Small towns, home ownership, and why Yelp doesn’t matter here

“You know I’m not Wisconsin certified, right?”

That’s what Pete asked David over the phone back in June, the day we were calling around looking for someone to inspect our future house. Our first-time house-buying experience had been a dream come true so far: we looked at all 12 houses in our price range in town, saw one that was far and above better than the others, checked it out again, and put in a lowball offer that was accepted three hours later. Flat-out accepted. No haggling. No calls back and forth. Just, “Well, ok.”

I know how horrendous the economy’s been. I also know how hard it can be to buy a house, and I know that we’re incredibly lucky to have been able to purchase a house in the town where David found a teaching position, in the Midwest, even before he’s obtained his PhD.  So as we stood in the parking lot, realizing that our two days of house-hunting actually had found us a home, I smiled, squealed, and, while hugging David, said, “We’re so lucky. This is…this is too good to be true!”

Now, if this were a play and you were the audience watching all of this go down and you heard one of the main characters utter that phrase, you might consider it a smidge of foreshadowing, fit perhaps with a slight hint (being that it is two months later and I sit here on my couch now as the author, not the character, of said imaginary play) of dramatic irony.

Back to the story. So David gets to calling various inspector-types, two of whose phone numbers are no longer in service and one who is not available in our short time-frame (our time-frame being until about 11 a.m. on Monday). So we called Pete. Pete and his business were highly recommended by Brian, David’s colleague/supervisor/other half of the Religion department. The youngest in a Catholic farming family, Pete is well-known and well-respected in the community (as are his 13 siblings). Brian knows the family best through Pete’s older brother, the Catholic-farmboy-turned-priest. And though I was a little apprehensive not going with a state-certified inspector, he came highly recommended by someone we trusted and, since he’s the main contractor in town, we figured he knew what he was doing. And who knows? Considering the size of Ripon, certification just might not be something the town (or Pete) felt it needed to endure.

It’s a small town. You go by relationships, not by Yelp reviews.

So we called Pete, who was around on Monday morning and more than happy to do an inspection for us–especially once we told him that Brian recommended that we call him. And, come Monday morning, Pete was there–early. He walked with us through the house, telling us what will need to be fixed, which things we could fix things ourselves, and what a good buy the house seemed to be. We left Ripon in June, offer accepted, house inspected, settlement directed (also known as over-the-moon elated).

So you can imagine my surprise when I flipped on the living room light switch Monday night and the light switch across the room lit on fire. No lightbulb turned on. We didn’t need a lightbulb with the EIGHT INCH FLAMES SPEWING FROM THE LIGHT-SWITCH.

Yes, I shut it off immediately, and the fire went away. We’re fine. But let me tell you, seeing flames of any size in your house a week after you move in is a terrifying sight

Turns out the guy who lived here before us (Bob, our neighbor, told me he was Earl, a World War II Air Force vet who had lived here for years and liked his dining room red) was a big Mr. Fix-It guy. But, skilled toolman that he was, electrician (or plumber) he was not. Which is why I had both fiddling around in my house yesterday afternoon.

Your first reaction might be,”Well, Allie, that’s what happens when you don’t get a real inspection.” Or, my grandmother’s old line (very recently reiterated by my mother), “well, whoever owns a house deserves one.” And that might be true. But I dont’ regret a second of our decision to call Pete.

Why? Because we live in a small town, and knowing people is important. So after our little pyrotechnic show, I called Pete.

“Ripon Area Builders.”

“Hi, I’m looking for Pete?”

“Yeah, it’s Pete.”

“Oh, good. My name’s Allie Scott, and you walked through a house on Ransom St. my husband and I were buying about two months ago?”

“Oh, yah. So you’re here! How’s it goin’?”

“Really well, thanks. Great town. We seem to have an electrical problem over at the house, though, and I was wondering if you could point me towards someone in town.”

“Electrical, huh? Something’s not workin’ right?”

“Well, not exactly. Seems one of the wires is a little loose or something…one of the outlets set itself on fire yesterday when I flipped a switch. We shut the whole circuit off, but I don’t really want that happening again.”

“On fire? Like, actual flames? (laughing) Well, that’s probably not so good.”

facepalm. “Yeah, probably not.”

“That’s easy, though. Call Mike over at Ripon Electric. He’ll be out there and have it fixed real quick.”

“Ripon Electric? Got it.”

“Yeah, they’re good people. Use them all the time. They’ll fix up that problem real quick.”

“Well, thanks, Pete! I appreciate your help.”

“Oh, it’s nothin’. Good luck with everything.”

Pete remembered who we were (mind you, Ripon doesn’t have the same steady rotation of people that Boston does, but still), and we had met Pete through Brian’s recommendation. Pete then recommended the electrician we called, who came in, looked at the mess of wiring in that light switch, laughed at it like Pete had (Wisconsin breeds some strange senses of humor, I tell you), and fixed it. When the plumber realized we needed a new hot water heater, too (I’m telling you, home ownership!), he sat down with me to work through all that he’d done, the things we should spring into action for, and how we can get them all done so that everybody’s happy–and not broke. While each doing their own thing in their respective rooms, they were relaying jokes back and forth, making fun of Earl’s former handiwork, and complaining about two dogs at another house in town where they had both been doing work earlier that week. They refer people to each other all the time. It’s a Ripon thing.

Everyone knows everyone in this town. We may not have known what projects we were immediately walking into as we carried boxes a week and a half ago, but we did know the contractor in town. Who knew the electrician in town. Who knew the plumber in town. And now, everything’s fixed, they know us, and have told us to call if we ever need anything. And I know, because I know them, that if I do, they’ll come running.

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