I want to use my living room again! Who do I call?
September 2, 2016 6:17 AM   Subscribe

I have a general question and a related specific one. General: Is there a generalist person akin to a primary care physician that I can contact for house repair/maintenance who can then tell me what kind of specialist I need? Specific: who do I call to figure out what is going on in my living room, if anything?

My experiences have been with HVAC (several different companies) not ever fixing or correctly diagnosing a problem that still exists, a plumber who answered the "do I have a leak" question with "no" but didn't go on to say that there was a leak in my shower that just wasn't a pipe, to just straight up not knowing who to call. I have cracks in the walls and ceilings. The structural engineer I have had come out says, OK, that's normal.

I have seen four different plumbers for different issues so far, and I can't seem to get them to do anything beyond answering direct questions or fixing the things I instruct them to do. No critical thinking or diagnosis ability.

Ideally at this point I would have one service that I call and explain my concerns to and then they direct me to the appropriate technical area if it's not something simple they can fix.

Does such a thing exist?

My immediate issue is that I have a room that only has subfloor because of a large water damage event two years ago that was misdiagnosed and has cost over $20,000 to date because it went unfixed. I am not positive that the issue is resolved, and I don't know how to figure out definitively if it is or isn't.

I want to use my living room again! This has been unresolved for two years for a variety of reasons, and it is getting in the way of my quality of life.
posted by Stewriffic to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
In Australia at least, you want a building Inspector. But if it's a plumbing issue, you just need a good one (plumber that is) . Sorry you've had a shit experience, that's not been my experience.
posted by wilful at 6:26 AM on September 2, 2016

Building inspector (the person who goes in before a purchase) might be the right person in the US, too. Both of the building inspections I've seen have involved broad knowledge of how all the house systems fit together. One of the guys mentioned some stuff that they're not legally allowed to say for a pre-purchase inspection (mostly involving stuff like lead and asbestos). I asked him what he could say if I just had him over a place I already owned to give some general recommendations, and he said that things like order-of-magnitude price estimates, things to prioritize, etc would be something he could do under those circumstances.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:40 AM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

As an alternative to the home inspector route, when there are general repairs to home that could involve several disciplines (i.e. there's a plumbing problem that also involves floor replacement and also involves painting etc), you want to seek out a general contractor.

While most general contractors specialize in renovations, most that I've worked with are also happy to diagnose and resolve outstanding issues that aren't large scale renovations as "handyman" and "maintenance" service - but with somewhat larger capabilities than just a one-man handyman shop. They also have guys on their crew that specialize in each field (or will know who to bring in) to solve the problem.

Finding a decent one is another factor entirely. Most will give you quotes for free. Get multiple quotes, interview them, and talk with them thoroughly as to what they think the problem is. It's not entirely clear from your question what the problem exactly is, but they may have to do some probing/opening up walls to be able to give you a clear diagnosis.
posted by Karaage at 6:46 AM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think a home inspector may be a good idea, but if you go that route you want to make sure you get a good one. In many states there are no licensing requirements to become an inspector, so who knows what you are getting.

If you're at the location in your profile, you can memail me for a rec--my mom has a neighbor who does home inspections and I could get his contact info for you. Otherwise, ask around for anyone who has bought/sold a house recently until you find someone who tells you their inspector was awesome.
posted by msbubbaclees at 6:56 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I had furnace trouble, Company #1 pushed a new furnace. Company #2 quoted a new furnace price. Company #3 is known for being expensive. That guy said "I can probably repair it, your furnace could have 5 - 10 years left in it. Yes, there's a risk that the repair will fail, but the bolts whose failure would be a disaster look pretty good." $600 repair vs. ~$8,000 furnace. Sometimes, it pays to hire the expensive guy. I'm usually a cheapskate, so it was a lesson.

In many communities, there's a shortage of skilled tradespeople. I can't find an electrician. There's a building boom, and commercial work pays better. Maybe put together a punch list and talk to a general contractor - get referrals.
posted by theora55 at 7:23 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

A General Contractor is correct. A good one will then source out to specialists that they work with all the time. A bad one will try to do it all themselves. A good one is more expensive, but you get what you pay for.

Source: My neighbor is exactly this. He is a GC and quite successful. He is a one-man show because he doesn't do the work himself. He will go somewhere, decide what is needed based on his experience and knowledge, and then hire and organize the specialists in each area to do the work.
posted by TinWhistle at 7:36 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

In my experience the home inspector's job is to tick off boxes without thinking critically about situations like this. You need a general contractor.
posted by pintapicasso at 8:03 AM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

If it was me, I'd get a general contractor. You'll probably want to pay one if you can find one highly recommended, possibly two if you want them to compete, to do a couple-hour assessment (so that they give you a really thorough bid, rather than an off-the-cuff one that'll change dramatically after they get started) and give you a bid for everything that they think needs to be done. You may decide to put some parts of the project off until later, so you decide on a project plan together and sign a contract for it. They obtain and manage the labor, permits, etc.

If you are in the US, home inspector is pretty much a meaningless designation.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:16 AM on September 2, 2016

The GC manages the overall work and knows which specialists to call on for which tasks -- and in which order. They are an extra cost but if you don't know what to do, this is exactly why they are worth the money.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:19 PM on September 2, 2016

Response by poster: OK, everyone. Thanks so much. I made up a (pretty) thorough inventory of needs and tried to categorize by priority and provider. Maybe linking to the document and letting people see it might help finalize my plan moving forward?

Right now I am thinking if my provider categories are right, the question is going to be, for the acute needs, either a GC or an inspector to diagnose.
posted by Stewriffic at 8:55 AM on September 4, 2016

We recently bought a house in Durham, NC, and maybe our experience will be helpful.

First, we hired an inspector, who did a pre-purchase inspection of the house and provided us a prioritized list of what needed work. He also mentioned what he thought would benefit from a specialized inspection. Next we brought in a structural engineer, who inspected the foundation and provided his recommendations on what needed to be done. Interestingly his assessment pf the foundation and subfloor was not as dire as the general inspector's. We had a contractor specializing in foundation work do the work recommended by the structural engineer. Next, we had a waterproofing contractor provide us with an estimate, and do work related to the crawlspace, which included items from the general inspection findings - install new vapor barrier, install new insulation. Later we had them seal the crawlspace and install a dehumidifier.

The waterproofer pointed out our dryer duct had separated, but we already knew that something had to be done with the duct from the general inspection report. We will have our GC work on that, as well as leftover items from the inspection report. By the way, our GC installed our new hardwood floors.

There might be HVAC work in our future - for now, we went with having general maintenance done.
posted by research monkey at 6:51 PM on September 4, 2016

Response by poster: OK, followup: research monkey and argeedee took me out to lunch on Sunday, stopping by to look at my house first. I got extremely anxious when they were pointing out all the worrisome areas, so I had to have them stop. Which is good information that will help me with the next steps. I am going to be straight with the companies that I am reacting in a very anxious way, and that I need them to be straightforward but not to give me an inflated scary estimate couched in "YOU WILL DIE" terms. Because if they do that, I will RUN. I want a level-headed place that doesn't take advantage of me.


I have scheduled research monkey and argeedee's structural engineer to assess the foundation, and scheduled two different drainage/waterproofing companies to come out for estimates. One was recommended by the structural engineer and a friend, and one just by a different friend. Once those three come out and make their reports, my next step will be to talk through with other friends.

And then for all the other non-acute stuff, I will get a GC.

posted by Stewriffic at 9:37 AM on September 6, 2016

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