Monday, June 8, 2015

Project House Update: Let's Go Shopping

This project has basically been in the works since we moved into our house in 2011, but no real progress had been made until recent months. So, let me give you some background in this post before all the craziness really starts to pick up in the next couple of weeks.

My husband is the definition of a 'car guy'. He's probably the epitome of the definition because I have never met anyone who knows more about cars than he does. It's his passion.

In early 2011, right after we got married and started hunting for a house, we had a list of things we were looking for in a house. Mine were more intangible things, like 'the bones' and 'the personality' of the house, while his list was very concrete. His big two issues being nice views and a big garage.

When we first saw our house, it had 'the bones' and 'the personality' for me and the views for him, but the garage was a small two car garage. More than adequate for the typical homeowner. But not for Dan.The compromise we made in buying our house was that someday we would build an external shop for him. In my mind, this was ten, twenty years out. For him, it was two years, tops. Communication, people. It's important apparently...

So we bought our house and spent quite a lot of time and money moving in and fixing it up, so the idea of a shop got pushed to the back burner. It was probably in 2013 when the idea of a shop started growing in his brain again. Dan's parents were trying to move to our city and had been meeting with contractors to build them a home. Just for fun, Dan started talking to these same contractors about his dream shop.

Let's be clear: Dan's dream shop, the shop the HOA will let us build, and the shop we can afford to build are three entirely different structures. So, back in 2013, he started by using his tablet to sketch up plans. The dimensions were dictated by the home owners association restrictions: 1500 square feet and 16 foot ceilings, max. He tried to maximize the amount of cars he could fit in that space. He made sure almost any RV on the market could fit in it, for resale value someday. He made sure he could fit in his lift so he could raise cars to work under them.

And then he got some quotes, just for the hell of it. These quotes were in the $100k range. That killed his enthusiasm pretty quickly.

When 2014 rolled around, we had a conversation about building the shop that year. I agreed with the condition that we'd need to really start saving for it and he would have to bring the cost way down. I simply could not live with myself if we wasted that much money on a shop.

Unfortunately for Dan, the year just got away from us. 2014 came and went without a shop. We did save the money we needed, but other projects came up, time got away from us, and contractors just didn't call us back. It's amazing the amount of contractors that just blew us off. You would think some yelling "TAKE MY MONEY!" would be someone you want to work with. If I'm remembering right, I think at least two contractors just never showed up for their scheduled appointments. That's a great way to waste everyone's time, guys. It did weed out a lot of people we didn't want to work with, though.

Around the beginning of 2015, we sat down and had another conversation. Our lives have gotten a lot busier lately and we needed to refocus on the goals and projects we wanted to achieve. Top of Dan's list was his shop, so he buckled down and got really serious this time.

He was persistent with contractors to the point of annoyance. He finally had a contractor he could work with and a quote. He wanted to get a second opinion of the quote, so he found another contractor to act as a comparison and ended up liking the second guy so much more than the first. Once we finally had a contractor we liked and who would actually call us back, it was time to finalize all the little details.

'The shop' had always been more conceptual than actual to me so this where we started to really run into problems. Up until that point, I had been under the impression that the contractor was only really needed to get the foundation down and the structure up. Dan had told me that. over time, he could do a lot of the other work needed, to save on cost. However, when talking to the contractor about city codes and the building process, he had changed his mind and the contractor had suddenly taken on the burden of the work. Which meant we had taken on the burden of the cost at the get-go. Although I had agreed to building a shop and Dan had verbally agreed to work with the contractor, when we got the first quote, I was flabbergasted.

The quote was over $90,000. It hurts my heart just to think about that number.

I knew it was going to be expensive, but not that expensive. That's an insane amount of money to think about. After seeing the quote, that's when things got ugly, I will admit it. I wanted an itemized list. A list of everything that was going into the quote so we could start cutting things until it became affordable. Dan was insistent that that's not how quotes like this work. I wasn't going to agree to spending this amount of money and he couldn't tell me what we would save by cutting things.

Over a couple of long nights of arguing, we sat down and went through his plans, detail by detail. Why he wanted windows there, why the door went there, couldn't we add lights later. I went through and questioned every single decision he had made. It was probably something I should have done years ago, but the evolution of this shop had been so convoluted that it went from idea to quote virtually in an instant.

After that, the new quote was roughly $85,000. This is when started to hurt. I made a line in the sand: it needed to be under $80,000, period. It was like kicking a puppy. He didn't understand how I could draw a line there when there wasn't anything else to cut. He had cut all the bells and whistles. It was an ugly realization for him that, to me, this whole shop was 'bells and whistles' and if he wanted it, he needed to consider the cost. And that cost was square footage.

He made a very good argument: you really can't go back in and add more square footage later. But, my argument, the numbers, pushed back harder. The cost of square footage he couldn't justify use of. By bringing in a wall a foot here and a foot there, you could quickly cut down cost with only really losing six inches of walk way on either side. And given that our contractor told us every 100 square feet we cut was roughly $5000, he wasn't going to win that one.

Our contractor told us he was having a discount for April where he would cover the cost of the taxes if we signed by the end of the month. This was the push Dan needed to finally get serious about the shop and we spent those last few days of April frantically working with our contractor to bring down the cost. We would talk and debate all night, send the contractor an email with our ideas before bed, and he would draw up the changes during the day. We would come home, review the changes, and start all over again.

April 27th, we finally signed papers. I think the contracted cost was somewhere around $81,000, which is still utterly insane to me, but it is Dan's dream. The contractor, the architect, and us have been working to make the official plans so we can get permits and get them approved by the home owners association. We're both hoping that we can break ground by the end of the month, but it's looking more like it will be in July now. We've been told it should be roughly a month between breaking ground and a completed structure.

This whole process has been incredibly new to me and I have felt really unprepared for most of it. It's been hard being a detail-oriented engineer and having to come to terms with the fact that the contractor isn't just going to tell me everything. I want to know everything, though, so I'm going to have to be annoying and persistent and not get left out of the loop. It's been great watching Dan draw up his dream and negotiate to get what he wants from the contractors, but it sucks having to be this negative 'voice of reason' and talk him down from his high. I know this whole process will probably get worse before it gets better, I just hope the end result is worth it.

PS: Let me say something here to anyone who is trying to work with a contractor for a project: you need to be 100% on the same page as your spouse before you sign anything. We didn't realize until after we had signed the papers that we did not agree on where on the property the shop would actually go. It was another couple of frantic nights of me not realizing how freaking large this building is going to be and where the hell was it going to go. Now, we've staked it and agreed on it's location and made sure it's not blocking any of our views, but we have to run it passed the contractor to see if it can be built there without any extra cost. Something we should have figured out beforehand.