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

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 – Part 1

An Architect’s Home

With several clients heading down the road to their own renovation, I thought I’d reach back into my past and re-share my personal experience with renovating a house. My house. Well – mine and James’ house. It’s hard to believe that we finished the work almost four years ago, and that we managed to not bury either of us in the process. HGTV makes the work look pretty easy, but the reality is that every project has its own challenges – from the extent of work being done to normal day to day life that add its own special stress.

Join me as I step back over the next few months and delve back into The Road to Renovation, beginning with this post: An Architect’s Home.

Most professionals will tell you not to do business with friends or family. Things never work out well. So what do you do when it’s both?

After ten years in our home, and a remodel to the front half in 2004, my husband, James, and I decided the time had come to finally change the rest and create a Master Suite we both could enjoy. Our old Master Bath was barely big enough for one with just a shower, toilet, and pedestal sink. And the Master Closet was so small the closet rod supporting James’ clothes collapsed one day under the weight.

DSC07587
One galley Kitchen. Two people. Two dogs. Christmas cookies everywhere. Not sure how we ever did it.

If we had only stopped there.We started the initial project in January of 2012, and here we are at the end of May 2014 and we’re finally to the point of starting construction. What started as a simple addition to the Master Bedroom to create a true Master Suite morphed into a second floor to house the Master Suite and Office and a reconfiguration to turn the existing Guest Bedroom into a Laundry with Garage access.

News came in early 2013 that James would be working from home full time, so we ditched that idea, went back to our original addition plan, and added an office, guest room, and bath on a second floor.

Dealing with bids, lenders, and appraisers ultimately resulted in a much simpler project, still giving us what we need, but not overdoing it. As an architect, watching clients dream bigger than their budget is not unusual.

Amazing how much you ignore that with your own project when you’re the one telling your spouse “No.”

GUEST BATH 02
We didn’t even get the cool 1950s pink tile with an accent trim. Just blue and brown fish scattered around the tub.

At one point we were even having “the-cobbler’s-children-have-no-shoes” moment, and my “client” was getting fussy about getting drawings done and construction started. In that moment, I thought of just hiring a friend to finish the drawings. However, I knew I’d find the time somewhere between dealing with my own clients and running a practice to “pop out” some drawings.

And it only took two years.

Check back in as we start down the road on our renovation. Please try not to laugh as I get to experience this as both the client and the architect. And learn firsthand if I can do business with friends and family – even when it’s me.

Gym Thoughts

Because this is normal, right?

I made the courageous decision recently to dive off into the world of core exercises as part of my gym routine. Enough time had passed (4 years I think!) that I figured I’d better get on it while I could still stand up on my own.

Now if you’re married to an architect – or know someone who is – you know we don’t see the world quite like most people. I always tell people if you walk into a room and someone’s staring at the ceiling, they’re probably just an architect checking out the lighting. Don’t be alarmed.

Consequently, as I’m laying on the mat at my local Y, staring up at the ceiling, what do you suppose I think about? How many crunches I can do before being carted off in an ambulance? Will anyone notice if I cry a little? I don’t recall my abs hurting like this before. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea?

ceiling
My view at the gym. Stunning!

Of course not.

I’m looking up at the ceiling and noticing they’ve used steel roof deck for the exposed ceiling. And now we’re off to the races.

“Did they fill the deck with lightweight concrete?”

“Or is there rigid foam insulation on top?”

“They must have run the electrical for the lighting inside the pans because the light fixtures are attached directly to the ceiling. Who had to lay all of that out? That’s a lot of time on a scissor lift.”

I would love to lie and say none of these thoughts shot through my mind. But I can’t. I’m an architect.

Besides – it’s better than worrying how big a scene I’m likely to create getting off the mat.

Maybe I’ll just lay there a little longer.

It Gets Better?

Isn’t that why it’s called a renovation?

Like most commuters, my drive to work takes me through the same neighborhoods over and over. And you become so accustomed to seeing the same buildings, that you can’t help but notice when one changes – for better or worse.

My current path takes me past an older house in Dallas that’s currently undergoing an exterior renovation. Not uncommon in Dallas. Not the least uncommon for this neighborhood.

Except that every time I go by, the house doesn’t look like it’s getting better. And for me, that’s not the direction you want to see a renovation heading.

