Monday, September 16, 2013

It's Over

It's over, folks. Fini. 27 1/2 months after we closed, 2 years to the day after we received state approvals, 21 months after the sledgehammers started swinging. But also five months after we moved in, and a year after our desired date of completion. But it's over. All work requested of our general contractor has been completed. Let me repeat that, but louder: ALL WORK REQUESTED OF OUR GENERAL CONTRACTOR HAS BEEN COMPLETED. THAT FELT GOOD--er-- that felt good.

Final touches were done on the kitchen in the middle of last week: grouting the backsplash tile (black, Abby's idea-- surprised me, but looks great); painting the top sash of the far window that had, for some reason, never been painted; getting up under the little notches with black paint to give added depth (Abby's idea too, she wasn't sure I'd like it, but I love it). Standing in the far end of the kitchen at night, it feels like an old-fashioned modern French kitchen, if that makes sense. I love it.

And downstairs, a third of our mudroom has been gobbled up by the new closet that encloses the water heater. Actually, a lot more of the mudroom is left than we thought, and we might actually be able to hang some hooks on one side so as to get some coats up on the wall. We still need to paint it, but whatever-- it'll be white, like everything else down there. (My only complaint: there are too many angles in there now, but it had to be that way to allow clearance for the required access panel.)

There are a couple of things we realized that have not yet been done. For instance, the door between the guest room and the storage area has been hung, but the doorknob is uninstalled and there's no trim inside or out. When I mentioned this to Abby, she could not have shot back more quickly her desire not to involve the contractors in even one more project. Her take is that if we ask them to do something, they'll just pass it on to the subs, charge us too much, and take too long. Instead, we got the phone number of one of the workers we know who has done excellent work, and we'll ask him. (We've already asked him to help us with an odd job at the old house.)

The latter part of last week was spent trying to get the invoice out of them. I told them countless times that we'd want an invoice to turn in for the historical requirements, yet it constantly seemed like a surprise to them-- as if keeping records was anathema to their way of life. They sent a first draft invoice, which was hilarious because it just mimicked the loan numbers, which we all agreed were just placeholders. Plus, they included things like floors and doors and appliances-- things we purchased ourselves. After three drafts, we finally got an acceptable (if imperfect) invoice in my inbox on Sunday. But not after being pestered for more of the money we owe them. Abby had given them $5,000 midweek, and we're disputing some of their final charges. We say we owed them a bit under $8,000 before that payment; they claim it's a bit over $9,000. So I gave them $2,000 more on Saturday, since that was undisputed and we really need that invoice. We'll see what happens next.

But really, apart from the last $900 (or $2,300, depending on whose side you're on) and the movement of our piano from its resting place in the foyer down to the family room, we have wiped our hands of Servicez Unlimited. It's really a pity-- we started off loving Rory, then Mark took over and things went for a roller-coaster ride that ended with, if not hard feelings, a definite desire never to deal with each other again. I'm not so sure that they'll ever respond to a call from us should we need to make use of our warranty... and I'm not so sure that the two years didn't start when they started work, which, when you think about it, was more than two years ago now. Regardless, it may take more than the already-chipping exterior paint for us to call them again.

Things are not done. There is still a lot of work to do. We have a long road ahead of us with paperwork, with landscaping, with living in the house. But this part is over. We no longer live in a construction zone. We can unpack boxes with the knowledge that they don't have to be repacked-- possibly for decades. We can sit on the couch, and stare around, at OUR (technically) COMPLETED HOUSE. And yep, the allcaps there were deliberate.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Squatting No More

It's been a month since I last wrote-- more than a month, in fact. And I wish I could say there have been massive movements in construction. Actually, were it three days ago, I could say absolutely no physical movements have been made. But in the past three days, well, movement. First off, though, is the most important thing to happen since I last wrote.

The reason I haven't written about the house for so long is that I haven't actually been in it. Between a 2,500-mile road trip and a 25,000-mile business trip, I only slept in my own bed four times during the entire month of August. But early last month, while I was visiting friends and family in Buffalo, we got the big news we'd been waiting for for so long: we passed our inspection. So, for the first time on this blog, I can tell you we are no longer squatters in our own home. (I know, right?) And I wish I could be more excited about that pronouncement of officialdom from the good people in Rockville, but the thing is, for the next month, absolutely nothing happened in the house. Oh wait-- they planted grass seed that actually grew. So there, we have a lawn. In the meantime, my closet lay in ruins, having been assembled and active since April; as a result, unpacking after 17 days of leisure, and packing for 18 days of business just 4 days later, was accomplished with more than a little consternation on my part.

