Need a mentor (a bit long)

southboundtrainJune 17, 2011

How do I begin to fix up my house?

My 90's ranch is pushing 15 years without any significant changes or much maintenance. It's driving me to drink --my DH thinks everything is just fine. My hopes for the kitchen include new countertops, sink, faucet, paint, flooring,and possibly backsplash, cabinet doors and drawers (Scherr's?). For the rest of the house, painting would help alot and I want to rip out hideous carpet and replace with prefinished hardwood. Guest bath could also use some major help.

From all the information I've gleaned from reading this forum, I kind of know the basics of what I want but would also appreciate advice and exposure to things I may not have considered. So, after a long introduction, my question is, "Where do I start?" We're not very good DIY'ers and have somewhat limited funds (maybe $25,000 for everything--I know I will have to make some major compromises).

Is it possible to find someone to manage the whole process for me? What kind of person would do that? Would it add significantly to the cost? None of my friends are into upgrading and certainly not upgrading on a budget so I haven't had any luck asking around. Any advice or push in the right direction would be much appreciated. I'm posting on the kitchen site as that's the one I've read the most and it seems to be the most active. I feel totally inept and have put these things off for way too long. A lot of posters to this forum seem so confident and knowledgeable. How did you all get to be that way? Thanks so much for any input. There are days I wish there was an HGTV show that would just take me over.

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A 90's kitchen is probably still pretty functional. You should live with it a bit first to figure out how the layout works and what your storage issues are. If the layout is good, can you paint rather than refacing your cabinets? There are some amazing transformations with paint on this site. It sounds like you can do all your kitchen plans in four independent steps (cabinet doors/drawers for functionality, countertop/sink/faucet/backsplash, and then separately paint and flooring. Taking it one step at a time will make it much more manageable, expecially if your kitchen is out of commission only for up to a week at a time.

As to the rest of the house, I have had really good luck with the Angies list Big Deals, if they are offered in your area. The discounts are often not as great as advertised because the "retail" prices seem inflated,but in the end I have paid middle to low prices for uniformly good work, no complaints about that! Most recently I purchased 4 hours of masonry work to re-parge some side of the concrete foundation of my house ($99), 4 recessed lights installed with dimmer from an electrician for $399, electrician services for 2 hours for $99, and 2 painters for a day (8 hours each) for $399. You do have to read the fine print carefully and I find that it is best if I email the providers prior to the service with a detailed list of what I want done and/or pictures so that there are no surprises. They are sort of like Groupon deals that are only offered for a few days, but the companies have to be A or B rated on Angies list to be able to offer them. Also, they know that you will probably be rating their work on Angies list so there is accountability. I am not affiliated with Angies list other than being a customer.The Bid Deals help me to knock out my "to do" list and also gives me exposure to professionals that I can call back for further work when needed.
hope that helps.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 1:16PM
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Personally, I would begin with research and planning. Put together (in writing!) a prioritized list of the changes you wish to make to your house, including the timeline within which you want to make the changes. Make certain you are thinking both long term and short term. Determine your exact budget (including contingency money). Then begin researching the potential costs of everything you wish to do. Once you are able to see the full picture of your desired changes, the associated costs, and how they do (or do not) fit into your budget, you should be able to formulate a good plan with which to move forward.

As you are probably aware, there are certainly ways to save money. As scrappy mentioned, you can often find deals on both products and services. You can also look into what items you might be willing to compromise on. (For example, maybe you choose a lower priced countertop or painting cabinets rather than refacing and higher priced countertops.) When you say you are "not good DIYers" is this just a lack of experience or really a lack of skills? You can learn to do things yourself, though you always have to factor in tools (and what-ifs - such as DIY failures) and time. Skilled labor is expensive. In some cases, it makes sense to spend the money to have someone else do the work for you. In some cases, maybe you can gain confidence to do the work yourself in order to save money.

Much of the confidence you "hear" on this site is the result of a lot of time and effort, especially into research. Some people have been planning a renovation for years before they start. Others have completed renovations previously. And others have spent countless hours researching (online, library books, talking with suppliers and contractors, etc) in order to gain the necessary knowledge and confidence.

