Refusing to re-invent the wheel

Perhaps it is because I am lazy but I would rather call it clever and efficient. But if someone has invented the wheel, I don't need to reinvent it myself.

Sam Howe of the blog Renovation Diaries didn't exactly invent the wheel, but she remodeled a house, in our same small town, with a similar small budget, with two small boys (under the age of 5) and a similar sense of style. In my book, that means she is basically 2+ years ahead of us in this process. And she lived through it.

Sam graciously visited our project: haus in November and our almost 2 hour conversation provided a wealth of information. She gifted me, a stranger, with the gift of her time and experience and that in this game of home remodeling, is worth a significant amount of cash. Though I do believe that each home renovation is as unique as every marriage or child, there are some basic fundamental similarities in which lessons can (and should) be learned. And why not learn them. There will be plenty of mistakes that we will make on our own and lessons that we will be forced to learn.

I took away these key points:

1. You will bleed money
I don't think I need to explain this one. I think it is just part of the process. But it is good to be aware of and then accept - and then be very mindful where and how the money goes.

2. Renovation cost per square footage is arbitrary
Professionals and home owners and real estate agents throw around figures all the time. I have heard everything from $200-$750 per sq. foot for a remodel in Marin. Crazy. And unfair because it depends on: if you are on a hill or if it's flat, you choose plastic or wood, if live in the dust or move out, if you choose artisans or laborers, if you get your hands dirty or hire a general contractor, if your tile is HomeDepot or Heath Ceramics, if, if, if, if.

For us, we are determined to make it under $300/sq foot. $250-275/sq foot would be a dream. How we get to that, well, there in lines my work and determination.

3. Know what you are willing to do to save money and what you are not
Sam was very honest about what she and her husband were willing to do - they didn't move out and they did almost all of the work themselves (with the help of her father-in-law). Rain, no roof and a brand new baby - amazing.

4. $100K kitchen is truly outrageous
We both agree - we have no idea how someone can spend $100K on a new kitchen. Please, how? Sam is from the UK and my family is from Germany and both of us agree that a really well put together kitchen should cost $25-$50K max. Yes, we understand high-end appliances. But really, how does this work?

5. Service providers will get comfortable at one point, too comfortable
This is a solid nugget of information. And one that we have heard before. In Sam's case, it meant less determination, poorer quality work, less desire to please, more mistakes, more money in the end.

Again, something to be mindful of and address immediately.

6. Trust your instinct
Brushed nickel or brass. He said brushed nickel, she said brass. They went with brushed nickel. Now the ceiling fixture is hung and the work is completed and she looks at it every time and thinks: should be brass.

This is a tricky piece of advice because it is more subtle than simple style or taste differences. Sometimes brushed nickel or brass doesn't matter. But sometimes it does and one of you knows it. In the midst of decision making, one of you has a strong reaction or gut instinct, one way or the other. And that is what you should listen to.

Thank you Sam for your time and candid honesty! It was such a pleasure to meet you!

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