The $6000 House: Taking Posessioncomments (2) July 25th, 2011
Asa contractor I have participated in complete-gut remodels a few times. Thus, I spent my time between when the sales contract was signed and the closing - about 6 weeks - planning my next moves.
I didn't want to actually spend any money until I actually had the keys in my hand. I've had life toss me a few too many nasty surprises. Still, I could not resist the inpulse to buy some decent locksets and get them keyed alike. Good thing, too - as the listing agent refused to hand over the keys. He took 'his' locks with him, leaving me with an unsecurable house. Well, that was his plan; his smirk faded as quickly as I could pull the new locksets out of my car. Doom on you, Mr. Realtor!
Now, what to do next? Well, my past jobs taught me the value of that old maxim: Plan your work, and work your plan. Toward that end, I first gave the place a much closer inspection than I had before. I visited City Hall and the Fire Dept. to see what records they had. I began making 'as is' drawings of the place, accurate to a few inches, to assist in my planning. My first 'tool' purchases reflect this: a (cheap) drafting table, some wastebaskets, and and a broom.
Getting the utilities turned on required a few days off work; everyone wanted me there when they came. I'm not sorry; the guys were quite helpful. With utilities on, I discovered a few new problems: the plumbing and furnace have some issues. The electric - both from age and long-ago attic fire- got advanced on my remodel schedule. At least I now have power and a toilet, though!
What is my schedule? I first broke the remodel into bite-size pieces. Let folks know I'm there. Make it secure. Make it 'habitable.' Make it 'insurable.' Start the real remodel. Add the extras.
I introduced myself to my neighbors. I gave them concrete reasons to care- one was hired to mow the grass, while another I let park an extra car in my drive. I made clear that I bought the place to live in, not to rent out. THAT was well received. Dodgy tenants make for troublesome neighbors - and these folks had seen plenty of that over the years.
Security was also addressed by a JoBox -I really like the locking mechanism- and an alarm system. After letting everyone see these through the front window, I stapled up sheets as curtains. I painted the door and hung a mailbox.
To be habitable, I need to replace the (missing) water heater, install the first-ever central air conditioning, and replace a rotted bathroom floor. I'll "camp" in two rooms during the remodel, and those rooms need some serious insulating and new windows. Now I entered the 'call a contractor' stage.
The flooring guy responded promptly, and I'll have him start as soon as I'm ready. I'll handle the water heater myself - but first I have a few other plumbing issues to sort out. Three weeks, and I've yet to get an air conditioning guy out there. (Since my goal is to move in by mid-July, I might have to continue to rent through the summer. Life here without A/C is sweltering.)
A/C is more than just temperature control. With our generous mosquito population and extreme humidity, one simply must have plenty of ventilation. Screens might keep the bugs out, but won't deter thieves much. With a house full of tools, and me away at work all day, I'm not tempting fate.
I have posted three rules for contractors: A) No license, no bid. B) No permit, no work. C) NO on-site hiring. This may not be the 'cheapest' way to do things, but it's the right way. It's also often the only way to get a manufacturers' warranty, insurance to recognize the work, and protect yourself when someone falls off the roof.
Speaking of roofing: The roofing contractor checked out the roof, and my preposterously ugly DIY/Handyman patch job has a few years left. That's good news; my plans involve some changes to the roof, and I'd just as soon not pierce a new roof.
Window contractors. Now, there's a study in contrasts. One guy sent out a kid, the measurements are all mixed up, and I'm glad I'm only hiring him for three windows. The second guy has his act together -more or less- warranties, and better windows. It will be interesting to compare their work. At this stage, I don't want 'perfect' windows, just 'good enough' windows. The existing ones have been worn and abused to the point where they no longer keep winter winds at bay. About half of the windows of the house will be affected by other remodeling plans, so I'll make do with them for now.
Meanwhile, I'm still very much in the 'preparation' stage. I'm building shelves, workbenches, and basic furniture. I'm stringing temporary lights. I'm opening walls in preparation for re-wiring the place. I've spent $120 on cardboard sheets to use to protect the floors- in addition to the usual tarps and tape. I'm refining my plans.
I cannot stress enough the need to set YOUR priorities and have a plan. You'll be buffeted by all manner of pressures to do this, or fix that. Such can easily lead to wastfull duplication of efforts and a confused result. Let's look at the three dominant opinions I've encountered:
Folks who have only rented, or moved into 'ready' homes, expect me to right away start painting the inside. As much as the inside needs help, my plan tells me the walls will be coming apart. While I MIGHT cover the Pepto-Bismol pink of the room I will 'camp' in (even worse than the color is the quality of the job; I really think they used a broom as a brush), any interior painting will be wasted money and effort right now.
One insurance agent griped about the severely peeled paint on the outside and the ugly roof. Well, the roofer has vouched for the security of the roof (for now.) The peeling LEAD paint and badly weathered wood argues for a much more involved effort than just throwing a few gallons of paint on. Still, the outside appearance can wait until after the mechanicals of the house are in order.
Finally, folks who 'invest' in these places for rental income are quick to answer every thought of mine with 'but that costs money.' Of course it does. My goal is to have a house for me to live in - rather than a desire to do as little as possible for as cheaply as possible. While there is a role for considering costs, any 'savings' are illusory if you're not happy with the result. The same logic applies when the 'resale argument' is raised. I have no way of knowing what will be 'fashionable' to some imaginary future buyer. I'm not about to be unhappy in my own house for the whims of fashion.
Which explains some of the 'wrong' changes I have in mind- but I'll save those for another column.
posted in: remodeling, planning
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