brought to an error page.  When we went back through to try again the special price promotion was over and the return ticket was now twice the price!  Half an hour later I would get an email from American Express saying they had blocked a charge from Thailand for possible fraudulent activity.  If they hadn’t done that we’d have saved over 1,400 on our tickets.  Sounds like a lot, right?  That number is in BHT – so it really only comes out to about $50.  We ended up having Sam buy the flights from another airline and book our beachfront rooms for $15 a night.  Yes, $15 a night.  For $15 a night we’ll walk out of our room into this (hopefully sans the old man):
Speaking of old men; every time Boner “walks away” (dumb phrase because it takes place over the phone after he refuses to take the President’s calls) from the President my trip to Thailand gets more expensive.  Over the weekend we watched the exchange rate get lower and lower.  The dollar is now the weakest it has been all year against the Baht.  Just in the last week (depending on where you look) the dollar is worth over 5 BHT less than before.  Perfect timing to hold the US credit rating hostage, fellows, thanks a lot!
WEDNESDAY – July 27th

This morning there was no water in my cup in the closet.  There didn’t appear to be any water on the outside of the pipe and/or tube, so apparently my solution worked (for now).  I’ll have to do a test and put a cloth under the drainage pipe in the wall and see if all the water is really draining out.
As a kind of final proof of bumbling corporate ineptitude Sears sent me an email this morning asking me to take a survey about my opinion of their service.  When I clicked on the survey link I came to this:
Sorry, service is temporarily unavailable. Please, try later!
Oh sure!  I’ll try again all day so I can tell you how your service was the most horrible service experience in my life! Why not?  I already took two full days off of work and drove to Van Nuys (a 90 minute drive in rush hour traffic) for a 60 minute part repair, I might as well take another day off to keep trying your survey link.
Sears’ mission statement reads in part: “Sears Holdings is committed to . . . providing quality services.”  None of the cases we reviewed in business school had a business that was this bad at its primary mission.  If this were a textbook case we would expect the company to be out of business very quickly.
I don’t expect to receive anything, but I plan on sending Sears a bill for my time lost from work as well as my trouble (waiting for parts, driving to Van Nuys, having an unusable living room for two weeks, being on hold, hung up on,  etc.).  With all the complaints I see online about their service I doubt contacting them (the same phone number that hung up on me on my first attempt) would do much.
I’ve also sent an email to the HOA for my condo building asking them for reimbursement of the money I spent on services rendered for the AC.  It OUGHT to come out of their insurance since the drainage pipe in the garage was vandalized.  I also need to know the piping schematics of my unit so I can decide whether to tear out the drywall and possibly sue the previous owner for the illegal piping (if discovered).
Since the updates to those two actions won’t come for a while I’m going to finally post this blog about all this nonsense that happened this month.
NOTE: I know that probably only my mom and dad would want to read all this – but blogging about it is a convenient way for me to keep track of it for my complaints with Sears and the HOA.
UPDATE: Of course my home improvement problems for July aren’t over, the month isn’t over yet – something had to happen!  Minutes after first publishing this blog post I received the following youtube video from my tenant/roommate:


THURSDAY – July 28

Of course this only required five minutes and a new (fairly inexpensive) showerhead to fix.  I thought was done for the month finally.  Then, when I tried to brush my teeth before going to bed I discovered that….   The cold water in my bathroom is turned off.  Now, the water lines going to my master bathroom are separate from the rest of the condo.  Why the plumbing was arranged this way was for contractor convenience I’m sure as my shower shares the wall with my next door nieghbors’.  However, now I’m in the difficult position of running around asking these people if they shut off the water for some reason before I call a plumber.  Of course, noticing this at 11pm at night and not planning on being home again until late Sunday night makes this a problem.

FRIDAY – July 29

After knocking on my neighbor’s door after work I discovered that, yes, they had been the ones to shut off my cold water.  They said they didn’t know which valves were their own and must have turned off mine by mistake when they had some plumbing done on Thursday.  We had a lengthy bitching session about our crappy HOA management company.  The building management refuses to give me any information on WHERE the exact plumbing valves are for my unit in the garage.  This is a bit of a problem with a large building of nearly 100 units.  Of course, if the building manager was going to take care of all the issues themselves this wouldn’t matter, but they have repeatedly stated that nothing (apparently anywhere at all in the building except for the swimming pool) is their responsibility.  They also refused to file an insurance claim for my stolen drainage pipe nor refund the money I had to pay THEIR plumber to fix it.

At first when I inquired about the possible illegal piping in my walls I received a taciturn response that the property management company doesn’t keep track of any renovation records.  I cc’d the association president and he told me I’d be receiving a different and more information filled email soon.

MONDAY – August 1st

I receive a new email from the property management company that, golly gee, they actually DID keep renovation records but don’t show any regarding piping in my unit.  They still claim to not have any idea where any of the pipes GO, and told me to talk to the city of Los Angeles about that.

When I came home I checked the tube I installed for that drainage pipe.  The tube apparently isn’t clamped on tight enough, as a small drip was still escaping and coming down next to the washer.

I give up.

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