Renovation Reality: Why It’s Been Hard to Share

January 19, 2023

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.

The Construction

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.

The Climate

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.

The Curveballs

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.

The Toll

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.

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  1. I remember a few years ago getting screwed over by a concrete contractor and we lost a couple thousand dollars. The hurt and violated feeling that it brought was awful, I can only imagine the extent of your hurt. I’m so sorry. None of this was foreseeable and was obviously out of your control. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your experience. I hope the rest of this year is easier. We’ll be here, cheering you on, hoping for the best and sending all the good vibes along the way! ❤️

  2. Kayla Bloxham says:

    I’m so sorry this has been such a difficult experience. Thank you for being vulnerable and keeping it real! You’ve done an amazing job of beginning with the end in mind and it’s going to be fantastic when it’s done!!

  3. J says:

    I’m cheering for you! I built a house in 2020-2021 so I dealt with climate, curveballs and the toll it took. Last year was tying up loose ends and breathing. This year we have to get back to work, finish the yard and a lot of finishing touches. I feel so blessed that we didn’t overextend ourselves and we were able to absorb the price increases. However, not taking additional financing meant that 13 months later, we are still house poor. The landscaping bids were astronomical compared to our last house and left us doing a third last year, a third this year, and a third ourselves. We are anti-debt, but kicking ourselves now that we didn’t borrow any extra when the interest rates were low. We’re making it work, which means we haven’t been on vacation since 2018. And we have a crawl space full or water thanks to all of this much needed precipitation. Just counting my blessings, my family is healthy and happy and we love our new home. I wish you much luck and success with yours.

  4. Heidi Nelson says:

    Ahhh I love you!!! You got this. I’m thrilled you know one day you will be all snug around the fire in this beautiful masterpiece and the lord will show you how you’ve grown and it will all be worth it. You and Jon are amazing. I’m so lucky to know you and be your friend. You stay strong and be believing.

  5. Jess says:

    Oh jen if only you knew that you are far from being alone. We have been building our dream home, one we felt inspired and spiritually guided to, during the same time as you have been renovating. Each time we thought we had paid our framing bill in full we would get a new bill for $$$$ we could hardly believe it. The real kicker came this fall when the bank failed to renew our construction loan and demanded payment in full in two weeks. Just the tip of the iceberg and what I am trying to say is, I understand-truly, and I pray for healing and progress for this new year!

  6. Ska says:

    Sending you lots of positive energy from the east coast.

  7. Katie Rees says:

    Highs and lows. Ups and downs. I’m here for all of it. So proud of your perseverance. Those Staggs do amazing things. Love to you, friend.

  8. Brooke says:

    Your dedication and expertise is inspiring. I love reading and seeing the progress on your projects. Your home will be incredible and supply many great memories for your family. I hope this message will give you some support and encouragement. You are amazing!

  9. Anonymous says:

    We just finished our new build during Covid . It took two years and our custom home came in over $700.00 than our bid . Our hands were tied throughout the process . Building a custom is generally just that … you get what your willing to pay for . But during Covid you get what’s available , not a lot of choices to choose from and the price of everything went up daily. So custom? We paid double and had to settle on many things.
    Our builder was negotiating a buyout with the General and it fell through 4 weeks prior to our closing so the General, foreman and many subs walked out in the last four weeks of our build with six other homes needing to be finished . We didn’t get a real walk thru and 15 keys were spread out on by huge kitchen bar with them saying “in time you’ll figure out which key goes to what “ we were so grateful to be able to move in all our new furniture had been in storage with us paying extra for stores to store them for us . We could not put off deliveries another week.
    In the past before we bought our beautiful lot homes were being built , finished in a year with a big bow on the front door and huge welcome gift – we got nothing . I thought I would be so excited I would cry tears of joy but it was so ugly in the end I had no emotion . We have slep here maybe 40 nights and LOVE LOVE LOVE our new home . Are we nervous because our once amazing builder is finishing his other six homes and word on the street is he is gone . We worry about warranties etc . Again we only bought and built with him because of his stellar reputation but he wanted out and never presented to us what his company was in the process of doing . He presented it as one happy group that will be here for everything and anything . Not at all , my sister built a semi custom home snd has had more attention in her build that took three months during Covid. The work on our new home for most part 89% has been perfect and very high end quality . But I would NEVER build again during Covid snd I would ask all the questions we thought we had asked but one we didn’t was are you in the middle of a buyout and bad feelings with your General and Super . Who knew? Hang in there Jen I can’t imagine and since the fire I’ve been worried sick for you . It will all turn our beautifully and at least your not 65 paying double for your home you have time to recoup the losses better than us . Your home will be stunning and you will fall in love with it all over again I promise .
    PS I always knew we had the best marriage but wow this was tough on it – never again during a pandemic !!!

  10. kelly Young says:

    You got this

  11. Karen Stewart says:

    Thank you for sharing. Your struggles are real. You have made us all realize how remodel has its ups and downs. Good luck with the finishing. You got this

  12. Elizabeth says:

    I’m so sorry that this home renovation has been so challenging. You and your family have had such a rough time. I hope someday soon you will be able to enjoy your home.

  13. Heather Seal says:

    We’ve gone through something similar this past year although not as large a project as yours. We decided to put in a gunite pool in our backyard and do decking around and add a walkout basement. We had so many come by to give us bids but then no one ever gave us a bid back because they all had so much work and demand so we jumped at the first contractor to give us a bid. He asked for $18,000 to start the project. I gave him that money and he did a few days of demolition and never returned. Luckily half of the payment was on credit card and I was able to dispute the charges and get half the money back. He is now having charges pressed against him because he’s a chronic scammer and not licensed. The second group we hired again out of desperation. They spent 3 months not really getting much done, were paid $17,000 and did everything wrong and walked away without finishing the project. We have now hired our 3rd contractor and so far everything is going well but our backyard is still a total mess and we are out about $50,000 with nothing to show for it yet. I feel like the whole thing stole years off my life with so much anxiety and no sleep. I had to keep reminding myself that it’s just money but at the same time it’s a lot of money and a huge mess in my backyard. Luckily the pool got done and no issues with that. It’s all been with the surrounding backyard. I feel your pain. I’m especially sorry you have “friends” who are wanting to see you fail. I think the only thing that shows is jealousy if your previous successes and your beautiful home transformations. Here’s to a new year and hopefully both of our projects being completed.

    • Administrator says:

      What a nightmare! We’ve had that happen with a landscape contractor before on our last home, and it was a mess. I’m so sorry! Cheers to better days ahead for both of us!

  14. Ooofff. You are right. That is an extraordinarily awful, sustained sequence of brutally frustrating set backs and disappointments. And the isolation encountered is particularly painful when it comes on top of thoughtlessness and outright betrayals. I’m truly sorry that your heart-filled project has been racked with so much strife.
    As alone and burdened as you feel in this endeavor, your willingness to voice your struggle with authenticity and vulnerability is stretching out through the cosmos to others experiencing their own battles with brutal unfairness. You will likely never know it, but your sharing may offer a gossamer thread of hope to someone else. In that way, you are never alone. Thank you for sharing as you strive forward.

  15. Diane says:

    I’m cheering you on and am so sorry for all of your troubles! Keep on keeping on, I know you are going to have an incredibly beautiful home when all is said and done! I appreciate your vulnerability in sharing. Because of all you’ve gone through, you’ll treasure it even more. Sending positive vibes and prayers for your success! I love the work you do!

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