Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Business Lesson From Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson

It's hard to go a day without seeing at least one of the bearded faces from Duck Dynasty.  I haven't watched every season, but I've seen enough episodes to have a favorite; it's the one where the guys have a doughnut eating contest, Si wins, has the winning raffle ticket for the camper, and wakes up out in the woods.

My sister gave me Phil's book Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy As the Duck Commander for my birthday this past summer and I wanted to share one specific story from it that may be eye-opening for some DIY home renovators.

Halfway through the autobiography the Duck Dynasty patriarch tells of the early days starting Duck Commander.  He received a $25,000, interest free loan from a businessman at his church.  This was his start up money and at the top of his list was a lathe to create the duck call barrels.  He shopped around and located the equipment he needed in Arkansas.  The man asked him how much he had to spend and Phil told him...twenty five thousand dollars.  At the time it seemed like a blessing because the seller advised him that the lathe he was selling was priced at $24,985.  In hind sight it may have been a tongue in cheek figure, but Phil didn't get the joke and paid the price.  Later he realized that the big tool was really worth only $5,000 and the bearded duck hunter writes that it took the family nearly a decade to recover from this con.

If you've read many of my posts you know what I'd have told him: "Get at least three prices on things when you don't know the value."  Three is good, four is better, and five is ideal.  It would have taken some time and effort for Mr. Phil to find two or three other lathes up for sale, but it would've been time well spent.  This is easy for me to say, but I will also credit this mindfulness to a large company I worked for that helped me learn this before I was out working for myself. 

Comparable scenarios happen all the time in the home renovation world.  The greener you look, the more tempted the wrong contractor will be to try to sucker you in to paying too much.  It's real simple.  They ask you something like, "How much do you have to spend?"  And you naively answer the question.  Then oftentimes they try to do you the way that guy did Phil and if you're not careful you'll be into an agreement for something very close to the number you shared or something much higher than you should pay... which to me is just as bad.  This is not the way it should work though.  You simply tell them what you want and they give you a number.  Then, you repeat the same basic scope description (apples to apples) to comparable tradespeople and wait for them to tell you what it will cost in the form of a written quote or bid.  Be straight up with them about what type of work you want them to quote and expect them to be straight forward with you in return.  Ignore any assurances that "Everyone will do the work for some similar price," or "No one will do it cheaper," and push ahead to get more prices. 

Also, I'm ready to haggle at a flea market, in a pawn shop for used tools, or when I'm buying a car, but with contractors quoting me for work, I don't go that route.  Construction renovating is a team effort and I don't do my teammates that way.  I ask them to just give me their best price from the beginning so they can "still make money."  Then I let them take it from there to get as tight as they can with their figures.  I review the bids and choose the best contractor for the job.  Sometimes it's the low number, but not always.  (For more on this topic see Push Hard to Get Quotes.)

So if you want to be happy, happy, happy, don't tell everyone at the poker table what cards you're holding and don't tell bidding contractors how much money you have to spend.  Be ready when they ask, but keep your budget details to yourself.    

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Trentovation of The Country Victorian

If you want to make God laugh,
tell Him about all your big plans.

So I was ready to start our family home project out in Dorchester County, but that's not going to be happening just yet... and that's alright.  I have something equally as challenging and exciting on my schedule as we head into 2014 and I'm ready to get started.  It's a 107 year old house that has it's share of issues, but has a lot of great things going for it and an amazing amount of potential.
The 1906 part of this country house originally totaled about 550 square feet with two rooms, a long hallway from front to back, and a large porch.  Previous owners added 850 sqft. to the back, a side porch that's been enclosed, and an octagon room on the corner 
that creates a Victorian feel.  It has an attached garage that was added in the mid seventies as well as a detached garage under a big old live oak tree in the back yard.  It's a half acre lot with two grand magnolias and at least a dozen flowering crepe myrtles.

The Country Victorian
The total square footage comes to around 1,600 sqft. w/ the garages giving me more than 700 sqft. of space that I'll thankfully make use of during the project.  (For more on working space see The Detached Garage at the Bungalow). 

Right now, it's a three bedroom, two bath home that has the kitchen and dining in the back while the living area is up front.  My plans are centered around relocating the kitchen to the front of the house and opening things up to make the original part of the home an open, larger feeling living space. 

If I'm being brutally honest, my biggest challenge for this project will be juggling contractors, tradespeople, and my own tasks on-site with everything that I need to do for my family at home... and that's also not something I should get too worked up over.  Back when I started, before I had a family, I was really only thinking about jumping back and forth between work on the inside and tasks on the outside, depending on the time of day and weather.  However, as a family man I have to juggle the usual work on my Pig's Ear with getting kids to and from school, child care when they're out of school, yard work, house work, sports practices, games, medical appointments plus all my other family responsibilities that are interwoven with my wife's job.  It's all sort of insane sometimes.

