Before and After


someone loved a lot of stonework...

One thing we’ve learned working with our clients, is that they sometimes have difficulty picturing the finished product. 

 We use a 3D software program called Chief Architect and give our clients the plans on a USB flash drive to take home.  They can wander around the house in 3D and, even though they can’t change anything they see on the screen right then and there, they can take notes for their next meeting with Rick.  That allows them to see how the kitchen relates to the family room and the entry to the living room and so forth.

so pretty afterwards, eh?


I’ve discovered that when people are looking for a house, they sometimes need help seeing past the ugliness or mess to what the house could look like with a little elbow grease and love or even a remodel. 

When you are looking to buy a home you are going to walk through some that haven’t been spruced up by the seller for a better sale price, homes with a lot of deferred maintenance, maybe the seller is angry at losing his home and took it out on the house.  Or, maybe the owners are just pigs.

 So, here are some pictures of Before and After to show you what is possible so you can see past the eyesore to what can be.

Historic'ish house before



Sometimes the bones of a house are good and you only need to update cosmetically:  cabinets, tile, appliances and such.  Sometimes the poor thing needs a major reworking of floorplan, especially when the unenlightened do their own additions.  We’ve seen rabbit warrens, with strange hallways going off in odd directions, even access to a bedroom only through another one.  Substandard sized bathrooms (you can sit on the potty and brush your teeth at the same time). 

 Whatever the reason, here are some pictures to help you get your creative juices flowing.

kitchen before...

kitchen after...

For more inspiration, check out these links:

 Here is a great little web book by one of our clients, Scott Schnaars about his experience redoing his house:

Schnaars house before...

Schnaars house after...

Fireplace with crummy sunroom on the other side...before...

ooh, aah, after...


before...they want to add a second story...

after...2nd story doesn't overpower the house

sad and neglected, before...

beautiful house, inside and out...after...

dingy interior...before...

such pretty wood...after...

 The following link is for those of you who need to feel more warm and fuzzy about your own house…be glad you don’t live in one of these!,0,6122511.photogallery

 If you can’t afford (or simply don’t want to) to redo your house just yet but need ideas on how-to crafts for making your space more attractive – on a budget, take a gander at this very creative blogger’s site:   She calls it Diamond Style on a Dime.  I like that!

 The site below will definitely get you thinking outside of the box.  It’s for people with money but no space.  How to get the most use out of your tiny house, when you like tiny, don’t want to make it bigger and aren’t gonna move anytime soon.

 I love Real Simple magazine.  And I love their website.  They have so many great ideas, from how-to’s to new uses for old things.  Wander around it and you’ll be impressed, too, with their inspiring pictures. 

 And if you want to be Martha Stewart, this site is for you:  I’m always fascinated by her projects.  It’s a deep seated insecurity, I suppose.  I’m not good at cooking and have little of the required attention span for sewing.  But she (and her army of assistants make it look so easy).

A couple more before/after shots…

fireplace, before...

aaannnd after...

frownie face...

happy face!

Naturally, we’ve still loads of work to do – we got about 80% of it done before we got tuckered out.  Ah, well, with a historic house like this, there’s always work to be done 😉


The Way-Too-Small House

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Some people say that family rooms and formal dining rooms are a thing of the past.  With smaller house design, these rooms are getting cut.   

No, we don't give formal dinners, either.

I don’t understand why.  Sure, when our kids were very young it wasn’t important to have those rooms, but as they grew they wanted to have their friends over and to have parties of their own.  We discovered the value of having a family room and formal dining room.


 For video gaming parties there would be 16 guys playing 4 TVs in our family room.  We had peace and quiet in the living room.  Tell me, where would we have been if we didn’t have a family room?  All that gaming would have to take place in the living room and, yeah, we’da been relegated to the master bedroom – or maybe outside if it wasn’t too cold.

 Our dining room got a lot of use, although not necessarily for formal dining.  Our kids did their school homework and projects there and didn’t have to clean it all up in time for dinner.  Warhammer games, painting sessions, board game marathons, sewing projects, wrapping presents, Christmas decoration staging area, parties of all types and, yes, actual dinners were held in that room.

 And the family room was especially necessary as the kids got older and had their friends over so much.  They could watch movies, play board games or sit and talk without having the parental units hovering around them. 



 We had New Year’s Eve parties and the kids could have one room while the parents had another – food was in the dining room and drinks in the kitchen/nook area.  There is nothing like 15 or more high schoolers to make a house seem awfully small.

