Tuesday, October 27, 2015

You Should NOT Build a New House if… (Part 3) You Don't Like Seeing Stuff Immediately Trashed

Building a house is a messy process. For our house, they dug out LOTS of dirt to level the lot in preparation for the foundation. After laying the foundation, the frame went up. Then the wood decking part of the roof went on. At that point things got a bit bizarre. The structure was beginning to look like a house with a roof. However, without the water shield and shingles, a roof is just a sieve. Whenever it rained it just leaked down through the gaps in the wood to the concrete floor below. When we walked through our house while it was raining, we would have to dodge trickles, even streams, of water attempting to soak us as we passed nearby. I was tempted to declare our house to be a water park and charge admission, but was pretty sure the zoning laws would not allow it. Not too long afterwards the roof was completed and the leaking stopped. Thank goodness!

The tubs and showers were put in very early in the building process. They quickly filled up with dirt and trash, which is fine for bugs to bathe in, but not humans. All that pretty white fiberglass looked a mess. But we learned to accept the fact that they would never be clean until the house construction was finished. Well, we hoped they would be clean. But given the way they looked, we feared that there would be embedded stains that could never be removed. Fortunately, that wasn’t true. They came pretty clean.

It really got disconcerting when the flooring was laid. We had hardwood and ceramic tiles put down throughout. But they had to be put down a few weeks before the house was complete. Thus workers were in and out all the time walking on them with their dirt infested shoes. Sometimes cutting and sanding was being done inside the house. The floors got filthy. I thought about jumping from one clean spot to another, but I was never that good at long jumping. I feared that some of the harder chunks of dirt would begin scarring the floor as people walked over them. But I never noticed that happening. Even after the cleaning lady cleaned them several times just before we moved in, I picked up dirt on my bare feet for days. We bought a spin mop to clean the floors more thoroughly, but doing so at the stage where we were still unboxing and leaving trash behind, it wouldn’t have done much good. But eventually things settled down and we were able to clean all the floors to such an extent that they passed the bare feet test.

Once the cabinets and bookcases were installed, they too were quickly inundated with dust. Every time I saw them I had to resist the urge to break out a dust rag and the Pledge, and I’m not even that much on cleaning. But there was no sense in cleaning shelves and countertops when they would be just as dirty the next day. Yet they too came quite clean once the inside work was completed.

The one thing that remained a frustration even after we moved in was paint splatters. The painters were apparently not fans of covering or taping things while they were painting. They just relied on their skill with a roller or brush to insure paint didn’t go where no paint should go. But even skilled painters aren’t that skilled. We noticed some of the splatters early on, but when you are walking through getting an overview of the house rather than looking at details, a lot can be missed. It was only after moving in that we began discovering miniature Picassos at various places about the house. Like on the hardwood and tile floors, the top of the security system box and the thermostat, on the countertops and bookcases, etc. In some places, there were just small pinhead sized spots. In other cases, there were splotches. In most cases these could be removed with a swipe of a razor blade; no shaving cream required. But these spots can be elusive. We still keep finding spots three months after having moved in. Hopefully we have just about found them all. Most of the more recent one I’ve found turned out to just be floaters in my eyes.

So, if you decide to build a new house despite my warnings, don’t get distraught over the messes that are made during construction. Most likely they will clean up just fine. And if for some reason they don’t, you can always build another house to replace it.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

You Should NOT Build a New House if… (Part 2) You Don't Like Having Your Patience Tried

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” So wrote Thomas Paine in “The Crisis” back in late 1776. He was speaking of events surrounding the revolution that was occurring against Great Britain. But there are other things that can try men’s souls, such as building a new house. Of course, that is not nearly as trying as facing a formidable opponent in war, but trying to some extent nonetheless. As my wife would say, “It’s a first world problem.” So true!

We signed our new house contract late in October 2014. Construction was to start immediately. And indeed the lot was cleared of excess dirt within a week. And it stayed that way for almost a month before the footings were poured. It was disappointing to drive by every few days anticipating some progress only to find the dirt that had been there for many days.

Completion date was initially supposed to be in May 2015. But based on the warnings we had been given by veterans of house building, we knew that it would most likely be June. So, the footings were poured and construction began. Things progressed in spurts. Sometimes there seemed to be no activity for a week, then all of a sudden there would be a flurry of activity. It was as if we had bears for workers. They’d come out for a period of time and then go into hibernation. The difference is that bears hibernate once a year. Our worker bears seemed to hibernate once a month.

Eventually spring arrived. We got to the point where the underground electrical conduit was supposed to be buried in preparation for the electrical department running power to the house. The day it was supposed to be buried, the contractor was unable to make it to the house. That afternoon it started raining and barely stopped for two weeks. No burying could take place with the ground so wet. Finally things cleared up and the ground dried. Anticipation was rampant. Nails were being bitten. The conduit was placed in the ground and glued. However, the contractor wanted to let the glue dry good before covering the conduit with dirt. Well, as you have probably guessed, it rained again that afternoon delaying the burying another week or so. Finally, the conduit was buried, and the electrical department was scheduled to come out. Well, guess what? A storm came through town and knocked out power all around our area. The electrical department then spent the next several days just getting people’s power back on. Some newbie house waiting to have power connected for the first time became a low priority. We totally understood. If the power at our old house had been knocked out, we would have wanted it back on before having power connected at the new house. Overall, about four weeks transpired from the time power was supposed to be connected and when it was actually connected.

