“All the Dude ever wanted was his rug back.” – The Big Lebowski, 1998
The Big Lebowski is my all-time favorite cinematic comedy, and I’ve used this quote numerous times under numerous circumstances. Never have I used it more frequently and more amended (and more under my breath) than the last year. That’s because all this Dude ever wanted was his shower door fixed. Now I have a new master bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room.
My wife and I moved to Frisco, TX, in 2003. We built our first house, so we’ve been through the process to some degree. We built our second (current) house in 2011. So, we have a little experience with design centers and everything being new at the same time.
It’s also important to point out that because of this process everything in our houses both times was 100% our decision. We said yes or no to everything. So when, let’s just say as a bad example, your wife looks at the kitchen and says it’s too dark, what she’s really saying is she’s changed her mind.
“Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.” – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, 2004
Another classic comedy quote comes to mind when I reflect on everything we went through as a family during our renovation. How do you go from a busted shower door to half of your downstairs under construction simultaneously?
Simple answer: I didn’t say “no.” More complicated answer: the beauty of building a new house is that everything is brand new at the same time. The ugly is that all of the new stuff breaks at the same time as well. You’re golden until the week after the warranties expire.
As the house began to settle, our shower door in the master bathroom started to fall off track and would get stuck. I’m not a “traditional” male in the sense that I don’t think I can fix everything myself. I know my areas of strength, and I’m not ashamed of my limitations. I started looking into new shower doors and who I could find to do the job for me and do the job correctly.
The irony of all this is that simply wanting to be able to open my shower door wound up opening a very large, expensive, time-consuming, stress-inducing, marriage-challenging door to a project of a lifetime.
I share this as a foundation of context as I give you my list of home renovation dos and don’ts entirely from the perspective of this Frisco husband and father who very much loves and supports his wife and is so very happy that she is happy with her new master bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room. I cannot stress that previous sentence enough.
Do: Embrace your limitations
I’ve always said that you could shut down the entire city grid, and I’d still find a way to electrocute myself. In my mind, the guy who casually says, “Oh, you just need to turn off the breaker” is the guy who winds up looking like Doc from the beginning of Back to the Future. If you’re skilled, savvy, and sane enough to DIY, go for it. But if there’s even a shadow of a doubt, call a professional. In my case, my doubt’s shadow casts another shadow. There’s nothing to be ashamed of here.
Don’t: Be shy about voicing your vision
Just because you’re afraid to do it yourself or are honest enough to know you can’t do it yourself doesn’t mean you don’t have a good idea of what you want the end product to look like. Let the pros tell you if it’s unreasonable as in “yeah, that’s what they call a load bearing wall; you can’t take that out” or “I would advise against turning your study into one giant aquarium.” This is where I would recommend hiring a design firm. They can bridge the gap between the dream and the reality as well as be an asset in the communication between you and the general contractor you hire to do the work.
Do: Make a budget
No one wins an unlimited shopping spree even if it’s free money. There’s always a cap on it. Find your cap and stick to it with a plus/minus range you’re comfortable with. Renovating our master closet was in the conversation, but when we had to start cutting out the “nice-to-haves” the closet was a big chunk we carved off to keep us in our desired price range without having to sacrifice a lot of little things throughout. Budgets are your wingman. It’ll guide you back when you start an idea with “You know what would be really cool?”
Don’t: Tell the general contractor your actual budget
I’m not saying this like your GC will rip you off. It’s more like if you go to a car dealership and say you have $50k to spend, do you think they’ll start by showing you the $25k models? The plus/minus I mentioned in your budget is because things will change throughout the process and generally not in your favor. If you have a personal budget of X dollars, maybe tell the GC you have a budget of X minus some comfortable, reasonable wiggle room so when those surprise extra expenses pop up, you’re not stressing out. As much.
Do: Budget for “aftermath” costs
This is another reason for not disclosing your full budget. There will be additional expenses after the dust has settled. Actually, dust is one those expenses. If you’re doing anything requiring demo, painting, and the like, your carpets will need to be steamed after. Your air ducts are going to look like my lungs did in my 20s. A good GC will usually add the cost of a full house cleaning at the end of the job, but that still won’t clean everything out. Also, in our case, none of our old furniture fit the new kitchen so there’s the potential additional expense of new tables, chairs, rugs, etc. to consider depending on the scope of your remodel. Oh, and also the inevitable subtle comment from your wife, “Now the kitchen and the den don’t really match, so maybe we can redo that and bring that master closet back into the conversation.”
Don’t: Expand your children’s vocabulary
Home remodel season is also excessive potty-mouth season. Mumble accordingly. Make up G-rated versions of your favorite go-to swears. Carry what I might call “the profanity pillow” that muffles the frustrated cries of curses that inevitably will drip from your evil tongue as you wonder why you just didn’t try to fix the damn shower door yourself. But do it for the children lest you eventually are called to the principal’s office when your little girl sounds like Samuel L. Jackson on the playground.
Do: Pad time for the equity process
This took us a while. That’s not always the case, but in our experience, the bank we went with initially is jealous of a snail’s swiftness. We started the process in July of 2019, by September they were still asking us for more documents, and then we switched to a different lending company for our refinance. That process took less than a month. So, some places take longer than others, but it still takes some time. Also, this will help you plan your budget before you get started. Go ahead and start getting quotes early so you can ballpark the expense of the project to find out if taking out home equity is even necessary or an option at all.
Don’t: Let anyone rush you
As you might imagine, we had a lot of people waiting on us while we were waiting on banks. They were ready to get to work and put schedules together. Rightfully so, but it’s still your house, your budget, and your timeline. A good GC and design firm will honor that and make adjustments as needed to proposed schedules when you’re ready to give the green light. Because with everything on the line at that point, once you put that first quarter in the jukebox, you’re going to have to let the whole song play out.