 Sure, some people are adding offices to their homes, but what are these people going to do when their kids are in high school?  Those kids will be hanging out at their friends’ houses instead of at home.  Or maybe the garage will get converted.  No offense, but as much as you might want your kids’ friends to think you’re the cool parent, they don’t want you hanging around. you see yourselves... the kids see you...


Here’s another thing to consider – your kids are taking music lessons!   A violin doesn’t take up a lot of space, but a drum set?  Where does that go?  Or a bari sax?  Piano?  Or an acoustic bass, electric bass, jazz bass, upright bass and guitar?  Seriously.   If you build a home without considering the future needs of  your family, you might find your house is way-too-small.

So, where do you store this instrument?

 Perhaps you don’t need a formal dining room AND a family room, but you definitely need another room that can be used for many purposes.  Call it whatever you like, craft room, music room, mancave, but think twice before you scratch it off your list. 😉

Photo credit:  pix of parents, dining room = 

other pix are ours and our kids’ photos

How the money works.


I wanna pull money outta this ATM just cuz its so cute!

You have  property and you have construction documents.  You give a set of the plans to the loan officer and the bank will get an appraisal of what the property will be worth with the new addition/house.  You also commit to a certain standard of ‘finishes’, i.e. granite, Corian or Formica countertops?  Tile floors or hardwood or Pergo?  Bosch appliances or GE? 

 The bank will review that appraisal and determine how much loan-to-value exists.  Loan-to-value is the mortgage (financing the property and the loan) divided by the appraised value of the property.  If the value isn’t high enough for the bank, they might ask you to increase your equity in the property by way of throwing cold, hard cash at it assuring them that you have a vested interest in the success of the project – i.e. you won’t walk away when the going gets tough.

I’m not going to go into detail about percentages and amounts and all that (your cue to say ‘thank heaven!’).  There are many different types of loan packages based on the amount of the loan and your FICO score – too many to go over here.

OK, banks also look for a loan-to-cost value – what they will fund and what the project will cost.  They will loan you a percentage of that value.  There is a gap between what the bank will loan and what the project really costs.  YOU must have the funds set aside to fill that gap, plus any cost overruns.  PLUS any cost overruns, ya feel me?

Gotta have a better contingency plan than this!

The bank might assume your current mortgage plus the construction loan and then expect you to refinance when the project is complete. 

Generally, the bank wants the building permit issued prior to issuing the loan.  That means money out of your pocket, although it will be paid back once the loan funds.

 Now, the loan documents are signed, shaking of hands all around.  The bank will fund the loan into an account with your name on it. 

 The bank will give you money from that account based on your ‘draw request’.  Our bank had a form we filled out listing each account line item, what or who the money was for and the amount requested.  There are different processes including online requests so your bank might be different.  You are ‘drawing’ money from the account and you pay interest on that money.  These interest/monthly payments for the loan are taken from a special reserve account each month; you don’t pay for them out of your own pocket.

The first thing you’ll do is figure out what items constitute your first draw of funds from the bank.  You should repay yourself the money you have fronted the project with up to now:  Architectural fees, plan check and permit fees, fees for reports and consultants and the contractor’s retainer.  You did remember to add all those items to your construction costs, didn’t you?

 Then you’ll determine which contractors/subcontractors need to be paid soonest and what products need to be purchased…for instance, you are having your cabinets built by Three Trees Woodshop and you need to give Doug a retainer and a payment towards the purchase of the wood and you are going to have John Joy Studios begin creating the stained glass windows so John needs a retainer.  You’ll list those items on the funds request.

 The bank will send you a check and you will deposit it into your construction account.  Yes, you should create a special checking account for this money.  Getting project money mixed up with your personal funds is a nightmare you don’t want to have, so do what I tell you.

Don't let your files look like this!

You will then write checks as required and provide a copy of the check to your loan officer as proof of payment.

 It’s important to have invoices and copies of checks to provide to the bank.  They get antsy if they think you aren’t as good at record-keeping as they are.  If you squander the money, they get stuck with a white elephant of a property, half-built and harder to unload. 

 You will be allowed a certain number of draws during the course of the project; you won’t be able to pull money out every couple days.  You have to plan and anticipate when you’ll need funds.  Since we were managing our own project, we generally submitted a draw request every 2 weeks or so.  This is something you’ll discuss with your loan officer before the loan papers are signed.

