How Honest is Too Honest?

Exactly how much are you supposed to admit to on a seller’s disclosure? Where do you draw the line?

Exactly how much are you supposed to admit to on a seller’s disclosure? Where do you draw the line?

During our last trip to New Orleans, I picked up a copy of The Last Madam by Christine Wiltz. And it’s exactly how it sounds – the life of the last madam running the last known house of prostitution in New Orleans. Very interesting to read. Some for the madam’s story. Some for the sheer amount of corruption during that time.

Norma Wallace. Source: Chris Wiltz.

While the author was nice enough to include a photo of the house from the 1940s, the architect nerd in me had to check out Google to see if the house still existed. Sure enough, there it was. Even better, I found some news links from when the house was purchased post-Katrina.

And discovered that the new owner didn’t know about the house’s history until he was about to close on the property.

Now I’ve been to NOLA enough times, and read about NOLA’s history enough times, to know that when it comes to the French Quarter, I can’t imagine there isn’t a house or building without a history. But this guy didn’t think to ask? And the seller didn’t disclose?

I know a couple whose home in East Texas is haunted. Not pretend haunted. Haunted. Nothing too terrible but just enough to give someone pause. But that’s one of those things I’d want to see on the disclosure form, maybe somewhere between when the roof was replaced, and the house rewired.

Which makes me wonder why it took this buyer so long to find out he was purchasing what was once a house of ill-repute. And as the seller, I think that type of history would add some cache to the home.

At least it would for me.

“Well when I bought the place there was a lot of damage from the hurricane. Wood rot. Holes in the roof. Oh, and did I mention it was a brothel? See? Right there on the disclosure form. Right below termite damage.”

Learn more about 1026 Conti Street.

Main photo: Chris Wiltz

Overheard. To intervene or not to intervene. That is the question.

I stop and ask myself if I should say anything, like offering the aforementioned questions. Or will I get yelled at for eavesdropping and not minding my own business?

Can you speak up? I didn’t quite hear that.

My wonderful husband is notorious for listening to other conversations when we’re at dinner (not to mention eyeballing other people’s food). And after 23 years, I will freely admit I find myself doing the same from time to time. As much as that can annoy me at times, we have overheard some interesting breakfast conversations in New Orleans.

However, what perks my ears up most is when the conversation at the next table turns to design, construction, or architecture. How do I not listen? Except then I struggle to keep my mouth shut.

Most recently, while waiting for a take-out order, I couldn’t help but overhear: “I told her it had to be a 220 outlet, so she canceled the order. Why do people have to be so cheap?” And then came the sage advice from the helpful wag lunching with her: “It’s only $150 to install one. Call her back and tell her.”

The only thing I could think of was the old lady in the Esurance commercial unfriending her friend. “That’s not how that works! That’s not how any of this works!”

Because you can’t just “drop in” a 220 outlet without asking some important questions: Is there space in the electrical panel? Where is the panel in relation to the new outlet? Does the electrician have to run wire through the entire attic? Does the city require rigid conduit? All of that and more before you get around to the actual installation.

At those times, I stop and ask myself if I should say anything, like offering the aforementioned questions. Or will I get yelled at for eavesdropping and not minding my own business? How rude!

Especially challenging are people talking about their own renovation and wondering what to do. Can I casually slip them a card? Or does that make me the creepy architect who can’t mind his own business? Do you really want him working on your project?

No matter, because I’ll keep listening in. Just don’t be surprised one day if I lean over and recommend you ask a professional, even if it’s the nosy one sitting at the next table.

Main image courtesy of Tim Mossholder.

The Road to Renovation Redux

Is This a Good Time?

I am tired. Really tired.

In the four months since the first day of demolition, I have travelled more than I ever have in one year’s time.  Chicago. Las Vegas. Atlanta. New Orleans.  And James has been on the road as much.  Denver.  Philly.  New York.  (Not to mention Las Vegas and New Orleans with me because who wouldn’t want to go to either one?)

Consequently, I’ve spent the summer getting on and off planes and wondering if we couldn’t have picked a worse time to start construction.

Then I remember our original plan which was to begin construction at the start of last November.  Looking back, we’re so grateful that did not happen.  James had to board a plane to London the week before Thanksgiving and he proceeded to travel back and forth until the end of March.

How exactly was I supposed to make that work?  Drag him off the plane on his return, run him to the job site and force him to make finish material selections for a week before sending him off again?

Understand, we never really had a specific start date in mind (unless you count sooner than later).  Or thought too much about what was going to be happening in our lives at that point.  Just starting, no matter when, would feel like a triumph.

However, most of our clients ask at some point:

“Is this a good time?”

Spring?  When the kids are in school.  But what about spring break?  And weather?  Will we get done in time for summer?

Summer?  Weather is better (usually).  But the kids are out of school and most likely to be at home while the contractor is hammering and sawing.  And then we take family vacation.  What happens while we’re gone?

Fall?  Kids are back in school, but the holidays are just around the corner.  And will they be done in time for Christmas? (FYI – you’ve just jinxed your project the moment that question is asked.)

