Tag Archives: contractors

Reason #27482837 Why I Hate Being a Homeowner and Other First World Rich Person Problems

1.7M. You’d think after spending 1.7M on under 2000 square feet maybe you would own a property that doesn’t need a cent more spent on it for at least a few years. Oh, I knew we would have to pay for a gardener given my husband and I don’t have much of a green thumb — or time — to take care of our tiny park. And undoubtedly little things would come up here and there, or so I’ve been told. But I guess I was both naive and exhausted in the home buying process (as we all last few weeks of negotiating contracts for work to be done) and so here I am… 1.7M in and about 70k-100k of work in process, and that isn’t even getting us to the house of our dreams. Just a house we can live in.

I don’t fully blame our realtor for not calling these issues out, though in hindsight I wish I had a realtor who would help us really understand the costs of fixing some pretty basic things that I just missed. I should have been a more informed buyer. At the same time after shopping for over 2 years and looking in areas where 1300 sq ft goes for 1.8M+ I got jaded and desperate. I had a few target neighborhoods in a city I didn’t really want to live in, but I told myself (based on what friends and family members said) this is a starter home and I should focus on its potential, not its current state, as long as it was livable.

I still don’t know if I overpaid. The neighborhood is quite the mix of homes. Ours is on the higher end for sure. But we also have a but more property than other homes in the area. My brilliant thought was that more property gives us more room to grow in the future — for us, or to add value to the house, or both.

Well, I’m a homeowner now. No going back. I like the neighborhood for the most part. I kind of also jumped at the chance to buy something unreasonably far from my current job so it will be easier logically to move on in a year or two once I’m fully vested. Ie instead of buying the home 15 minutes from my current job, where it would be awfully hard to leave unless they kicked me out the door. So I bought this house, in a way, as a gift to myself of freedom, a ticket to whatever is next.
I may have made a mistake in buying this particular house, but I am not sure. I didn’t have to deal with a crazy bidding war—but the neighborhood we bought in has less of that going on for most of the houses, with the exception of a few high target areas. I wonder if the home was overpriced in the first place. Who knows. It doesn’t matter much as selling it at any point will cost at least 6% of the sales value, which is a giant number. So I would like to at least experience a little of the Bay Area magic where these pricy homes go up in value so fast that they cover those costs and them some when you sell. I’m not so optimistic about that—especially given how much we are putting into the house NOW.

Did I understand what ungrounded electric means, or how much it costs to fix it? No. Did I realize that the forced heating ducts would not work for a new AC system and to put in AC it would cost $20k vs $5k. No. Did I realize that to replace the ancient washer and dryer I would need not only a new circuit for $500 plus $300 for every outlet in the room, but I wouldn’t actually be able to permit it because the kitchen’s electric is such a mess if a city inspector gets near it they will make us rip the entire kitchen out to redo the wiring? Nope. Did I understand that getting a bathtub in the bathroom (instead of a shower) and redoing the old tile and fixtures would cost $35k? Well, I knew it wouldn’t be cheap, but was in a bit of denial about how much it would cost.

Beyond costs (which I’ll itemize below), the whole process of finding contractors has been incredibly stressful. I’ve interviewed dozens for each job and at the end of the day am unsure if I picked the right ones. I backed out of one bathroom remodel contract at the last minute (the project manager was very aggressive and I felt that would maybe be bad when I needed to ask him anything during the project) and switched to a smaller firm where the owner is involved more in the day to day. Then, yesterday, I realized in the blur of contract signing I managed to negotiate for little details like the installation of two electric plates but did not read the payment terms at all. Since my husband is pretty much useless when it comes to anything money related it is on me to catch such things. And half asleep in my third trimester is not a good time for me to be signing $25k contracts. I realized, yesterday, that we agreed to paying for basically everything up front. I dumbly thought we would be protected by CA’s $1000 down law, but apparently they can require payment on the start of each piece of the project vs completion. In looking at other contract I almost signed, I see a much more reasonable payment schedule—all on completion of the items. Well, fuck me. I just hope this contractor does good work and doesn’t walk before it’s done. He has enough reviews online that at least it seems I have some leverage in being able to call out anything horrific in the partnership, but I still will be out 24k, minus the $1k I get to pay when everything is complete.