But then, there was communication. Yes, none other than Servicez Unlimited themselves texted us, we thought because they wanted to work. But no.  Actually, they just wanted money. You see, we still owe them about $15,000, money that was held by the mortgage company until all work was done. You may remember it as the money they decided to allow to lapse rather than having to deal with us anymore. So, sure, we owe it to them, but they ain't getting it all until we are happy. Abby met with Marc and, while I said she should give him a third of it, gave him half. In exchange, they agreed to wipe away some of the ridiculous charges they had amassed, like a $70 charge for delivering a door.

A week later, still nothing from them. So I texted them back-- seeing as it's apparently the way they communicate best now, although I prefer email because of the more easily-discernable trail. By the end of the day, I've worked out with them that there are several things they're just itching to complete-- do you sense my sarcasm?-- and they can start on Wednesday, and "be finished by the end of the week," if I get back to them by 7pm; otherwise, it'll be another week, for some reason. Interestingly enough, I get the text at 5pm, giving me plenty of time to consider. But consider I do, and within 15 minutes I respond to most of the bullet points as if to say GET YOUR BUTTS OVER HERE. Among those things I don't agree to? A $250 installation of the hot water tap they had already installed, only to remove because they screwed up the plans they submitted to the county. The tap cost about $125, and I know for a fact my dad can install it; I'm pretty sure I can too, which tells you either how easy I think it is, or how little further work I wish to give to these guys.

So Wednesday comes. And voila-- my closet is reassembled. I feel I can step back into the adulthood I had claimed in April.

But then Thursday comes. And all the whining and begging and debating and convincing becomes worthwhile-- at least momentarily. We pull up in our parking space, look up at our kitchen windows, and see it: nothing. Nothing, as in there had been a ridiculously high backsplash blocking half of our window array. And now? At least five inches had been cut off. Abby ran into the house-- I think she forgot she had kids in tow-- and opened the window, yelling for me to come up and see. Walking into the great room, the change is immediately perceptible; there are just so many more TREES visible. Standing at the counter looking toward the glen, you can actually see most of the backyard without having to get up on the counter with your knees. It's the view we fell in love with 31 months ago, when we first stepped into the house. And the icing on the cake? Tiles. Abby chose white subway tile, similar to what we had in our old kitchen, except with beveled edges, to line the exposed walls and what's left of the backsplash, and they look amazing. The look is exactly what she wanted, the installation is perfect-- even along the uneven stone wall backing the fireplace-- and Abby is giddy. She decided it looks so good that she wants one more wall covered in it, rather than being painted. (Being the nice one, she at least feigned changing her mind if I would be upset that her plan would tile over a wall I had painted in my paintathon a couple months back.) For those of you who know Abby, you'll appreciate that she wanted this bad enough the she was willing to drive a half-hour through the suburbs to get an extra pack of tile, and another half-hour back to deliver it to the guys before turning around and driving yet another half-four, getting to the kids' school in time to pick them up. That, my friends, is dedication to design.

So that's where we stand now. Still incredibly frustrated with the contractors, but more and more feeling that it doesn't matter. It's the end of the week, and they're not finished as they had texted, but it's not like I believed them. After all, we're about a year late now-- remember, we were originally shooting for Labor Day 2012. Regardless, only small stuff is left for them to do. The biggest thing on our horizon now is paperwork. Ten days from today is the due date for our submission to the Maryland Historical Trust. As long as we amass all the receipts we can, fill out all the necessary documentation, and get it in on time, we'll get a giant chunk of change back from the State of Maryland as a thank-you for saving a deteriorated old property. I've already gathered about $120,000 in receipts, and Abby was tasked with getting at least $20,000 more from Home Depot today, so we're well on our way. Pushing it, sure, but we'll make it.

What will be interesting is whether we'll be happier about finishing this project or cutting our ties to the contractors. My guess? The latter in the short term, and the former in the long term. But both will be welcomed, and that's for sure!