The Big Update

Pour yourself a drink and pull up a seat, because this one’s bound to be a long one…and an honest one.

For months, I’ve struggled with how to start this post.  In fact, I sat down last week (and a number of days this week) to pull the proverbial trigger and start typing, but I kept having to hit “Save Draft” and walk away each time…I’ve always tried to keep SP&C a positive space, but for the past four or so months, it has been really hard for me to find the positive in much of anything, so I just went radio silent here and on social media. Some of you may have noticed, some of you couldn’t have cared less, but for those of you wondering why I haven’t shared the progress and process of the remodel, here we go…

Earlier this year, I put my town-home on the market and started the search for the perfect house that I could update, personalize, and really make our own.  Luckily, the selling process was pretty quick & simple (minus having to be “show ready” for a week or two), and I was able to focus more on the “hunt” for a new home.  The Austin real estate market is insane, and the whole experience gave me more gray hairs than I can count–but luckily, I’m so bleached blonde I’ll never know just how many that actually is.  I wasn’t looking for a house that required knocking out walls or re-routing gas lines or anything like that. I just wanted something that I could do like a ‘Remodel Lite‘ on, and change out some finishes, slap some makeup (i.e. paint) on it, and call it a day.  My hope was to find a one-story, mid century-esque, <2,500 sq. ft. home, which in my desired area and budget was clearly a Unicorn House.  As time (and my patience) started to wear, an opportunity presented itself and I took it.  I should mention that the opportunity came in the form a two-story, red-brick, 3,000 sq. ft. house at the end of a cul-de-sac…quite the opposite of my Unicorn House.

While the house wasn’t exactly what I was in the market for, it was in the neighborhood I wanted to be in. Not to mention, with so much space, the opportunities were quite endless when it came to remodeling and decorating. In all honesty, the positives of the house really outweighed the fact that it was a giant red brick house.  Weeks before closing on the new house, I had a couple of contractors over to bid out the project. I ultimately went with someone who came highly recommended, and not only was his pricing better, but I felt more confident knowing that someone else I knew used him and sang his praises. His work product looked great from what I saw on social media and it seemed to be an all around win.

The time frame from closing on the new house and the end of the leaseback period at the townhouse was roughly 7 weeks.  The renovation of the new home was projected to take 4 weeks.  I felt as though we had enough ‘cushion,’ time-wise, should the project be delayed, as many renovations tend to be.  I’m not (that) dumb, and I knew that whatever time frame I was given, I needed to basically double it. I did for the most part, and thought we were ok.

Week One flew by. Literally minutes after I closed on the new house, there was a dumpster in the driveway and the crew was ready to start demo. Floors (well, most of them) were pulled up, bathroom vanities were ripped out, light fixtures were removed, and we were well on our way to gettin’ shit done. Until we weren’t. Week Two started a little slower than I liked, but I figured that was normal.  At the end of the second week, I stopped by the new house to test out some paint colors on the wall.  When I was done, I walked into the kitchen to rinse off my brush, not remembering that they had removed the sink and other plumbing fixtures earlier in the week.  After taking one step into the kitchen I saw water covering the floor that was beginning to spread into neighboring rooms.  Apparently, the valve at the kitchen sink was broken so the water didn’t completely shut off when the fixtures were removed, but since no one had shown up to work for a few days, it went unnoticed, ruining lower cabinets, the kitchen island, and ultimately my faith in the process. The contractor assured me that nothing was “ruined” and that everything was still usable.  I trusted him.  Silly me. 

Week Three and Four basically resulted into little to no work being done at the house.  The contractor came up with excuse after excuse and swore to me that he was still going to make the agreed deadline, despite the very apparent delay in progress.  I was stern with him, but tried to keep my faith that he would stay true to his word and everything would be fine, albeit just a little behind my ideal schedule.  I should also note, that as a confident, knowledgeable, and “I have little to no time for your bullshit”-type woman, I felt like there was a very thin line between coming off as just that…or a bitch…when dealing with male contractors.  I didn’t want them to mistake my trust in them for naivety, but I also didn’t want them to take my (OCD) attention to detail and straight forwardness out of context and shrug me off.  It was something I struggled with throughout this whole process, and still continue to struggle with as I put finishing touches on the house…I digress.

