Morningside Renovation

Our Journey Through The Renovation Process Of Our Future "Forever Home" In Morningside (Atlanta,GA)


With a Little Help From Phillip Phillips

I’m not a regular follower of American Idol however the winner from a few seasons back, Phillip Phillips, first introduced and sang his signature song “Home” which eventually achieved a # 1 ranking on many charts and as a result received a considerable amount of airtime (some would scream, “over-played”) on radio, TV & film –  and also in my head.  The lyrics of “Home” are fairly vague which let’s one derive their own meaning from it and has probably led to some of its popularity; however during the last several months of our renovation project the main line which states, “I’m going to make this place your home” is probably where my personal connection to this song actually began.  Over time as I eventually paid attention to the rest of the lyrics I found them also somewhat relatable to our then current renovation journey.  So it became my personal and unofficial theme song during the last half of our crazy, stressful, frustrating, disheartening and at times disappointing journey.

While “Home” eventually found its way to my iPod I was never guilty of blaring it through my speakers or reaching for it when needing a little inspiration.  Nothing like that at all, this was more intimate and personally developed over time.  As mentioned earlier, several months back you almost couldn’t turn on your radio without hearing it.  But it seemed as if every time I got in my car after experiencing or hearing about another disappointing setback (and they were numerous) or when we would question the logic behind continuing to move forward when one of us would want to throw in the towel, this song would be playing on the radio and it seemed to drown everything else out and refocus my original purpose of making sure J received her “forever home”.  Now looking back it makes sense why over the last several months of our project I felt as if my brain had this song on some vicious repeat cycle.

“Don’t pay no mind to the demons they fill you with fear”, “the trouble it might drag you down”

Unfortunately those verses became a reality as we eventually realized that who we once thought was our Superman(our new GC) was far from it. Now there were similarities, both of them heroically rush in to rescue someone in a dire situation, however that’s where it all pretty much ends.

Unexplainable & lengthy delays, excessive expenses and mistruths  became too frequent and numerous as weeks and eventually months passed with little to no progress being made. Eventually we realized that we weren’t alone and the reasons behind some of those delays were ultimately uncovered.

Our agreed to payment process was fairly standard, the GC, or his subs, performed the work; weekly an invoice or draw was created & presented to us and we would either write a check for the full amount (if all was completed) or for an amount equal to the percentage of what was truly completed for that specific task.  He would then reimburse his subs and/or vendors, deduct his agreed to fee and present us with a Lien Waiver.  Pretty simple process and one which would keep everyone paid on a timely basis and hopefully minimize delays which was extremely important since we were already so far behind our original construction completion date and still carrying the financial burden of two houses.  Except there was one little issue, although we were a little late realizing what was truly happening it was eventually brought to our attention by a few of the subs that over the last several weeks our new GC had started making it a habit of either short-paying them & the vendors or just not paying them at all.

So there’s no mistake, I realize that there are some very good contractors with extremely high ethics but I’m also confident that there are numerous others which are either incompetent or as greedy and crooked as the two we’ve experienced.  The problem is that the bad ones are just so damn good at strategizing how they can take advantage of a situation and milk the homeowner for every possible dollar while getting away with it.  And to make it even worse they know how to work around or just barely within the laws which were originally designed to “protect” the homeowner and prevent this from happening.

Now if you’ve read any of my earlier post it’s probably fairly obvious that 1) I’m not very bright and should have bailed on this whole project numerous times before, 2) a personal trait which I like to think of as persistence is probably better defined as bull-headed and 3) I wanted to give J her “forever home” and was determined not to let anything stand in the way of it.

While our home is now complete it was a long, difficult and extremely stressful road.  Threats, intimidation & frequent mistruths all became a common place with our GC.   Threats of further delays, additional costs if we decided to terminate the relationship and the threat of placing liens on the house were all tossed around whenever we began to ask questions or push back against their answers.   Any of these would have been enough for most people to terminate a relationship but we just felt at the time that despite all of this they were our best hope for completing our dream as we continued to try to convince ourselves that this was possibly just part of the home renovation business – the norm.

To give credit where it is due I have to admit that they were good in some areas; their structural work was good and their subs were great; however  they were even better at creating a situation where we felt as if we were being held hostage financially and ultimately for completion.

