My wife and I live in a house. We like our house. It has rooms and sinks and windows; it comes with electricity and air conditioning. We even like the people in our house, namely the two young boys who have completed one-third of their operation to destroy it.
Like most homeowners with young children, my wife and I often find ourselves walking across the middle of the den screaming unspeakable words. We do this when we step on toys the size of Bic lighters with edges that pierce like a staple gun.
If you’re a parent, you know this pain. And without fail, it leads to a conversation between mom and dad that goes something like this: “We need a bigger house.”
Meghan and I had this conversation about two days after unloading the boxes in our just-purchased home. Yes, that sounds ludicrous (and it’s a bit facetious, because everything else in this column is so serious), but it didn’t take long to realize we needed some room.
About seven months ago, we got serious about renovating our home. The master suite is a mess, with nooks and crannies everywhere, even if I technically don’t know what a cranny is. We also needed to open our kitchen to have a better view of our sons eating the lava rocks lining the fireplace.
Our first meeting was with a local Realtor, just to determine our options. Should we put the house on the market, take what we can get and buy something bigger? Or would it make more sense to invest in some renovations that would either make the home more marketable or more functional for us for another couple of years?
If you own one of the homes in this area that was built in the 1950s, you’ve had this same discussion with a professional.
Meghan and I went the renovation route. Well, that’s what we thought we were going to do.
What I’m about to describe is based on a series of real events. The names have been changed to protect the guilty, and if you get squeamish at the idea of anger, best to look away.
When a family like ours wants to do a mid-sized renovation to a home, we dig through our list of friends who are either 1.) Contractors/builders or, 2.) Sleeping with a contractor/builder. My wife happens to work with the wife of a builder. Bingo.
“Do you have someone who could do this project,” we asked the builder after giving a general explanation of what we wanted done.
“Why certainly I do,” he responded.
A series of phone calls and emails were exchanged with Chris the Contractor and, a few days later, he arrived at our home armed with a notepad and a tape measure. My wife appointed herself superintendent of the project and she walked Chris the Contractor through the project.
“I’ll get back with you in about a week with a bid,” he told Meghan.
After two weeks, we heard nothing back. Fair enough. We figured Chris was a busy guy, and I’ve read that you want a contractor who is busy because it means he does good work.
Another week went by, which instigated a kindly worded email from my wife: “Just checking in…” sort of subject header. Crickets.
After another week, my wife became upset. Chris had disappeared into the valley where all contractors go to hide.
As any husband reading this column knows, the idea of renovating a home means a lot more to the wife than it does some jerk wad like me. If it were up to Neanderthals like us men (is that politically appropriate in these days of flakey feelings?), we’d just put a portable AC in the garage and call it good.
But this is where a caring husband like me has a chance to fulfill civilizations most honest maxim: “Happy wife, happy life.”
I ran into a home designer friend at a local restaurant, and in a moment of pure brilliance, I asked if he knew any contractors who could do a home renovation. He immediately gave me the number of a guy who – and this is a real quote – “… is the best I know.”
Immediately, I called Rick the Renovator, dropped a few names, and asked if he could do our home project.
“Absolutely, I can,” he told me.
That evening, my wife looked at me with the same gazing eyes she had when she walked down the wedding aisle. She was so proud to call me her husband. Beautiful.
Rick the Renovator showed up to our home the next week and I talked him through the project. He carried a notepad and a tape measure. I had seen this movie before.
“How long do you think it will take to get a bid back?” I humbly asked Rick. I didn’t want him to feel any pressure.
“Probably about a week,” he answered, bluntly.
Two weeks later? Nothing. I did better than the “Just checking in…” email. I called Rick and he said he needed to bring his designer out. We met the next weekend, another notepad and tape measure in hand.
“We’ll have you something by next weekend,” Rick told us.
It has been nearly five months since we first met with a contractor to renovate our kitchen and bathroom. We still do not have a single bid.
I don’t know if this is a plea to my small audience or just a moment in which we can all commiserate. Maybe it’s a bit of both, but could someone please help me understand? Do we need to stand at the door with a box full of thousand-dollar bills and drop a few on the sidewalk just to get a forsaken bid for this project?
I asked our builder friend what I might be missing in this futile effort to find some help. He was quite direct in his answer:
“Besides lawyers, we’re probably the most hated people,” he said, knowing that both our wives are lawyers and I happen to be a hated journalist. “Most contractors are just really bad communicators. They may think they can do a job and then can’t, or maybe they’re just scared of the work.”
Or maybe we’ll just keep stepping on staple guns.