And then it’s winter, and who wants to start then?  You know nothing is going to be done between Christmas and New Year’s!

No one time is better to start than another.  There will always be challenges in balancing a work life with a personal life while construction is going on around you.  In addition to juggling family and work, you’re going to be coping with noise, dust and that porta potty in your front yard.  You cannot avoid these elements no matter which time of year.

Remember, I do this for a living (and only have a husband to contend with), and I couldn’t!

The Road to Renovation Redux

Split Personality

Perhaps the biggest challenge of being my own architect and being my own client (aside from just finishing the damn drawings!) has been figuring out who I am now that the construction started.  Some days I get to be the client.  Some days just the architect.  Some days both.

Client or architect or confused?

And then some days, I just end up confused because one of the personalities surprises me.

A few weeks ago, we went by the house to take some pics to send to my in-laws (Stop rolling your eyes!  We were really there for that purpose.  I wasn’t being “that client.”)  Without warning, the client side of me came right to the surface.  And not in the prettiest of ways.

In my own defense, let me just say that I had finished a very rough week at the office, working a little late on previous nights to be sure I was prepared for 8 a.m. meetings.  By 2 PM on Friday I was tired, my brain was in shutdown mode, and I still did not leave the office until 5 PM.

Getting “hangry” over trucks on MY lawn!

So when we finally make it to the house at 6:45 PM, I’m that much more tired, and I’m getting “hangry” – angry because I’m now also hungry.  And as we pull up in front of the house next door (because of the trucks parked in front of ours), I said:

“That’s interesting.”

To which James simply replied:

“Uh-oh.”

Somehow my simple statement had him concerned that the afternoon was not going to end well for the owner of the truck and trailer that were parked on our front lawn.

IMG_1654
The offending vehicle

Can’t contact the architect (That’s me!)

Had I been just the client, the immediate response would have been a text/email/phone call (possibly all three) to my architect making him aware of the situation.  What my architect did after that was up to them as long as the situation was resolved and did not happen again.  Unfortunately, my architect was me, and he was nowhere to be found.

Rest assured, no one was yelled at.  No egos bruised.  No blood spilled.  I simply added that to my list of items to discuss with the contractor the following Monday morning when I was in a better frame of mind and could approach the situation from a more practical standpoint:  1) We were re-landscaping that part of the yard anyway; and 2) They only did that to unload materials more easily.

Except none of these perspectives really mattered that afternoon because the tired and hangry client in me was yelling: “THERE’S A TRUCK AND A TRAILER ON MY LAWN!!!”

Cooler heads prevailed

Monday morning came.  The matter was discussed.  The subcontractors were made aware of what not to do when unloading materials.  Issue resolved.  Kind of.

As I pulled up to the house Tuesday afternoon, I discovered that the information didn’t trickle down to quite everyone.

Not again?

As I parked my car, I watched one of the subs back his pickup onto the lawn again to unload materials that resulted in a passive-aggressive text from me to the contractor with a photo of the truck and the message: “Trying to keep this in perspective.”

Client: 1  Architect: 0  Larry:  Very confused.

As I mentioned, figuring out who I am at any given moment has been a big challenge.  Even more so, since I’ve developed a very collaborative relationship with my contractor.  As we’ve been working together, reviewing progress and talking about process, I’ve had to really think about whether I’m the architect, the client or both.

Did this “issue” get resolved quickly? Of course, and I had no doubt it would.

keep off grass“Keep Off the Grass”

Although I had to laugh the next day when I received the picture of the sawhorse on my lawn with a “Keep Off the Grass” sign.  Because what you don’t see, just out of frame, is the porta potty that’s been parked on the other side of my lawn since construction started.

And yes, the architect in me would tell the client, “It has to go somewhere!”

Main image courtesy of Filip Mróz.

Time To Pull The Plug

When working with a client on a renovation, we always tell them to be prepared for the unexpected.

Sometimes it’s just about letting go.

When working with a client on a renovation, we always tell them to be prepared for the unexpected. No matter how well they feel they know their house, once the drywall starts to come off, you’re going to find a surprise or two. I even wrote about this in 2014 as James and I were dealing with our own renovation.

And most renovation issues stop there. In 21 years, I have only had one conversation where we told the client the time had come to pull the plug and start over. When you pull up to a house thinking you’ll be discussing foundation issues, only to see that the front porch slab has broken free and is pulling the brick off as the porch slides off the foundation, you have very little to discuss. Building new is the only option.

However, we’ve never started a project only to put work on hold while we discuss with the owner why rebuilding is the smart choice. There’s never been that many surprises.

Until now. And it’s not even my project.

A friend and I were sharing stories about current projects (as architects tend to do when we run into one another), and she started telling me about a renovation that had started a couple of weeks prior.

Initial inspection of the house didn’t turn up anything out of the ordinary. Brick home. Slab foundation. Wood-framed. Nothing the contractor hadn’t seen before or that would likely impact the project.

