Hi Everyone!

It’s been a two solid years since my last post. Seems that this little blog is still getting traffic. Although, the renovation officially ended two years ago, I’m still doing small projects here and there. And the renovation got some good press on a few design blogs- Aphrochic and Sweeten

I’ve also started working on another renovation in New Orleans.  You can view the progress of that project Here. And if you’re starting your own renovation soon and looking to hire some expert advice, please reach out to me.

Thanks everyone for all your support!

Completed Kitchen

This post first appeared on Brownstoner on September 23, 2014

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The summer has been incredibly busy. The house is about 90 percent complete. Due to budget constraints the garden will have to wait until next year. But the good news is that the kitchen is finished! Last we left off, I had picked out a marble countertop. I’ve been living with the marble for almost a month now and so far so good. Two dinner parties with lots of red wine and accidental lemon spills and the marble is still going strong.

The marble countertop was installed by the fabricator and the entire process took about an hour. At the end of the installation the team applied a professional grade sealant on the marble. Sealant is key to keeping marble mostly stain free. It has also helped that I picked a slab of marble with lots of imperfections. My slab was already flawed, what’s a few stains here and there? Plus it was much cheaper!

The cabinets are Ikea, which I’m less than thrilled with at the moment. I already need to replace one of the drawers due to poor alignment. The dishwasher and refrigerator are both Fisher Paykel and are floor models purchased on eBay at about 60 percent off retail. The stove is NXR and was purchased at Costco. The wood floating shelves were custom made.

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Finished Bathrooms

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This post first appeared on Brownstoner.com on November 17, 2014

Designing the bathrooms in a narrow house was a challenge. One option was to forgo having an office to accommodate a massive long master bathroom. I’ve never been the type of person that needed a huge home or bathroom — and I always wondered who were those people on HGTV that insisted on having double vanities. So the smaller but fully functional master bath won out.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The en suite master bath is in no way tiny. It does have a tub and standing shower but there isn’t much room in there except for the necessities and I’m fine with that. The master floor tiles came from a company in California. I searched high and low for inexpensive patterned concrete tiles and there isn’t such a thing.

And the electrician put the bathroom sconce too low. To remedy that problem, I need to a find a horizontal medicine cabinet.

To save on costs, the new guest bathroom is actually an existing bathroom off the hall in the old house configuration. Crazy how much money you can save by not moving plumbing. The downside is that things are really tight but cozy. The Moroccan-inspired floor tiles in the guest bathroom, pictured above, were also pricey but luckily I didn’t need a lot. And at the store where I purchased them, if your designer or architect places the order then you get a 10 to 15 percent discount, depending on the style. The wall tiles are from Overstock.com.

I’m debating adding a shower enclosure to the claw foot tub. Reviews from my few overnight guests have been mixed. My mom loved not having an enclosure, as did my friends who stayed over with their kids. But another set of friends said the current setup was awkward. But I must say, I love not sharing a bathroom with guests. Continue reading

Selecting countertops

This post first appeared on Brownstoner.com on July 3, 2014

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As you may recall, in our last installment, I was dealing with the “no-show” plumber and was in the process of firing him. Firing a plumber is actually much more difficult than I thought. The plumber has to agree to withdraw his permit from the job or agree to allow another plumber to work under his permit, or the owner has to send a letter to the DOB outlining his negligence, and after review the plumber could be removed.

Well, my plumber would not agree to withdrawing on his own, and going the DOB route would add weeks if not months to an already delayed job. In the end, I was stuck with him.  He continued to leave work half done, late and unacceptable. In the end, I  ignored his objections and had another plumber finish the work. The real drama may ensue when he has to close the job.

This renovation has literally been a second full-time job. But in the middle of the madness comes the fun stuff. And for me, the fun stuff is picking out finishes such as countertops.

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Are there any good plumbers

This post first appeared on Brownstoner.com on May 24, 2014

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Last we left off things were moving along at a steady pace. The electrical work was moving and my contractor had started the framing. And I started working with a garden designer, hopeful that I could even tackle the backyard before summer.  And I also put my rental on the market — it rented in two weeks. You can read about the rental updates here. What do they say about nothing good lasts forever?

First problem was finding a plumber who was within my very limited 203K budget. The budget was $8,000 and included updated one existing bathroom, one new full bathroom, one half bath,washer/dryer connection, and plumbing for the kitchen. The plumber I wanted to use and does amazing work was just too expensive — his bid came in at more than double the plumbing budget. I asked around for a few recommendations and interviewed a few plumbers.

The plumber I chose came highly recommended but more importantly he was within budget.  Well, everything started off right but then he disappeared for a few weeks. Daily calls, angry voicemails and promises to show up landed us three weeks behind schedule. Which means I’ll be camping out with friends after June 1 for a few weeks until at least one of the rooms and a bathroom is completed. I’m in the process of firing the plumber.

But I’m incredibly thankful for my amazing support system — including the Brownstoner community who tell me to keep pushing and that one day it will all be worth it.

Above, the kitchen in the rear of the parlor floor with its electrical, framing and Sheetrock. Click through to the jump for more photos of the progress or lack thereof.

Renting the one bedroom

We’re about five weeks away from being completed in the duplex. Will everything be done in five weeks? Who knows but I just listed the rental unit- click here. I might be pushing the price slightly for the location but hey a studio next door is asking $1900. We’ll see how it goes.
Here are some before and after photos. I apologize that not all the pictures were taken from the same angle.

Here’s what changed in the rental.