I’m also rushing for good reason but rushing is never good when it comes to being smart. I’m due with a baby in two months. Every month we don’t move in is costing an extra $2500 in rent, plus we are losing my FIL’s $2k towards the mortgage of $7k a month. So we are paying basically $10k a month to not live in the house right now. Well, $7k since we are living in the apartment, but still—what a waste (did I mention this post is about first world rich people problems?)

The bathroom situation is especially overwhelming right now. I still do not understand why half the contractors said it would take 1-2 months to get a permit at the moment, while mine managed to get it in a day. This seems highly suspect. At least there is a permit so that means things will have to pass inspection. Ok, good. I’m tired of all these times with unpermitted work. Yet my contract says nothing about having to pass inspection (the other from the firm I didn’t hire actually has a payment chunk due on inspection passing.) I feel woefully unprotected and dumb right now.

The good(ish) news is that if I can purchase in stock or readily available supplies (which limits our choices immensely), they supposedly can get the bathroom done in under 4 weeks. So my goal of having it done by or soon after Jan 1, when I hope to move in, is within reach. I’m torn on buying in stock whatever vs nicer finishings — the construction is so expensive that it is pretty clear I won’t be remodeling this bathroom again for many years if ever. I want it to both be really nice for resale value (my heart still says if I earn and save enough money in the next 5 years (and am not stuck in a great job nearby) I want to sell it and move to my target neighborhood) and nice for our forever home should this turn out to be that (which quite frankly is more likely as my husband and I aren’t fans of change.)

So every little material decision is a project in and of itself. Shower system? Maybe we like one in stock but a part is missing for the color we like. Tub? They all have bad reviews or some issue. Tile? Husband and I can’t agree on anything. Vanity? Don’t ask. Ok do. The vanity is probably the biggest headache of them all. Cheapo vanities in standard sizes are readily available, but will they help resale value? The bigger issue is the space we have for the vanity. I always assumed vanities should go against the wall. Well we have about 66” to fill in that case. My contractor says we can go up to 69”. There are no 66-69” custom vanities. We can buy a 60” freestanding vanity that is centered between the toilet and the wall—or replace with something similar to what is in there now (18” linen cabinet and 48” vanity — but these are hard to find non custom and the linen cabinet adds another big cost) or we do semi custom and get a modular (still cheapo yet expensive) system at 66” but have to pay an extra $1k+ for custom top to fit and installation. Also my contract says something about how our cabinet maker must do the installation (another miss on my part) and the cabinet makers seem to not do this or charge a lot for this service.

Nicer custom vanities will not only cost $5k+, they will take at least 8 weeks to arrive. So that means there is no way the bathroom will be done before baby comes. While I’m tempted to discuss this option with my contractor — getting all the work done and having the vanity installed later in spring with the plumbing work done then — I just feel like it would be a horrible idea to leave this unfinished with a new baby and have it’s lack of completion hanging over me the whole time. I think for my sanity better for it to be done with lower end materials than missing the vanity for the next few months and hoping my contractor will finish the job months after I’ve paid him most of the total amount.

So the goal is between now and end of day Tuesday, order EVERYTHING. Try to buy in stock items, and buy things that look nice enough but are low end enough that one day if we want to replace one item we can maybe do this without having to rip out the entire bathroom again (and save costs by hiring individual contractors vs a GC.) But I don’t trust people esp people who make $25k in 4 weeks and I don’t have the knowledge to properly inspect their work beyond aesthetic issues. What if things are installed wrong? Well I’ll only know after the fact. Then I pay someone else to fix them.

ah the joys of new home ownership paired with trying to not get fired while surviving the last 2 months of pregnancy with my second child.

I went into all of this accepting we would spend about $50k on the house up front. I thought this would be enough. It’s looking like it will all be closer to $100k. I sold a chunk of stock so I have the money but I also realize that 1. That money has lost out on significant gains in the market I will never get back and 2. We should have just sucked it up and bought a house that was 100-200k more that had all this shit done already and that could be paid off at 2.65% over 30 years. Now, if buying a gone, I would definitely be looking at the fixtures, the electric work, the status of the HVAC system (and not going by my husband’s comment that he thinks it will be $5k if there is existing ductwork.)