Day by day, it became more and more evident that my general contractor had no intention of finishing the job at all–much less by the agreed to-date.  Day by day, my sanity waned. After a month of getting nothing done, other than utterly destroying my house, I decided to part ways with him and demanded he return the remainder of my construction deposit.  He agreed to return it.  But as I type this today, more than three months later, I’m still sitting here with my hand outreached, just waiting for God to grant him some decency to return the incomprehensible amount of money that he has, at this point, legitimately stolen from me.  (Editor’s Note: Among the many construction and home improvement skills learned throughout this nightmarish process, add construction legalese  to my repertoire, because now I’m well-versed in Texas’ Property Code and Construction Trust Funds.)

Literally hours after I “relieved him of his duties,” the counter top installers that he sub-contracted arrived to install my long-awaited Quartz counter tops.  They took one look at the lower kitchen cabinets that had fallen victim to the aforementioned “leak” and they fell off the wall.   Like, seriously, you could LOOK at them and they fell off the wall.  A wall that was was still damp and now starting to mildew.  Refusing to install the counter tops on such decrepit cabinetry, the installers took my counter tops back and told me I would have to reschedule the install when I had new, more sturdy cabinets.  Cue: melt down #5,247.  Not only were custom cabinets not in the budget, but they didn’t really fit in my timeline… or my mental capacity.  Hence, why I had just settled for painting the existing cabinets white in the first place, as opposed to even refacing them.

I’m going to fast forward this story because I realize it’s getting extremely lengthy, and y’all have places to be…but writing this all out has proven itself to be cathartic, so I appreciate your listening ears (or reading eyes?) To speed this up,  here’s a quick run down of the rest of it:

  • I had a garage full of new light fixtures, stair parts, toilets, tile, grout, faucets, a bath tub, and quite literally the kitchen sink, collecting dust. And my brand new refrigerator sat unplugged in the middle of the dining room.
  • Thank God for a slow summer (and understanding employers) at work, because I was fortunate enough to take almost three weeks off to basically be my own contractor.
  • I hired a new contractor to complete the work I wasn’t able to hire out. Understandably, a new crew wasn’t able to start right away, so there were a couple more weeks of not much getting done at the house, other than what Phillip and I were able to do ourselves.
  • I hired a new tile installer and re-hired the original electricians to finish out those aspects of the project.
  • Phillip cleaned and painted the fire place, painted the laundry room (pink!), and ripped up the powder bath flooring, while I supervised.  Kidding! I actually did stuff.  I ripped out carpentry nails in all of the baseboards and door casings throughout the house, pulled up the sub-flooring in the guest bathroom, and scheduled the drop-off/removal of more construction dumpsters than I’d like to count.  (Posts coming on those ‘How-To’s’ soon!)
  • Movers moved large furniture from the townhouse into the two rooms in the new house that weren’t in need of work, and everything else was moved via U-Haul (by Phillip and myself) into two storage units down the street.   However, everything that was moved into the house eventually got caked with a 1/4″ of dust. I wanted to die.
  • Phillip and I–and the dog–moved into a nearby extended-stay hotel for 3 weeks.   Positive: there was free breakfast and Texas-shaped waffles.
  • NoNo (my cat) had to move to my parents’ house for over a month.
  • I had the back yard re-landscaped and new sprinkler heads, panel, and valve installed.
  • By the end of July, we finally had one functioning bathroom and were able to move in (amidst the dust). We had to sleep in the guest room for a couple of weeks and didn’t have a working kitchen, but we were happy to be there.
  • Phillip took his first shower in the new house in the one functioning bathroom, a pipe leaked, resulting in a good portion the living room ceiling having to be ripped out….along with a good portion of my office closet.
  • The new contractor was able to quickly have lower cabinets and a new kitchen island made to match the existing cabinets, they were painted, and the counter top installers came back to install the prettiest counter tops you ever did see. Check.
  • A newly installed sprinkler valve busted resulting in a geyser in my back yard, water to the house had to be shut off, and I eventually got a water bill that I mistook for a mortgage payment. Again, I wanted to die, but it was quickly fixed, so check.
  • End of August, Hurricane Harvey hit. With all of the rain, there was a leak from the chimney that did a good bit of damage in the upstairs landing.  However, it was quickly repaired (free of charge), so check.
  • Amidst Harvey, I got appendicitis and had to be admitted to the hospital. NOT CHECK.
  • I found someone to make and install custom floating shelves for kitchen.  Check.
  • After two months of showering in the guest bathroom, the glass for my frame-less shower in the master finally arrived, and I was able to shower in there! Check. 
  • After taking said shower(s), the newly installed custom floating shelves in the kitchen started to “sag”.  Upon investigation, it was determined they were anchored into a water pipe and not a wall stud, so ALL of the water from the master bathroom (shower, tub, toilet…) was leaking into the dry wall.  At this point, having another bout of appendicitis sounded more appealing than dealing with that. UN-CHECK.
  • Shelves were quickly repaired, but like, only kind of…
  • This week, I received confirmation from my lawyer that I would likely never see a dime from my former contractor due to circumstances that are now out of my control, and the feeling of defeat and disappointment has been really, really heavy to bear…

