when to call in the pros

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when to call in the pros

Post by roquelaure »

hi everyone-

i have a half physical half psychological question...

a year ago my husband and i bought our first home- our dream house: an 1880's queen ann in and up and coming neighborhood. during our many many walkthroughs before the purchase, the inspection, and meetings with the contractor, we were assured it was a very sound house with good plumbing, moderately good electrical, and a fine slate roof. after a few repairs needed for our loan, all we would have to worry about is the cosmetics: stripping the woodwork and painting the walls. being the trust-worthy souls that we are, and naive first time home-buyers, we were suckered... i mean, we believed them.

after about 8 months of starting a project only to be stopped by something large going awry, i'm ready to throw in the towel. the first thing to go wrong was the plumbing: the main stack and half the drainage pipes in the basement needed replaced, which was covered by our home warranty, no biggie. then we started pulling off baseboards for sanding/stripping, and to remove the carpet. it was then we realized every room on the second floor (where we started our work) was not painted plaster, but layer upon layer upon layer of paint on wallpaper. to add to that, the contractor had to fix all cracks in the walls before we got our loan approved, so they plastered over the cracks- in the paint. so in some areas it was plaster skim coat over paint over wallpaper. once we got it all down (we wanted original walls), we discovered the plaster is in an atrocious state, which we suspected after finding the paper. 4' x 4' chunks of ceiling and wall fell down with the removal of the paper. there are water spots from roof leaks, major cracks, and sagging. troopers that we are, we started tearing it all down, giving up on the plaster idea and resorting to drywall with a skim coat.

meanwhile, the shower on the second floor, which we had been using to fill buckets for cleaning up the mounds of coal dust we were stirring up while knocking down the plaster, started leaking into the first floor, which we are using as our living quarters. we called in the plumber again who said it was not covered by our insurance since the problem was with a cracked drain pan encased in concrete (not in our plan). plus the entire drain system for that bathroom was cracked and rotted. an estimated $6,000 of repairs. we put it on the back burner and have been carrying buckets from downstairs.

after the first snow, the roof started leaking. eight slates were missing, and further damage was done to the already deteriorating walls. and the wiring inside.

i've officially had it. there is only so far our novice restoration skills can be stretched. i can knock down a wall with the best of them, but i'm not a master plasterer and only a slightly mediocre drywaller. i think it's time to call in some professional help: if we can get the walls down, call in someone to do the drywall. if we can get to the wires and determine which need replaced, call in an electrician to do the actual work.

here's my problem: my husband refuses to get help. he is still convinced we can do it all on our own. like i said, after much thought and consternation, i have conceded. i know my limits, and drywalling a ceiling is one of them. i can wire up a lamp, fixture, or socket, but i cannot rewire a room. my husband can't do a socket without a book of instructions. this is for the safety- not to mention resale value should we ever want to- of our investment. how can i convince him to call in the pros?!

sorry this is so long and rambling, i'm just tired of living in rubble. and i didn't even touch on the third floor...

thanks in advance,


Post by wessieball »

Luckily I haven't run into into anything too serious on my restoration yet...knock on wood...but I am getting ready to strip wallpaper and hopefully I won't get chunks of plaster falling from the ceiling.

Aside from that, I would call in the pros. Sure you might eat into your equity but how long do you plan on living in the house? If it's a long time then calling in a pro is the ONLY way to go if you don't have the experience. I only plan on living in my house for 5 years tops and I've contracted out all of my plumbing, electrical, and HVAC because I don't have the time to learn how to do these things.

It's all a tradeoff. The problems you have are probably best dealt with by a professional.


You're Not Alone

Post by Greg »

I have a slightly different take on it than wessieball. If you are planning on selling in 5 years then do it that way. Take out a second mortgage (unless you’re fabulously wealthy), call in the pros, get it done, and sell the house. If you want to stay there a while and make a nice home for yourself you will need to take things slower and expect complications.

You will be at the end of a long line of people complaining about painted or skim coated wallpaper. Skim coating cracked wallpaper shouldn’t have been done in the first place while the home was in escrow. This is lesson number one: Most contractors are going to tell you what ever they want to get the job done and get the check. There will probably be some contractors on this board that will dispute that. The contractors that come to this board to help people are not the type I’m talking about. Lesson 2 about contractors: Don’t call the guys with the biggest add in the yellow pages. They charge the most. Call 3 or 4 with the small little adds and get estimates from them all. After talking with them you will get a feel for who is good and who isn’t.

