This month’s jobs numbers may have been anemic, but by other indicators, namely the quantity of home improvement projects, the economy seems to be doing just fine. Practically everyone I know is in the middle of some renovation, which invariably means one thing: they’re stressed out and going through what I call the five stages of construction: excitement, confusion, shock, anger, and I-can’t-wait-until-this-is-over.
I’m sure there are people who remodel homes with minimal headaches, within budget and on schedule. I just don’t know any.
Projects friends and family are undertaking run the gamut from the simple to the complicated. Some are redoing bathrooms, or updating a kitchen, or adding a master suite, or tiling a back porch. A couple of these brave souls have even ventured into the great unknown, gutting the entire house.
Boy, am I happy I’m not among that joyless group. The more horror stories they tell me, the less inclined I am to try anything beyond a simple paint job.
Much of the growing remodeling craze, I think, is due to the popularity of reality TV shows. Watch them frequently enough and you’re sure to convince yourself that any project can be wrapped up in a one-hour episode. Sure, there’s dust and unexpected problems on the set, maybe a sulking spouse or a sullen worker, but by and large, the work is done with minimal hassles. If only life imitated art.
In the world of finicky building inspectors, slow permit offices and wacky contractors, electricians keep you waiting for hours, plumbers never show up, painters take on another project halfway through yours, and the factory that makes the 24-by-24 porcelain tile you love just went out of business. In short, everything takes longer than expected and costs more than you budgeted. Worse: there’s often little you can do about such hassles.
One of my sons refers to these glitches as "first-world problems," but when you’re suffering through them, it doesn’t matter whether you live in a developed country or if you have the money to subsidize the budget over-runs. They’re still financially and emotionally painful.
In the past year alone, I’ve been regaled with tales that defy responsible business practices. One neighbor, installing a generator to power the entire house, waited months to hear back from the county. Officials there insisted she didn’t have a gas line — a shocker since she’s had a gas stove and a gas clothes dryer for decades. A relative fired the crew that had been working on his house — quite sporadically, by the way — for four months, only to find out some of the renovations had to be redone. Another friend’s licensed contractor walked away from the project, claiming he was losing money. And in the process of remodeling a kitchen, a couple discovered they had to rewire part of the house’s electrical system because the previous owner had done it without following city code.
Stories of nightmarish renovations are now part and parcel of my dinner party circle. Like the experience of labor shared at baby showers, the misery of construction is the bond that unites a lot of homeowners.
And yet…yet, as I drive around the neighborhood, I’ve lost count of the number of dumpsters and sand piles. Chain hardware stores are packed on Saturdays and some people I know are waiting six months for a contractor.
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, surely this is the triumph of imagination over intelligence, of hope over experience.