Except from the first day, the job super started running into issues. Live abandoned electrical wires in the wall. Rotted wood at the bottom of the rear wall where water from the patio had seeped in. No steel reinforcing in the slab. And most recently, exterior brick sitting not on concrete but on dirt.

Each day at the project seemed to bring new challenges – to the point the designer dreaded answering phone calls from the job super. She didn’t want to hear that something else was wrong.

I joked with here that maybe it was time to put the house out to pasture and bring in something new. Little Timmy is stuck in a well and will just have to stay there.

Fortunately, the owner has taken each new challenge in stride and is determined to complete the project as planned – plus a few extra changes to make sure the house is safe. Which means my friend doesn’t have to worry about having what could be a very difficult conversation.

Because we all love grandpa. But no one ever wants to be the one to pull the plug.

Headline image courtesy of Nolan Issac.

The Road to Renovation Redux

Surprise!

You’ve bought an older home and now you’re ready to renovate. You know who your architect is. You know who your contractor is. You even know what you want to do.

What you don’t know is that underneath the linoleum in the laundry room is 3/4” plywood.

Sitting on top of 2X6 floor joists.

Resting on Astroturf.

Laid over brick pavers.

Sitting on top of the original concrete garage slab.

Surprise!

We always tell a client prior to starting a renovation to expect at least one surprise. No matter how new the house or how many prior renovations, there is always a hidden condition about which no one would have guessed. Sometimes it is good (mahogany paneling behind drywall) and sometimes not so good (“Why yes! Those are active termites in your master closet!”)

James and I didn’t get too far into our renovation before we had our first surprise – the framer looking at the vaulted living room ceiling and telling the contractor, “This will never pass inspection.” Fifty years of wear and tear had left the framing of the ceiling sagging and in some cases broken. While we had thought the framer might be able to patch up what was there, the reality was that the entire ceiling, including the ridge beam, needed to be reframed.

Surprise!

Beam Surprise
Our pretty new ridge beam and roof framing

The second came after the new roof had been put on and we couldn’t help but notice a slight sag over the garage we’d never seen before. Some examination found that during the roof replacement, a knot had popped out of the ridge beam, allowing the beam to flex. Again, a little extra framing and problem solved.

Still, surprise! Or as the contractor would call that – a “change order.”

We’ve actually been very lucky that our home, although 50 years old, was built well. Someone even commented to me that we should have been happy the house had insulation all of those years.

However, we don’t always get to share that experience with clients. Sometimes once the renovation process starts, you find out just how much really needs to be fixed, even when you’ve tried your hardest to discover issues before the first hammer swings.

As for the laundry room example above? Yes, that did happen on a project.

And no, we didn’t leave that as a surprise for the next owner to find.

When you gotta go…

To love New Orleans is to love all New Orleans – from the Marigny to the Garden District – and to love all her quirks.

To love New Orleans is to love all New Orleans – from the Marigny to the Garden District – and to love all her quirks. Like knowing full well I’m going to get a cab of questionable lineage from the airport to the hotel. Or that it might cloud over and rain at a moment’s notice.

However, no matter how many times I’ve been to New Orleans, there’s one quirk I’ve never loved and don’t know that I ever will:

The French Quarter restroom.

Any time I’m in a restaurant in the French Quarter, I have to ask myself: How badly do I need to use the restroom? Do I really need to pee so bad I’m willing to risk my health and well-being? Or is there a bar around the corner where I know I’ll be safe?

And I’m not kidding.

One would expect bar restrooms to be of questionable character. I mean, it’s a bar. What is alarming though is that some of those toilets have been nicer and cleaner than those at some of the finer dining establishments. I’ve had times where I thought even the trough at Café Lafitte’s would be a step up.

Cafe Lafitte, New Orleans

To a certain degree I understand. The French Quarter is really the heart of New Orleans and was part of the city founded three hundred years ago. I would imagine many courtyards sported outhouses. But surely someone thought along the way to 2018 about building a better restroom. And maybe placing it in the same building.

Countless times I’ve stepped down dim hallways, around corners, up a flight of stairs, or across a courtyard just to dispose of the hurricanes I’ve been drinking. No trip that I can recall has been a short step away. In one instance, I left a very nice restaurant, walked across the courtyard to the adjacent building, stepped up into the men’s room, only to look down as I’m washing my hands and think:

Is that blood on the floor? Did someone in the kitchen cut themselves? Did the previous occupant get mugged and I’m looking at the aftermath? Now I’m getting nervous but beginning to understand why some restrooms are so dimly lit.

And this phenomenon is not exclusively reserved for men. I’ve heard women’s restrooms described by female friends as “sketchy.” Given the odor coming out of the single-hole restrooms at some of the bars, I can understand why.

However, don’t let any of that discourage you from venturing at least once to New Orleans. For me she is still my second home, quirks and all. Even if it means sometimes crossing my legs and bunny hopping my way back to my clean and well-lit hotel restroom.

Cover photo courtesy of Cayetano Gil.