3 Things I Wish I Knew To Ask For, Contractor Edition

The Gingerbread Diaries

To say that buying a house is a learning experience is an understatement. Pair a home purchase with am immediate renovation and you’ve got education out the wazoo! As much as I like to learn things, and as often as not I tend to learn them the hard way, here are three things I wish I knew to ask of our contractor before we got started.

Maybe it will help someone else getting their school of hard knocks degree in contractor negotiations.

1. Where will they pee?

Yes, it sounds funny that this is the first question I wish I’d known to ask, but it’s indicative of all those little considerations that just don’t occur to you until after the fact. This particular one (of asking the contractor to include a Port-o-Let in their estimate) was suggested by an article on Houzz after our renovations had ended and I really wish I’d read it 6 months sooner.

I remember thinking, after discovering the busted pipe a few days after closing (that Todd was able to fix, thankfully) that we needed to make sure it was safe to leave the water on while the workers were here so that they’d have access to the facilities and to water and whatnot. It was a kind thought, and I give myself credit for that, but I regretted it soon.

The first week the work crew was in they used up almost all the paper goods we’d bought right after closing. That amounted to a case of paper towels and a a large package of toilet paper, and left trash everywhere. And if that wasn’t enough, they also helped themselves to a pair of work gloves Todd had left out on our makeshift dining room table, ruining said gloves by using them to remove the old roof, and sopping up who knows what with one of the bath towels I’d brought up, leaving it crumpled and soaking wet (and filthy) and thrown into the closet under the stairs. Had we put off our next trip up by a week, May’s heat and humidity would have rendered that a mess of mold and mildew right behind our downstairs a/c filter.

It was a small but shattering sound heard as my goodwill towards the work crew evaporated.

Lesson learned: hide everything you don’t want them touching. Which we did in a giant storage tote tucked into one of the downstairs closets.

2. Who will actually be on-site?

This doesn’t mean I expect to vet the work crew before agreeing to the bid–that’s a lot to ask even of the most corporate outfits. No, I mean who’s actually going to be on-site and in charge during the day-to-day of the project. It never occurred to me (that’s a theme, here) that the contractor I made all these arrangements with might leave someone else in charge of the work being done on the biggest single purchase of my life. Especially not when this is, ostensibly, a one-man-and-his-crew operation and not some big corporate contractor.

But that’s exactly what happened, at least in certain instances that I can be sure of. Overall, I’m left to wonder how often the man I trusted my home to was really there.

The first inkling we had was when we discovered the house key sitting on the top ledge of our front door. Apparently no one person could be bothered to be in charge of our key, so they just left it “hidden” for whoever showed up first the next day. Another time we found the key in the lock on the back door when we came home (after we’d already moved all our stuff in). To say I was not pleased was an understatement, but at least they were making sure the doors were actually closed and locked (more than once in the early days I came home to find doors yawning open).

But the most damning evidence came at the end of the job, when they started to work on the exterior. They’d removed the loose materials and the first coat of our chosen color (Del Coronado Peach, from Valspar’s National Trust for Historic Preservation color line) was going up! Only problem was, it looked like crap.

Not the color (though haters of our peachy-pink might disagree), the surface. They put the first coat of paint on (no primer, by the way) and that same afternoon Todd went by and the paint was already bubbling, peeling, and showing every single rough edge where the still-adhered previous paint was firmly stuck. When I voiced my concern our contractor explained that it was just the first coat and that once 3-4 were on, none of that would be a problem.

House Photos 017

Ignore the purple-look in this picture, trick of the light or something. But it’s a great example of the insta-peel paint feature we didn’t ask for!

House Photos 009 House Photos 011

So then I sent these pictures of what we were seeing on the front of the house, to be very specific of what we saw as the problem. That’s when he replied, “oh, I wasn’t actually there, yes, we’ll make it right” and they spent the next week prepping the entire exterior, feathering out the edges of the well-adhered paint and sanding the bare clapboards, like they needed to do in the first place. And when the weather cleared (barely) enough for them to start painting again? A coat of primer was also used.

Now, some of this might have been unfortunate timing: we’d had to push back the closing so many times and then wait on the last-minute update to the contractor’s license before permits could be pulled and work could begin. I fully acknowledge that the more than 2-month delay made it necessary for our contractor to split his time between our job and whatever came up in the mean time, but I still think it’s a question I should have asked.

3. Can I get that in writing?

And by “that” I mean the warranty–not just the contractor’s guarantee of their labor but, and perhaps more importantly, the materials warranty on something like your roofing shingles. According to my contractor, he (verbally) guarantees his labor for 2 years. Okay, so for the first two years if something goes wrong I can call him and he’ll deal with it. Sounds good (and this conversation was had when I’d already had to do just that, the week after we moved in). The shingles he put on our roof, though, they come with a 20 year manufacturing defect warranty. Now, a lot can happen in 20 years. Our contractor may have picked up stakes and moved away (or worse) by the time something comes to light with the shingles. Could there be a recall down the line? How would I know?

These days when you buy electronics or appliances, there’s a little warranty card and lots of legalese in the packaging. That plus your receipt can help you out of jam should something go wrong sooner than normal usage would allow. But a roof? I didn’t purchase the materials outright so that’s not much help, and aside from the conversation we had while he was back up on my roof, I’ve got nothing to go on. As much as it pained me to contact him (dislike of confrontation and/or rocking the boat, I admit it), I did put on my big-girl pants and email him a request for something in writing. We’ll see what becomes of that.

