Saturday, May 12, 2012

The End.....

Hallway Bath
We have come to the end of my blogging for this site. I started this blog - with the hope - that sharing my experiences and research, will help someone make the right decisions when engaged in their own renovation. There is some good information here, so please enjoy!

The renovation is complete and we have fared pretty well through out this renovation. The only issue that remains unresolved, is the issue with American Classic Kitchens, which I wrote about recently. 

We were, and remain, happy with the contractors; including the electrician and plumbers. They all worked hard, showed 'attention to detail' and remained professional at all times. To that end, and the end of  the blog, I would like to share the final results of  our project, by showing you the before and after pictures. In addition, I will hi-lite of what has been done, along with before and after pictures, that will hopefully give some ideas for your own renovation. 

Let us start with the hallway bathroom. This is clearly a room that gets a lot attention by your visitors, and more importantly a potential buyer, should you decide to flip the apartment. 

What you see above and below, are pictures of the original bathroom - from the 1930’s - when the building was first erected. In this apartment, both the hall and master bathrooms were identical; with the exception the master is a  bit smaller.
Original, Built-in Scale
One of the most interesting pieces of the original bathroom, was the scale, that is shown, it was built into the wall with the same 'stainless steel' look we see today. We thought it was really cool, and considered having an updated version of a scale installed in the same fashion; but I dislike scales – they are cruel to me. I am sure at least some of you know what I mean? Needless to say, there is no scale in the new hall bathroom - or in the entire apartment, for that matter.

Hall Bath After
The new bathroom has a marble floor - and stone tiles with black, white and grey streaking. The bathtub is the original to the apartment: cast iron from the 1930"s, which has been re-glazed. 

New plumbing and electric was installed throughout the apartment, including the bathrooms and kitchen. 

For both bathrooms we also have installed recessed lighting. The light over the medicine cabinet is a vintage Art Deco light that was given to us by a dear friend.

Hallway Before
Next, let’s have a look at the hallway. The hallway is quite large; 25 feet long and between 4 and 6 feet wide - depending on where you are in the 25 foot length. The hallway was quite dark, so to compensate we added several recessed lights, requiring the ceiling to be dropped 8 inches, but the loss of height was well worth it. 

In addition, the walls and ceiling were skim coated to eliminate all the cracks, and the walls were painted white.  I would like to point out an interesting relic. If you look at the wall of the 'Hallway Before' picture, there is a phone on the wall, which is the original intercom system that communicated with the concierge and doorman in the 1930's. With the advent of modern technology, the intercom system is no longer functioning.

Hall After
Now on to the kitchen. As disappointed as I am in American Classic Kitchens, I do like my kitchen. I still have some unfinished cabinetry issues, but you have that link. This is where most of the work was done, in regards to demolition and reconstruction, a lot of work, particularly for the plumber. 

The original galley kitchen was long and narrow and would not afford much space at all, specifically given the new size of standard appliances and cabinets. 
Kitchen Before
The wall between the kitchen and living room was quite thick, about 10 inches, so removing the wall and opening the kitchen to the living room would not only allow for the desperately needed depth, and provide an open and airy feel to the entire living room and kitchen, so down came the wall. 
Living Room (Wall was removed)
The kitchen cabinets are Nordic white and manufactured by Wood-Mode. Since we opened the wall between the living room and kitchen we decided to have door covers on the refrigerator and dishwasher, rather than have the stainless steel exposed.

Kitchen After
The original kitchen floor was tile with cement sub-flooring. We had this removed and had the wood floor extended into the kitchen. This was a big job, because the cement had to be broken down so the hall floor would flow evenly into the kitchen. 

The stove was moved to the far wall. Recessed lights were installed in the ceiling; as well as lights in the upper cabinets - with the glass fronts; and under the cabinet lighting for over the countertops. 

For the counter tops themselves, we bought a slab of marble from a quarry, and the contractor coordinated with a marble cutter to template and install the counters and kitchen window sill. 

Living Room After
For the living room we skim coated all the walls and ceiling and painted the walls off-white. There are a total of five windows in the living room and kitchen, so the space is very bright and airy. The air conditioners were originally in the windows of each room and we had the removed and placed through the wall under a window in the living room and one in each bedroom. This was a trick process that required bridges to be constructed on the street so the holes could be made and sleeves inserted. Luckily for me, there was bridging up already because the building was have facade work done on the upper floors. This certainly saved us some money. Next up are the bedrooms. 