But we weren’t, we had an angel – plus the two of us can be a pretty formidable team when we share the same goal.  After cutting our loses and painfully walking away from our initial deposit we set out determined to GC our own project, our minds determined to finish the job.  Couldn’t be much to complete, all we had left to do was; finish the floors, install the rest of the trim, hang all of the doors (interior & exterior), painting (interior & exterior), have all of the cabinets & countertops installed,  completion  & installation of all of the electrical and plumbing fixtures, construction of the built-ins as well as the hearth and mantle for the great room, rebuilding and finishing of the outdoor room & deck as well as the carport area, grading & pouring of the driveway, back-filling the area around the basement expansion, completion of the front porch, completing the exterior brick work, installation of the glass walls & doors for the shower in the master bath, replacement of the water & sewer lines as well as the coordination of all of the required inspections and approvals.  Plus a few extra items on the exterior which included,  grading & leveling of the backyard, laying sod, installing a French drain along 2 sides of the house, plus adding a privacy fence to enclose the backyard as well as a driveway gate.  We knew it would be a challenge but we had no idea what it all entailed and I can guarantee you that we would have gone a different route if we even had a hint that with almost every one of the above listed items we would experience at least some issue.

One of the deciding factors to break free though was after we experienced a situation with our cabinets during installation.  The cabinets were already 7 ½ weeks behind scheduled delivery but once they arrived we noticed the doors and drawers weren’t what we ordered.  Calls were made to our GC as well as the cabinet-maker to find out the reason for the mix up.  GC’s response – he did his best to try to convince us that the doors & drawers delivered were what we ordered and to replace them it would cost us even more money.  One problem, we had in our possession a sample of the doors we originally ordered with our GC’s handwriting on the back confirming that this sample was the style of doors which we would receive.  Despite this fact our GC didn’t give up trying to convince us otherwise; he would change his story, yell, tried to put J and me against one another, scream louder and shifted the blame to everybody else.  Enough!!   A few days later he was released and while we had to hire another cabinet-maker to give us the style of doors we originally ordered, we eventually achieved the look of what was originally envisioned for our kitchen.

Finding, qualifying and selecting the needed subs & vendors, the coordination and logistics of lining everyone up, plus the selection of finishes and decisions which had yet to be made or had to be made once again was more time-consuming and frustrating than what we anticipated.  But at times it was just the simple decisions such as which comes first, staining & finishing the hardwood floor or painting the interior walls, that tested our patience and will.

The stress, frustration, disappointment and sacrifices which we experienced on so many levels is beyond anything I ever want to experience again, but somehow we did it.  Sure a never-ending punch-list still exists and I now know way more than I originally ever wanted to know about the whole building process  but somewhere along the way I also gained an appreciation and somewhat of a love and/or passion for it all.

I guess it all goes back to what’s  listed above under the first part of #1, all that we went through should’ve been enough to turn anyone off, but as each obstacle was somehow overcome a crazy affection started to grow.  Of course the coordination involved with the whole moving process and the purchasing of needed furnishings and window treatments did nothing for this admiration, nor did the fact that we were basically kicked out of the house we were renting during construction because the landlord found a higher paying tenant which resulted in us having to spend several nights in a hotel until our house was “livable”, but somehow this “love or desire” developed and has left me thinking.

While I don’t believe that all of the negative experiences that we encounter during our lifetime are predetermined, I do believe that it is our responsibility to use those experiences to somehow help others going through something similar.  So that’s my struggle, how best can I help others in similar situations or maybe it’s what can I do to educate and prevent this from happening to someone else?  Not sure about the answer yet, maybe it’s this blog (although I doubt it) or maybe it’s just to assist a friend when they’re faced with a similar situation…just not sure but it’s a thought that is constantly in my mind.

So that’s my “brief” summary and explanation as to where I’ve been over the last several months.  It took 18 long months to finally complete it and along the way we tried our best to find or create fun and memorable moments for us and the boys which at times seemed impossible but…We Made It!!

We met some wonderful subs during this whole ordeal but we honestly couldn’t have done it without our Angel(who I’ll talk about in more detail in a future post). I’m not sure what the future will hold but I do know that despite all that we’ve experienced I feel extremely grateful & appreciative and  hope that one day I can somehow return the favor and find a way to assist, or prevent, someone else from going through something similar.