There’s more to this story, of course (isn’t there always), and I’m almost ready to tell it. Almost. This first year of home ownership has not been the easiest. Every time we think we’re finally past the triage stage, something else comes up. We knew it was going to be a long term project and that we weren’t in a hurry, but, well…

That’s a story for another post.

Under Pressure

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

After a month more-or-less away from wedding planning, I’ve jumped back in to try an pick up where I left off with the location hunt.

I have one word for that: Ugh!

It’s like getting out of the habit of diet or exercise, you start back up expecting to be where you were but, no, you’ve slipped.

So back I’ve trawled through my Wedding Mail folder, digging up the old quotes and trying to figure out what else I need in order to make a decision.

One thing that was painfully apparent: I need caterer quotes, too.

As some of the places we’re looking at are all-in-one, the ones that are location-only aren’t easy to compare apples to apples. It’s not even like apples to oranges, it’s more like apples to kumquats.

Harnessing the power of the Internet I send out a handful of hopeful ballpark estimate requests. I was upfront about our budget limitations, explained the vision I had for our reception based on our favorite dining experience to date, and explained how I saw that transitioning to our wedding reception.

The first reply I got said our budget was a bit low for that sort of meal (a bit? try it needed to double, and then some). Another came back with a figure that was just a bit over on the low end, but that was before rentals I’m pretty sure. And then there was someone I’d really love to work with, based on her vibe, but we’d need to be able to budget an extra grand for staffing OR go with a style of service that I’m just not a fan of.

Le sigh…

Yes, I know we have over a year until the wedding, so theorhetically we’ve got LOADS of time to make a decision.

And yet, the pressure (mostly from myself) to make a decision is nigh-on overwhelming. On the one hand, everything seems to hang on the location decision: how much budget is left for everything else, how many decorations will be needed, what reception scenario we’ll go with, etc. On the other hand, I’m afraid of choosing too soon in case something “better” were to come along after that non-refundable deposit is handed over, or–even worse–our chosen location closes or comes under new management.

Plus the, possibly irrational, fear that whatever choice I make might be seen as the wrong one on the day of. What if I choose the wrong menu? What if–you know what? I’ve got to stop this.

A final round of requests has gone out and we’re just going to have to make a decision and have done with it.

I want to wake up on the morning of our wedding thinking “yay, it’s here!” and not “thank god this is almost over,” and to do that we’ve got to start moving forward.

Pretty Book and Flower Icon


Have you ever lingered over a decision you put pressure on yourself to make?

Just a Piece of Paper, Or Is It?

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

Another objection I had to overcome had to do with the legal side of things. It’s a product of being jaded by the past, I fully admit, but it needed to be addressed in order to move forward.

Contract application and pen

image via stock.xchng | photography by EyeLens

“It’s just a piece of paper, what will it change?”

Well, if you read my earlier experiences, it changed a lot (and not in a good way). But even if we’re not talking Stepford-switch-level of change, things are going to change once we’re officially man and wife.

For one thing, we won’t have to correct people who assume that we’re married. After all, we’re in our 30s and 40s, are happy together, considerate of one another and share a home. We’re married, right? Soon we’ll be able to say “of course!”

It also makes things easier from a legal standpoint. A very non-romantic reality is that not all states recognize long-term relationships that aren’t legally sanctioned. This can prove troublesome if something happens to one person and decisions need to made or you just want to visit them in the hospital! Billing issues on the utilities? A spouse has more pull than a roommate or just plain girlfriend. It’s boring, and annoying, but it’s true.

Another thing I was fond of saying for all those years I was convinced I’d never remarry (never say never, right?) was that marriage represented a legal contract that obligated me to be in a relationship. It was far more special that I chose to be there every day, right? Yes and no. There’s something to be said about a sense of security, and that’s–I suppose–is the main thing that the marriage certificate represents.

Also, a marriage certificate represents expectations, and expectations are dangerous things in relationships (or can be). Expectations had gotten me into trouble in the past: painting a rosy future and then being disappointed when it didn’t come true. Thing is, we expect our partners to just know what we want. And while I do actually believe in metal telepathy (but not that everyone who claims to have it really does–I’m not that gullible), most of us aren’t marrying mind readers.

Having finally grokked this concept, I approached the relationship with Mr. Trip on a very one day at a time basis. I did my darnedest not to look ahead beyond the next weekend together or the next phone call. And because I didn’t spend my free time dreaming up “one day” scenarios, I think we’ve been much happier for it and I really do think that’s why this relationship was different from all the rest. I placed no expectations on him from one moment to the next so he never had the opportunity to disappoint me. Over time, though, we’ve had to start expecting things (like we each pay our bills, now that we’re living together, that sort of thing) but they are all stated expectations that both parties agree upon, which also lessens the potential for disappointment.

It’s not that we’re finally starting our lives together–nope, we’ve been there for a few years, now–it’s that we’re taking the next step. The step where it’s no longer a weird if-you-want-to-then-so-do-I sort of feeling when it’s time to renew the lease or sign a contract or make plans for a year or more down the road.  It’s how we relate to each other a little differently, it’s a tangible sign, a public declaration, that we’re in this together, not just for now.

What does the marriage certificate represent to you?