 It helps to keep a spreadsheet of some kind to track your numbers – especially if you are managing your own project.  Each subcontractor will have given you a bid, you signed a contract with them and you will be making numerous payments to them.  Plus you have all the product that you’re buying, what you expect it to cost vs what it DOES cost.

You'll be doing a lot of this...

I used an XL spreadsheet to do the math for me.  That way it’s obvious if you have a cost overrun and need to trim your budget somewhere.  Unfortunately, this isn’t Monopoly.  My sister and I used to have marathon Monopoly games with our friends, they lasted weeks.  We’d have to create our own money in order to keep the game going.  And, yes, we had $500 in the middle and all taxes and fees went there, too.  And if you landed on Free Parking you got it all!

 Your construction loan has a ‘due date’.  If your project isn’t completed by that date, you must BUY an extension to the loan.  This fee amount will differ based on your project, of course, but I’ve heard numbers like $8000 for a loan of about $1,100,000 (which included the land mortgage) with a loan extension of 3 months.

Well, if you're desperate, I suppose this might help...

Oh, yeah, don’t forget to include sales tax in your calculations like I did. That is, unless you plan on buying all your stuff at Orchard Supply Hardware on one of their ‘we pay the sales tax’ weekends.

 Well informed is well armed.  Learn as much as you can about the processes of doing a construction project on your house and you’re more likely to survive with your sanity intact 😉


photo credits:  Mr. Monopoly from:
Messy files = my own credenza, sorry to say 😦    Do as I say, not as I do?  Well, my project file was immaculate!
All others =

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…


“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you”*, then you will survive a construction project on your house.

Why is that, you ask?  Well, here are some examples of what kinds of things can happen during a typical project…things that have happened to us and things that’ve happened to our clients:

 We purchased all of our own finishes – lights, sinks, tubs, tile, flooring, doors, windows, you name it.  When the master bathroom sink faucets were being installed (2 sinks), it turned out that one of them leaked and couldn’t be repaired.  Guess what?  They didn’t make that model of faucet anymore (all of 5 months between purchase and installation) and we had to buy new ones – 2 faucets.  We had a perfectly good faucet and one broken one and nowhere to use the good faucet, aargh.

The perfect sink cabinet. Twice as expensive as we planned...

After looking forEVER for a unique bathroom cabinet, something antique-y looking – the design of the house was ‘cottage-style’ with emphasis on everything looking vintage yet fresh – I spent hours online, hours at antique stores, hours at design stores.  I found the perfect one and we stored it in the garage.  Can you guess what happened?  Somehow 2 corners were broken when they went to install it!  Our fault for not checking to see that it was perfect before shlepping it home.  I was very lucky to be able to  find another one. 

Bathroom sink – different bathroom – was 2 inches too wide for the space.  It would have fit, technically, but Code requires a specific distance between the potty and the sink and this wouldn’t have met code.  What happened to make the room 2 inches smaller than on the plans?  Well, we are talking about a ¼ scale plan and 2 inches is a tiny margin of error.  Anyone wanna buy a pedestal sink?

Think anyone will notice?

We bought butler pantry cabinets and they arrived with a broken drawer front – no big deal, we are able to have it replaced, but its just one more thing, isn’t it…

 One bathroom drawer was in the way for the plumbing so it had to be shortened.

 We found this great mosaic tile on sale, during installation we ran short by 1 sheet.  1 LOUSY SHEET!  I ran to 5 stores before I found any in stock.

 We forgot to include a switch for the garbage disposal sink above the kitchen counter, so we had to have one added under the sink.

They said I didn't order enough, but I ended up with left overs, hmmm?

Once the beautiful bamboo floor was installed, the guys put down a heavy layer of paper to protect it.  In spite of that, someone tracked some sort of adhesive ALL OVER THE HOUSE.  I spent hours and hours scrubbing it off – using goo-gone to start with and advancing to ever-stronger solutions with scrubby sponges, paint scrapers and prayer.  Hours and HOURS!  A couple spots absolutely refused to come off completely and I marred the floor in 1 spot – I was sick to my stomach for days about it.

 We didn’t think about how the lower cabinet in the laundry room should open and it is backwards, which is inconvenient.

 The beautiful vinyl, double-paned windows are installed and all of them are sliders with the exception of 1, it has a hand-crank.  By the time we go to sell the house, the crank is misplaced and we have to order a new one, it comes in, it’s the wrong style, we have to reorder.  I can’t complain much since Anderson sent the replacement out for free. 

