Thursday, February 13, 2014

Changing the House You Love


When my husband and I were house-hunting here in San Francisco, I talked him into looking at this huge, old Victorian mansion. It was a historic landmark and was where the  head of the Church of Latter Day Saints died in the late 1800s. The place was technically in our price range, but it needed a new roof, all new windows, new electrical, and it had about four too many sinks. There were sinks in the most unexpected corners of formal rooms. It also had carved wood paneling, a back staircase, secret passageways and a bunch of fireplaces.

Needless to say, I wanted that house. And I wanted it bad. I could see us doing a blog/book/reality show about our renovations of the house and ensuing divorce and/or spousal aggravated homicide. We could start out on HGTV and then move right to Snapped: Women Who Kill and then a guest spot on Orange is the New Black. Seemed like a savvy business move to me.

Needless to also say, we didn't buy that house. My husband and our Realtor conspired against me and told me to get a grip on reality, and not the show kind.  So we bought the next best thing: A smaller, slightly newer, better maintained Edwardian house with an appropriate number of sinks and only one that needed to be replaced.

We started renovations immediately. Now, eight months after my move into this house, I am starting to see that even this simpler renovation is creating so much chaos and upheaval, I can't imagine how I could have coped with anything larger.

We've already completed some major projects, including having hardwood installed on three staircases, and painting the exterior of the house. Currently, we are having the kitchen gutted and redone, including a small addition, as well as four rooms in the top floor painted. The top floor also got some new electrical and new wet-bar improvements. Next up: Renovating the master bathroom and having the rest of interior painted.

All of this got me to thinking: How many people move into a house and make major changes in it, just months after moving in?  Moving seems to naturally precede renovating or - at the very least - redecorating. If you bought a house and loved every single thing about it, including the color of every wall, you probably bought the house for all the wrong reasons. Even if you love, love, love that house that you just bought, it won't be long before you want to start making changes.

Not all home renovations are smart. According to HGTV's Homekeeping, there are at least 25 big mistakes you can make when renovating your home. Things like buying cheap materials, inaccurate measurements, avoiding permits and skipping prep are shortcuts that you'll most likely regret. Mistakes like going too trendy and ignoring your home's style are usually made by first-time home-buyers who can't see past their visions of a dream house.

One of the big 25 mistakes is failure to anticipate chaos. "I see this time and time again where people just start, and they think they're going to pull a piece of wallpaper off, and by the time the process is over, they've completely gotten themselves into a deep, dark hole that's very difficult to get out of," adds Eric Stromer of Over Your Head.

That "deep, dark hole" is a familiar place for me. Our home renovations projects have consistently been more complicated, more expensive and more chaotic than we ever expected. But let's face it: If we knew how chaotic home renovation would be, we might not tackle it in the first place.

That big Victorian mansion with all the sinks? It was bought by someone. We drove past it a few weeks ago and saw that the windows had been replaced and the exterior was painted. Who knows what other gorgeous improvements have been made on the inside. Or maybe that's where the chaos is going on. I'd love to knock on the door and offer an encouraging word. And offer them my spot on This Old House.


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

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