Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Home-Improvement Chronicles: Lessons Learned (Part 1 of 2)

before i post final photos of my finished house and painted deck, i wanted to comment on the biggest takeaways this home remodel taught me. everything about it has been an education from the first day to the last, leaving me with so much new knowledge — not only about the fundamentals of home construction, but also about myself, other people, and what having a home really means.

perhaps the biggest lesson i learned during all this was not to shortchange my house.  this sounds so simple and obvious, but it’s often overlooked in favor of the path of least resistance, which is usually cheaper, quicker, easier — and uglier. in the short-term that might be ok, but down the road it will mean more money and time to correct things that could have been done right the first time.

also, cheap looks cheap. that’s fine for apartment living, but a house is a different matter altogether, so i kept saving/borrowing until i had the money to get what i wanted done. of course, i had to work within a budget, but budgets bust — and for big jobs, that
s a guarantee. my job certainly went well over budget, and i found myself at the bank plenty of times extending my credit, but i never once remade the plans into something cheaper out of fear for what that could look like. i’d rather extend my repayment plan for an additional year than live in something i regarded as ugly for the next 10 years. 

in the same vein of not shortchanging my house, i would absolutely recommend that everyone hire an architect. this is not an extraneous expense that can be cut when the budget starts to look scary, because no matter how many remodeling shows i’ve watched on cable TV, i am not a designer. i’m sure the former owners of my house watched a few shows themselves, as evidenced by the bedroom that had been “rag painted” brown when i moved in. i called it “the shit-smeared room.”

i understand that people want to execute their vision for their homes, and a good architect will take that into consideration, while also taking into consideration things like traffic patterns, natural light, color theory and the differences between materials and their costs.
i know this is easy for me to say as my architect looked a lot like my ex-boyfriend Mo, who knew my house intimately after having lived in it for three years. 

added to my luck was the fact that Mo is a creative genius. i say this with complete objectivity. i don’t doubt that anyone who has seen Mo’s work — which ranges from interior design to drawing to furniture building to writing to filmmaking — will agree with me. he’s brilliant in every capacity and i cannot thank him enough for his dedication to this project (which at some points was stronger than my own). the good news is that you can hire him, too. message me privately (my contact info is in the right sidebar) if you want his contact info. you will not be sorry.   

another thing i’ve learned has to do with what not to say to people who are in the throes of a home remodel. for starters, never ask how much it costs, which i see as being akin to asking people to reveal their salary. and if they refuse to tell you the first time, don’t start guessing and asking them “lower or higher” (yes, this really happened). trust that if someone wants you to know how much money they spent, they’ll tell you.

i never felt comfortable discussing it, seeing the financial details of my remodel as being only between me, my contractor and my bank. a golden rule of mine (learned from having made this mistake in the past): Never talk about money. it’s tacky, it’s private and it can make people feel uncomfortable, usually generating more questions than answers. so no, i can never tell you how much it cost. it’s simply not your business.

also, no one going through a remodel wants to be given unsolicited advice or asked obvious questions like “did you shop around for the lowest price?” they (ok, i) also don’t want to hear about your mother-in-law’s bathroom remodel or about discount stores like Lumber Liquidators (which sucks, by the way). unless you’re being asked for advice because you’re known to have gone through something similar, always give the homeowner the benefit of the doubt because, most of the time, all the research has been done and plans have been finalized before the first nail hits the house.

in addition, give the cliches a rest. if i had a dollar for every time i heard “it will all be worth it in the end,” i could pay off my construction debt. i know that sometimes there is just nothing else to say when someone (ok, me) is complaining to you about their remodeling hardships, but cliches only cause eye rolls. a better reply is “that sounds rough, can i bring you some dinner” or “hey, do you want this gallon of vodka?” please also never ask when the housewarming party will be, as that’s like asking a pregnant stripper when she plans to return to work. it’s simply the last thing on her mind.

finally, be nice to your crew. they’re the ones working on your house, after all, and their craftsmanship will likely suffer if they think you are a total asshole. so don’t allow it by treating them well. this means saying “good morning” and “have a great day” before you leave for work. it means learning their names and buying each of them a case of beer on a hot saturday afternoon after they’ve put in a hard week of work. it’s also important to get in lockstep with your contractor and stay on the same side.    

again, i was lucky here as Platon and i worked amazingly well together. this doesn’t mean we didn’t have our disagreements and tense conversations, but we managed to stay civil to each other throughout them because we understood we’ll still need to be working together the next day. ours was very much a marriage built on mutual respect and clear communication, and it became more solid with time.

i interviewed a few other contractors before hiring Platon to do the full interior remodel of my house four years ago, and all of them (but Platon) rubbed me the wrong way. another important note: trust your instincts when hiring a contractor. needless to say, it can make all the difference. the good news is you can hire Platon, too — if you can get him, that is, as he’s quite busy (he’s built three decks in my neighborhood already), but he’s worth waiting for. Platon Markarian, 818-279-3118.  

since i wrote the last check to Platon and the crew took their tools away, i’ve been on a serious high. i actually hadnt noticed how perpetually cranky living in a construction zone made me until it ended and left behind a levity i didnt know i lacked until i got it back. i also didnt realize how much i missed having people over. the paint had barely dried on the deck before the first wave of house-warmers rolled through. more waves have followed and more parties are being planned. 

its odd but the thought that my friends may muddy up my newly remodeled home doesnt bother me much. in the absence of that whole husband+kids thing, i want my friends who are like family to come over, sit on my deck with me while drinking wine, laughing about their lives, telling me about their days and gazing at the valley below. the times this has happened have filled me with joy and reminded me that it was the reason i did this remodel in the first place. 



Electrician Brisbane said...

Thank you for the lessons! I think with the advice that you gave, we can all reset assured that our home improvement ideas are not stagnant which means it becomes enhances with your knowledge with it.

home remodeling northern Virginia said...

Thank you for this valuable information, I hope it is okay that I bookmarked your website for further references.

financing home improvement said...

Yup everyone needs to learn these things some time in their lives. It's quite an important thing to just pass up because home improvement projects are going to happen to almost every home owner out there. So might as well learn it earlier than later.

Bathroom Sinks said...

As You said: "everything about it has been an education from the first day to the last" in the last 5 months there is nothing in my live then searching and looking for what I want from my new flat :D I'm not goin give this job to anyone else even they have hips of experience and tools to do so. The project of my flat I'm doing my self :) Thanks for You post, some things in it I found is so helpful :)