Also, when talking to contractors ask a lot of questions about what needs to be done. There are probably things in there you can do yourself. Why pay a plumber $60 or $70 an hour to shut off the water and pull up the drain pan and sub floor. It is probably going to be thrashed and need replacing anyway so do it yourself. For a $100 get a circular saw and pry bar and go at it. If the ceiling is already ruined form the water then maybe a clamp can be put on from below as a temporary fix until you plan to redo the entire bathroom. Lesson 3 about contractors: Many will start out with the highest bid and see if they can get a naive home owner to bite.

I had all new copper plumbing and plastic drains put in my downstairs bathroom and an adjoining utility room for $890.00. The plumber was 1 guy, his son, and a van. I removed all of the fixtures and took up the rotted sub floor. They took two days roughing in the pipes (no fixtures). I then put down new plywood sub floor and got a book for about $15.00 on how to attach the faucets, toilet, etc. They did great work and it past inspection.

My own house (1895) had really bad electrical. The whole house needed to be rewired. I knew it would be $10,000 to $15,000 to get it done (If not more). I’m not fabulously wealthy. I took a course on residential wiring at the local state college. It was 6-8 Thursday evenings for about 12 weeks. At the end of the course I knew all I needed to about rewiring a house. I did the whole house for about $3500. That included reproduction push button light switches, top of the line brass switch plates, 2 sub-panels, main disconnect, interconnected smoke detectors, and anything else you can think of. You don’t have to do the whole house at once.

If you have a ton of money then call the pros and start writing checks. If not then you need to pace yourself and shop around for contractors. There are no stupid questions. One thing that a lot of people to do is make one room very nice. Get the living room or the kitchen looking great. When the rest of the house looks like hell and you feel over whelmed than at least you have a sanctuary.



Post by wessieball »

Greg has good points. I found working with journeymen as opposed to masters has saved me 50%. We'll see how it functions in 5 years...but right now I feel comfortable going with them. The layout of the house isn't terribly complex that a master would need to be called in (unless I'm missing something that I've overlooked :? )

My point about hiring a pro if you are in it for the long haul is justified by this:

If you find the right contractor who does good work, his job will most likely be better than the job you do yourself (not always, but they're the one with the experience) and it will last for the long haul. The expense you put out will be recouped if you plan on living in the house a long time. If you're in it for 5 years, you'll still be paying on that job after you move out. That's my only concern with DIY.

Other than that, Greg is right about contractors. Always get 3 bids no matter what. You'll be surprised at how far apart (and close) their bids come in at.

One more thing...if they're 30 minutes late on the initial appointment, drop them. It's a good sign that they'll be late for the job too.

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Joined: Mon Dec 15, 2003 9:00 pm
Location: Texas

Post by wrylass »

Roque, Greg made some great points, particularly about going one room at a time. It sounds like you may have ripped into a few too many things. That's normal enthusiasm. As you've noticed, the house has its own agenda (there was a good thread on this topic awhile back). You may want to focus on its agenda plus a very limited agenda of your own, namely, getting a refuge finished, or at least finished enough so you can really be comfortable and relax there. For me, it was the living room, where I can sit and read--for you it could be the master bedroom (or any bedroom), the kitchen, a bath ... figure out what will be most effective for your own psychological wellbeing.

IMO, what you're experiencing is normal with a house of your age. Finding an old house that's trouble-free would be the exception, and would indicate exceptional POs.

You also want to make sure you're not compromising on anything that's really important to you--you don't want regrets later.

I completely understand what you're saying about your realization on your skill level. I feel the same way. I have high standards, and my beginner work doesn't meet them. Some people learn really quickly, or are willing to accept less than perfect work. You have to figure out what works for you. As far as needing a book, that's probably normal. The test is what happens after the book has been read :) DIY, as long as it's good DIY, is not a problem for resale. (There was a long thread a few months ago that went to show that you can't always tell it's bad DIY beforehand :roll: )

Something many people do is hire a contractor who is willing to have you as apprentices and teach you. Sometimes people do it just for the first day, other times for a project, and then they do the next one.

Take a deep breath, and good luck :)

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Joined: Mon Dec 08, 2003 1:10 pm
Location: San Antonio, Texas

Post by Tom »

You know, hiring pros is its own thread. Hiring journeymen is a good technique. You can sometimes hire a journeyman to work for you on HIS time, not that of the contractor's and save a few bucks. Every crew will have an electrician or plumber who needs some extra bucks. I like to get names from the local hardware store. They tend to refer me to small one or two man crews who do good work, but charge less and are more responsive to payment plans and such. After a year or two, you will start to develop a stable of potential pros to call. There's no way I would try to do everything myself. It just takes too much time and too much expertise before my skill level can catch up.