Guest Bedroom Before
Master Bedroom After
The apartment has two bedrooms that are about the same size; however, the master bedroom has a private en-suite bathroom. The bedrooms were in pretty good shape, including the walls and floors. We had the air conditioners placed through the walls, as mentioned above, skim coated the walls and ceilings, had new electric wiring installed - in addition to cables cut into the walls to avoid having unsightly cables and cable boxes exposed. The floors were sanded and refinished with a grey stain throughout the apartment. The biggest transformation for the master bedroom was in the en-suite bathroom. 

Master Bath After
The original bathroom was the mirror image of the hall bath, the original 1930's tile and fixtures. For the master bathroom we decided to remove the old bathtub and install a walk-in shower with glass wall enclosure. We installed eight by three inch subway tiles, marble tile floor and modern sink and medicine cabinet. The shower body has a rain soaking shower head, as well as a hand held shower wand. As an aside, the reason we did not put the walk in shower in the hallway bath was because of resale. Someone buying a two bedroom apartment may have a child and require a bath tub for them. It should also be noted that bathrooms and kitchens add a great deal of value to apartment, so we did not skimp on materials.

Last -  but certainly not least is the doorway. You were probably wondering why I chose the original condition of the door for the main blog site. Well, it was the beginning, entering into the apartment by that door. It started our vision, to create an apartment that was in keeping with the traditional prewar style, but with a modern flair. The door was a bit battered, had too many holes for locks that were not needed, but under the layers of paint would be a beautiful silver patina door that was the original to the apartment. 

Hall After

We replaced all the doors in the apartment, seven to be exact, but we saved the front door because of it's true beauty, scars and all. I guess no different than the experience of dealing with an extensive renovation. I assure you, you come out with some scars too.

 But in the end we love our new home, so all the effort was worth it in - The End!!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Almost There

While we have had a number of issues with the renovation of the apartment, I can say that progress has been generally good and the work done in a timely manner. We have stayed within budget and have been able add a few extra touches, such as dimmer switches for all the lights, as well as built in closets.

All the walls are up and skim coating of the walls and ceilings are well under way.  If you are not sure what skim coating is, have a look a technique attached below.

Skim coating techniques:

Before Skim Coating
Skim Coating

The floors has been prepared and we are choosing the stain color. All preparation, planning and monitoring has worked so far and by my next post I should be in a position to show the completed product with before and after photo’s, so stay tuned! 

Renovation Update - Progress Management

Laying out the tiles
During your renovation, it is a good idea to ensure that you are monitoring progress and discussing any issues as they arise with your contractor. This will ensure that you stay on target as best you can and address issues immediately. As an example, some of the challenges I came across were tile placement. We purchased tiles that had a marble like look and required laying the tiles out before being installed to ensure the flow of light and dark tiles we evenly placed. 

Completed Project
We had asked the contractor if he was comfortable ensuring that the tiles would be distributed evenly, and we provided him a photo of the lay out we had from the tile shop where we saw the display. The contractor said they understood and would lay the tiles out accordingly. Needless to say, when the first wall went up they had used all darker tiles and there was an abundance of light tiles for the remainder of the bathroom. 

When this was brought to the contractor’s attention, he said, "it is a matter of opinion”. We had the contractor take down the tiles and laid out the tiles on our own in the middle of the living room floor for them to copy in the bathroom. We was forced to buy additional tiles but the contractor agreed to eat the cost of taking down and reinstalling as we originally suggested. Had we not been on top of the renovation the job may have been completed and we would have had a much more difficult time getting the contractor to fix the problem, and we would have had to buy a lot more tiles.

So the lesson remains, if you are not living in the space, make sure that you visit the site daily – or at least arrange with the contractor to view work that could be left to interpretation.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Interview - Angie Hicks, Founder of Angie's List

Since I have been blogging about renovations and how to choose a contractor, I thought it would make sense to interview Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List, a service that provides recommendations for quality service providers, as well as doctors.

Angie’s List is now a publically traded company closing at $14.07 a share on Friday, 4 May.

I was able to get Angie to answer a few questions for me and here is what she had to say to the questions she allowed:

Q: Angie’s list was established in 1995. What made you decide to start this business?
A: I was asked to start the business by Bill Oesterle, my co-founder. He’d recently moved to the Columbus, Ohio area and was having trouble finding reliable contractors to help with his home renovation. He had used a similar service in Indianapolis and thought they could help fill the need for other homeowners in the same situation.

