Saturday, July 26, 2008

Taj Garage

Thar she be.

She sported square lines (some called her boxy). She was worn. Could barely stand. We never knew how old she was, but we guessed she had been raised in the 70s.

Yep. There she was. Right in my backyard. Staring back at me with a tattered, bruised soul.

There was... my garage.

She was detached from the house - a standard feature of the 20s where garages were built detached, or not at all.

I had just "upgraded" from my one-car garage at my former house so was excited we could get two cars in her. But it wasn't pretty.

First off, when we purchased our house, we also purchased a missing remote for the garage door opener, so we had to manually lift or lower the door each time we moved cars. After numerous searches to find a remote replacement, we gave up. Turned out her garage door brain (the motor) was so old new openers didn't like her. Then there was the duct tape holding a cracked window pane together. Some would call that character, but I called it trashy. And structurally? The western wall would quite literally sway in the wind because it was so rotten, you could see through it. A result of years of poor water drainage left ignored.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was she had an active termite colony under her. This little nugget we learned the first week we moved into our new home after a "misunderstanding" with the inspection company, when they revealed they wouldn't inspect detached structures. So the termites went unnoticed during the inspection process.

After seven months of cursing her, we finally agreed to put her broken soul to rest. We were going to erect something magnificent. Along the lines of the Taj Mahal, but garage-like.

We were going to erect our first Taj Garage.

Wanted: Good Contractor

But who would build this magnificent structure? Like most, we didn't have a "GC" in our hip pocket. We asked around but no referrals. So we made a short-list of people to call from yard signs posted around the area.

During the bid process, we were quoted numbers all over the board. Some guys were thrice the price of others, which convinced me they were just throwing out numbers to see if we'd bite. Regardless, all the numbers were outside our budget of $30k. $30k? For a garage?

This is true. Despite being advised otherwise, we wanted a two-story garage so the second floor could house a small office or at least provide more storage given our space-starved "main cabin." Since we were going to have to get a loan to pay for this sucker, we opted to stretch outside our initial budget and go for the gold.

We finally settled in on a contractor named Homer*. He was clean-cut. Spoke English. And lived nearby, so he was a known entity. He was also one of the few who could see an estimate into our hands. And he got the job.

And the walls...

The day finally came for demo. There was an excitement that could be felt throughout the house. We hoped we were making the right decision because once she was gone, she was gone.

The deconstruction took about 3 hours. Hammers, saws and the sheer force of three men were used to finally level the former garage. Like tigers dragging their innocent kill to the ground.

Construction Dysfunction

Shortly after the construction began, we learned that the framers were holding-up the show. Each day after work I'd inspect what (if anything) had been done that day. I soon learned the framers were working at the pace of two 1/2 days per week. At this rate, our garage would take years - not weeks - to build!

I tried to reason with Homer and was told "they aren't my employees," so how could I expect him to crack the whip?!? Really?

The tides began to turn. And turn they did. We later learned that the plans we had prepared from our budding architect referral "Mevelyn," we'll call her, were flawed. And flawed bad. "Sheer mathmatical errors," our GC said.

We encountered several issues during construction (click below for larger). Like when the electrician went drilling holes in the garage exterior "willy nilly" - picture unleveled holes drilled in the dark. Or when we learned Homer was the laughing stock of his contractor's breakfast when his group learned he didn't use a "glue lam" over the garage door for supporting the weight, compliments of the second floor. He later swallowed pride and redid the opening before word got out any further. My favorite was when the city shut down the project twice because there wasn't enough "head room" per city code to walk from the downstairs floor up the stairs without hitting your head.

It was apparent to us that our GC, Homer, was oblivious to city code and he pointed all issues back to the architect, or worse, to us.

In the end the project took over 5 months - almost twice what we were promised. It was like pushing water uphill, but we saw it through to the end. We prepared the final check and were excited the day our "release of lien" paperwork showed-up from the bank.

In retrospect, the lessons from this garage debacle are clear:

1) Know your GC. Make sure you thoroughly investigate your GC. Ask for references for projects similar to yours and talk to them. Remember that you're unlikely to be provided bad referrals by your GC, so probe for the issues you're most concerned about.

2) Get it in writing. Make sure and document the critical milestones in the project contract. If I could go back in time, I would have levied financial penalties to Homer (discounts to us) if the project took longer than 10-15% of what was quoted.

3) OBTK. This stands for "One Butt To Kick" and it means that someone at some point has to take accountability. Make sure you and the OBTK know who is who. In our case, Homer was our OBTK, but he thought he was the victim.

Oh, he has no idea!

Despite the experience, we are happy with our Taj Garage. To date we have not completely finished some of the work like window ledges, topping her subfloor upstairs or baseboards, but she's standing tall. She's termite free. And the house? He says they make a good couple.

* But where are the names!!? We want names!!!

Joe forbid me to reveal the true names of the folks involved on the great garage project of 2006. He was worried there'd be some sort of retaliation, let's call it. So names have been changed to protect the guilty. If you'd like more offline information about who not to use, ring me. If you live outside the East Dallas bubble, you're unlikely to cross paths with the clowns involved on our project.


WTF said...

Oh Dear!

Danny D! said...

Oh, Patrick! Your heart-wrenching story is brilliant - but your
Taj Garage is magnificent! What a world, what a world...