I talked to Pam…

I talked to Pam yesterday about the schedule for the last few months of the project -- it's getting complex enough at this point that she has a day-to-day schedule planned out. We had hoped for an April 1st move-in, but that was perhaps unrealistic. Right now, she's looking at finishing major work on April 11th, but expects at least a few days slippage. So perhaps April 15th? Although she recommended planning for May 1st, because she wouldn't want us to have to beg our landlady for extra days just because our floors aren't dry or some such.

It's disappointing and frustrating, having the project linger on like this. I want to be living in my house. And of course, every month of delay means another month of paying rent, which is significant in cost. Pam's original estimate was six months for construction. We started work in August, so we're now looking at 8-9 months instead of 6. Which is about standard over-run from what we've heard; that original estimate seems to be if absolutely nothing goes wrong and it all clicks along like clockwork, which basically never happens. I'm at the house every day, and it's pretty much always been swarming with workmen, so I can't really complain about lack of progress -- her guys are going as fast as they can. It's just a big project.

Budget is over too, but mostly within reason. Sort of. Some of it is upgrades we chose partway through (like adding the pergola, or doing elements in higher-grade product, rather than builder-grade); some of it is unexpected damage that needed repair (like our crumbling chimneys and rotting porch), or unexpected structural elements that needed more than originally planned (like the Village code-mandated drain tile around the new addition, or the second HVAC unit to properly maintain the kids' floor). Some of it is just...I don't know, exactly. I don't think Pam's been exorbitant, and I would actually work with her again if another opportunity came up, but the fact remains that we've run...oh...$150K over original budget. That is a lot of money. We can manage, but just barely. Good thing we like rice and beans. And the library. I stopped buying books several months ago.

I wish I'd known more, going into this project; we might have made some different choices. But I'm not sure how I could; some of this, I had to learn by doing. And maybe these are the right choices regardless.

The big fight Kev and I had the other day was because I went to see another Queen Anne in the neighborhood. Similar location (though I like ours a bit better), much bigger rooms (and an extra bedroom), about $150K less than what our house will end up costing. It does have some downsides -- less yard for gardening (because the house takes up more of the lot), and the wraparound porch faces an unattractive multi-unit building. There's some structural issues too, which the realtor assured me would cost about $3K to fix. Although who knows whether to believe that.

On the surface, that house looks like a much better deal than ours, and when I came back from the showing and told Kevin about it, we ended up going back to the decision to buy this house -- a decision that really came down to me being very very pregnant, almost insane with stress from the three house purchases that had fallen through, one after another, feeling homeless and unable to properly care for my children. Not, perhaps, the best reasons to decide to buy a house. At the time (August 2009), Kevin assured me that if we just rented, a nicer, cheaper Queen Anne would come on the market -- probably in the spring of 2010. But the baby was imminent, and I was crazy. In the end, we signed for this house on September 23rd, and I went into labor and had Anand on September 24th. Crazy.

So, best decision-making situation? Clearly not. Yet I'm pretty happy with the result. Yes, there are cheaper, larger houses out there, that would have saved us a chunk of money, and just masses of work as well this past year. But it's also been fun (though I sometimes have to remind myself of that), designing the new version of this house. I'm really happy with most of the decisions we've made, and there's something very satisfying about rescuing a gorgeous old house and updating it for the modern era. As Pam reminded me when I was talking to her about all this, our house had a gut rehab, so hopefully it'll now be in shape to continue happily for another hundred years, with its new insulation and electrical and HVAC and plumbing. The bulk of what we spent was actually spent on that kind of thing, not visible pretties. That other Queen Anne -- it will probably have all sorts of problems over the next several decades that our house won't have. So we're frontloading the stress and expense of repairs, with the hope that we won't have nearly as much to do as homeowners going forward. We'll have to wait and see if it actually works out that way.

I'm not really second-guessing -- after all, we're well in it now, and even Kevin (who is far more prone to second-guessing himself than I am) admits that it's sort of silly thinking about what might have been, just because there are new houses coming on the market. But perhaps all this is helpful to anyone else who might be considering buying an old house, perhaps a foreclosure, and doing massive renovations. If I'd known, going into this, that it would take more than a year-and-a-half from start to finish, and run significantly over budget, would I have taken this on? Even a day away from giving birth? Honestly, I'm not sure. Probably not.

In retrospect, I'm sort of glad I didn't know. :-) I love my house.

5 thoughts on “I talked to Pam…”

  1. Plus, do you really believe any realtor? They always underestimate.

    I don’t think you should have any regrets and though I think it is a good lesson. I seem to remember several commenters warning you this would happen. Always assume the worst, when it comes to construction!

  2. This house is going to be so very much more YOURS from the first day you move in. We moved into our house 7 years ago and still have the now-tatty window treatments from the previous owners. I was super grateful they left them, because at the time we couldn’t afford anything, but they are prints and colors and styles I wouldn’t have chosen. I love my house, but we still need to work a bit more to make it ours, if you know what I mean.

    In any case, sounds like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel!

  3. Mary Anne,
    Yes at some point in a major house makeover one hits the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” moment.
    But the house looks beautiful and in its refurbished condition will last many more years without major mech/elect issues than one of the others.
    And the value of the house is increased which will benefit you later. If your accountant does it right in adjusting your taxes for the refurbishment costs you should be able to profit from this in the future.
    But just to walk into the finished house and smell the paint and varnish and have faucets that work and lights that that turn on and heat that keeps you warm will elevate your satisfaction greatly.
    It’s almost like sitting in a new car with the new car smell.
    Congradulations on a job well done.

  4. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Heh. I know. When I was in grad school in Utah, my parents offered to help me with the down payment on a small house, instead of paying rent. I didn’t take them up on it, because I wasn’t sure I’d be there at least five years, but I could have gotten a tiny two-bedroom house for $60,000. Here in Oak Park, a similar house would start around $300,000. Housing prices are insane.

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