Don’t Feed the Alligators

A Personal Finance Blog from a Small-Scale Landlord’s Perspective

Archive for February, 2009

Broken Pipes

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: Remy Sharp

A week or so after our new tenants moved in, it was reported to me that their toilet wobbles.  A quick inspection found that the screws that hold the toilet down were not tight, so I tightened them.  It took about 2 minutes in total to diagnose and fix the problem.

Fast forward about a month: ScrapperMom discovered that a leak had developed in the basement ceiling, almost directly under the tenant’s bathroom.  The leak was at the low spot in the ceiling, which happens to have an access door built into it for reaching some shut-off valves and other stuff.  My immediate fear was that when I fixed the toilet, I broke or unseated its seal.  

This was just before we had our baby, so I was not in a good position to try to investigate and repair the problem myself. I resorted to calling a plumber.  After investigating, he said that there is a leak at the seal in the toilet, but that it wasn’t the bulk of the problem.  It seems that our approximately 90 year old cast-iron waste drain stack had rotted clean through just below where all of the tenant’s fixtures drain into the stack.  The plumber fixed the toilet seal and applyed some temporary epoxy to patch the hole in the stack.

The plumber returned today to permanently repair the hole.  The first thing he had to do was to cut a hole in the wall in the tenant’s apartment and then cut another hole in the ceiling in the basement.  Then they had to cut out a section of the old pipe and install the new one.  They did a nice job minimizing the collateral damage and cleaning up after the fact, but plumbers don’t typically repair drywall.

All together, both plumbing repairs came to nearly $1,400, and the drywall isn’t even fixed yet.  We have an emergency fund, but because we also put a little bit away into a slush fund every month, we did not have to dip into it.  I’m not happy about spending $1,400 on something that I can’t really enjoy all that much (not that I don’t REALLY enjoy indoor plumbing).  But that’s life.  I guess this is another one of those little things that reminds me that I’m an adult now.

Now I need to go investigate the weird noise the car started making last week…

Have you had any unexpected expenses lately?  How did you deal with them?  Leave a Comment below!


photo figure credit: MITBeta

In the spring of 1998 as I prepared to graduate from college, I made a classic personal finance blunder: I bought a $1500 surround sound receiver on my credit card.  At the time I was earning about $240/week before taxes, which means that I really could not afford this stereo.  It took me many years to pay off that credit card since there were obviously many other charges on this card, though no single item this expensive.

Fast forward to 2004: Having at least partially learned my lesson about buying things I could not afford (the receiver wasn’t the last…), I still owned the receiver and it still had a prominent position in our home theater setup.  Imagine our disappointment when the volume control started to go south.  When pushing the volume up or down buttons on the remote control, the receiver would display the corresponding message, such as “Volume Up”, but the volume knob would not turn as it once had.

Bravely, I disassembled enough of the receiver to get a good look at the volume control, hoping that an obvious loose connection was apparent.  I didn’t find anything obvious, and after reassembling, the control started working again.  For a while.  When the knob stopped working again, I discovered that if I gave it a couple of quick raps, the control would start working again.

The “knock on knob” solution worked for another 5 years until last December.  No matter how much knocking I did, the volume control would not come back to life.  I started to think about having to replace the receiver, which prompted this post: Replacing Items That Put You in Debt.  Then ScrapperMom asked a simple, but brilliant question: “Can it be fixed?”

“Duh,” I thought, “why didn’t I think of that?”

When I disassembled the receiver in 2004 I made sure to take a number of pictures of the parts that appeared to be broken (one of which appears above).  So I went back to those pictures and found the part number for the board.  Then I visited the manufacturer’s website and found a place to search for parts.  I put in the information I had and quickly received an email back with a couple of possibilities.  Hmm.  I called the phone number at the bottom of the email and asked if I could speak to technical support.  The tech who came on the line (almost immediately, by the way) knew the troubleshooting for this product, which hadn’t been manufactured in almost 10 years, cold.  Within 5 minutes I was armed with enough info to diagnose the root cause of the problem.  After testing out the receiver, I found that the motor that drives the knob was bad, and I ordered a new assembly for about $43.

Yesterday, a friend who has lots of experience with soldering delicate electronic parts to circuit boards came by and had the old part off and the new one on in about 45 minutes.  We checked out the receiver and the volume control works fine now.  Lest you think to yourself that that’s all fine and good if you have a friend who can solder, my initial research for this volume control problem indicated that the part and the repair would have cost about $100 at a qualified service center.

By doing a little research, getting my hands dirty, being resourceful (i.e. calling Bryan), and being reminded not to Pitch, but Fix, we have saved ourselves at least several hundred dollars on not having to buy a new receiver.  Yes, we could have survived getting up to turn the volume knob for quite a while (if you can imagine that horror!), but modern society has made the remote control ubiquitous, and having quick access to volume control with a newborn and a toddler in the house will save our sanity for sure.

Do you have a story about fixing instead of pitching? Let’s hear about in the Comments below.

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