Post by Guest »

The good news is that nothing you mention is structural. Layers & layers of paint and wallpaper and damaged plaster is a pain in the neck.....but very fixable.

Make a list of all things that need to be done......large and small.

Keep in mind this is a multi-year project. Its never going to be done overnight. Multiply by at least 10 the amount of time you estimate it will take to finish things :-) The sooner you accept this, the less stressful it all becomes (I've learned this myself).

Tak you time and enjoy the process or you will eventually just hate the house.

Prioritize the list you made. Those items that need to be done immediately because they will cause further damage if not done (e.g roof)

Decide which items on the list you can do. Decide which items on the list you can't do. Decide which items on the list you really would rather not do yourself.

Then just start plugging away at your list. Physically check off items as you complete them.

Take a lot of before & after pictures....for those moments when you just want to sell the place. Sit and look at them and see how far you have come :-)

Finish one room where you can retreat to when you are down and sit and look at above mentioned pictures.

Post when you have question or problems and get answers and support form those who are going through or have been through the same.

This is doable.


Post by Rprice76 »

Hey -

Watch 'The Money Pit.' It's a MUST SEE for all home restoration novices. If you think it's an exageration - you're wrong. A lot of people go into buying an older home with the end product in mind, and dont think about the work that it takes to GET to that point. Case in point...

I'm into old cars, and decided I absolutely had to restore a 1963 VW Bettle. I bought one for 500 buck, basicly just a shell. I estimated that it would cost about 1000 for a total restoration, afterall all I needed was an engine block, paint, and upholstery. I also thought I would only take a month or so since they're so simple. Right? Wrong.

It cost me 3500 and took half a year. But the end product was MORE than worth it. You have to be able to look PAST the interem to the end product.

Like Tom Hanks in that movie, his was very suprised by the end product of his house. I've got ONE room done and still have 8 to go. I feel like I just conquered Europe. Remember, as long as you WISELY do the work, get estimates, and be frugal, you will get your money back.

My house looks like it was abandonded for 50 years. Someone knocked out walls, and removed anything of value (including all the oak flooring). I paid probably a little much, but after bringing in some people, they all agree, that though I have to put about 20-30k into the house before it would be considered finished, I would double my initial investment, if not tripple it. Make certain you go to websites like http://www.ourvictorianhouse.com/ to keep your spirits up.

Good luck!

Ryan Price
Bisbee Az.



Post by roquelaure »

oh, we knew that this isn't going to be overnight, believe me! we were prepared and confident in our abilities to spend at least two to three years on it, which is why we chose that particular house- the one that supposedly didn't need much more than some basics and cosmetics.

the third floor is our "refuge" right now. the house was split into three apartments, one on each floor. we wanted to do the worst floor first, which is the second. the first floor has the only functioning bathroom and kitchen, so that is our living quarters, and the third floor apartment was in the best shape (eg, no walls falling down or leaks) so we worked with what was already up there to make it a nice comfy den for relaxing and entertaining.

hiring journeymen insead of contractors is an excellent idea- thank you for that, i'll definitely be looking into it this week. has anyone run into stubborn spouses who think they can do it all themselves? i'm having trouble convincing my husband that we are lacking some major abilities. i think it's 75% pride, 25% monetary that is holding him back from getting outside help. i've suggested classes at the local community college for the both of us to attend ("it'll be fun! not only will we learn important skills for the house, but we'll ge t to spend some time together!"), and he just refuses.

thanks for all the wonderful advice so quickly!


Post by Guest »

I, too, am sequestered in just a portion of a 2 unit house that has been sadly neglected for the past 30 yrs or so. When I had the house inspected and decided to buy, I had my big list of things to do, bugdets ready, etc. Well, that has changed only about 100 times since then! I also ripped out some walls ( non load bearing), that STILL need reframing (one day...!)
At this point we're at a standstill because I can't do much until one of the big jobs is well under way, because everything is connected to something else. So, we are waiting for the permits as we speak.
Keep updating your priority list and see if you can talk to those journeymen or contractors to help you "phase" the work, so you don't have to do things over. I wanted to get it all done, but keep telling myself, this is not my job, I have no deadlines to meet! Take your time and enjoy the journey. Focus on one thing at a time so you don't go crazy!
As for your significant other, I'm not a counselor, but I had someone in my life like that at one time. There is a certain amount of pride involved, but there are also some real control issues going on here. The fact that he simply refuses to even take a class that would allow him to do it himself is telling. It sounds like he's refusing just to be rebellious. I don't mean to be rude and I don't know him, but in my situation that was the case.

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