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Remodeler's Diary

A Year in the Planning, Let the Remodeling Begin

January 21, 1990|EILEEN HEYES | Heyes is a Times copy editor.

The home wreckers have arrived.

They have attacked our house with sledgehammers, shovels, chain saws and machines I couldn't begin to identify.

Our office is gone. Those hideous junipers--gone. The front porch--gone.

Our inviolable sanctuary--gone.

We are depressed. And thrilled. We hastily moved out over a weekend, skeptical about our contractor's promise that work could begin that Monday on our long-planned remodel. But good as his word, "Hans" had a crew there bright and early Monday.

"Our house is broken," my 2-year-old declared when he saw two days' worth of demolition.

"Yes," I explained, "and the construction workers are going to fix it."

"The 'struction workers break our house. And then they fix it," he summarized. That about captured it.

By the end of the third day, they were throwing pieces of our house into a dumpster, that trendy Westside status symbol. We knew we had arrived.

Getting here hasn't been easy. For almost a year, we worked with an architect, "Frank," on plans to add a third bedroom and a second bathroom and enlarge the tiny living room of our Mar Vista house.

Many of Frank's ideas were marvelous; a few were not to our liking. Often we were sorely tempted to throw up our hands and say, "Fine, do what you want, let's just get on with it already." But we knew that time spent getting the drawings just right would prove to be time well spent.

Then came negotiations with the contractors to whittle bids of $146,000 to $197,000 down into our $100,000-max range. Frank earned his money here, scrutinizing bids, bullying bidders.

He identified flat-out errors--such as the inclusion of air conditioning, a pricey shower door or a sewer line that were not in the plans--and brought the lowest bid down to $131,000. Then there were some oh-come-on cuts, where Frank got the contractor to agree that it wouldn't really cost that much. Result: $122,435.

Then we all sat down together.

Out went the 15-by-6-foot deck, for a saving of $1,000. Out went the built-in shelves in the study and the laundry room ($1,000). Prefab cabinets in the bathroom and hall replaced custom-made ($2,000).

Tile vanished from three bathroom walls and the floor became vinyl ($1,850). Our allowance for bathroom faucets was cut ($1,000). A less expensive brand of windows was called for ($1,625), and a lesser grade of wood siding ($2,000). This meant that Hans' overhead and profit dropped by $3,000.

Final bid, after other small adjustments: $109,280. Not including general liability insurance, new driveway and walks, landscaping, permits, light fixtures, window treatments, carpeting. Not to mention apartment rent during construction.

Can we afford it? No. Can we turn back now? No.

I have nothing but admiration for people--like others who have written in this space--who can do their own remodeling. How nice it must be to have the time to educate oneself enough to be able to do a job such as tiling or wiring or plumbing competently.

We briefly ( very briefly) considered doing our own general contracting after we saw the first bids.

"Do you know anything about building a house?" my husband asked. I had to admit I didn't.

"Neither do I," he said.

"I know you have to frame and wire and plumb," I countered intelligently. "How tough can it be?"

His withering look answered me. A more economically and emotionally sound strategy for us, we agreed, was to work at the jobs we know how to do and make the money to pay trained professionals to do the jobs they know how to do.

A colleague who has nearly finished a huge remodel on his home put it this way: "A long time ago I made a deal with plumbers. I won't do plumbing if they won't do newspapers."

The roller coaster ride has begun.

For six days, Hans' crew worked like lightning, ripping out trees, tearing down walls, digging trenches and building foundation forms. And on the seventh day, work stopped.

Because Hans scheduled carelessly? Because the workers were tired? Because they struck oil under our house?

No. Work screeched to a halt because the city inspector came by to look at the foundation trenches and said, Hum, I wonder if these trenches are too close to the property line? Just out of idle curiosity, let's find out. (This according to our architect.)

Translation: Let's delay the project for almost a week to do a survey and make the strapped homeowners spend a few hundred dollars on same.

So far, the city has not been our friend. When we submitted our plans for city approval, Frank told us the drawings could conceivably be OKd over the counter, since we are not adding a second story.

But no. It seems our perfectly flat lot is in what the city considers a hillside zone. They tacked a notice on the tree out front. They notified our neighbors by mail for goodness sake and invited public comment. Six weeks later, we had a building permit. I don't know if anyone offered any comment. I wish the building department had asked me.

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