My wife and I are still married. That's my greatest achievement as we pass the two and a half year mark as owners of our house at 310 Adams Street (featured on the December Home Tour). For both Laura and me, purchasing a shell of a house was a leap into the unknown. We both saw the potential in the long neglected 2- story house, and with enthusiasm that only the love-struck and naïve possess, we paid too much to the seller in 2002 and started what I assured her would be a 6-month project.
Sixteen months later we finally moved into our dream house (still unfinished). Since then, we've heard many "How did you do it?" questions. Sometimes they refer to technical points (the thickness of our sheetrock, or stripping and staining all the interior wood trim, for example). Just as often, the question refers to the two of us, as in "How did you survive this project and not get divorced?" I know that many readers of this newsletter have "been there, done that" in their own house, so what follows are a few humble suggestions for anyone who is about to start or who is in the process of a home restoration project. Whether you are tackling this project as a team or one of you is doing all the work and the other is just trying to stay sane, the tips below are for you. It is my hope that they might save a relationship or two in the neighborhood we love.
Don't make a budget. Budgets only lead to difficult questions frequently followed by arguments when it becomes clear that the project can't possibly be completed without "overspending." If you must write a budget with your contractor, never discuss it with your spouse/partner.
Don't make a timetable, for the same reason you don't want a budget. Hold on to the notion that it's just a 6- month project for as long as possible. When you've exceeded that, just continue to sound optimistic. Avoid questions, and if necessary, blame it on your contractor. Never say, "Rome wasn't built in a day." Just keep that thought to yourself.
Don't try to live in the house until the project is complete. If you don't already have a place to live, try living with relatives or housesitting. When you've exhausted those possibilities, rent something "temporarily" until the house is mostly habitable. Don't worry about how this impacts the budget, since you don't have one.
Whenever you have to choose between a quick, cheap, B-grade (budgeted?) fix and a better, slower, more expensive (change order?) solution, always go for the latter. Remember, you'll only get this one chance to do most aspects of the project right. In the long run (if you make it to the long run), you'll be happy that you did.
Keep your fingers crossed. If you're as lucky as I was, your spouse will be very patient and very forgiving. John Hartman