Personally, I do nearly everything DIY, so my progress is always slow but less expensive. In terms of being able to "find someone to manage the whole process for me", what part of the process do you want managed? Design? Construction? Some people use general contractors or designers to manager different aspects of the project. You can read a lot about those types of professionals here and perhaps others will chime in with suggestions. Keep in mind that any of the work that you are hoping to avoid and pass along to someone else will cost you. I can't give you specific dollar amounts (maybe someone else will), but you are essentially paying for someone else's time, knowledge, and experience, so it certainly isn't free. If you're on a tight budget, you need to be realistic with what you can afford (both in terms of services and products). Some people here (including myself) have determined through research that renovations costs are sufficiently high for the desired result to necessitate deferring renovation for some time in order to save up money.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 2:39PM
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I'd pull up the carpets after you paint. Those 2 items would make a big difference quickly and give you bang for the buck. If you paint yourself, you can save big money. It is time consuming endeavor, but the money saved can go elsewhere instead. One of the most important painting tools for me is my i-pod. I download free audiobooks from the library and that helps the time go so much better.
I have been very disappointed in how our renovation has progressed because we had never hired a gc before. I had figured they'd hold our hands through everything and be a "fixer" for us when the project hit bumps. The most recent example is regarding our propane permit at almost 7 mos into the project. We had 2 propane companies involved (first one rec by gc), a plumber, the gc, and the plumbing inspector all approve of where the propane tanks would go. The line was drawn and we just needed final approval. I bet you can guess that we got rejected and got the news yesterday. No one is taking responsibility. t will cost more and add another "month or 2" until our stove will be working. We have been without one since Dec 5th! The gc says that he is not in the gas or propane business. The first propane guy is long gone because he never filed paperwork and we did not know until 2 months ago (gc said he was supposed to do it all as he had done for the gc's house). The second guy said he wondered about it but figured that since the line was run before we contacted him, he'd try to see if it would get approved. The snotty guy at the town said it never gets approved on the side of a corner house (side yard is treated as a front yard when a corner property, despite being behind shrubbery and the fact that we are adding a privacy fence). I told the guy he should have let me know it might be a problem so we could have worked on fixing it 2 months ago. Naturally, he is out of town until Wed a.m. when he will be back at work.

What I am trying to say is that no one seems to make sure all goes smoothly without some homeowner following up and keeping on top of things. I have caught many mistakes from all different professionals. All came recommended highly.
If you are thinking the $25k will go far and someone will get paid from that and see that everything is done, it will be hard to fulfill that expectation. I have researched like crazy and still find out I don't know crucial things and yet in some cases, know more than the professionals. It is all so frustrating.
I'd would hesitate to rip out a 15 year old kitchen and put myself through this hassle unless it was really a bad awful kitchen. We spent almost $200k with an extension/renovation and the stress is higher than anyone can explain. I did as much homework about it as possible and still had problems right and left. I'd stick to the easier things and keep it simple. Your house is not old enough to be truly bad at this point. Our house is 60 years old and had last been renovated approx 30 years ago and not done well at the time.
The simple advice I can give you is it will cost more and take longer than you expect. Even if you factor that in, it will go longer than that and cost more than you wanted to spend. I am entirely cranky today, so I am biased, but it is getting to me, which can serve as a warning because no one was more cautious about being realistic than I was....

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 4:19PM
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The advice you've gotten so far has been good. How long have you lived in this house? Many people advise living with an existing kitchen for a year before making any changes in layout. This gives you time to see what works and what doesn't as well as gives you time to think about the tradeoffs you're willing to accept for other must-haves. Most of your issues sound like they're cosmetic which is a lucky thing. Start out with your guest bath (I'm assuming that your fixtures are still serviceable and not some funky color, so a little bit of paint and accessories can go a long way). It's a small room, and one you probably don't have to use every day. The redo will go faster than a larger area for those reasons, and the facelift will give you hope for the rest of your house! Bargain-hunting and decorating are both hobbies of mine, so send me an email if you need some help! (My email is [my screen name] at gmail dot com. I keep getting errors when I try to update my profile).

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 6:41PM
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I didn't mean for the last bit of my previous post to sound like an advertisement. I really do love the thrill of getting a good bargain. I do so much research for my own projects that I want to share what resources I've found with others! No charge :)

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 6:47PM
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My 90's ranch is pushing 15 years without any significant changes or much maintenance.

The very, very, very first thing to do with your money is maintenance. Do you have a home inspector's report? Do all of the urgent items on that first, full stop. Someone here wrote a very sad post about infrastructure, and how a friend's house was ruined by ice dams. You don't want to build the kitchen of your dreams and then have it ruined by a flood, termites, structural damage or whatever. That's the easy part.

After that is done, focus on what you dislike most about the house.

You need to give yourself a lot more credit. Everybody feels the same way when starting off. By the time you're done, you'll be an expert here, and people will ask you for your wise advice.