Q:There are other service providers such as Service Magic in this space. What differentiates you?
A: Angie’s List approaches the idea of connecting homeowners and contractors/service professionals from the mindset of the consumer. We collect information about actual experiences to give consumers an idea of how each company performs. Our business model begins with a subscription fee from the consumer. We do not allow anonymous reports and we encourage companies to monitor and respond (free of charge) to the reports.  Once a company is reviewed by a consumer and starts to accumulate reports, other opportunities arise. If the company can first earn and then retain high grades, it is eligible to advertise its services. We also offer group coupons from those who are eligible to advertise with us. The consumer grades are key to eligibility, and if the grades fall, the advertising is pulled.  We also offer complaint resolution and a monthly magazine.

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect, for you, in providing this service to the public?  
A: Helping consumers find reliable information BEFORE they hire is the best reward.

Q: When did Angie’s list go public?
A: November 16, 2011.

Q: How many and employees do you currently have?
A: About 900

Q: What are your current revenue’s?
A: Please refer to our S1 statement filed with the SEC

Q: What plans are there for expansion?
A: We are now offering referrals for Doctors and planning to go into other areas of referral, but I can not disclose that at this time. 

It was very generous of Angie to take her time and respond to my questions. She has an impressive website and if you are considering a renovation I would highly recommend that you look into the service provided by Angie's List. All the best in your endeavors.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Renovation Issue Update and Narrative

I wanted to provide you with an update on the kitchen cabinet issue I was having between American Classic Kitchen (ACK), the distributor, and the manufacturer Wood-Mode (WM).

If you recall there were several issues I described in Another Frustration, where the distributor and manufacturer – specifically - were being difficult in supplying me with replacement cabinets covered under a warranty. The reason behind the manufacturer’s reluctance was the fact that I owed money to the distributor, not for the cabinets but for the cabinet installation. I tried to reason with WM and explain my reasoning behind holding back payment, but they insisted that they would not honor the warranty until I had paid ACK in full for any and all services. The problem I had with this was that the cabinets I purchased were – in fact – paid in full. I tried to explain to the WM salesman that I was having issues, unrelated to the cabinets, and that I was confused as to why WM felt that they should be in the middle of a dispute that was technically, none of their business or concern.

It was clear to me that WM was protecting ACK and not honoring their warranty without hearing my side of the story. I found this extremely frustrating so I contacted the CEO of WM to explain my side of the story, and stated that if they wanted to play arbitrator then they would have to hear both sides of the story. While the salesman at WM ignored me the CEO did have him reach out for side. Here are the issues I raised:

  • ACK contractors did not show up for four scheduled appointments, and of those missed we took three vacation days to accommodate them being there. In fact we were not informed that they would not be at the work site until we called late each morning to see when they would arrive. All we ever told was “sorry for the confusion”. I believe we should be compensated for our lost vacation time.

  • ACK’s kitchen installers advised us that they would not put down paper to cover the work area, floors and counters, and that it was our responsibility, which is unheard of for a contractor. We had our general contractor put down the paper and remove it for $125.00 each time. So with our missed appointments, that was four times we paid to have the coverage installed and removed.

  • There were 2 base cabinets that were damaged upon the initial delivery (in addition to doors and drawer fronts that were broken). To have the base cabinets replaced we would have had to wait several weeks, delaying completion of the installation of the kitchen, and ability to move into the apartment. The fact was, the damage would not be visible but given the premium cost of the cabinets we should receive some compensation. We discussed this with our ACK sales representative who saw the damage, took pictures. He communicated to us that he understood, believed we should be compensated, would discuss it with his boss, and go ahead and install the base cabinets. We discussed the cost of replacing the cabinets and “minimally” to refund the delivery charge of $675 as compensation. It wasn’t until we came close to completion that ACK stated that they would not provide compensation.  

  • Then there was misrepresentation of the cabinets we bought. When deciding on material we were advised of two choices, MDF, a man made composite material, or maple. The ACK salesman informed us that the main difference was there would be no splits at the joints of the cabinet doors and drawer facings for over ten years with the MDF, and five of six years for the maple. Given these facts we decided on maple. However, when the cabinets were received there was significant splitting on several doors and drawer fronts. When we raised this to WM they stated that we should never have been told that and that ACK was wrong in doing so. We should never have told us that. The WM rep. further stated that the "splits were normal" and WM would not replace the materials for this reason. Had we known this we would have chosen the MDF, rather than the maple.  

