Jul 28

Real Estate: Repair or Replace?

by Joy Earls

Owning a home is a true labor of love. There are always chores and jobs on the “to do” list. Some of us enjoy puttering around our house to make sure that the filters are changed, the windows are washed and the faucets aren’t leaking. What has become harder to figure out is whether something that has broken should be fixed or replaced.

I am fairly stubborn and optimistic at the same time, so I usually try the former option first. If at all possible, I look for parts to replace or try to use a part that isn’t totally broken. Is it worth it? Should I just go buy a new item, should I fix it or should I call someone to come in and take a look?

I grew up in a sturdy home built in the 1950s. My father proudly told the story of visiting with the builder as he was working on our home. The builder was an immigrant who, with his son, built many of the homes in our neighborhood. As I was growing up, I would follow my father around the house as he pointed out certain beams in the garage and stonework painstakingly placed in the front. My father was a chemist and later a mathematician, so the building trades were certainly not his background. He had such respect for the work and watched the process carefully, which I gathered from his walks with me around our house.

My parents were children of the Depression. We reused aluminum foil that was stored in a kitchen drawer overflowing with rubber bands saved from newspapers. We were possibly the last people I knew to have a refrigerator with an icebox the size of a mailbox. My parents never owned a dryer, so our clothes were either in the basement during the winter or freeze drying on the line. On weekends, there were always chores around the house.

Even the best built home, over time, needs repairs with a house full of children. I remember my dad changing the electric element in the oven more than once. I can still see him preparing cement mix to repair the back steps. And I can hear his voice calling up from the basement as he checked the fuses to see if the lights came on wherever he told me to stand and watch. He must have been working on something electrical and was seeing if it was working again. I don’t think that I was much help. But I did rake leaves and shovel snow.

And I know now that I was paying more attention to what he was doing than I thought. I honestly don’t remember someone coming in to fix anything in our home. Although now that I am thinking about it, I remember a plumber coming in, after living there for 40 years. My father just couldn’t believe that something could be wrong with the plumbing and, even more, that there was someone he had to pay to fix a problem with his home.

When I became a homeowner, this was the only attitude I knew. If something broke, I would try to figure out how to fix it. Luckily, I married someone in the building trades, so I have an easy call when something around the house breaks. But we still have the same questions about when it’s time to replace something rather than fix it.

Yesterday, we finally decided we were tired of fighting with one of our “stringless blinds” that miraculously pop up and down to open and close. The first time it broke, it was under warranty, so we only had to pay for shipping and handling and wait six months before it was in place again. Just a couple of years later, we found ourselves in the same situation. The blind was hanging at an angle halfway down the window hopelessly frozen. After climbing on ladders with one of us holding the top and the other maneuvering the bottom, we took it down. We laid it on the dining table, looked inside at the mechanism as one of us held on and tried to move it up or down. We almost had it tackled when the string disappeared inside. This battle of humans over parts and pieces wasn’t over yet. Sadly, the parts were plastic and the pieces were coming apart.
The table was covered with needle-nose pliers, screwdriver sets, tweezers and a notepad in case one of us thought of a better idea. As tensions rose, my husband was muttering mild profanities about pre-molded plastic and maniacal mechanisms not made to last.

Finally we calmed down, moved another blind that works to the window we use more frequently and this broken one was relegated to the back room. Our conclusion, which is becoming more frequent, is that this item was not made to be repaired. It is hard for me to accept, which is why I keep trying to repair rather than replace.

My father nourished my interests in not only homeownership, but also in taking an active role in maintenance. I think he would have a hard time today deciding to replace broken things rather than repair them.
I still try to save aluminum foil and hang my clothes on the line whenever I can, but more often I am realizing that I will save time and money by replacing rather than repairing.

Over the years when I visited my dad, I would go through the house and try to fix things. Often, I was on the phone with my husband as he was giving me directions. Sometimes, when it was just impossible, I arranged repairs when my dad might not notice. My father enjoyed and lived in the same home for the rest of his years without calling in another repairman. The future doesn’t look the same for me, but I will keep trying.

Joy Earls is a broker/owner of Joy Earls Real Estate. She can be reached at 531-9811 or at joyearls@joyearls.com.

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