Best, best of luck.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 6:49PM
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I initally thought by reading your post that you've lived with it for 15 years but now I'm not sure. You are just going to have to do things piecemeal. Plan plan plan and then plan some more. Once you have a layout or if you like the function of our existing layoout then you know what you'll be working with. You need to keep a contingency budget for maintance things that need replacement. If 25K is going to tap you out, then you may need to lower your budget so you'll have money set aside for things like roof repairs, hot water heaters, new a/c... that sort of thing. I know that's not at all fun, but unfortunatley necessary.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 7:56PM
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Wow, thanks for the thoughtful, informative and encouraging comments. I didn't make it very clear that I've lived in this "maintenance free" house for nearly 15 years. It's rather embarassing how little we've done to help this house along, but I've done a lot of wishing and hoping and planning and dreaming. It's time to act now. I've never really liked the kitchen cabinets so that's why I'd like to change them, at least somewhat and I think some of the drawer glides are on their last legs. The layout is pretty much okay. That's why I think of Scherr's doors and drawers. Scrappy, I think my town is just too small for Angies List--I belonged for awhile but there were very few reviews. We have it but it doesn't seem active enough to be worthwhile. Dianalo, thanks for the tip to paint before taking out the carpet. Painting is something I am willing to tackle, I've done a little of that in my past. Your remodeling story is an example of the stuff that stops me in my tracks. $25K is the bottom of my budget, I know how fast it will go. We're pretty "close" with our funds, but I've set aside a chunk for this purpose. Marcolo, if I had read my remark about maintenance I would have had your exact reaction. We aren't planning on moving, but I am considering hiring a house inspector just to look things over and tell me how things are. Thank God ice dams aren't a problem here. Vinyl siding isn't my favorite thing, but it is pretty maintenance free! Anenemity, what a great offer--I will email you. Your user name has me curious, I'm not even sure I can pronounce it. I guess you all are telling me I have to roll up my sleeves and do this and stop being paralyzed by the fear that I will spend a lot of money and then think it wasn't worth it. Thanks for helping me think this through.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 10:21PM
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Would you be willing to try a couple small DIY projects, and see how you do? If you develop that facility, your budget will go 4X as far.

For example: pick a cabinet whose doors you hate. You probably have (guessing) overlay doors with European, adjustable hinges. Unscrew the doors from the hinges, unscrew the hinges from the doors, take a couple pictures so you remember how it goes back together. Measure the doors, order replacements in the same size. Mark the screw locations on the new doors (use cardboard to make a template from the old doors), drill holes, screw hinges on and remount the doors. Adjust the hinges to fine tune the fit. If the old hinges are shot, buy new ones. Voila. Your first DIY project is done, it wasn't hard, and don't go nuts about every tiny imperfection, because you could easily have paid someone to produce the same imperfections. Then move on - other doors, drawer faces, roll-out shelves, new pulls, even - gasp - painting. Your expenditure on a cordless drill-driver and bits might be $150. Post all the questions you have, no matter how seemingly silly, here or in Woodworking. Ignore the odd snarky response, you'll get help, especially if your question is clear and well-illustrated with pictures (preferably in the thread, not as a link).

You don't have to become a DIY'ing fool, ripping down walls and pulling up flooring. It doesn't sound like your kitchen needs that much - I think you're happy with the general layout? A ''refresh'' is within your grasp, with judicious use of tradesmen for specialized tasks.

That's why we have opposable thumbs, binocular vision, and big brains. You are humanoid, hear you roar.

Post some pictures and tell us what you have in mind.

By the way, I hesitate to be sexist, but . . . does DH know which end of a hammer to hold? I know he's the weaker sex and all that, but he can't lay on the fainting couch eating peeled grapes all day. Put him to work. Shame is a powerful motivator. So is abstinence. Honest, I read that here.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 10:53PM
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LOL John.

Actually i didn't recall it was abstinence, i thought it was more of a "carrot" approach ... anyone else remember, wasn't it like a schedule of some sort, for good behavior?

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 11:01PM
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All kidding aside, you are talking about a major project that will involve a lot of decision making and stress and time and money and more money and then some additional money. And then some unexpected money, too. Oh and one last thing, too.

My point here is that you say that DH thinks "everything is just fine". I think it will be helpful for you to try to get him on the same page, because you are going to need someone in your corner.

Your idea of hiring an inspector is a good start, although they can be pricey so if you have a trusted friend or relative that can work. None of us (I think) like spending money on the structural stuff, but it just has to be done or all the pretty, fun stuff will get ruined. It's like you need to get the root canal before you get the whitening or the white tooth will fall out!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 11:11PM
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On a smaller budget level, I can relate. I moved into my husband's 13 year old home, and things he thought were fine, I thought were done in bad taste. However, while I'm excited about the changes I'm making (he's letting me make them...just not quite "on board" enough to help), I also bit off more DIY than I can handle right now while working full time. After finally painting the walls last weekend, I was amazed at the transformation. Seriously; everything looked so good, I was kind of regretting already having begun the cabinet painting, because it's a lot of work and there's no turning back! Maybe the walls would have been enough for now...we'll never know.

