Renovating the Vacation House—Part 1


I purchased a FNMA foreclosure which needed some work, but I had a plan. Everyone tells you to leave an extra 10-20% for contingencies, but I decided I would just over-estimate my expenses and that would cover contingencies. I’ll let you in on the first of three secrets.

You already know I research everything.  Even with all my research, the first contractor I choose is invariably the least competent one. It doesn’t matter how many or how good the references are, or how long they have been in business, or how great their website is.  For me, the first is the worst.  Suffice it to say that I started out by hiring a probably wonderful builder, but a bad building inspector. I knew it when he showed up with no ladder or tools and was not dressed to crawl into the crawl space. He told me a least one thing I didn’t know, so I counted it as a successful experience at the time. I wasn’t worried because I was already in contract, so no matter what the inspector found, I would move forward.

My husband was worried about my security and  friends of ours near Laurelville had been visited by burglars until they installed a gate, so my first step was to install a farm gate at the road. I found the gate at a local store and they gave me the name of someone who could install it, but that person never returned my calls (contractor #1). I found another contractor and he successfully installed it. 

A gate needs a lock and my search for the toughest lock led me to one with a strange sounding name.  New York Fahgettaboudit.  This is a lock used to secure motorcycles and bicycles in New York City, so it would be fine for my country gate.  It uses a type of lock technology that makes it virtually impossible to pick or fabricate a duplicate key.  These locks are known as rotating disk locks and when the key is inserted and turned, disks, like tumblers in a safe lock, rotate to the desired position.

With the gate in place and locked, it was time to start working on the inside.  Everything had been painted horrible colors (pink, bright blue) and all other surfaces were pink wallboard patterned with tiny flowers.  The kitchen countertop was white and stained.  I primered everything and painted the walls in forest shades and painted the counter in wheat. (Note: this was a paint and leave immediately situation—counter paint smells horrid).  I don’t purchase paint like others do.  I purchase mis-tints at greatly reduced prices ($5 to $10), then mix them to get my desired shade, not always with the best results.  I painted the two largest rooms twice, just to get the correct color—one that was pleasant to look at.  And when I ran out of my special mix in the middle of painting a room, I discovered how hard it is to match my mixes.  When I mix paints, I mix glosses and flats and semi-glosses and different paint brands.  When you have paint matched at the store, they ask you what brand it is.  Different brands must have different characteristics.  I created a challenge for the paint department with my custom mixes.  It took them several tries and they never did get the exact color, but it was close enough.  I am not a good painter and it took about a year to finish the last bit of wall.   

After I’d paint a room I would start ripping out the carpet.  This is smart because you can use the carpet as a drop cloth.  Unfortunately for the floors, ripping out carpet was quicker than painting on the first two rooms, so I decided to rip first and paint later.  Unfortunate because when we painted, we spilled and entire tray of primer on the bare subfloor in the main room which I had wanted to stain.  (I say we, because I had acquired a younger, stronger, helper.  Oh, well, Plan B. 

Who installs carpet and then builds walls over it? In one room, that is how the carpet was secured.  Staples, tack strips, and fastened beneath the wall.   The carpets were cheap and ugly and I had no intention of using carpet anywhere.  I used a linoleum cutter to rip carpet and pad to manageable size.  We used brute force to pull it from beneath the walls.  You can still see the shoe prints where we braced against the wall to pull it out.  Then I used a pry bar to pull nails and tacking strips and a scissors to trim what remained under the wall. I did this in the three largest rooms and it took a long time and much effort.  I had to cut the carpet pieces small enough to fit in my compact car, so I could haul them home and dispose of them.  For a number of months, I worked with rolled up carpet in a queue, waiting to be driven home and trashed.

My gate installation contractor was ready to start on the bathrooms.  He would be replacing subfloor, installing a shower, and replacing two vanities.  I  had hoped to use a prefabricated shower from Lowes, but the salesman pointed out to me that it would not fit through the doorway.  So I bought shower walls and base and fixtures, a refrigerator, and  bathroom vanities and sinks, all of which Lowes delivered for my contractor’s use. 

Stay tuned for the next installment where I discuss my second secret and how I worked around the disaster that lay ahead.

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