There are about a hundred other things that happened that I’m sure I’m forgetting to list (likely because I’ve mentally blocked them), but here we are.  The countless curve balls have been dodged (well, some hit me in the gut), but we’re here.  Because I’m OCD, I have a list about a mile long of little things that still need to be done around the house, but all of the ‘major’ stuff is done, so now we can focus on finally getting settled in and being “home.”

And while I know this post primarily focuses on ‘what went wrong’ over the past few months, I need to acknowledge what went right.  Admittedly, through all of my anxiety and anger and disappointment it was really hard for me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m fortunate to have people in my life that continuously lifted me up, supported me, and helped me get to where I am today — on the other side in one piece, in a lovely home that I’m blessed beyond measure to be able to live in.  Last month, Hurricane Harvey blew into Texas and it reminded me just how fortunate I really am.  My heart aches for everyone in Houston, Humble (my hometown), Kingwood, Port Arthur, Rockport, and beyond who lost everything. Homes people spent their entire lives building were ruined in a matter of hours, and the gravity of that isn’t lost on me.  I think of them every time now when I find myself getting frustrated or worked up over something tedious, and I’m quickly brought back to reality and my anxiety subsides.

SO, if you’ve made it this far…CONGRATS!  Drinks are one me.  But, now that you’re caught up, stay tuned for Before & Afters, budget-friendly remodeling and decorating ideas, and How-To posts like ‘How to Demo a Bathroom with Chisel and a Box of Wine’ – ya know, stuff you won’t find on HGTV 😉

Thanks for sticking around. I promise it will be fun (or at least funny) from here on out.




19 thoughts on “The Big Update

  1. Audrey

    Wow! This sounds like a complete nightmare. We have been living in a fixer-upper for the last 2 1/2 years, end it has been an absolute dream in all areas, but nothing compares to what you’re going through. I hope things get better for you soon, and I like your ability to laugh at the situation in some aspects. Xo

  2. Amy

    I’m sorry to read all that! There’s alsways an option to pursue the contractor, don’t take what that lawyer said as the final word, get a second opinion!

  3. Jill

    We went through a similar experience when we had a kitchen fire. Sent the dog to stay with granny and lived in extended stay hotel for three months, including Christmas! Based on that and what my parents experienced when they remodeled I am convinced 99% of contractors are assholes. They also have stress but they could make everyone’s life easier by being Honest and not over extending themselves.

  4. Molly | ABA

    Omg, Katie. This is terrible!! Loved your super honest post and I think it’s so important to share. I’ve heard so many horror stories about contractors. I don’t know what the solution is (you clearly did your homework!) but it’s good to know, nonetheless. I’m so glad that you seem to be coming to the end of this awful journey and am looking forward to more posts from you!

  5. Cassie Carter

    Ugh, Katie, it is really angering to read this! Nightmare. Your work is so beautiful. Hope it feels like home, soon.

  6. Carol Barton

    Oh my goodness and you are still standing. That’s a lot of heartache. But in the end I know your home is beautiful and hope you are able to enjoy it 💕

  7. De De

    Katie, I am so sorry you had to go through all of that. We have had some unpleasant experiences with contractors but nothing as bad as what you experienced.
    From the photos you posted your house is gorgeous. You have done a fabulous job! Enjoy
    I can totally relate to putting things in perspective.

  8. Libby Boyce

    Can’t believe all you’ve endured!!! Hope things are looking up. Anxious to see your before and after.

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