Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Wednesday, October 18 (See?! It does pay to be fair!)

When I stopped by the house this morning, Mario was finishing up mowing the lawn. Not only did his crew remove all the trash from the yard, but they had dug out the flowerbed in front of the house as well. I was happy with how it looked, but I was a bit apprehensive since we had not agreed on a price, and I didn't want to be windshield-wiped (you know, like when those jerks wash your windshield at the stoplight despite you making wild "don't wash me" gesticulations so that you feel guilted into giving them money. Except I never feel guilty and sometimes spray my washer fluid. So I'm not a good Christian. Bah!)

I told Mario the yard look great and asked him if I owed him money for the flowerbed. He said, no it wasn't a big deal and there was no charge. I wanted to hug him! Not because getting a free flowerbed dug in and of itself is so thrilling, but it's so awesome to work with *nice* people. I told him that I'd definitely be calling him for more work.

I told J, and he said I should get Mario to bid on the landscaping. I really want to do it myself to save money, and since the hard part of digging the bed is already done, I don't think it'll be too difficult. The big obstacle is my black thumb. My parents can grow fruit-bearing treas from seeds and beautiful plants from cuttings. I, on the other hand, am guilty of killing cacti. My mother once gave me a Mother-in-law's Tongue that she had had for 10+ years. It's so named because of its sharped pointy leaves and its stubborn tenacity. A google search returned this description -- "The ultimate unkillable plant". Yep. I killed it. Good thing I have Mario in my back pocket...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tuesday, October 17 (Tired of hearing about paint yet?)

I stopped by the house, and the painters were there hard at work. Of all the crews, they are definitely the most hard-working and reliable thus far on the project. They've finished most of the exterior, and I'm really happy with it. I knew I would like it since I've used the color before, but it was still nice to see the "after". Here's a picture of the garage as a teaser of what the house looks like with the new color. The trim is cream, not white as it might appear. Originally, I had planned to use Birdseye Maple as the exterior color, but the sample I put on the siding looked a little too blah. I tried it in the kitchen, however, and it looks fantastic. I'm going to use it on the exterior of the next project; it really took seeing a wall of the color to get the full effect. Ellie, from across the street, said she loves the color and thinks it perfect for the neighborhood. Yea!

As I was leaving the house, I saw a crew of lawn guys mowing a yard down the street. I stopped my car and asked if they did yardwork (duh). Mario walked back over to the house and gave me a bid. He said since the house was so overgrown, he'd have to charge more than normal - $35 for the front, back, and side yards. Done! J says I paid him about $15 too much, but the grass was freaking a foot high in places. J and I actually have argued for years about how much lawn persons should be paid. I say if you let your yard go to shite, you should not make someone using a manual lawnmower mow your front/back yard for $20. That's just not right. He says if they're willing to do it for that price, then it's all good.

Him: He's good with the price, I'm good with the price, everyone's happy. No one's forcing him to mow the yard.
Me: But what if he has no choice but to mow the yard or not have money to feed his children?
Him: Waaah, waaah, cry me a river.
Me: Shut up, jerk.

I'm summarizing, but that's pretty much how the conversation goes every time.

Monday, October 16 (Pinching pennies)

It's raining cats and dogs today and we're under a tornado and flood watch. I didn't go by the house since I doubt any of the contractors showed up. No point in braving the weather just to be disappointed.

It wasn't a completely wasted day as I had time to look at fixtures online. The glass knobs for my kitchen cabinets came in, too! I ordered them from ebay Friday night and they arrived on Monday - now that's fast shipping! I got a good deal on them as well. The seller was asking $36 for a lot of 18. I "made an offer" of $30, and she accepted. I've had pretty good luck on ebay with hardware - all my kitchen pulls in my last house were purchased there, too. I got $25 cabinet pulls for $4. In the master bath, we had $600 Italian faucets purchased for only $150 each.

We did have a bit of a glitch with the kitchen cabinets - Jesse had made the dishwasher opening 32.5" tall. When I went to the scratch-n-dent store on Saturday, I discovered that 99% of dishwashers require a 34" opening. Ooopsies. Luckily, there is enough trim above the opening so that Jesse can enlarge it and still leave enough clearance for the bullnose trim on the granite. Good deals at scratch-n-dent, too - I got a Whirlpool dishwasher for $169 (Lowe's price $299) and a Whirlpool freestanding range for $359 (Lowe's price $560). Both had such minor scratches that looks-wise I'd use them in my own home, and they were both still under manufacturer warranty. Better yet, we had $315 credit from something we returned a year or two ago. I still count it against the budget, but it's nice to use money that's already spent, if that makes any sense.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Friday, October 13 (Sometimes you have to call in the pros)

