Once in a while I think about something that happened when I was a new landlady just starting out, trying to find her way. I was still pleasantly shocked that I finally took that big leap to buy my first property. It was during my rental property honeymoon when I discovered a critical structural problem. A very trusted source told me if I didn’t address it soon the building would be inhabitable.
Prior to purchase I had opted for a thorough and professional home inspection with a highly rated company. When I called them they said, “Check your contract—we don’t guarantee that kind of thing.” My insurance company told me they wouldn’t cover it either, so I learned the cost of the job would be strictly out of pocket.
I called a contractor from the phone book. He walked in, inspected a few things, looked me in my eyes and then dropped a bomb. He said it would cost me $20,000. It hit me like a blow. Even if his figure was a little high, what kind of “break” could I expect from other estimates? $18,000? $16,000?
Any building owner knows that different types of projects have different implications. If you’re forced to drop an unexpected $20,000 on something like a kitchen update, at least you have the consolation that it can be seen. You can expect SOME type of return on your reluctant investment.
But to spend $20,000 out of pocket on infrastructure? Something you can’t see or brag about? For a first-time independent landlord it was devastating.
I started to ask questions to get a better understanding of my options. He only let me get in one or two before he dropped his second bomb.
“Oh, you must be one of those women that a man can’t tell you nothing.”
I was so stunned and confused it took a minute to register what he said. I reviewed my own words and couldn’t recall anything that was even mildly insulting or disrespectful. He offered a few more gruff words about the sh*t bin I was in, so to speak, and my lack of alternatives. Then he gave me his card and he left.
I slowly closed the door behind him and was overcome with a feeling of helplessness and frustration. I had no idea what to do. So I dropped down on my knees and cried. My sides heaved until they ached. I cried for the expense. I cried for my inexperience. I even cried for saying whatever wrong thing that made him lash out at me that way. And I prayed.
I had been brought up to be mild-mannered and polite to a fault. I always thought I was well socialized to respectfully interact with women and men. I have brothers, uncles, male cousins and friends. My late father was a great man who raised me along with my mom. Youthful self-doubt made me wonder how I offended this guy. I was only asking what needed to be done. What did I do wrong? I was too green to understand what he was saying was ass-backwards, but aware enough for his words to cut deeply.
Then I found out I wasn’t helpless.
I did a lot of searching. I talked to friends and family who connected me with other owners. Fast forward a few weeks, I found a company to do the job for less than $3,000. (Keep in mind not all fairytale endings look the same. The job needed to be done and I was satisfied with that amount.) They did it very well and I haven’t had a problem since. Thank God. A landlady’s happily ever after.
Once in a while I pull that guy’s words out, dust them off and re-examine them by the light of my present level of emotional maturity. I came to understand that if he was dumb enough to carry such a blockheaded opinion, he should have AT LEAST had enough sense not to say it to a complete stranger--especially one he was trying to do business with. If a person feels bold enough to walk into your home and make a statement like that twenty minutes after meeting you, the problem is clearly not yours but his own.
Sometimes we reflect on what someone said to our younger selves when we were not prepared to advocate for ourselves. Often our first impulse is to come up with all the things we “shoulda/coulda/woulda said.” But you can’t put an old head on a young body. You won't win every verbal dust-up. You’re probably not even supposed to. Just count those times as little emotional benchmarks.
What I’ve found is that his words have been like a kind of yardstick to measure my self-confidence and my growth. I’ve grown from an impressionable young person who couldn’t put a name to an insult. To a woman snarky enough to say something to make him wish he hadn’t gotten out of the bed that morning. To a woman with the confidence and discernment to know even though I could say something to make the hairs on the back of the other guy’s neck stand up, a calm and rational response is the best defense against ignorance.
If no one ever pushes your buttons then you never get a chance to see what you’re made of. If you never have to deal with anything then you’ll never have a way to measure how your experiences are making you older, wiser and better. Thank all those people who spouted hurtful crapola to you because they gave you a ruler to measure how fabulous you are today. Say a prayer over them. God bless ‘em. And keep it moving.
Have your views about something someone said to hurt you changed as you got older?
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