Have a plan. Have a starting and stopping place. Don't tackle too many projects at once; not only is doing so bad for your marriage & sanity, but you'll need renovation-free zones to retreat into!

Everyone else has offered great, practical advice. I hope you'll keep us updated on your progress!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 11:35PM
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mtnrdredux, you are so right, the 'carrot' approach is a much better motivator than the 'abstinence' method! I still get a chuckle out of that thread! Too bad you don't have a sister! :)
I agree with marcolo, start with the basic issues first. Do the worst problem first and the rest will fall into place. Make sure you get to the absolute root of the problem and take care of it. Do not do a half assed job and then try to put lipstick on a pig. You'll be happier in the long run. You'll be suprised to see how much you can do with 25k if you start small and work your way up. Just remember one thing, if you remember anything, expect the unexpected, because when you remodel it is guaranteed to happen.
Best of luck!

    Bookmark   June 18, 2011 at 2:48AM
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John, I can't quite decide if you're funnier than Marcolo or the other way around. That was a pretty funny one.

I got tired of paying jokers to make mistakes too and one day, I got tired of *Waiting* for them to make mistakes. I grabbed a drill and started making my own. I think they felt really chagrined trying to fix my mistakes that they knew they'd fairly well driven me to.

Honestly, I just cannot believe how many mistakes get made. She roars....

    Bookmark   June 18, 2011 at 5:06AM
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Shhhh! I am going to tell you a big trade secret here. :)

The reason most people choose a designer to help them with decor decisions (besides the fresh ideas and trade resources) is the designer has an ability to focus on a vision. By narrowing that focus, they are able to choose appropriate colors, furniture, and decor items that fit that vision.

Most homeowners don't start with a vision of what they want the finised space to look like, and then, because there are so many more choices than there used to be, they either become decision paralyzed, or they become ADD design psychotic.

You need a comfy chair for reading in your bedroom. So you go shopping. Ack! Shopping! There's the really comfy but hideous chair at store A that you'd buy if it didn't look like a dumpy sack of potatoes still in that burlap sack. There's the absolutely perfect chair you saw at the boutique, but you can't even consider spending the kid's college tuition on a single chair! There's the sturdy but unremarkable looking chair from store C, and there's the Craig's List special that you're afraid of bringing into your home because of the bedbug scare. And you think any of these could "work" in that space, even though they're all different styles and colors. OH! Look! There's an Eames recliner in the window of that antique store. Gotta stop!

Then you purchase something you LOVE that's completely different at a that antique store! Carved rosewood Victorian frou frou doesn't go with anything you own. But you LOVE it. Just like you loved the monkey wallpaper that's still on your bedroom walls. And the red velvet curtains. And the pine TV cabinet that you tried to paint an antique when you stopped loving it. You're all over the map. And that's because you didn't have a finished ideal in your head before you started. So you allowed yourself to fall in love with lots of things. Things that don't mesh together.

With a "mission statement" description of your style, as well as an idea of the palette that you want, you can get a designer look without as many distractions and affairs with unsuitable pieces. (Look for the Sweeby test on the newbies thread here) If you want your style to be cleanlined thrift store beach house, then you don't even look at that carved rosewood chair---unless you're thinking of painting it and reupholstering it to work. You focus your vision on casual comfy club style chairs in a cream linen or a soft aqua toile, and then you go wild with a white rusty wrought iron coffee table you found at a yard sale which you upholster into an ottoman with scraps of yard sale $1 clothes in a gazillion shades of blue.

You need to learn to think inside the box before you are able to think outside the box. Narrow your focus. Don't even look at things that don't fit your vision. And if you do fall in love with that pink flamingo that in no way fits your New Orleans vampire bordello look, figure out how you can make it fit that vision before it comes into your house. Don't buy it thinking you'll figure out what to do with it one day. One day never comes, and you're left with your own antique/junk store as your home's look!

That's your designer tip of the day for your home makeover.

Oh, and here's tip #2. Don't be afraid to hire professional help to get your vision on track. A couple of hours from a professional may be just what you need to get started. It's cheaper than you think! And it's certainly cheaper than buying a couple of completely wrong pieces for your space! Or, you may even want to hire a designer to oversee the whole project if you aren't developing your own ideas or confidence. Despite what you may occasionally read here when some are in a bad mood, designers are not second cousin to Beelzebub just waiting on you to leave your wallet unguarded. Most of us struggle to make a living, struggle to be in harmony with our families, and try to pay our taxes and insurance like other relatively normal folks. :)

    Bookmark   June 18, 2011 at 1:23PM
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