I haven't dealt much with our a/c installer Juan Carlos (let's call him JC). He's someone J's used before, so he arranged for the a/c installation in the very beginning of the project. JC had told us to cut a 30"x54" opening for the attic ladder. Jesse took care of that, cutting the hole and bracing the sides with 2"x4" boards. I was finally able to obtain assistance with picking up the ladder (thanks, Jeff!) and went to Home Depot on Tuesday. They didn't carry 30"x54" ladders, so I took a chance that a 30"x60" would work. We brought it back and discovered there wasn't enough space to expand the hole without having to move electricals pulled for the smoke alarm. Before we went through the trouble, J called JC, and JC assured him that 30"x54" ladders were available and that he uses them all the time -- that's why he told us to cut the opening that size. He said he would pick one up from the specialty shop he buys them from and drop it off at the house. That was Wednesday morning.

Thursday morning rolls around, and the new ladder has still not been delivered. The painters have started the interior, so we need to take care of it ASAP so that it can be painted along with the rest of the trim work. I call JC, and he says his employee Carlos is at the store picking up the ladder, and it would be delivered within the hour. I relay the message to Jesse, and he goes to the house to install the ladder. It's not there.

So it's Friday morning, and I call JC again, and he gives me this idiotic lame story about how Carlos delivered the door to the wrong site, but when they went back to get it this morning, the person at the supposed site said the ladder wasn't there. They were off buying a new ladder as we spoke. I told him that Jesse was going to be at the site at 3:00, so the ladder needed to be delivered no later than that. "Sure, sure! It will be there sooner!"

I meet Jesse at 3, and still no ladder. I call JC, and he says Carlos is 5 minutes away. At 3:15 Jesse says he'll come back the next day if the ladder gets delivered. At 3:20, I call JC and ask if Carlos is lost. He's very apologetic and says he will call Carlos again.

Carlos finally arrives at 3:40, and he brings in... a 30"x60" ladder. From Home Depot. Exactly like the one I purchased sitting in the garage awaiting return because it's not the right size. Carlos tells me there is no such thing as a 30"x54" ladder that supports 350lbs (required by code). We have a completely fruitless discussion about it, and I tell him to take the ladder back. I call J and light into him. Poor guy, it wasn't his fault, but I was seething and needed to let it out before I called JC. JC is a #$*(@ idiot. If there's no such thing as a 30"x54" ladder, he should have told us three @#(*)(# days ago so Jesse could have enlarged the hole to begin with, and we would have been done by now. Now we we've lost time, Jesse's made unnecessary visits, and the painter's already been through with the trim paint. What a *\*(@#&$# waste of time. I want to kick someone! I'm standing in the driveway while ranting, so I'm sure the painters and the neighbors think I'm a lunatic. Anyhoo, apparently I didn't calm down enough because J said he would call JC.

Ten minutes later, as I'm still stewing, J calls. JC's crew is coming back, enlarging the hole for us, and will take care of moving the electricals. We check Saturday morning, and they've done just that.

Ahhh, it's so nice to have J to help me. I don't feel bad that I needed his help. I've learned from the experience, and from my project management days, I know that at the end of the day, my job is to find the right resources to get things done :)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Thursday, October 12 (A penny saved...)

A couple of weeks ago, I went to get pricing on granite from a recommended vendor. Since it's just a single long, straight counter, I was hoping to get a single piece of pre-fab to save money. Unfortunately, the counter is too long, so I would have had to get two pieces. For the granite I wanted (Santa Cecilia), the material would have cost $820, before installation (which is the costly part of installing granite). Since the counter is one of the latter parts of the project, I put it on the backburner until this past Tuesday. I got a Greensheet and called a granite fabricator - the one with the largest ad first. His price/sq.ft sounded good, so I scheduled a time to meet for a bid.

To my surprise (and his), we are both Vietnamese! I immediately started chatting away in our native tongue, hoping "my peeps" would not let me down on the bid. After taking measurements, Danny gave me price of $850 for the material and installation. Moreover, he would do a custom fabrication with a single piece of granite (i.e., no seam), add bullnose trim on the edge, and cut a hole for the sink. I was very happy with the price, but the "little Jimmy" (not the cricket) on my shoulder told me I needed to ask for a discount. Danny knocked off $50 and said he would charge an even $800; he even apologized for not being able to give a larger discount. He usually gives more of a discount to Vietnamese clients, but since the job was so small he didn't have as much flexibility. I saw samples of his work, and it's really well done. Hopefully, my counter will turn out as I anticipate so that I can use him for future jobs.

