Home Remodeling is a Daunting Task

When I was shopping for condos in late 2003, I had two options. Either buy a brand new place that required no work but more money up front, or buy a cheaper place that needed some remodeling done. Unfortunately I chose the latter option, but in hindsight I should have gone with the first option. Remodeling is NOT fun.

I basically have two small bathrooms that need to be completely gutted and put back together again. I’ve known for some time that I can expect to pay in the neighborhood of $8-12K for each bathroom. So what’s step one? Find someone to do the work. That’s pretty much the only step I right? Unfortunately it’s a giant step that is big gamble on my part.

I can go with a big name like The Great Indoors who will handle the design, buy all of my materials, and hire people to do the work. They have a small $99 retainer fee that’s required for them to even talk to you though. The Expo Design Center (owned by Home Depot) is a similar store only they want $750 for a retainer which is refundable when the project is done. I visited both of them today and had to laugh when Expo estimated that the labor cost to remodel each of my bathrooms would be…$19,000. Each! Just for labor! I told them they’d been sniffing too much tile glue.

Another option is to go with a smaller contractor. I met with such a person last week who came to my house, checked out my bathrooms, asked a few questions and said, “The bigger one will cost you $14K. The smaller one $12K.” He offered no detailed explanation as to how he arrived at those numbers other than saying, “I’ve been in the business a long time. I know how much it will cost.” But what if it costs less than that?

Yet another option is to leave the bathrooms as they are. I mean I bought the place, why won’t someone else? I might not be able to sell my condo for as much, but there’s always the gamble of investing $20K+ and never getting that money back again when I sell (which will be in roughly two years).

The final option that is definitely off the table is for me to do the work myself. Hah! I can swing a hammer and measure a wall, but remodeling an entire bathroom is not part of my skill set and I frankly don’t have the time either.

So what should I do? Has anyone in the District gone through a similar battle? Was it a success or a complete nightmare? Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

I should have bought the brand new place.

4 Comments so far

  1. Mary De Luca (unregistered) on September 19th, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

    One of the best ways to go is to ask one of your neighbors or friends for a referral for someone they have used and liked.

    Also try The Kitchen And Bath Factory in Arlington. They recently did a kitchen and bath renovation for a friend of mine and they were professional. They have a website- you can google them.

    You don’t have to do both bathrooms are once. But if you do- ask for a discount. Getting a 10% discount shouldn’t be hard. Also- contact your real estate agent- he or she might also recommend someone that they have used in the past. Or their broker might have a program for recommended contractors- which should also give you a discount.

    I am a realtor and bathrooms and kitchen are the one thing that will always add value to your home. So don’t worry about wasting your money- because you won’t be.

    Most contractors who don’t give you a detailed written estimate are pricing it for what it’s worth it to them- not for what it will cost for materials and labor.

    The question is- what’s really old? or is it retro? Maybe you don’t have to gut the whole thing.


  2. Max (unregistered) on September 19th, 2007 @ 1:20 pm

    Good stuff, Mary. I’ve actually thought about talking to the K&B Factory to see what their estimate comes in at. A neighbor also recommended Case Design.

    I was just talking to a friend about this dilemma. He said that since I have two bathrooms I could do one at a time and take my time doing it. Hire someone to do the demolition. Go buy my own materials and hire a plumber, a tile guy, an electrician, etc. I might end up going that route.

    My condo was built in the 80’s so I wouldn’t call the decor retro by any means. In your opinion as a realtor, when have I spent too much on remodeling? I mean if I spend $15K on a top of the line bathroom, are my chances of getting that money out of the sale good or should I just go middle of the road and spend $5-10K? I know the market has slowed way down so I’m worried I may not get my money’s worth.


  3. Mary De Luca (unregistered) on September 19th, 2007 @ 6:41 pm

    Max- it all depends on how long you plan on staying in your place. You’re doing the remodeling for yourself and will use it. It’s not like you are doing it to put in right back on the market. So put in what you enjoy living in. This place is not only your investment- but your home.

    Without knowing how big your bathrooms are- its hard to tell how much is too much. If it’s an 80s bathroom- do you really need a new tub or toilet? A new vanity is a few hundred bucks, same with a good lighting fixture (usually much less- Home Depot has a nice selection). Brushed nickel fixtures always look nice, don’t age quickly and aren’t that expensive. I do recommend putting in ceramic tile flooring. So the question that’s left is- do you need new tiling around the tub? That is the big job because they will have to put in new dry wall behind it. Maybe you don’t have to tile the whole bathroom and can paint it instead. Buy some Kitchen & Bath magazines to get some ideas.

    You can call a handyman service to put up a new lighting feature and even the plumbing features. A lot of the plumbing services now have handyman services. Like Michael & Sons or Handyman rescue.

    Even if you take the route your friend recommended- you don’t have to do that all at once. But have a plan in place first and do it as your budget allows.

    Feel free to contact me if you want to talk further. Good Luck and I want to see some before and after pictures!


  4. Max (unregistered) on September 19th, 2007 @ 11:09 pm

    Thanks, Mary.

    Trust me – the before pictures would be way too scary to look at!



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