Do: Understand the GC works for you
This is key. Your relationship with your GC is paramount throughout the process, but ultimately, you’re the CEO of this operation. Our experience didn’t always go that way. We had a great relationship with our design team, but not so much with the individual running the show with our GC team. You are paying for their services. That makes you the employer and them the employee. That makes you the final say. Remember this.
Don’t: Tell the GC that he/she works for you
There’s a fine line between putting your foot down when needed and just being an entitled jerk. You can understand the GC works for you (and they should too), but playing that card can damage a relationship. Don’t forget these people are the gateway to doing something you either couldn’t do yourself or chose not to do yourself. Know you’re the boss without reminding everyone you’re the boss.
Do: Develop relationships with your Subs
I’m not saying you’re sending holiday greeting cards to subcontractors, but the human condition is an amazing thing. You treat them with respect and appreciation; they can very well reciprocate. The GC gives the subs the orders to follow, but direct communication is never a bad thing. Our GC didn’t like me talking directly to the subs. I think the GC thought I was asking them to do extra, free work outside of the proposal. I wasn’t. It was just the GC was rarely here, the subs were always here, I was always here, so why would they text a question to the GC from my bathroom for the GC to text me the question in my study for me to text back to get passed along to the subs who are right down the hall. Not everyone is home the entire time, but it does allow for more trust, better communication throughout, and quicker decisions when issues arise. And if you’ve maybe offered them a cold adult beverage or two at the end of a hard week, that doesn’t hurt either.
Don’t: Ignore shoddy work
Going back to the “embrace your limitations,” don’t let that discourage you from speaking up if something isn’t passing the smell test. Definitely don’t let the sub or GC try to dismiss your concerns if your spidey-senses start tingling about something. Our problem was tile, especially in the birthplace of this whole endeavor: the shower. Something just didn’t look right compared to the design plans. I held my tongue figuring they’re the pros and I’m paying for their expertise. Then it really didn’t look right, so I said something. I was told it’ll look great when it’s done. After a couple more days, it looked awful so I said something again. The GC kept trying to talk me down, but really, I think the GC didn’t want to have to eat the cost of redoing it. Ultimately, they wound up having to redo the shower three times before they got it right. Don’t ignore the warning signs, trust your gut, and stand your ground.
Do: Plan on sending your pets to daycare
This is of course if you have any pets. My three cats would hide, so they weren’t an issue. My dog is overly friendly though, plus there is a lot of coming and going which leads to a lot of doors left open. If you’re painting, it’s not above a pet to use its rib cage as a helpful brush. If you’re putting down tile, they’ll gladly pace the floor before it sets. If you have the means, send them off to play and by the time they return home they’ll be so tired they won’t care their favorite couch is covered in plastic tarp or that your kitchen looks like Dexter set up a kill room.
Don’t: Start tearing up your home just before a global pandemic
Obviously, we didn’t know what was about to happen, and if this article survives in the ether for another 100 years until the next world-crippling pandemic, someone will read this and promote me as a visionary. But seriously, watching people walk in and out of your house not knowing if they’re sick or not, products on backorder or warehouses shut down, or even the whole family is home all day in less space then they’re comfortable with while chaos reigns around you all equals unpleasantly grating. I’m sure there’s a hastily written journal somewhere in my house with collectively workshopped ideas for my demise titled “Make It Look Like an Accident.”
“I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything I thought it could be.” – Office Space, 1999
This minimalistic movie quote perfectly encapsulates the protagonist and overall sentiment of the film as much as it does the way I felt the day after everything was finished. Sure, we still had to move stuff back into our new spaces, but I finally got to do laundry, use a stove, sleep in my own bed, and yes, effortlessly open a gorgeous shower door. (A handful of before and after pics, below…)
A burden was lifted that day. An unnecessarily self-imposed burden, but at this point, I’m no longer concerned with blame or guilt. It’s done. We’re happy. And I hope this very myopic, personal list helps you navigate the choppy waters of home renovation, teaches you to tell your spouse to pump the breaks, or inspires you to try and just fix the damn shower door yourself.
We didn’t do “nothing,” but we definitely had a lot of help. It’s Lifestyle Frisco’s policy to never post negative reviews. If it’s not obvious by now, we didn’t have the best experience with our GC company and the first bank we used for our refinance which is why I will neither recommend nor condemn them here. That’s not how we handle our business at Lifestyle Frisco, and it’s why I love contributing to this publication. However, in regards to the design firm we hired, I would gladly recommend A Well Dressed Home in Dallas. For daycare for your canine companion, I will rave about Every Dog’s Day in Frisco. If you need help with a refinance, we used TexasLending.com, and they were very expedient and painless.
Lastly, have you heard of Fairmarket? This locally-owned biz has all the tools homeowners and contractors need for efficient communication and job management. Homeowners are given a data-infused, digital replica of their home and they can use it to design, get bids, hire, and manage their home maintenance, repairs, and renovations from their phone. Fairmarket has all the home’s measurements built into the system so contractors can bid on jobs with one click, eliminating any need to drive to the residence for measurement and bidding. Pretty impressive local entrepreneurs… Look into it.
And if you need a really good profanity pillow, I’d recommend a firm bed pillow with a duct tape harnessing. The average throw pillow doesn’t muffle well enough and really just gives you violent ideas. I mean, “throw” is right there in the name.
All the Dude ever wanted was his shower door fixed, and fixed it is. The Dude just had to abide a bunch of other stuff in the process.