RENOVATE

One of the first steps was to remove the windows on the west side that face the side yard with the busy street and cover the openings with more of the two-inch wood siding already on the house. Which means someone thought less light on that side of the house would be a good solution. True, you’ll cut down on the noise coming from the street. However, the 8-foot fence they erected in the side yard is probably taking care of most of that.

Next step? Paint it a bright, bright, BRIGHT color. Like lemon yellow. And not just lemon yellow, but neon lemon yellow. I’ve never driven by at night, but I just picture it glowing even in the dark. So much so you can probably see it from space.

Now there’s nothing wrong with a bright color. Bright colors can make a house pop. But the entire structure? Almost makes my face pucker every time I go by!

Finally – let’s put a concrete porch and steps with the requisite iron rail on the front of the house. The front of the house without any overhang that would indicate a porch goes there. And the front of the house with the gray door you hope is only primer.

I’m thinking there isn’t much left to do to the outside, but I could be wrong. Perhaps some landscaping? And I know I’ll never see the inside.

Maybe the house belongs to a developer who is just flipping and selling. Or maybe it belongs to someone with very specific tastes the contractor must meet.

Except it’s called a renovation. And it’s not getting better.

Fashion Backwards

But it’s so comfortable…

To know me is to know of my distaste for suits. And slacks. And ties. Or for fashion in general. (Which is probably costing me some serious princess points!)

In my lifetime I’ve never felt comfortable in what I consider “dress clothes.” Or Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes. Maybe because I’ve never had anything that fit quite right. Or maybe just trauma from being dressed up as a kid.

me and marj
In my own defense, it was the early 70s.

Or perhaps at heart I’m just a schlub.

With the summer heat sucking the life out of everyone, my inclination is to arrive at the office in shorts, a polo, and tennis shoes. This is particularly true on the days I don’t have client meetings.

Except last Friday I had an unexpected request from a past client to meet that afternoon. Should I run home and change? Should I not go? Or should I beat myself up for not having a backup set of clothes for these moments?

Instead I let my client know I would be looking casual. He in turn answered the door in shorts, a t-shirt (tucked in) and sandals. Letting me know that what I was wearing wasn’t that important.

Bear in mind I have a friend who no matter when you see him, he’s put together. The only time that wasn’t true was in the hospital after having four strokes. Yet even then, though he could only hold anything in his right hand, that hand held an electric razor so he looked somewhat presentable for visitors. And even afterwards, visiting him at home during his recovery, he still made a track suit look stylish!

I, on the other hand, keep thinking of the adage of dressing for the job you want, not the job you have. And I probably look like I should be asking if you want fries with that.

And then I remember: I have the job I want.

And as it turns out, my boss is pretty casual.

 

 

50

How did I get here?

Today I am 50.

And I’ve been pondering what that really means.

Initially I thought I’d just spend the day in a dark room, dressed in black, and wearing a veil. But then I realized while I am in fact a queen, doing that would require putting the word “drama” in front of it, and I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

Once upon a time 50 would have meant I’m on the downside towards retirement after having worked for the same company for 30 or 40 years. I would also most likely have been closeted and married with a few kids running around.

Oddly enough, while I’m certainly not closeted, I am married and do have two “kids” running around. Maybe not so much running as lazing. But you get the idea.

As for retiring – not even close. I have a husband who is really looking forward to a time where he can say goodbye to his job, eat bon-bons, and watch Oprah. I, however, have a hard time imagining myself not working. Maybe working less but still working.

When I was 18, I don’t know that I ever imagined being 50. And given some of the stupid things done in my youth, it’s a wonder I’ve made it this far. But I think we can all say that.

I certainly didn’t think I’d be an architect and working for myself. That possibility wasn’t even on the table.

And if you had told me that I’d be speaking at conferences across the US, I would have told you you’re nuts. Why would I subject myself to that? And what would I possibly talk about?

As for podcast hosting and blogging…we didn’t have the internet. Podcasting would have been radio. And blogging a column in a newspaper. Seems almost archaic!

Yet here I sit, hammering out this blog post on my birthday. And yes, while wearing a pair of readers – something that’s happening more and more often these days.

But it is my birthday, so for now, I’m going to close this out, relax, and just enjoy the day.

At least until a hip gives out.