My Flipping Condo - Part Three: Hiring a Contractor
For parts one and two of this series about a firsthand account in renovating a rental property, look here: //www.doityourself.com/stry/my-flipping-condo-part-one and here: https://www.doityourself.com/stry/my-flipping-condo-part-two-assessing-the-damage
Those of us who are handy and like to busy ourselves with home repair projects feel like we could handle a renovation on our own, especially if it involves low-risk projects like demolition, hardwood floor installation, and painting. After all, projects like these can save thousands of dollars that would otherwise go to contractors and their crew. Doing it yourself is reasonable if you have the time and for those of us who carry even the most modest of handy genes, cosmetic repairs are not difficult to execute. More difficult jobs such as plumbing, electrical, tub and shower installation, and tiling are probably better left for the licensed experts; as we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing from the plethora of HGTV series on the subject, regular people renovating their homes often leads to bodily injury and financial disaster.
DIY vs. Hiring a Pro
When I agreed to renovate this condo, I planned to do a good deal of the work myself, but after assessing the damage and what would be required to bring it up to standards, I realized that it made more sense for me to bring a contractor into the fold. Contractors often get a bad rap. We’ve all heard stories about contractors who overcharged clients or who started a project only to let it stall—or who even disappeared from the face of the earth. These people exist. But so do decent contractors who are as passionate about their work as they are about the happiness of their clients. After all, the good contractors out there bank their reputations on the jobs they do and hope their stellar efforts will earn them repeat business and word-of-mouth recommendations.
This leads me to the topic of hiring a contractor. Just as it’s crucial to determine your color palate and materials before you begin the work, it’s equally as important to shop for a contractor who shares your vision and understands your timeline and budget. More often than not, the cheaper contractor is not the best contractor. Sometimes they are cheaper because they aren’t very good. Other times they're cheaper because they're overbooked and think they can squeeze in one more project that will cost them less because they can use excess materials from another project.
You want to bring in a contractor who has a recommendation from a friend or family member, who has photos of their previous work, and who is licensed and knows how to get permits for any of the work being done. You also want a contractor who understands your vision and is willing to work with you—someone who will defer to you rather than assume they know what you want. You want to be sure this contractor is a good communicator who calls you regularly with updates. They also need to have time for you on their schedule and should be able to guarantee (with obvious exceptions) that the work will be done by a certain date.
It was for these reasons that the first person I thought of calling was Haimi Eide of Eide Electrical in Van Nuys, CA. I have known Haimi for several years now and met him when he and his team renovated my friend’s office building. I was impressed with his crew’s pace as well as the quality of their work. Plus, my friend said he is one of the nicest, most honest contractors she’d ever worked with. I wound up hiring Haimi to build a home office on my property. I don’t need to go into the specifics of that project, but he completed the job on time and within budget and his workmanship was stellar. In turn, my mother-in-law hired him to renovate parts of her office and was very pleased with the work he did.
Haimi is a busy guy and his team is generally working on multiple projects at once. In fact, when I spoke with him he was in the midst of renovating the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel. If I hadn’t known Haimi, I might have been concerned that he wouldn’t have time to get this condo in shape as quickly as I need. But Haimi assured me that all he’d need was two weeks to complete the job.
Haimi and I met at the condo and walked through the unit. I pointed out all of the projects that need to be done and he took his own set of notes, giving me feedback on the degree of difficulty for each of them. Yes, I knew the "cottage cheese" ceilings had to be removed, but his attention to detail was better than mine. He pointed out that the walls were not smooth and were done with a textured "orange peel" finish. It’s customary to match this on the ceilings, so if I wanted to do it right, we would recreate the orange peel finish on the ceiling. We added it to his list as something he’d include in his estimate and that I could remove if I felt we were spending too much money.
He also noted other things that I hadn’t thought about. The kitchen cabinet repairs could be sanded, but the worn, water damaged sections would have to be replaced—another expense. An electrical outlet in a strange location should be moved out of the way—another expense. He thought the appliances were in good working order and that the countertops, although dated, were in good shape and we didn’t need to replace them. That’s another thing I like about Haimi; he doesn’t try to upsell me on projects that don’t need to be done. Haimi also agreed that the lighting downstairs needs to be replaced. I suggested recessed lighting, but cutting holes in the ceiling to insert lighting cans is actually more expensive than installing LED track lights, which today look very modern and stylish. We agreed that track lighting is the way to go.
We also agreed that the 15-year-old carpet needed to be removed throughout the condo. In terms of new flooring, carpet is the cheapest way to go, but it’s not very desirable these days and it’s nearly impossible to keep clean. Plus, carpet will need to be replaced every five to 10 years, so ultimately what seems like the cheaper option winds up costing more money down the road. Hardwood is every homeowner’s dream floor due to its natural look, durability, and easy-to-clean surface—but it’s also an expensive option that doesn’t make sense in a rental unit. The third option, which was already my favorite, is laminate hardwood flooring. We used laminate hardwood in our home office and we get compliments on it all the time. In fact, it looks so much like hardwood that most people think it is. It’s easy to clean, looks modern, and is stylish. It’s also only slightly more expensive than a quality carpet.
The biggest issues that we looked at in the whole condo are upstairs in the master bathroom. As mentioned in my previous article, the master bathroom is a mess. A hairline crack in the shower drain created a leak that damaged the living room ceiling, while the sheet of vinyl flooring is stained and peeling up from the subfloor. The porcelain sink is worn down to the cast iron and the tub is cracked and moldy. The entire bathroom save for the sink cabinet and vanity has to be gutted. The condition of the plumbing under the shower and tub is unknown, and we won't know what we're dealing with until those units are removed.
Even though my father-in-law didn’t want to spend more than $10,000 on this renovation, I had a pretty good idea that we were looking at double that amount for the work that needs to be done here. When you're talking about 1,300 square feet of flooring, painting, and ceiling treatment, there is no way you can get out of there for under five digits. Because of my history with Haimi, I also knew that he would not be tacking on unnecessary expenses or hidden costs, so when his estimate arrived, it wasn’t a surprise. In fact, it was a confirmation that I was pretty much in the ballpark with my own estimation. The work we agreed on is as follows:
- Demolition of existing flooring and tacking throughout
- Scrape all cottage cheese on ceiling
- Drywall repair to ceiling and necessary wall areas
- Supply and install baseboard throughout
- Preparation, sand, and paint inside of unit
- Replace smoke detectors throughout: one in each bedroom and hallway leading to bedroom
- Install one new smoke and carbon combination detector
- Haul away debris
- Supply and install laminate flooring throughout except for master bathroom
- Strip old stain from kitchen cabinets
- Supply and install new stain (paint) for kitchen cabinets
- Supply and install new laminate flooring for kitchen
- Remove hood cord and fasten to wall and recess inside wall
- Supply prefabrication shower enclosure in one unit
- Plumbing to be determined after opening shower (Plumbing NOT included in this estimate)
- Supply and install tile flooring in bathroom
- Remove existing toilet and reinstall after tile
- Supply and install two new junction boxes in living room for LED lights
$25,000 sounds like a lot of money, but in order to get top dollar for this rental unit, I realized that these very basic projects need to be done. That evening, I called Haimi and told him to round up all his sledgehammers.