Expected expenses and sneaky expenses

My contractor got married on Saturday and took Sunday and Monday off to honeymoon, so there’s been no change on the destruction/construction front.

When you start a project like this, you know about the big expenses–remodeling projects cost way more than you would ever think reasonable, but you sort of expect that and you rearrange your financial life to accommodate. You even expect budget increases due to the infamous “while we’re at it, we might as well…” syndrome, and then there’s the extra costs of eating out, eating prepared foods, and so on. What you DON’T expect are the sneaky little incidental expenses, viz.:

Plastic crates for the kitchen stuff that needs to remain quasi-accessible for basic survival. $36.

Moving boxes for everything else. Got lucky there: borrowed boxes from friend and office. $0.

New mattress pad and water vinyl mattress case, after cat expresses displeasure at household upheaval. $54.

Dual-burner Coleman camping stove and gallon of white fuel for cooking outside for the next three months. $72.

Having found rat scat all over the insulation where Jon opened up the walls, I now know my rat situation is as bad as I’d feared it was. Jon commented that on a recent job he encountered a foot-long (plus tail) rat so dead and dessicated it had “the consistency of a Cheeto.” His colorful description evoked giggles, shudders, and the memory of having to evict several somethings similar from my crawlspace a few months ago. Ugh. I plan to buy more rat poison refills. $25.

Chaos reigneth

The last few weeks have been a nightmare, only partly due to the kitchen remodel.

Three weeks ago, we agreed on the various contract revisions and I signed my life away. Meanwhile, Akhnaten opened at Oakland Opera Theatre (http://www.oaklandoperatheatre.org), and I was spending much of my life in the pit. The week before last I spent in North Carolina taking a class for work, and I returned home for five nightmarish days of catching up on the work that had piled up while I was gone, three more operas, and packing up my kitchen, music room, and dining room. Then I packed myself and left on a mini-vacation to New England with Bufflehead (http://www.bufflehead.org), the Northwest morris clog dance team for which I play trumpet and tuba. We were performing in the 29th annual Marlboro Morris Ale, which was great fun, and I spent a few extra days touring New England afterward.

While I was gone, demolition began. The kitchen is now down to the studs, and a few forlorn appliances are lurking in the corner of what was the music room and will become the dining room. The dining room is a messy pile of whatever I couldn’t quite get to packing away, the hallway is the pantry, and the half bath’s sink, a refrigerator, a microwave, and a tea kettle are now all I have to call my kitchenette. It feels like I’m camping in my house. This morning I attempted to scramble eggs in the microwave (something I used to know how to do) and produced a grayish puck that was only barely edible.

The cats have been sequestered upstairs in the master suite, which I’m thinking of as their apartment. They’re fairly comfortable, and both David and I are making a point of hanging out with them in their apartment, but understandably, they’re unhappy about all the chaos. Norton expressed his displeasure on my bed. Argh. Can’t say I blame him, but washing all the bedding is not how I planned to celebrate my return home.

Jon came over today with Cabinet Guy’s drawings, and we went through them and compulsively double-checked every possible detail, since these are the drawings he’ll be building from. Checking cabinetry measurements seems easy on the face of it, but you always have to add half an inch for sheetrock here, 3/4in for underlayment and tile there, and so on, until you don’t trust your instincts on anything anymore and you need to draw everything onto the studs and the subfloor just to make it concrete enough to understand.

First water all the lawyers

I’m currently mired in the paperwork stage. My next door neighbors are lawyers who kindly agreed to review the contracts for cocktails, so after three rounds of sidecars, I had a short list of action items to take up with my contractor, who is now updating his contract and also negotiating some changes with the cabinetry subcontractor. The latter is the only particularly interesting point.

Cabinets are by far the biggest line item in the whole project’s budget, and among the least dispensable–I have relatively little space to work with, and custom cabinets are the key both to maximizing the usability of the kitchen and to making a shoe-horned design look like soemthing. The plan is Euro-style frameless construction with flush doors (vertical grain) and drawer fronts (horizontal grain), with four-panel-and-glass upper cabinets on one end of the kitchen. Key features are some bookshelves and a shallow pantry taking the place of the current main entry, with round shelves to make the transition from the wall. The round-shelf transitional motif is repeated on either side of the cabinets over the sink and over the bar.

So about that contract… Cabinet Guy says he’ll make my custom cabinets in about four weeks. Cabinet Guy’s contract says that he’ll begin work in 2 weeks and complete work 5 weeks later. He wants 30% on signing, 30% after one week, 30% after the second week, and the remainder upon completion. Yes, that’s right–he has 90% of his money before he says he’ll even have the work underway, and he has 100% of the money when they go to the refinisher, who makes delivery god knows when. I don’t think so!

My lawyer friend suggests two remedies: changing the payment milestones so that they’re tied to performance, or paying the installments by credit card (mine, not my contractor’s), so that the purchase is protected by my credit card’s residential/consumer purchase protection rules (or whatever they’re called). The catch is that Cabinet Guy wants a 3% upcharge for payments by credit card. Once again, I don’t think so! I’m asking for one of two changes: payments tied to performance, or remove the 3% upcharge and I pay for the cabinets directly on my credit card rather than writing checks to my contractor.

Yet another blog. But why?

People always tell their remodeling stories as horror comedies, but this is after the fact, when both the horror and the humor of them can be safely amped up. I’m wondering how it might go to tell the story while it’s happening. I’ll try to illustrate the process, too, replacing the usual before-and-after duality with a continuum.