Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Tale of Five Contractors

We've been investigating the possibility of adding on to our house. We had already outgrown the house when we moved into it, by which I mean that in moving here we downsized by about 800 sq. feet. The lot was great. I know I've mentioned that before, but it bears repeating. It also keeps me from going stark raving mad and eating the wallpaper (don't worry - we don't really have wallpaper) in the middle of winter when we're cooped up and I'm wondering what THE HELL possessed us to buy such a small house.

We have your typical kitchen w/dining area, living room set-up, with three smallish bedrooms, and (wait for it...) one bathroom. One. Also we have two daughters. One of whom is now in junior high. Are you doing the math along with me? Do you see the problem?

So initially, when the interest rate was still bobbing along in the high 6's (or something? I don't really keep track of interest rates. Or, frankly, understand them.), Daddy Shortbread started making some halfhearted progress toward putting a second bathroom in the basement family room. Not ideal, but you don't look a second toilet in the mouth. Or something. I may be mixing my metaphors.

Then came the housing crash and resultant falling interest rate, and Daddy Shortbread ventured that this might be the time to start thinking seriously about putting an addition on the house.

We rounded up referrals from friends and called five contractors to come give us estimates. It was an interesting lineup:

Contractor Good Ol' Boy had a reassuring can-do attitude, but a concerning way of brushing aside potential problems with his proposed design (Um, hi, the chimney would run up the middle of the master bedroom?) with a wave of his hand and a non-committal "eh." I like my contractors like I like my doctors: more talky, less wave-asidey. FAIL.

(Apparently I also like seeing how many times I can work the word "like" into a sentence).


Contractor Weightlifter is a builder. He doesn't draw plans. He builds FROM plans. He'd like you to pay $400 to have Random Drafting Dude draw plans before he'll give you an estimate. Um, FAIL.

Contractor Nice Guy is super-communicative. He talks things through at length, giving reasons, suggestions, and ideas, all the while sketching away right in front of you. He had completely novel design ideas for us and brought his entire team of sub-contractors out to meet us. We love him and are anxiously awaiting his estimate. Fingers crossed, probable PASS.

Contractor Brain is fascinating to talk to. He was right up to speed with our ideas on utilizing alternate energy sources, etc., but his initial design idea was, well, wack. We haven't heard back from him since we suggested he go another direction with it. Probable FAIL.

Contractor Neighbor also seems great, but is somewhat late to the party, since we just met with him yesterday. He also brought a great design idea to the table and came with strong recommendations. However, his time-table for getting back to us and when we'd start construction is a lot later than we'd hoped. Still, we're interested to see the estimate he brings us, making his a possible PASS.

I'm trying really, really hard not to fall in love with the idea of the addition(i.e., I probably shouldn't be shopping for flooring yet, but I totally am) before we're sure it's happening. At this point, it all comes down to what out house appraises for/equity/interest rate.

Hey, look how it almost sounds like I know what I'm talking about, when actually I have only the haziest notion of what those terms mean!

Also, you begin to get some idea of how much the contractors must enjoy talking to me. ("Yes, yes, reinforced beam, whatever. When do we discuss the shade of hardwood flooring I want put in?")


Jen on the Edge said...

I hope you can find a contractor who will work out for you. It sounds like you have some good prospects.

And OF COURSE you should be picking out your hardwood floors. And your paint and your curtains and your bathroom tile...

smalltownmom said...

I hope the nice guy wins.

We've never done anything as major as an addition. We've had professionals for the shower and windows, but otherwise my husband has done everything else (the rest of the bath, flooring, kitchen).

I'm all about the finish work, too.

Connie Weiss said...

I have stuff picked out for houses that we will never own. It's never to early to plan! LOL!

Good Luck with your contractor!

Linda said...

Can't wait to see the addition! The second bathroom will be the biggest plus of all. Exciting time for you guys!!

Anonymous said...

So funny. My husband and I have redone two old houses and right from the start I'm decorating. It doesn't matter to me that the walls need to torn down or the entire place needs new wiring, plumbing, and insulation. I just want to go pick paint colors so I'll be ready.

I hope you get your addition!!! We'll cross our finger with you.

Jenn said...

You're such a great mom, so much fun.

Scope said...

Don't know if "Contractor Neighbor" is really a next door neighbor or not, but depending upon how things go, that might not be a good idea.

I mean, since everything will go so above and beyond your dreams, he might get tired of you literally singing his praises every time you bump into each other.

Grandma said...

Your rendition of possible contractors for your addition, brought back many memories when we had our family room added to our house many years ago. It took three bids before we decided which way to go. Good luck!

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Whoever the contractor is they never quite turn out to be who you think they are.

We have done 2 major additions (we took an 1100 square foot house to 2600). Because I keep good notes on delays, etc. I was able to hold back almost $15,000 at the end on a $100,00 remodel. It certainly made my inconveniences much easier to bear!

Good luck--it's all worth it once it's over.

Dawn in Austin said...

When I get back, I will begin the contractor dance as I get ready to have the backyard landscaped. After your stories, I'm not sure if I'm ready. Good luck and let us know who you pick!