There are a few other issues, least of all the time, energy and emotion we had been spent on this kitchen, as example, ACK had made several mistakes in measurements that delayed trim work and cabinet installation. I found them to be very sloppy in many areas. One last interesting fact, the salesman at ACK, that sold me the cabinets, no longer works at ACK, a fact shared with me by the WM salesman. This only validates my case.

I shared all these details with WM’s CEO and salesman and suggested what I believed to be fair compensation. ACK offered me a pittance of what I asked for, as an example, $78.38 for the delivery charge. I declined the offer. Unfortunately WM sided with ACK and will only send me a replacement for one broken drawer. ACK does not believe I deserve anything for wasted vacation time or misrepresentation of their cabinets. I still owe money to ACK and will not pay until they take accountability and fairly compensate me for my inconveniences.

What lesson did I learn here? First, ACK is in the New York Design Center and I believed that I would be safe from poor practices going to this supposed “high end” distributor, which was obviously not the case. The other lesson is; I was correct in the statement that I have mentioned throughout the blog, always hold back some money from anyone who is doing work for you. While I had a lot of aggravation I did not have the double if paying my hard earned money for it as well. 

I just returned from business trip and will start conversations with design center to formally complain about ACK and WM. I have also received a bill from ACK's attorney seeking payment in full. I would pay if it was deserved. More fun ahead!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Renovation in Motion

Now that you have made all your difficult decisions, completed your plans, chosen your materials and hired your contractor, you can just sit back and relax, Fat Chance!

My experience tells me, that with all the planning in the world you will hit many bumps and have navy aesthetic choices to make along the way that will require you to make decision after decision. It is important that you are readily available to discuss the issues with your contractor(s) because any delay on your part will slow down the project, and it will be on you.

Some of the post start-up issues that will come up are aesthetic that you probably would not consider when you started out.

For example:

If you are installing tiles:

Tile layout

What cuts and direction would you like the tiles? This photo shows the layout of tiles that required the proper mixing of light and dark.

Wall Height(master)

What is the exact height that you would like the tiles to come up on a bathroom wall? Notice the photo to the right has the tiles coming up 50 inches.

What color grout would you like?

If you are painting:

What color do you want for the walls?

What color for the doors and trim?

Should you use a flat, eggshell or semi gloss?

The list goes on. I promise there will be no shortage of decisions that will have to be made on a daily basis. If your contractor(s) are not asking you questions, be very concerned. They may be taking liberties and making aesthetic decisions on your behalf. In my experience when this happens and you have not been paying attention, they may not want to make a change or will convince you that “their” way is best.

If you can, make sure that you go over the details of what is being done each day. If you see something you do not like, bring it to the contractor’s attention immediately. Let them know that you are on the ball and paying attention to the details. This will serve you and your contractor well in the long run.

Monday, April 9, 2012

How To Choose A Contractor

This can be one of the most difficult decisions you will make. Choosing a contractor can be as complicated as finding a business partner or hiring a long time employee.

Let’s face it, not only will you be practically living with them, you will be spending a lot of your hard earned money on them and very precious time. If you have friends and/or people you know and trust who have done some similar renovations, you are well ahead of the game, and communicating with these parties will be as a good a place to start as any. If you don’t as I suspect many of you do not, here is my recommendation on “how to choose a contractor”: 
  • Regardless of where the contractor comes from, you should also check with your local Better Business Bureau to see if there are any negative feedback about the contractors you are considering.
  • Ask each contractor for a minimum of three references of his most recent jobs completed, including the scope of the work; time to completion; problems they came up on and their resolution.
  • If possible visit each worksite and talk directly to the contractor’s previous clients. Ask them if they would hire the contractor again; if there were any problems that were difficult to resolve.
  • Thoroughly review all your bids. Make sure that you understand what the bids include and do not include. Be wary of contractors that come in too low, they are often the ones who want the job desperately and may be dishonest oh what things will cost.
  • Make sure you have a fair and reasonable contract, which details all the work to included and work to be excluded; and time to completion. If possible see if the contractor will be willing to have a penalty clause where he will decrease his fee if he does not live up to his time frame. Depending on your time frame, you may want to also consider a bonus if they are done sooner.

There is a Consumer Report that will give you more detailed questions to ask, and things to consider. From my experience, if the contractor is desperate to start and has no current work my advice is to be very cautions and be sure to do your homework on them. Good contractors will always have work, even in a slow economy, will have to schedule you in advance and will not be the cheapest. Remember, you do get what you pay for.