When the subway tile was being applied to our bathroom walls, the contractor was almost finished when he realized that there was not enough of the bullnose trim to finish the job in the master bath. He put an order in and then went off to work on another job less important than ours. Well, less important to us. I guess he figured that it would take quite a few days for the tile company to remove what we needed from the New York subway system walls and ship them to us. Anyway, the tile arrived a few days before the installer got his priorities straight and came back to work on the most important house. Ah, but that was not to be. The bullnose tiles shipped to us were not the right ones. They had apparently removed them from the wrong wall in the New York subway system. And rather than just immediately shipping the right tiles to us as we shipped back the wrong ones, they said they had to receive the wrong stuff first. WHAT? Well, real long story long, we eventually received the right tiles and they were installed.

Delays, delays. Always delays. There were a number of more minor delays that occurred that I won’t bore you with. But eventually construction came to completion…two months later than predicted. As they say, “Better late than never.” Boy, that’s true!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

You Should NOT Build a New House if… (Part 1) You Are Tight On Money

Recently, my wife and I completed the building of a new house after having lived in our previous house for almost 31 years. After many months of slinging a hammer, plumbing, and electrifying, we are tired…very tired. Just kidding. We didn’t actually build the house, we hired other people to build it for us. We took an existing floor plan and modified it to fit our needs. The whole process of designing a layout and then having it built was, to say the least, an interesting experience. Actually, some parts of the process were fun while other parts were frustrating. We ultimately came to the conclusion that building a new house is not for everyone. However, we survived and have now been in our new house for about three months. I decided to put finger to keyboard and create a series of posts entitled “You Should NOT Build a New House if…” Here’s the first one.

You should NOT build a new house if…

 ...you are tight on money.

You’ve probably heard it before from people who were suckered into, uh, I mean convinced that they should build a new house rather than buy an existing one or just stay put. Yes, I’m talking about these dreaded words: “It’s going to cost more than what you estimate. Budget accordingly.” I know, those are not the words anyone wants to hear. I kept talking to people who had built in the past and was waiting to hear, “Oh, our contractor greatly overestimated what our new house would cost. It ended up costing $50,000 less than we anticipated. We bought a Lexus with our savings.” But guess what. No one ever said that. I suspect that no one has ever said that in the history of mankind. I can hear the cliff dweller now. “Yeah, we thought it would cost 10 wild boars to have a living space carved out of that rock face, but it turned out that the rock was so hard they had to design different carving tools and it took several months longer to complete. It ended up costing us 15 boars.” And indeed, one friend told me to plan on our house costing 1.5 times more than the contract estimated. I began to sweat since I had already signed the contract at that point.

Because of the stories we had heard from experienced house builders, we started our planning early. We actually began talking to the builders about a year before we thought we’d be ready to build. We knew that we would need some of our retirement money, and it was going to be a year before it would be available without a penalty for early withdrawal. We settled on a house plan and then picked out a lot that would accommodate it. The builders said they would put the lot on hold with no money down. The only caveat was that if someone else came along wanting to build on that lot, we would only have a couple of days to commit else we’d lose the lot. Fortunately, during that following year no one else wanted the lot. And as it turned out, neither did we. As we neared the date for signing a contract, we realized that there were a few downsides to the lot we had chosen, so ended up switching to another one.

During that year of waiting, we did not remain idle. We actually began picking out, or at least estimating the cost of, various items. Things such as hardwoods, tiles, cabinets, countertops, appliances, and the ever important front door. By the time we signed the contract in October 2014, we had been able to revise the cost estimate the builders had given us so we were pretty sure the cost would not rise much during the construction phase. Nevertheless, we still built in a 10% contingency just in case we got a wild hair and decided to put in 18 karat gold bathroom fixtures or the like. We hoped that this contingency would not be needed for the actual house since we had some new furniture we wanted to buy also.

Well, the good news is that the actual cost of the house came in only about 4% over budget. Most of that was due to buying more expensive appliances and front door as well as wanting customized cabinets in our closets rather than the standard shelves and hanging racks. This left us some budgeted money for buying the new furniture we wanted.

So, I was happy that the house was only 4% over budget, but still it was over budget. I missed my goal of being the first man in the history of mankind to be able to say that we came in under budget. Oh, well. Perhaps it’ll happen for the next house we build. Yeah, like we’re going to go through that again.

The lesson for you, the reader, is “don’t build a house if you must stay on budget.” It’s not going to happen! And if for some reason you build and it does happen, be sure to contact the Guinness Book of World Records. They will be very interested in you.