Bye-bye 4″ x 4″ pink tile!

A real estate agent-turned-buyer’s tale
Photo courtesy of Kathy Wynsma

As a seller out East, I had just enjoyed a weekend of selling my apartment and didn’t expect the heartache that was to come in finding a home in Grand Rapids. I figured the big dollars from our overpriced NYC pad would go far here, but that was not the case.

First of all, there was so little on the market to choose from! We looked at what we could with our terrific real estate agent, Mark O’Gorman from Greenridge. We lost a bidding war; I flew back and forth. We asked friends and family. Spent time in total panic. Nothing.

We pictured ourselves ending up on someone’s couch…or worse…renting and having to move again. I could weep now, thinking of it.

Then it happened, while back East another home came on the market. The perfect place: charming background, and the East Grand Rapids location close to the schools was not to be believed! What’s with the affordable price?

“It needs a little work,” Mark said. “Nothing that can’t be readily accomplished. You understand, you are in the business. Anything you do to this place will be phenomenal!”

I bid on it like someone sending out a homing pigeon and we made it to the top of the heap.

I hadn’t seen it yet in person, so I flew the next day. The Amazing Race, episode 4. Coming from a long real estate background, I pride myself on being able to see what most people can’t when walking through a property; the “bones,” if you will. But that 4×4 pink tile in the upstairs bathroom… I tried to embrace it in the name of all things cool and “retro,” but coupled with the dirty yellow floor tile and the hideous bathroom curtain, it sent me into a tailspin!

Despite the tile (and other hadn’t-been-touched-in-30-years details), I decided to confidently tell my absent-because-of-the-kid-and-dog husband that this house was no problem, a fixer-upper that was SO doable. I told him he will LOVE it! I also confidently ignored his OCD which is sizable because, of course, we will renovate right away!

Fast forward through the crazy sell-then-buy process and trucking across the country in ourUHaul…

We moved with only a couch, a dining set and a few personal items and set ourselves up in the fixer-upper for what we believed would be a month or so until we got a contractor. First mistake. As IF you just get a contractor and start renovating a place out of thin air!

The selection process of finding a company is not a small task. Then there’s the whittling down of what you thought was your list of “must haves” to a doable bottom line, and you reinvent your scheme the whole way.

Then there’s dealing with family members who got to the house and didn’t see your vision, only the fact there were no lamps and nothing to sit on. A special nod to various relatives who provided random items that were on the way to Goodwill. They helped with the initial vision a great deal!

Let’s pause here for a moment so that you don’t make the same mistakes I did. Get as much info as you can about renovating if you’ve never done it before, even if you are in a related field and think you know. Don’t oversell the place to relatives who haven’t seen it yet, especially the ones who are going to have to live there. And definitely be prepared for any ribbing you get from those who can’t see past the secondhand furniture and hum the theme song from “Sanford & Son” every time they enter the house.

Re-enter Mark, who recommended Bruce Heys Builders for the project. Thank God for Mark, or this story may have ended differently! Think of Clarence, the angel from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Yes, he’s that good!

Bruce brought over Travis Blom, who is now our GC on the project. I knew we would work well together when the idea of installing a barn door to mask the kitchen from the front entrance was mentioned. Travis and I poo pooed it at the exact same moment!

Margaretha Heidel

Travis has helped a lot. He’s that serene duck (whose feet are spinning nonstop underwater), keeping us informed and involved and he even helped me to say goodbye to the 4×4 pink tile. No point in trying to keep it and make it “retro.” Travis, in another “barn door” moment, let me off the hook.

Stay tuned for part two, when we move on to a newer trend – terra cotta!

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