Also on the saving money front, the bid to tile the kitchen was way too high - $1000 just for installation and probably another $500 for the tile. While I was going through my to-do list and thinking about how I needed to find another tile person to see if I could get a better price, I had one of those light-bulb moments. Hmmm, I wonder what's under that nasty linoleum? I pulled it up, and lo and behold, it's the same wood floors that are in the rest of the house. I called Cristofer (the person doing my floor refinishing) to see if he could bid on the kitchen and breakfast room since it wasn't part of his original bid. I met him this morning, and he can do both rooms, including removal of the linoleum and new shoe molding, for $425. Sweet! Side note: Cristofer has a bit of a reputation for being an asshole, but I have to say he's been great to work with. Very polite and friendly, punctual, and accommodating on times I can meet.

The painters are making good progress. Because of the wet weather, they've been working on the interior. Kevin gave me a good suggestion on some of the exterior window trim. After scraping, the trim still looked "alligator-y". Rather than sanding down to bare wood (which would leave the wood still not looking new and would cost a good amount of extra money), he suggested I have Jesse just replace the trim. For $140 (materials/labor), I was able to replace the trim on four sets of windows. Jesse knocked it out in a couple of hours , and it looks great. Kevin also pulled me aside and said the sheetrockers did a great job - one of the best he's seen on any of his jobs. I thought Tomas did great as well, but it's good to hear it from someone with much more experience in these things.

The house looks amazing now that the interior trim has been painted. I'm so pleased, I can't even tell you how much. It just looks so different - a completely different house.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Monday, October 9 (Oh, you wanted us to actually finish?)

I spoke with Jesse about the crown molding remaining in the bedroom. Apparently it wasn't part of the original bid. Though I can't imagine why I would tell Jesse to leave out the two bedrooms, J said that as he recalled it, I didn't ask for the bedrooms to be done, either. Unfortunately, my notes from the meeting with Jesse just say "crown molding in rooms". Since I don't really know if I'm right or not, I'll save fighting with a contractor for another day. Jesse only wanted $100 to do the remaining crown molding anyway, so it wasn't a big deal. We also had some additional work needed (i.e., more $). Lesson learned for next time: figure out what I need in the beginning and write a more detailed list.

I actually have more detailed contracts with my other contractors - Jesse is the one case where I don't have one. Since we know him pretty well and he's working on our other homes, I feel more of a comfort level with him. I probably will still do something more formal on the next home, just to avoid any future issues.

Tomas, the sheetrocker, called today as well. He's completed the sheetrock and wanted to meet for walk-through and payment. I setup an appointment, but since I was in the neighborhood I did a quick check. Everything looks great...except for one closet. Only the top half of the sheetrock has been installed, oddly. Since it wasn't taped/floated, either, I don't think they thought that only the top half needed to be done. I know that's a ridiculous thing to think, but odder things have been said by contractors. I called Tomas and told him everything looked great except for the one closet. I gave him a lame out - "oh, the door must have been shut so it was overlooked". J says I back people into corners often. I don't think I do, but in any case decided to take the nice route on this mistake. Tomas was apologetic and said he'd have it finished before our scheduled appointment. I'm happy with their work - they finished ahead of schedule, cleaned up after themselves, and didn't ask for any additional money.

The painters also started priming the house. They are a little behind schedule, but that's partially due to lack of water. It gives me a few extra days to finalize the interior colors, which I desperately need. I spent another $40 on samples yesterday, blech.

It's amazing - even white primer makes the house look better than the previous color on the house. The contractors put the old stove and refrigerator on the porch to get them out of the way. I'd been hoping someone would steal them (they still work) since we're replacing them anyway, but alas, no such "luck". I'm going to have to up the anty and have them put it on the curb.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Friday, October 6 (Payday!)

I had to meet with the contractors today to give them draws on their payments. So far, still on budget. It's very cool being at the house since there's so much activity. I had painters, carpenters, and sheetrockers all working at the same time. I think it helps that they all know each other - they seemed to really stay out of each others' ways but also gave each other a helping hand when needed.

Despite the water not being on until today (after a second call to the City water department), Kevin thinks they'll be done with the exterior by the end of the weekend. While the water wasn't on, they kept busy by prepping the interior and scraping the exterior. They're doing a really good job so far - in prepping the interior they had already removed extra nails, curtain hooks, etc. and caulked the holes. Well, of course they would, you say? I've seen plenty of jobs where the painters just painted over these, so I'm impressed I didn't need to remind them.

The sheetrock has been taped/floated, since Jesse was able to start the crown molding - he just has the two bedrooms remaining. So much progress is being made!

Despite the progress, I have a nagging feeling that I'm missing something, so I asked J to do a walk-through tomorrow morning to give me another set of eyes on the project.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Wednesday, October 4 (Did I say paint?)

I get a call from Kevin -- "um, what's the water situation at the house?" Hmmm, good question. We had water last week... The painters were supposed to start today; on their agenda was to scrape and power wash. Surprisingly, you need water for that.