 I definitely learned to keep items like this in a safe place and labeled properly!  Otherwise you’ll pull out some weird doohickey and wonder what the heck it’s for?  Shall I toss it, should I keep it?  3 years later you still don’t know what it’s for so you finally throw it away.  Then, and only then, do you need it.

Ryan is such a good worker!

 Garage door installation occurs prior to electricity being hooked up at the garage (a trench we forgot to have dug, so we recruit our kids and their friend to dig it).  Of course, we can’t have it tested – no electricity.   And, naturally, it doesn’t work when we do test it and we have to call the installers to come fix it.

 I called AT&T to come out and hook up a phone.  I wait all day for the technician who never shows.  I again called AT&T to give them a piece of my mind (which I can ill afford to lose) and they say no appointment was ever made!  Aargh!

...such a destructive and hungry little cuss!

We have gophers…in our pristine, gorgeous new sod…gophers are digging between the emerald carpet of sod and the dirt >sigh<  I consider using TNT.

 There is a tremendous amount of waste in a big project.  For instance, if you buy moulding, it comes in certain lengths, let’s say 14’ lengths.  You have a room that is 13×12, then you are tossing 1 foot and 2 feet with every cut.  And there is not one thing you can do about it.  You’ll have a pretty big pile of moulding by the end.  Maybe you can find a use for it, I couldn’t. (not the guy I contacted)

When we had a tree taken down I tried to find someone who would like the lumber.  A guy in Santa Cruz does carvings with a chain saw on big tree trunks.  He said he was interested and I followed up with him a few times, he never showed, so the tree eventually got chopped into fire wood.  I still have another big redwood tree trunk on a different property that someone is welcome to.

 Here’s a pretty frustrating scenario:  We’d gotten our project estimates based on product pricing.  I was very specific and got prices on everything I could spec ahead of time – knew where our doors where coming from, windows, potties, and on like that.  Well, when we went to buy the flooring, the supplier wouldn’t give us the same discount we’d talked about, making the product too expensive.  I have to find another supplier fast, which was very irritating…same product, same supplier, why wouldn’t they give us the discount?  Economy was still down, it wasn’t like buyers were climbing over the ramparts to order their products!  Anyway, we discovered Lumber Liquidators!  Great products and great prices.  Yay!

 We ordered a ton of cabinets – and when the order arrived there wasn’t room in the garage with all the other stuff (oven, stove, dishwasher, doors, screens…you get my drift) so we had to (scary thought, here) store it outside in the weather!!!  We bought a gi-normous blue tarp and stacked all the cabinets in the backyard and covered it with the tarp, holding it down with cement blocks.  Lucky for us, nothing was damaged.

 Other fun things that happen to the best of us:

Buried treasure? Well, not so much...

The contractor is digging a trench in the yard for a sewer pipe…Lo! And behold!  He unearths an old, abandoned septic tank in your back yard!  Surprise!  Or it could be an old diesel gas tank or oil tank or propane tank, whatever.  You can’t leave it alone.  You might be able to fill it in with gravel or you might have to dig it up and fill the hole in, either way, it’s $$ out of your purse.

 You order carpet, based on the room sizes, the installer and carpet store say you need to order ‘x’ amount of carpet.  Fine, you do so, 10 days later it comes in, the installer begins laying it out and you get a call.  There wasn’t enough carpet ordered to account for the pattern.  You’ve got to order more…and wait for it to arrive…delaying when you get to move in by 2 weeks.

Just tear it off and start over, old plaster stinks anyway.

You buy an old house and want to remove all the old paint and wallpaper from the walls.  There are about 8 layers of it and by the time you get to the last layer, the wall falls apart – its made of lathe, plaster and horsehair.  Now you have to put up drywall and have it taped and textured (which is actually OK because old plaster smells).  If you had just taken down the wall in the first place you would have saved yourself 3 long weekends of effort.

 The fence on your property is 3 feet closer to your neighbor than it should be. You are going to lose 3’ of your sideyard.

 Many of these happenings are no one’s fault.  You can’t sue anyone, you can’t pass the bill along to someone else, you are stuck and that’s the bottom line.

Count on having delays and surprises, you’ll live longer and without the tummy upset that worry can cause.  😉

 *IF, by Rudyard Kipling

headless photo credit = 

Image URL:  unless otherwise noted.

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