Since the kids have gotten older, it's become more practical to have them on site with me for a couple hours.  It's hard to express how much I really enjoy having them off in a clean corner playing games on their devices, watching a video, or coloring while I work.  It's an extra challenge, but I like having them there happily hanging out while I do some of the same tasks I've done hundreds of times in the past while alone.  They're safe and content while I'm feeling good about making progress on the job.  Maybe I have to bribe them with some ice cream or other treats, but they're typically on-board for short stints.

The next biggest thing I'll be dealing with on the renovation side is the floor system which is rotten and decaying due to moisture/ventilation issues and some termite activity.  I honestly don't know what I'm going to find when I start digging into this thing.  From the outside, it's clear that the house is structurally sound, but walking inside and crawling underneath in the crawl space makes it obvious why no one else wanted to buy this place.  It needs serious work and someone like me with experience taking on old houses that have been through multiple additions.

Bathroom in the Octagon
I'm going to go a different
way with this space.
My wife is predicting that this will be my best Pig's Ear yet.  I can see the potential and appreciate her optimism.  However, I may lose my mind before I get to the finish line on this one.   The Country Victorian will be more challenging than all the others in some unique ways.   It's going to stretch me to my limits physically, mentally, and financially.  As I've said before, I'm not a house flipper.  This is not going to be a 30 or 60 day deal.  I'll be digging in with everything I have, juggling life and work until I get my Certificate of Occupancy.  I don't really use the word rehab as much as renovate.  With this one involving all the juggling as it draws upon all the experience I've gained through past projects, it's going to be more than my typical renovation - this one is going to be a full on Trentovation. 


Monday, November 11, 2013

Step 30 - Interior Caulking & Painting

Caulking and painting on the inside follows Step 29 - Interior Trim.  My budget and schedule determines weather I do this scope myself or if I sub it out.  No two jobs are alike for me in any way and Step 30 is the same...sometimes I paint a little and sometimes a lot.

After years working with experienced painters I've learned enough that I can fake it as a painter when necessary.  I can save you a lot of time by passing on what I've learned pretty quickly and you can use these tips as a good starting point if you're new to home renovating.

Acrylic Latex Caulk Plus Silicone
White 10.1oz. cartridge

Caulking - Less Is More
Caulk makes the paint job look perfect.  I'm not a master carpenter, but caulk can make me look much more skilled than I actually am.  That's just the way it is.  I always use the DAP Alex Plus shown on the right.  I keep a wet rag hanging over my shoulder as I go and I just do small amounts (not more than 20 ounces) at a time.  You have to be ready to get a little messy when you caulk.  You're going to need to use your finger to push the caulk into the joints and smooth things out before it dries.  The caulk will dry fast enough that you need to keep falling back so it doesn't start to set before you have a chance to neaten it up.

As a rule, I juggle the caulking and painting in Step 30 so I'm working an area I caulked earlier (and preferably the day before) so it's totally dry when I hit the area with the paint. 

Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3
Primer - Sealer - Stain Killer
Painting - Keep it Simple
I've tried sprayers, rollers, and countless gadgets to help me paint, but I've grown to not make it harder than it needs to be.  I use only a few different sized brushes, painter's tape, and a standard sized roller.  I prefer Zinsser 1-2-3 for primer and for a lot of my white trim.  Like the Alex Caulk, the Z123 is Interior/Exterior and water it's practical.  You may find or have something else you prefer, but if you're looking for a starting point for painting raw wood white, grab up a gallon of the paint shown to the left and get to work.  For me, it's the stuff. 

I always keep the interior wall colors simple - nothing too bright or exotic.  This creates the look I'm after and I find it to be more practical than lots of colors.  With white trim, I like to do a soft beige on the walls and I'm in the habit of using ceiling paint for the closets, pantry, and laundry room. Painters charge more when you use an array of colors and I get why because it adds time and cost in the form of wasted paint. 

Also, as far as paint finish, I use satin.  Eggshell shows marks too easily and glossy is hard to touch up in small sections.  As far as paint manufacturers go, I use Sherman Williams more than anything else.   I have an account there and they give me a little discount, but they have locations all over plus they have a great product and service that I've found, matches their reputation.     

Finally, a paint contractor stressed to me how important clean up is early on in my career.  This advice has served me well.  So in Step 30, I'm in the habit of rinsing out the caulking rag frequently and cleaning my paint brushes and roller tray right after I'm done.  Just get into a groove of keeping your paint gear clean and this will save you a lot of time and money over the course of your rehab.