Somehow I managed to forget to transfer the water to our name, and the city turned off our water. I called the water department, and they said they'd turn the water on the next day. The previous owner hadn't paid the water bill since June, so until we send them a letter from our electric company stating that we didn't turn on our power until mid-September, we're going to be back-billed for the extra months. It's less than $35 in back-pay that's owed, and I'm debating whether it's worth the trouble to call the electric company, get the letter, fax it back to the water department, follow-up on the reimbursement, yadda, yadda, yadda. I'll probably do it just on principle. It's good to know that you can not pay your water bill for four months before they turn it off, though.

$80 in paint samples later (at $5/sample), I've decided to go with Bunglehouse Grey for the body of the house. A color I didn't even get a sample of (it's the color of our last house). I HATE picking colors when I have a particular shade in mind and just can't find it. So, I'm playing it safe and going with a color I know I love. I'm using new trim/accents shades with it, though - Royal Vellum for the trim and Roycroft Copper Red for the accent color.

I still need to find a tiler. The tile bid from Martin came in too high, though our builder said he'd talk to Martin and see if he could encourage him to go lower. In an effort to cut costs, I've decided not to tile the walls in the bathroom. Originally there was faux tile on all walls going up about 5 ft up the wall, and I was going to replace it with new, white subway tile. Instead, I'm going to have beadboard wainscoting installed, which will save us hundreds just on the tile cost alone. Though it's not a look I personally like, I think it goes well with the cottage bungalow feel of the house.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tuesday, October 3 (Beginner's luck)

I went to meet Tomas to give him his first payment so that he could buy materials to get started. Our meeting was at 9, and I took my time getting there since I expected him to be late. I pull up right at 9, and not only was he and his crew already there, they had already started working!

Tomas told me they were able to get the materials and had started the day before. They're hoping to be done by the end of the week. When I told J, he was pretty impressed. Apparently I'm having much more success with the contractors than a newbie normally wood. I guess having a baby slung on my hip when I'm at the property is buttering people up. It certainly can't be hurting :)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Monday, October 2 (Paint, paint, and more paint)

Kevin, the painter, is finishing up another job and should be able to start Wednesday or Thursday this week. I'll have him start on the exterior now that the rails/columns are done. I picked up paint samples today and plan to try them out tomorrow -- hopefully choosing shades won't be as hard as it was for our own house since I won't have to live with it.

Since it's a flip, I'll need to keep things pretty neutral. There's the obvious reason to appeal to the masses, but also a neutral palette will allow people to feel like they can come in, throw in some color, and make the place "their own". I'm going with a gray/beige tone for the bedrooms, dining room, and front room. I do plan to use a bit of color - I'm leaning towards a warm yellow for the kitchen and an icy light blue for the bathroom. We'll see!

For the exterior, I'm using classic craftsman colors. Birdseye maple (a golden yellow) for the body with cream trim and a deep red (Roycroft copper red) for the accents. Fingers crossed that the colors will look as good on the house as they look on paper.

Saturday, Sept. 30 (Oh, so much to learn!)

Jesse called and said they were almost finished and needed a payment - $1200 (leaving a remaining balance of $400 to finish the crown molding after the sheetrock is installed). I told him I needed to go by the bank and I'd swing by the house later that day.

I told J, and he told me that I should only give Jesse $1000 - that the balance should always be enough to incent a contractor to finish up a job since often contractors will move one to the next job if they haven't left much on the table. I generally agree with this policy, but I felt like such a tool not paying Jesse the entire amount he requested. He's done really good work, and since we *know* him, I didn't think we needed to retain an extra $200. On the other hand, on the very off chance we'd have problems with Jesse, I didn't want J saying, "I told you so". He would never actually say that, of course. I'd just know. So, when we met Jesse I told him the bank was closed and I only had $1000. He was totally fine with it, which made me feel even worse.

In any case, the house is looking so much better already! The ugly ironwork in front has been replaced (pic above), and Jesse has started the kitchen cabinets. He's also installed new beadboard in the kitchen. Jesse was going to trash the ironwork, but I told him to put it on the curb as I knew someone would take it. Sure enough, when we drove by later it was all gone. Yay for recycling!

I also spoke with Tomas, the sheetrocker. With a little prompting from J, I was able to get him down $400. Still $200 more than I wanted to spend, but it's worth the extra money to know he'll do a good job. He starts Tuesday and should finish up in a week.

Oh, on another note, the house next door went up for sale by owner. J had spoken to the guy representing the seller (not a realtor, just a friend) last week, and they're asking $35K more than ours was purchased for. The lot is the same size, but the house is in terrible condition (worse than ours). I called and made an offer, and J is coaching me through the little dance I'm doing with this guy. I'm not sure if we'll get the lot, but I won't pay more than what we paid for ours. As I told J, I really hate negotiating prices, be it with contractors or homeowners. I'd much rather leave that part of home flipping to J, but he says I need to get comfortable doing it. I suppose he's right. It's no fun, though (at least not for me)!