You know house at the end of the street that has been under renovation for five years?
You and your neighbors judge the owners. Don’t deny it. “The house isn’t even that big,” you say. “They could have rebuilt it four times in the time it took them to do everything they do in there.”
In your sarcasm, you have stumbled upon the truth.
In fact, it would have been faster and cheaper if they had reversed everything and started from scratch. But they didn’t because when they started all they wanted was a new bathroom.
Let’s take a trip into the Way-Back Machine as the five-year renovations began. The bathroom is old and shabby and needs a major refresh. Budgets are established, quotes are received, timelines are created.
At this point, one of three things happens.
“In fact, it would have been faster and cheaper if they had reversed everything and started from scratch. ”
In our first scenario, construction begins, budgets are exceeded, deadlines are left behind. But, finally, the new bathroom is finished. What a beauty it is! There is joy in the household. Well, not all the housekeeping. Someone decided that the rest of the house now looked dirty and old compared to the bathroom. Perhaps, suggests one spouse, a quick remodel of the living room would be in order so that the superiority of the bathroom doesn’t remain so blatant. Again, budgets are set and exceeded, deadlines made and left in the dust. Finally, a sleek new living room emerges from the clutter, immediately revealing that the dining room is outdated, dated and, let’s face it, rather depressing.
Eventually, five or more years later, everything in the house is replaced, including the porch, the roof, the septic tank, and one of the spouses.
In our second five-year renovation scenario, we learn early in the bathroom renovation that things are going to be a lot more complicated than we expected. On the second day, the contractors discover that the wiring in the house is so old that there is no point in plugging the new electrical outlets into it because the first time anyone has used a hair dryer while the electric oven is turned on, it will overload the weak electric current. system and possibly set the house on fire.
The electrical wiring, contractors say, needs to be upgraded, throughout the house, or they can’t be held responsible for what happens. It’s a job that can be done without tearing out all the walls in the house, but one spouse decides that since the walls are all horsehair plaster, they too should be replaced “while they’re at it. “.
The contractors start tearing down the walls and guess what those walls are not: horsehair plaster. No, they are made from once ubiquitous, currently banned asbestos. This discovery legally requires immediate repair by a certified asbestos removal team and involves packing the house in a giant plastic bag and setting up a self-contained air filtration system that…. Oh shit. All you really need to know here is that this bathroom remodel has turned the house into a Superfund site that will cost about 250 times the cost of the bathroom remodel to clean up. Only then can the electrical system be replaced, the walls rebuilt or the bathroom finished.
The second scenario is not always asbestos. Sometimes it’s massive termite damage that essentially requires rebuilding the whole house. Sometimes it is the subsidence of the foundation that requires a very complicated repair in which pillars are driven into the ground around the house so that the foundation can be connected to prevent it from sinking like the Titanic. It’s scary. And expensive. Sometimes it’s worse. You get the picture.
Anyway, fast forward five years. The owners, now destitute, finally get their bathroom finished. They plug in the hair dryer while the oven is on. It blows the circuit breaker.
The third scenario involves simply remodeling the bathroom and nothing more. That’s all the owners want. That’s all they can afford. They establish a budget and incorporate a 30% budget allocation and a 50% time overrun. They interrogate several contractors until they find The One. The One requires a 50% deposit in advance. Although the owners are doing everything right so far, they forget two crucial things: always check references and never pay a contractor 50% upfront.
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The contractor ends up ripping out the fixtures, light fixtures, and walls from the old bathroom, then disappears with the deposit. During the first month, he pretends to be sick. From the second to the sixth month, he assures them that he is coming tomorrow. For six months until the current month, he just left. Meanwhile, the owners try to get around the giant hole in the middle of their house where the bathroom used to be. Finally, in month eight, they start looking for another contractor to complete the work, but their budget, which is now only 50% of its original size, causes at least two of the contractors to burst out laughing. The owners are extremely depressed. The house remains a building site until they are able to raise the remaining funds, which takes them another four years.
Next time you see that house down the street that has been in renovations for five years, don’t despise the owners, as it is your way. Instead, bring them a pot and sit quietly while they tell you the story of their five-year-old hell project. Bring tissues. They will probably cry.
Write to Kris Frieswick at [email protected]
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