"We're moving back in on Friday," my husband said.
Well, I thought, it has finally happened. The stress of these last six months has overcome him and he has snapped.
After all, our house had no finished floors--where were we supposed to put our furniture? And no power--how were we going to keep food cold? And no window coverings--what about privacy? And a gate was missing--what were we going to do with the dog?
But he scheduled the move and breathed down the contractor's neck, and sure enough, a flurry of work occurred and the house was "substantially complete" only two weeks later than had been promised. And we did move in that Friday.
Substantial completion is contract language for "you can live in it if you really want to." It is not the same thing as completion.
Here is a slide show from when we moved back into our newly remodeled house.
This is my husband happily unpacking dishes in his beloved kitchen.
And here we are throwing dishwater out the front window because the garbage disposal doesn't work and the sink is clogged. Fortunately, the construction workers have lost the screen for this window, so it's no problem.
This is me, getting ready to do the first load of wash in our new laundry room.
And this is "Hans" the contractor, explaining that no gas line was ever run to the laundry room, so the dryer won't dry.
That's the spa tub in our new master bathroom. My husband and I are trying it out for the first time.
Here he is two minutes later, dripping and wrapped in a towel, looking at the place where the water came gushing out into the yard when the Jacuzzi drained it from the tub.
This is us in June with our 2-year-old and our 2-week-old, patting ourselves on the back for having found a contractor who brought the project in just about on time and just about on budget.
And here we are in August with our 3-year-old and our 3-month-old, going over the punch list of things that still have to be done before Hans gets his final payment.
But what the heck. We're home.
Home is now a three-bedroom, two-bath house in Mar Vista--transformed from the 1940 two-bedroom, one-bath we bought four years ago. And the remodel that began a year and a half ago when we first met with an architect is almost, almost done. But for some reason, getting the last parts of the project finished is proving to be a long, arduous process.
Take our painters. Please.
The first painter-to-be was a painter-decorator from Irvine.
Irvine, for heaven sake. The master-planned community where the highest law is the CC&R.
"So?" asked my husband.
"You know what the houses look like in Irvine?" I said. "All the other houses in Irvine."
Mr. Irvine approved of our painting the house a nice yuppie gray, but he thought the trim should be white because the rain gutters come in white, and painted rain gutters tend to need frequent repainting.
"So we should paint our trim to match the rain gutters?" I said. "Uh, isn't that a little backward?"
We decided to stick with our original plan, which was to paint the trim green, and paint the rain gutters to match the trim. We didn't want our house to look like the product of some developer's cookie-cutter plan. But willful nonconformity was apparently more than the painter could take.
Mr. Irvine stalled for most of a week, then told Hans that if we weren't going to paint our house the way he wanted us to, he didn't want the job.
The next painting sub had a more pragmatic approach. We told him what colors we wanted and asked: "What do you think? Will that work?" He smiled.
"If you like it," he said, "I love it."
What began as a $100,000-max remodel is ending up costing more like $148,000.
Where has all the money gone?
The contract itself seemed close enough for comfort when we had carved out some not-absolutely-necessary details to bring a $142,000 bid down to $109,000. But homeowners do not remodel by contract alone.
There was also the architect, who did a terrific job of rethinking our entire floor plan to create a good family home that still looks like it belongs in our neighborhood. High ceilings and lots of windows make it feel larger than its 1,600 square feet. He came highly recommended by friends, and was well worth the $16,000 we paid him.
Some significant expenses were outside the contract: light fixtures ($1,100), carpeting ($1,400), blinds ($950), a new concrete driveway ($3,700), landscaping ($2,000 so far, and we haven't touched the front yard), apartment rent and utilities during construction ($5,500), an engineering consultant's plan review before construction ($750) and permits for the house and driveway ($1,500). Extra tile work and other changes in mid-project raised the contractor's bill by about $6,000.
It adds up.
Where is it all coming from?