Here we go, some renovation reality, if you will.
I love sharing house content. I’m passionate about home, and all that goes into making one. We’re in the middle of a massive, transformational, exciting home renovation– the biggest one we’ve ever done (of which there are many in our home portfolio). Lately however, it’s been hard for me to share the process. Why? In a spirit of vulnerability, I’m opening up talking about what’s been happening with the reno, pulling back the curtain a bit on the process, and sharing why I’m ready to share about the project in depth again.
First let me say, we knew this was a big project before we launched into it. We aren’t novices, and we also knew this home needed a lot of work. Have there been surprises as we’ve dived into construction? Of course. There always are. Our surprises have fallen into three categories: what I’m calling the construction, the climate, and the curveballs.
Let’s start with construction: The biggest construction surprise overall has been just how neglected the home was on a maintenance level. Who can forget (or unsee) the hundreds of dead rodents we found in the walls? Black mold in the showers and on some walls, crumbling brick planters that lead to discovering a whole host of other issues, rain gutters I’m not sure had been cleared out in over 20 years, the layers of yard overgrowth, plumbing and electrical issues, over a hundred trees we had to remove (I’m not joking), and the list goes on and on. Most of this wasn’t a major surprise. Some of it was. All of it has been costly. Issue after issue has also taken a mental toll. If the home had been in pristine condition, there still would have been a lot of work involved in renovating it, but the disrepair and lack of maintenance has been frustrating to uncover and has added a lot of expense and time.
I wish the surprises had ended there, but as anyone who has renovated or built since the pandemic can tell you, it’s been surprises around every corner– and not in a good way. This is the surprise I’m calling “the climate.”
Getting bids ahead of time for work to put together a budget is crucial. But in the last couple of years (a chain reaction set off by the pandemic housing boom), the construction industry has been a mess. Contractors have been in such high demand, I think many (not all, but many) have gotten used to throwing out astronomical bids and because they have had a steady stream of mostly desperate homeowners willing to accept such over-the-top bids. Many (again, not all) contractors have been pretty challenging to work with. There’s been an attitude that you’re lucky if they will even accept your project, so forget about trying to negotiate or expecting fair pricing. Some of our bids came back literally jaw-droopingly high and were so bad, we adjusted our design plans to find less expensive options. This isn’t always a bad thing, and helps you hone in on where to splurge and where to save. In some cases we switched gears altogether to find an option more affordable.
Another issue we’ve run into: we’ve had some contractors give you a bid, then change it halfway through the project. Sometimes they aren’t being unfair– at a time when materials are scarce, projects can take longer than expected, materials can fluctuate in price at any given moment these days, etc. Sometimes they are being unfair. The tricky thing about the current climate in construction is that it doesn’t matter if they are unfair or not. You’re left with few options.
The prime example of this for us was the original framing crew (if you follow me on instagram, you watched the saga unfold) and the lumber yard. Let me start by saying the lumber yard is large, reputable, and is well-known in Utah. We have worked with them in the past without major issues, but this time was different. This time because of supply and demand, they took advantage of the situation. The lumber yard refused to work with us unless we agreed to buy every piece of lumber from them (meaning we couldn’t shop around, price compare, or buy just specialty pieces from them). They then doubled and tripled the price of their wood, knowing we desperately needed specialty pieces from them like our trusses. They would look at every order and inspect our supplies, making sure we weren’t getting anything anywhere else and literally questioning every order. We had no option but to overpay, as we desperately needed trusses. They then built our trusses incorrectly multiple times, and frankly were incredibly difficult to manage.
That leads me to the framers. Framers have been really challenging to get, as they were also in very high demand. The lumber yard gave us the contact of the first crew of framers we used. They were total criminals who not only totally over-bid and kept increasing the price, but also did shoddy work that we mostly had to pay another crew to re-do. So why did we use them once we realized there was a problem? Again, with laborers in such high demand, we didn’t have another option at the time but as soon as we did, we fired them and cut our losses. We eventually found a great crew of framers who were not only fair and hardworking, but also did excellent work. All said and done, we at least paid twice over for our framing.
We haven’t just had a few curveballs. They’ve been thrown at us from every angle, over and over again. Honestly, listing them all out could take an entire novel so maybe I’ll just touch on the latest: the fire. Many of you saw on instagram one of our contractors left some equipment on in his trailer, which was parked in our driveway, and it exploded in the middle of the night, starting our house on fire. We are so grateful the damage wasn’t worse, but battling insurance companies has been a total nightmare. We still don’t know who is going to pay for what, and the setbacks have been severe. Each of these curveballs individually would be manageable. All together, they’ve taken a pretty big toll and we’ve felt like we’ve been in a free fall during the whole process.
I’m just scratching the surface here. But the biggest reason it’s been difficult for me to share doesn’t have to do with any of the aforementioned issues. It’s been how alone we’ve felt in our struggles and the lack of support we’ve felt with the exception of a couple of amazing family members and dear friends. Jon and I have talked a lot about how isolated this experience has made us feel, and if I’m being honest, we’ve even had some people make us feel as though they are just waiting for us to fail so they can say they told us so. This isn’t necessarily new for us. We’ve always sort of forged our own life path, and it hasn’t really mattered much if people don’t get it. This time however, I think the sheer amount of time the project has gone on combined with the complete unpredictability of it all has given us a lot of sleepless, anxiety-ridden nights.
By nature, we are both optimistic souls and I hope you can tell the vulnerability of sharing how hard this process has been isn’t easy for me. We felt guided to renovate this house and make it our home, and many days clinging to that feeling is what gets me through. And the (not so) funny thing is here I am at the end of this post and I haven’t shared any of the many hard, scary, and trying curveballs we’ve had over the last year and a half that have nothing to do with the house, of which there are many. I read somewhere once that when you’re taking a big risk and trying to do something great, the negative forces in the universe will do everything they can to try to pull you down because they don’t want you to progress. I can visualize us cozied up as a family in our new home, feeling at peace and reflecting back on this time and saying to each other “wow, that was crazy. But look how much we’ve grown.”
I’m easing back into sharing house content, so please be patient with me. Your encouragement and love means so much, thank you.