Old Age And Remodeling Are Not For Sissies

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A fixer-upper, what could go wrong?













It may appear that I’m going to try to talk you out of that remodel you’re thinking of, I’m not. I’m just trying to help you enter the process mentally prepared. Even simple remodels can surprise you and the more you know, the better prepared you’ll be.

Before the first worker steps foot in the building, a series of small events, assumptions actually, have all worked to make you think that you’ve prepared for the worst when you’ve really been willingly ignoring potential warning signs of things that will affect the cost down the road. You listened to your real estate agent confidently telling you what the cost would be but you didn’t find out what his track record in preliminary pricing exercises was. If you would have, you would have found out that he really doesn’t have too much experience in that area. You did, being a savvy buyer, build in a contingency, but  it was a contingency added on to an unrealistic number. The same thing happened with your architect and your builder. Each one got you to edge your number up somewhat, but in each case, they’re reading your reaction to what they’re saying and without realizing it, you and your architect and your builder have eased the projected cost a little closer to your comfort level and so those numbers aren’t quite realistic.

Now, I’m really not trying to talk you out of the project! You need a house, the architect and the builder need the work… but there’s more.

If there are existing drawings of the house, everyone will assume that, for the most part, they are relatively accurate. They’re probably not. If the plans can’t be found and your architect measures “everything”, he really hasn’t. He’s made assumptions and best guesses because … well, because it’s really hard to check everything and insure that your measurements are accurate. Usually, discrepancies are very minor and don’t affect the work. Usually. And the architect has explained this to you (maybe) and told you that he doesn’t accept the responsibility for the existing drawings or guarantee the accuracy of his own as-built drawings.

The builder and his subcontractors will also make assumptions when pricing the work. They may miss that sloping floor. They may see the sloping floor and assume that the fix is simple. The may see the sloping floor and forget to include anything for it in their price. The slope isn’t a little thing because in this case, it’s caused by a sagging foundation caused by the collapse of an abandoned (and now worthless) silver mine. They’ve warned you that things like this happen and that you (rightly) will be expected to pay for anything not specifically addressed in the contract as “fixed price”.

However, you have a design and you have a price that has a contingency built in and you’ve decided to spend more money than you hoped you would, but it’s still the right house at the right time, so you bite the bullet and sign the contract for construction.

Only you really don’t know what the cost will be even if the building itself yields no surprises. You didn’t pick out things like kitchen cabinets, appliances, flooring, wall tile, door hardware and a few other things. There just wasn’t time, so you, your architect and your builder used “allowances” in the contract to cover the expected cost. If those assumptions were correct, you’re in business! No financial surprises and you’ll get just what you want. Hopefully. Unfortunately, we just entered a trade war with France and the La Cornue stove that the whole project was designed around has increased in price from outrageous to other-worldly.

By this point, you should be sure that I’m bent on talking you out of remodeling in spite of my assurances, so again, I’ll say, “do it! It will be OK.”

But now that construction starts we find that the squirrels in the attic have eaten through a place in the roof that no one noticed, raccoons have chewed through the wiring and it has to be replaced and termites have attacked the house through the one place under the house that no one could get to. Your contingency was blown by sagging floor and the abandoned silver mine they found when they tried to fix the sag but you’re under construction and you can’t stop now and in the end, that will be a good thing, because you are going to love your house. In the end, you’ll be sure that it was all worth the effort.

Just remember, remodeling, like old age, is not for sissies.


About More Than Architects

I’m Rick Clanton. Michael Ruegamer and I are architects and the principals of Group 3 Design on Hilton Head Island, SC. We provide architecture and interior design services for homes in the US and the Caribbean Islands.
This entry was posted in design, home design, what to build. Bookmark the permalink.

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