Here is how things are adding up:

-$35k – bathroom remodel (could be more)

-$10k – new electric panel and recessed lights throughout house (does not include rewiring, which we have decided to hold on and address with subsequent remodels)

-$20k new HVAC system and asbestos removal

– $2.5k kill termites

– $1k roof repairs

– $2k – washer and dryer set

-$1k – new wiring for laundry room

-$1k – misc, new locks, random heavy crap sellers left being hauled away

– $1k closet doors for kid’s room so they don’t smash their fingers on the built in unit (there is a closet indent but the sellers got rid of doors)

-$5k patching everything contractors do where holes are left, replacing flooring (hoping this doesn’t cost more than this!)

$5.5k – new garage door and wiring (replace manual door)

That’s it for now. I guess. We are still looking into re wiring since nothing is grounded and that seems bad. All the outlets are also upside down (who does that?) and I am probably going to soon spend $5-$10k to plant some trees in my backyard covering a not so great view, and add a playground for my kids. And there are other landscaping things I’d like to update so it is more sustainable and less expensive to manage. I found a gardener for $125 a month, so that’s a new forever cost. It’s important though since everything is dying!

I am sure I’m forgetting things above —but the grand total is about $83k right now… and I’m sure that we will find $17k in additional repairs and items to fix once we move in.

And, yes, I should have bought a house that cost $100k more! At this rate. And for all of this I get to move into a 100×100 square foot room since my FIL will be taking the master suite. Which I am ok with, but for the amount I’m spending on all this, I still feel kind of sad. I feel good about giving my kids a house, I can tell my son is excited to have a house as much as he understands of our move at this point (he likes to run around the house and calls it the house with green grass.) So that makes me warm and fuzzy inside. But not $1.7M + $100k I’m up front costs earn and fuzzy.

What this house really needs to make it “the” house is probably going to cost more than it will ever be worth. The sellers converted a full bedroom into a master bathroom that is designed in the way you would think a bunch of old people would design a master bath spa retreat (without permits, of course.) My dream is to bump out the house in the back (doable) and turn the master bath back into a bedroom (we want a 4br house) and then add a new master bath that is lovely and not quite so insane. It seems possible we could even add a small 5th bedroom in this addition, which may be helpful for resale / living with 2 kids and 2 parents with work from home jobs and possibly one more kid. And/or I’d like to add on in front and put in a nice living room, and redo the kitchen and laundry area and current living areas and open them up to make a super cozy family room. The reality is it really doesn’t make sense to do this work, probably ever. Our best bet is staying for 3-5 years, approaching this house as our starter home, hoping we at least make back what we paid for it when we sell, and being much more informed buyers when we look to purchase our true forever home.

I’m hopeful the work we are doing now adds value to the house. Given I think we probably overpaid it won’t help with sales price much in a few years but we should be able to get back what we paid as long as the housing market doesn’t tank (and if it does we can then afford to move to a nicer house for less anyway.) I worry about the master bath hurting resale value, and while I think my idea to convert that back into a bedroom and add master bath elsewhere with a small bump out is a good one, I realize that project will be another $100k or more and just a mess to do.

I just want to feel good about this purchase. But I don’t. It’s my own fault, but I feel like I’ve been had. The winners here are my realtor, the sellers, their realtor, my contractors, my neighbors (who benefit from high cost of sale of home for their own home values), the city (now getting taxes off a $1.7M value vs much less) and just about everyone but us. Ok, ok, so we have a house. A house to build memories in. A house to call home and never get kicked out of as long as we pay our mortgage and taxes and our subcontractors don’t sue us because I didn’t realize that’s a thing that can happen if you pay your primary contractor and they don’t pay their subs. Fucking fun times y’all.

I feel grateful and fortunate to be able to buy a Bay Area house in the first place. I realize it is a huge privilege to be at this point. But, geez, it really is a nightmare. It raises so many questions about if we made the right choice, if we should have just stayed renters forever, if we are going to spend the rest of our life house poor and fixing shit that keeps breaking vs just enjoying life —or if this is a smart decision that will be both fruitful in the stability it provides and maybe even grow in value in some sort of crazy way that makes it a reasonably decent investment (unlikely) or at worst a break-even luxury purchase.

All I know right now is I need to figure out what vanity to buy… and not stress about it to the point I go into pre term labor.