The Longest Renovation Ever
The Bobcat Lair was a house we got a great deal on. It’s in an amazing northwest hills neighborhood in Austin, had been empty for nearly 20 years, and was ready to come back to life. Unfortunately, the resurrection took a LONG time. We started the project well before Hermit Haus Redevelopment was formed, but we’ve blogged about it, because we learned so many lessons while engaged in the process.
From a 2015 post by Lee:
When we purchased Bob Cat Run [now called Bobcat Lair] in September of 2014, everything looked great on paper. We approached it from the standpoint of a homestead flip for Sue Ann and me. (I’ll explain the concept of homestead flipping in a future blog post. For now, the important consideration is that we planned to make Bob Cat our primary residence for at least two years.)
There was only one small problem. One small corner of the house protruded into the utility easement, and the back porches overhung it.
Everywhere else I’ve worked, this would not be a big deal for a house that was built in the 1980s and stood vacant for more than a decade, especially since it was built in an unincorporated area. Most county inspectors (where they exist at all) would simply have noted the encroachment on the paperwork, and we would have moved on. At worst, we would have paid some kind of “fee” or “fine,” and that would have been the end of the problem. I have never seen this kind of problem take longer than a few weeks and a couple of thousand dollars to work around.
The real problem started when the City of Austin annexed the subdivision. It got much worse when Austin implemented a Geographic Information System (GIS) a few years back. As one city employee put it, “Until then, we knew that these problems existed, but we didn’t have a way to track them. Now, we have to do something about it.”
Well, when a city decides it has to “do something about it,” havoc ensues. The easement “belongs to” 13 separate city departments. Twelve of them looked at the degree of encroachment, not even enough for a closet, and agreed with us that it was no big deal. The water department, however, went into a tizzy and stopped the permitting progress. We have been negotiating with the city ever since. In the interim, we have accrued more than $12,000 in additional holding costs, almost all of it in city taxes. We were literally paying them to screw us over. And let’s not even think about opportunity costs.
A city manager who is part of this process explained it thus, “We know of thousands of people in the same boat as you are. You are just the first ones who have gone all the way through the process legally to enable us to develop a procedure for handling it.” Great. No good dead goes unpunished.
But, in the gripping hand, my dad used to say, “If it was easy, everybody would do it.” Persistence really does pay off…eventually.
The good new is that yesterday (November 6, 2015), we signed paperwork with the city that should bring this nightmare to an end. I would like to thank the team at the city who have been working with us to resolve this issue. I hope I will soon be reporting on the progress we’re making on Bob Cat.
Fast Forward to 2016
After the 1.5-year wait for permits, we realized all the money we’d planned to use for that house was tied up in our other projects, so we had to patiently wait out the flooding and inspection-related delays in the Casita project. Poor Bobcat has been sitting alone and empty again, with all our renovation purchases gathering dust. Guess what? That project is finished!
Bobcat is awakening and becoming a new kitty! Hear her roar!
(As you read along, I’ll refer to photos in the gallery at the bottom of the post.)
With shiny building permits in hand, our beleaguered contractor finally got to work on the project. We have new blueprints for the renovation, and are really excited to watch our ideas come to life. Here are some pictures and descriptions of what is going on, so far.
First, we got rid of two sets of doors in the living area. Yes, there used to be FOUR exits (Photo 1). This is going to make arranging furniture a lot easier, and the new windows blend in seamlessly with what was there already (Photo 2). We aren’t losing any of the wonderful light in the space, just doors. The new windows are trimmed in the same cedar as the rest of the exterior, so it will look like it was built that way all along once painted (Photo 3—outside of windows). And the new doors will be painted to match the new front door, which also has a nice window in it for light (Photo 4, front door). The other doors, upstairs and down, have blinds in them (photo 5).
Downstairs we did the same thing, replacing two doors with one in each existing bedroom, but adding a window to keep light coming in (Photos 6 and 7).
Next, we tore down the kitchen wall and eliminated the hallway that used to go to the powder room and laundry room. Now there’s just one door, which leads to the laundry room, with the powder room at the end of that room. That gives us a lot more counter space and room for an island. We eliminated some walls by the entry, which will have an eating bar area instead. That will make the living/dining/kitchen area one big “open concept.” That’s what buyers seem to love. They also love gray and white, so guess what colors the kitchen will be? Sigh. But there are some black counters and dark gray ones, too (Photo 8).
Heading downstairs there was some unused space under the place where we bumped out the laundry room. Our contractor had the idea to make it a little closet, perfect for storing suitcases and the like. Brilliant! Every house needs more storage (Photo 9).
Now, down at the bottom is where we are having fun. The house originally had a large unfinished storage area beneath it, with an exterior door. In the early renovation, we added a door to that area from the house. Now we are building a bedroom suite there. It has a nice new door and its own window where there used to be a ventilation fan (Photo 10). In a roommate situation, that gives the roommate their own entry and exit area. There is a large closet and a over-sized bathroom to go with that bedroom, as well. There will be nice stairs and a small patio for that entrance.