Bathroom:
New tiles, shower head and medicine cabinet. I kept the tub, toilet and sink. I painted the vanity and added a faucet . I also, moved the door to bathroom from the bedroom to the hallway.
Bathroom Before:
Old bathroom

Photos after the break…..

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Starting work on the owners duplex- FINALLY

This post was first published on brownstoner.com on April 9, 2014- as part of our cross blogging partnership

Prior tenant moving out

Prior to tenant moving out

After six months of legal wrangling, eviction notices, numerous stays on those notices and calls, the tenant I inherited finally moved a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, she was living in the owner’s unit (I have been living in one of the rentals). Since then it has been non-stop work at the house. The day after the tenant vacated my contractor started the demo work, above, and the following week he was onto framing. Continue reading

Choosing a Contractor

This post first appeared on Brownstoner on January 16th 2014- as part of our cross blogging partnership

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When I told people I was buying a fixer upper in Bed Stuy, one of the more popular responses was a warning about horrible contractor experiences. Needless to say, I was a little nervous about the entire prospect of finding a reputable contractor.

Choosing a contractor with a 203K loan is a bit of a process. First the 203K consultant will come and write up a report on the amount of work that needs to be completed. Work such as electrical and plumbing upgrades, and a new roof (if needed) would be the work that would come first in the consultant’s estimate. Next is the work that you want to complete — cosmetic things like new kitchens, new bathrooms, and flooring. Cosmetic upgrades will really depend on the loan amount and the amount of structural, plumbing, electrical and roofing work that needs to be done. Next, the consultant will give you two reports. One report will have all the work outlined along with the estimated costs. The other report will have only the outline of the work without the costs. This is the version you will give to contractors to bid against.

I sent out bid requests to three contractors but really any number you feel comfortable with is fine. One contractor was recommended by my architect, one recommend by my real estate agent and one by the Brownstoner Forum.  Two bids were very close and the third bid was so low that it led me to believe the contractor didn’t really read the work outline. In the end, I chose the contractor recommended by my architect because his bid was comprehensive and he was certified by the bank.

Now here comes the curve ball. Last year, there weren’t a lot of comps in Bed Stuy to support the rising prices — which resulted in a low appraisal. Because of the low appraisal, the loan amount was reduced and as a result of that, the scope of renovation work was also reduced. The contractor had to submit a new bid for the bank reflecting the changes. And to make matters worse, a few months later I had to change banks (the subject of a future post) and we had to do everything again for the third time.

My relationship with my contractor has been mixed. He’s done a lot of work that has been above and beyond — plus he’s been flexible with my tight budget. But..there has been some issues with the quality of the work but he usually does his best to fix them right away. He’s not part of a big firm, so he doesn’t have as much money to float a project like this, which puts pressure on everyone. But again, overall, I know things could be so much worse.

What’s new in 2014

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The New Year came and went and I still have the Section 8 tenant I’ve been trying to evict still in place. Which means I’m no closer to beginning the renovations in the duplex. She missed her December rent and we had an eviction date but the judge not only gave her a stay but allowed her to back out of the agreement and pay December and January rent late. I was out of town for the “stay” hearing , so not actually sure what she told the judge. Plus, she’s had a new section 8 voucher for several months now, which leads me to believe she’s waiting on a payoff from me that will never come.  Tenant court in this city is such a joke. The next eviction date is February 28th- please send me all the positives vibes you can.

But the good news is that my other tenants are doing great and life is the rental is quite good. Oh and I’ve been getting along great with the neighbors. They’ve been really looking out for me and even been helping with shoveling snow and encouraging me to keep going with the renovations.  All in all things are pretty good.

Bed Stuy Reno: First 203K Inspection

This post first appeared on Brownstoner on December 12, 2013- as part of our cross blogging partnership

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From the contractor’s perspective, the 203K inspection is probably the single most important part of the 203K process. The contractor doesn’t get paid for his work until an inspection actually takes place.

But let’s take a step back. The 203K inspection is the official FHA inspection of the property, and it can only be done by the 203K consultant. When applying for the 203K loan, you are required to select a consultant. Based on budget and the scope of work, the consultant determines the number of “draws.” Draws are the total number of payments and inspections.

My project has a total of five draws. I selected my consultant based on the feedback I got on Brownstoner Forum last year. My consultant has been great and even gave tips to make the process go more smoothly.

When to schedule a draw? How it works is that your contractor will complain to you about how he’s low on cash and then you will tell him he needs to finish more stuff before you call the consultant. (I’m only slightly joking about this.) Prior to the first inspection, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

I frantically emailed Pamela from the blog So We’re Buying a House! and asked a million questions, such as “do I have to fill out this crazy FHA form?” Pamela patiently answered all my questions by telling me not to worry about the inspection, and that the consultant will complete all the forms and he will determine the percentage of work completed.

The day of the consultant’s visit my contractor actually cleaned up! Cleaning is not his strong point but I was impressed that there were no longer paint cans and equipment just laying around. (Above, one of the kitchens about four or five weeks into construction. It looks totally different now.)

The consultant came and took lots of photos of all the work and asked the contractor questions. The entire process took about 30 to 45 minutes. A day or two later the consultant sent me and the contractor the official report reflecting the amount of work completed to date and the amount the contractor is to be paid by the bank.  The owner and the contractor both have to sign the form. The form is then sent to the bank by the consultant, and like magic a check arrives that you and the contractor both sign.

And all is well for a couple weeks until your contractor starts complaining about getting paid again. Next up: How to find a contractor for a 203K renovation.