I am a strong believer in “when something is meant to be, it just happens”. Take our new home. We were doing most of our research on the Internet and Sexy Hubby spotted a house he thought was pretty. We viewed it on a Saturday, liked it but there were several question marks. Walking out, I noticed the adjacent house seemed to be empty. I thought it looked wonderful and asked the estate agent whether he knew the property was for sale too. His answer was yes, but he did not know who the agent was. I had a strong gut feeling about it, so I decided to find out.
Before we drove home, Sexy Hubby filled up the car and bought the local papers. In one of them, I spotted a tiny advert and wondered if the house described was “the one”. I rang on the Monday and asked for the description to be sent to me. I received it per email on Tuesday and, lo and behold, it was the dream house. I immediately rang again and made an appointment to view it the following day. And I fell in love. I have what we jokingly call between us “the vision”. It means that I can see past the state of the house and imagine what it will look like once the work is done. Sexy Hubby absolutely cannot do this, so he just has to trust me! I made a second appointment for the Saturday to come with Sexy Hubby and a friend of ours, who is an architect. After that second visit, I was even surer about it and Sexy Hubby liked it too. The three of us sat down and prepared a renovation budget. Then we made an offer, slightly lower than the asking price. On Monday, we heard the owners had accepted it.
Now if I could give one piece of advice, it would be: “Listen to the people who know”. In our case, our friend the architect, who told us to be realistic and expect completion of the work at the end of November when beginning mid-July. I did not believe him and argued that we did not want Second Daughter to start the new school year in her current school and then arrive in the new one once everybody had settled in already. I thought – Sexy Hubby was more cautious – that eight weeks would be enough. Our penthouse flat was as good as sold, with the buyers paying the asking price. Only there was a delay in the confirmation of their financing, which meant that we had to postpone our solicitor’s appointment by two weeks. Our eight-week planning changed to six weeks…
Next on the list was finding builders. I searched local firms and our architect friend was kind enough to come to the meetings I had set up. Kitchen, electricity, heating and roof companies were found that way. We still needed a “general” builder and went for the one recommended by our new neighbours. We were ready and the work was to begin on the first Monday of August. Except that on the Friday, General Builder came to the house and announced that he could not start on Monday due to delays on his current worksites. I went ballistic and told him this was not my problem and to find a solution, as he knew how tight our schedule was. We had asked him MANY times if he could really take this on and he had assured us it would be fine. The following day, he rang me and said he had found three people, who could work the whole of August. I breathed a – heavy – sigh of relief.
I had expected General Builder to work as well at least part of the time, but he barely came to check late in the afternoon a couple of times a week. Not what I had had in mind, so it was a good job that I managed to free my time to spend hours on the building site every day. A few examples of what I had to deal with:
1. Mould: the previous owners had gone for inside insulation, not a good idea with a house originally built in 1860… Only four ground floor rooms were affected, but of course that was enough to set us right back time wise.
2. The Angel of Doom: this is the name I gave one of the builders. As soon as I arrived, he would shake his head and flail his arms, delivering bad news in a sepulchral voice. He was one of the original three builders and was there with his son. After two weeks, he announced that the two of them had to work on another building site for a couple of days and would then come back. They never did.
3. Desperately trying to find builders: see previous point! After a week of them not turning up and not answering their phone, it was clear we had to find a solution. General Builder was by then on holidays – this we knew about before we started – and not answering his phone either. In addition, the promised fourth man that was supposed to start on the bathroom never turned up. So we approached our last builder and asked him if he knew someone. Yes, a “Bekannte” (acquaintance). We had to smile as this sounded like something out of The Godfather, but the Bekannte certainly delivered. When he promised to come with a certain number of people, he did, and on time. Unlike General Builder, we recommend the Bekannte to everybody we know.
4. Trashed round bushes in the garden: the guys thought it would be a good idea to simply throw through the windows the planks from the ceiling they were gutting on the first floor. NOT a good idea.
5. Rubbish management: we became one of the best customers of a local skip company and our builders were quite good at adding only the stuff that was supposed to go in the containers. The problem was wood and metal, as well as odd bits and pieces, which had to be collected separately. I tried again and again to explain that we had a pile for each, to no avail. So every Saturday, Sexy Hubby and I spent an hour or two sorting out rubbish.
6. Pulling off old wallpaper: in order to speed up things, since I was there every day anyway, I offer to help removing the wallpaper in what was going to become our two studies. Sexy Hubby helped at the weekend too. Only we found out that it was not one layer, but several… I felt like Sisyphus at times. Needless to say, there is not a scrap of wallpaper in the house now.
Those are only a few stories, but I have to keep a couple for my Part II post, which I will publish next week. In the meantime, I leave you with a few “before and after” photos of the kitchen and the second bathroom, where the transformation was the most spectacular.