Welcome to the Money Pit

I’ve always heard before that people who renovated their homes — and by “renovated”, I’m talking about larger-scale jobs, not simply changing the carpet in one room and rearranging the furniture — were usually of one common view by the time the project was finally over:  It was worth it, but we’d never do it again.

So when my wife and I started our major renovation project almost two and a half years ago, did I think I’d being saying the exact same thing today?  Of course, I didn’t.  I knew better than that.  Whatever problems other people had, we’d avoid, and besides, I knew what we were in for from the start — how could there be any issues for us to worry about?

My construction hat

My construction hat

Okay, okay — maybe it hasn’t been the smoothest of sailing while we’ve been working on the house.  To get a good idea of how a lot of this project has gone, just rent The Money Pit sometime and you’ll get a pretty good idea.

When did I first get a clue that our nifty home renovation wasn’t going to go exactly the way we’d planned?  Well, it should have been the first afternoon after the main construction started when, while breaking for lunch, I was flipping through the channels on TV and saw the aforementioned movie playing on Cinemax.  Now I know there’s a lot of time to fill in their programming schedules, but what were the odds that this 20 year-old+ movie of all films would be playing on that particular day?  I knew it was an ominous sign from the start (and commented on exactly that to my wife and others), though if I took nothing else from watching it that afternoon (how could I not have?), I appreciated the sense of irony involved.

My wife and I own a home in one of the nicest areas of the town we currently live, a place where there’s older homes mixed in with newer construction.  We’d bought our house in 2001, before the real estate market had really started to boom in the area, and in time, we’d already seen a decent appreciation on the house’s value.  But while the home rests on a nice sized plot of land (we’re not crammed in one of those sardine-like lots in a subdivision — a priority when we’d bought had been to get a house where our neighbors couldn’t hear it every time I shouted at one of my fantasy baseball pitcher’s to start throwing strikes), it was one of the smaller homes in the neighborhood (though at 1700+ square feet living, it was certainly far from cramped).  There were things I would have liked to change about the house — there was no formal dining room, and the master bedroom and master bath in particular were on the smaller side) — and I had tossed around some ideas about adding on to the house, but we’d never looked into them seriously, even though I knew, as a real estate agent at the time, that building up to the level of the neighborhood would be a pretty smart investment.

Hurricane Katrina changed all of that thinking.   Thankfully, we weren’t in a hard hit area, but the high winds did end up blowing part of our roof away — and the resulting water damage we suffered as a result left us needing not only an entire new roof, but several rooms that needed ceilings and walls to be ripped out and replaced.

We could have just repaired things back to the way they were — no, make that better than they were — but it was then that the idea that had bounced around in my head over the years took form.  “If we have to tear all of this out anyway, why not use this as an opportunity to embark on the full-scale renovation we’d always talked about doing?” I had asked my wife.

Again, in case you forgot, here’s the hat I was wearing when I suggested this:

Nope -- Im still not any smarter

If you're wondering: Nope -- I'm still not any smarter

My wife agreed (Because she thought I had a brilliant idea — or just to shut me up?  Only she knows for sure.)  And best of all, we decided that, in order to really stretch our budget and get the most bang for our buck, we were going to do the bulk of the work ourselves.  My father-in-law is a electrician and had worked in air conditioning and heating before, and he had a lot of connections with other contractors who’d be able to give us some great deals on what we couldn’t do.  Clearly, with those advantages and the three of us working when we could (which due to those pesky everyday paying jobs we all had, meant mostly nights and weekends), we’d have this project knocked out in no time.

Errr … ok, maybe not.

Finished in slightly less time than my home renovation

Finished in slightly less time than my home renovation

To say that we got in a little over our heads would be an understatement somewhere along the lines of saying “Paris Hilton’s not a really good actress”.  Part of my plan had involved converting unused attic space into living space, but I miscalculated on just how much space that was going to give us — and by the time the walls were up and the roof was on, we had more than doubled our existing living area;  great for the value of the house, not so great for spending Saturday afternoons doing something other than holding a nail gun or running electrical wire.

On the bright side, I’ve definitely come to appreciate the little things that I, like many people who never get to tackle such a project, had come to take for granted when living in a home.  For about eight months, I went without air conditioning (including during the sweltering heat of the summer), and for most of two winters, I lived without heat as well (never have I been so happy to have a fireplace in the living room, and never did I think I’d own a space heater until then).  My wife and I learned quickly to get by without things such as working lights, cold and hot water, a floor beneath our feet — even sheet rock on the walls.  At one point, being opened up to the elements left us vulnerable to an invasion from the outdoors, which came first in the form of small, cute furry mice — and then later, in the form of much larger, more aggressive and definitely not so “cute” rats.  Trust me, you can’t say that you’ve truly lived until you’ve faced off with a charging rat and only the business end of a cement mixer to defend yourself with in a duel to the death.

Pretty much like this, but with rats

Pretty much like this, but with rats

Another positive is the fact that I have learned a great deal about things I’d never thought I’d know squat about.  Three years ago, I couldn’t use a power tool to save my life;  today, I’m versatile with any number of saws, drills, or nail guns.  I know how to run circuits and wires to bring power to any part of a house and how to lay a proper foundation.  I learned how to put on a roof, run plumbing, and install air conditioning runs.  Literally, I’ve learned almost anything I needed to build a house from scratch — and best of all, I’ve managed to do all of this (so far — knock on wood) without in any way maiming myself — though a couple of times, I came awfully close.

Thankfully, there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel — and it’s actually not a train waiting to run me down.  Rooms are finally starting to be finished, and a definite end to the project is in sight at last.  Unlike Tom Hanks and Shelley Long, my wife and I never had our relationship strained as a result of this endeavor — if anything, the ordeal we’ve shared has probably made us closer as a result.  And we’re not going to be selling the house either, even though we could still return a hefty profit at this point, even in a troubled economy and struggling real estate market.  We plan on this house being the one we raise a family in, and hopefully it won’t only be the first house we ever bought —  but the last as well — even if you can barely recognize it anymore from when we started.

And when we’re finally done.  I’m going to kick back, relax, and take a deep breath — though the next time my wife has the idea to flip the channel over to HGTV — I might just have to take the remote from her and break it.  Either that, or fish out my dunce cap from the closet and see if it still fits.

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2 Responses to “Welcome to the Money Pit”

  1. […] for nearly seven years back during my college/young adult days.  And as those who know about my home renovation are also aware, one of the additions to my home is — you guessed it — a full service […]

  2. […] busy ones for me.  But this year seems even more so — due in no small part to my oft-mentioned home renovation requiring a ton of my time; this weekend, for example, in addition to my uncle’s funeral that […]

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