On the other side of the stairs was more unfinished area. We are building a small office with built-in bookcases and desks, and two nice new windows. It will be where the members of our team do our Hermit Haus Renovation work. (Photos 11 and 12).
And finally, there is the BONUS room. The architect thought we might as well use all the space under the main house, so he designed a wine cellar off the office. It’s in a cave, already, so perfect for wine storage! If there’s space, we hope to put a little bistro set in there for wine tastings. So elegant! (Also probably mostly empty for a while, since we have a lot of wine storage at the ranch, and we aren’t THAT much of oenophiles! But that will be a fun selling feature in the future, we think (Photo 13).
As you can see, there’s still a ways to go on all this. The downstairs is a lot of dirt and rocks. But the new windows make it all seem more real. And there is always the view off the deck. That’s the best (Photo 14, view).
We will be posting regular updates and sharing lessons we learn as we continue on the longest renovation process ever! To be honest, this house is going to be so pleasant that it’s been worth the wait. It’s only been going up in value as it sits there, and it will be a pleasant place to spend time for the next few years.
From December 16, 2016
Of course, it wouldn’t be one of our projects without a snag or two. And it wouldn’t be Bobcat without a PERMIT snag or two. Sigh. It turns out the dude who “helped” our contractor with the permits didn’t actually do it quite right, so there is a delay in getting permits to work on the bottom floor. We are optimistic that it will come through next week, but sad that all the concrete pouring that was supposed to happen last week has been postponed.
Luckily there is plenty to do on the upper floor, where we are making the all-new kitchen, laundry, and half bath. The picture of the front door shows that the space is much more open now that we took two full height walls and made them half height. The wall in the dining area will give us a place to put a piece of furniture in there, which is needed, since most of the walls in the upstairs are covered in windows. The little bar height wall in the kitchen loses some cabinets, but we are adding such a huge pantry that I think it will be OK. There’s also space to add storage in the informal dining area.
We are also working on selecting and designing the surfaces in the new rooms. We already have a lot of materials for the house–the back splashes, the tile, etc., though somehow, we have less than we used to. Hmm. I am really glad we have re-keyed the house. There is a lot of gray involved, but I am going CRAZY and using a more creamy white than a bright white to go with the gray. Check out the photos of the surfaces for more information.
We got a few bids on the cabinetry for the house this week. I was there for one meeting, and was really happy to find out that the pickled surfaces I wanted on the cabinets will actually be reasonably priced. I just didn’t want stark, white cabinets. So, there will be oak cabinets with ivory and gray pickled surfaces. They will go beautifully with the creamy gray/white solid surface countertops and the shiny black island top. And they will be a beautiful match with the back splash, which is marble in a Versailles pattern, which reminds me of the ranch house flooring.
I’ve enjoyed watching the electrician and plumber getting everything ready. The plumbing has cleverly changed to make adding the bathroom downstairs incorporate into the master bath, kitchen and laundry. Good job, plumbers! And we will have so much more light now, too.
[Editorial comment: that plumber wasn’t as brilliant as I thought. It turns out they put the drain on the giant bathtub in the front, rather than in the back, against the wall. The tub had a really ugly access panel facing front. That had to be remedied. They tried to convince us that everyone does their tubs that way. NOT true. We watch HGTV.]
Cut to the Finish!
It’s now June 2017. We are finally finished, other than the wine room shelving (coming soon) and re-doing the rotting deck, which will happen later this year. The process has been long, and of course there were more snags. Feel free to read the list of posts on the project at the end of this page for details and photos. But if you want to see the finished product, here are a couple of photos I took when we were almost finished. They don’t have the new windows and trim, but it’s otherwise a nice house now.
We ended up having to replace our previous replacement windows, because the City inspector said the new ones we’d put in weren’t good enough. So, we just went ahead and replaced ALL the windows in the house. That wasn’t a budgeted expense, but we could immediately tell the air conditioning wasn’t working as hard. In the end, the windows will eventually pay for themselves, and now everything matches. The contractor put in beautiful wood trim around each window, too, which looks so much nicer than before.
We also ended up building a fancy fireplace mantel, with the intended purpose of hiding all the cable television wires, etc. It originally was going to be some sort of simple floating slab of wood. But, ideas flowed. And of course the cable guy put the cable in a place where it isn’t hidden, but it WAS a good idea and much of the wiring is now out of sight. In any case, the gleaming fireplace surround coordinates with the floor and ceiling beams, so we like it. It adds gravitas.
Another new custom item was the office desk. We’d originally intended on just putting in something simple, but instead, the contractor built a rather snazzy custom partners’ desk with a huge granite top. We were able to get the slab for only $300, so this was not as extravagant as it sounds. Still, it’s nice, even if the office doesn’t have windows.
Here are more pictures of how the house turned out. It’s lovely, probably worth all the trouble and the delays, some of which were our own fault, after all. You can only do so many renovation projects at once when you’re paying with your own money, right?
(At the end of the photos you’ll find links to updates on the project as it progressed.)