The last big chunks of things to happen in the renovation are the interior painting and the granite countertops.  The featured image above is a sneak peek at the interior painting.

Interior Painting

At our old building in La Habra, we used these interior painters who are super cheap and who always got the job done quickly.  They weren’t perfect, but they were good enough for apartments, and that was good enough for me.  I scheduled them to start painting the units as they started becoming ready for paint.  The ceilings had to be scraped and the vanity cabinets and kitchen cabinets needed to be installed before the painting could happen.  The plumbing had to happen before the vanities could be installed, because we had to move over the angle stops in one of the bathrooms so the drawers of the vanity wouldn’t crash into the plumbing.  (Bad planning on my part.  I learned my lesson after that one cabinet.)

So the ceilings were finally all scraped.  The plumber was scheduled to come out and set all seven of the new toilets, and to move the plumbing over in the wall, and the drywall guy was called back out again to patch the wall where the plumbing was moved and in a dozen or so areas where it was needed.  Then the contractor started installing the vanities and cabinets, starting in apartment D and working his way toward apartment A.

Apartment D only had a couple of vanity cabinets, so that was ready to go pretty quickly.  Apartment C had an entire kitchen, though, plus a couple of vanities, so that was taking an extra couple of days.  I called the painters out to paint apartment D, and said we would be getting the other ones ready while they painted D.  By the time they finished the one unit, there would be another one or two ready to go.

The painters started in D, and got it basically done in two days, including priming and painting the newly scraped ceilings in white.  When they were done, the head painter said that they would come back when ALL of the other units were ready at once, because they wanted to do it all in one shot.  I asked if that meant they would be done with all of those units in 1-2 days, or if that meant they were still going to go unit by unit, meaning I would need to wait maybe 6 days for them all to be finished.  His response was basically “it depends.”  I said that wasn’t really going to work, since there was a lot to do once the painting was done.  After paint, we still needed to hang ceiling fans, install light fixtures, replace all of the wallplates for light switches and outlets, etc.  We couldn’t hold up the whole process because the painters wanted free reign of the property.

In the end, it turned out to be a moot point, because by the time they finished apartment D, apartments C and B were already ready for them.  And the contractor worked over the weekend to get A ready, too, so when the painters came back they had all the units to paint.

Also, I decided to have them paint the laundry room and the inside of the garages just in plain white.  The laundry room was dingy and yellow and unfinished, and each of the garages was pretty similar, some with additional graffiti enhancements.  The price wasn’t that huge to add those areas, so I figured it was worth it to keep with the fresh look of the rest of the building.  I don’t plan on painting those areas again for a number of years.

Lastly, this was just an annoying thing, but when the painters finished painting in Apartment D, they locked the keys inside the unit.  AAAAARGH!  These guys initially tried to talk me into letting them take the apartment keys HOME so they could get into the unit the next day without using the lockbox.  I said no, because we couldn’t be certain whether the contractor or someone else might need access to that unit before the painters arrived.  Plus, I really didn’t want them to lose the keys, since I just changed the locks and those were the only keys I had for the time being.  (I will go to Home Depot and have copies made, but there are eleventy billion things higher on the priority list right now.)

Anyway, so the head painter called me and said “oops we locked the keys in the unit,” in an aw-shucks tone.  He said if I could just use my backups to unlock the unit, that would be great.  I told him those were the ONLY keys, no backups.  I might need to call a locksmith to get back in, which would really suck.  Fortunately, the painter had one of his guys go back and he was able to sneak around and get into the sliding glass door.  It happened to be unlocked because the exterior painters had taped over all the windows to paint the building.  Thank God.  The painters were way more careful about unlocking the unit and putting the key back right away after that.

Exterior Paint Punch List

The exterior painters had finished, and the owner wanted to walk through the property with me to see if there were any final items before I paid the final invoice.  I met him at the property before work.  There were just a few things: one of the garages’ wood trim had been badly gouged by one of the old wooden garage doors, so they needed to bondo that and touch up the paint.  Also, the cable TV cables were previously draped crazily all over the building, making it look sloppy, so part of the painters’ job that I negotiated for was that they were going to tighten up all the cables against the building and paint them either body or trim color, as appropriate, to help hide them.  They did fairly well overall at that, except that the very front of the building was still pretty sloppy, and that’s the part that is the most visible, so that had to be corrected.

Lastly, there were two front doors that were not painted correctly.  The entry doors for B, C, and D are all steel, so they are somewhat difficult to paint because every tiny little thing shows on the smooth door surface.  The painters sprayed the doors at first, and they came out great.  But they didn’t paint the side edge of the door, where it attaches to the hinges.  Every time you open the door, you would see the old brown paint on that outside edge.  That needed to be fixed.  But the painters “fixed” it by using a paintbrush, not a sprayer.  The outside of the door was smooth, but the edges then had this completely not-uniform texture to them.  I told the owner of the painting company that I didn’t want to be overly picky, but these doors didn’t look very good, and I had paid a LOT of money for the exterior painting.  He agreed that they needed to be done.

The worker who had painted the doors protested, and said the brush marks were there only because my contractor went into the unit and closed the door while it was drying.  This is completely untrue.  First of all, I knew that they used a brush to touch up the edge, because before it wasn’t painted at all, and now it was, and they didn’t break out the sprayer to finish the work.  Second, I knew that the door, especially in apartment B, blows shut if you don’t have a wedge underneath it.  Must be something about the airflow in that unit, because every time I left the door just sitting open, it would slam shut a few minutes later, scaring the crap out of me.  Maybe it’s a ghost.  But either way, it was not my contractor’s fault.

The exterior painters came out to do the other two punch list items and to repaint those front doors.  Unfortunately, when they arrived, they saw the interior painters shooting white paint onto the ceilings in those units, and the interior painters did nothing to prevent overspray on the newly painted front doors.  The owner of the exterior painting company called and told me.  I immediately called the interior painting guy, and had to fight hard to keep my cool when I told him, especially because this happened right after the whole incident where they locked the keys inside apartment D.

They absolutely should have masked the doors and kept them closed, or at least used a dropcloth over them.  Now my charcoal grey front doors had white speckles all over them, and the exterior painters couldn’t do their job, because if they painted over it, it would have little bumps where the white spots were.  I was furious.  I told the interior painter that his guys had better stop painting right that second and get sponges with hot water to wash off the paint flecks so the exterior painters could do their job.  I was really frustrated that I had to tell the interior painters not to overspray white on my front doors, especially when they were JUST PAINTED a day or two before.  The interior painters cleaned up the mess, and the exterior of the doors were repainted.

Granite Countertops

One of the last big things on the list were the granite countertops.  I wanted to do granite for all of the vanity countertops and for the two new kitchens.  The building is in La Habra, which is about the third unfanciest place in Orange County, but still a lot of the nicer apartments in the area are gradually phasing in granite countertops, so it wouldn’t be totally out of place to do it.  The big advantage to granite in my book is that it’s virtually indestructible.  A laminate countertop might need to be replaced every 5-15 years, depending on how badly the tenants abuse it.  One slightly too-hot pan set on a laminate countertop will scorch it, and it will be wrecked.  Tile countertops are okay, but tenants tend to chip them, especially at the edges.  With granite, though, there’s virtually no way that simple carelessness would damage them.

I put off the granite issue for too long, mostly because I didn’t know of any good granite people, and I wasn’t sure how the process would work.  I finally bit the bullet and got a couple of bids, both of which were higher than I expected.  I’ve seen ads for cheap granite installations, but usually there are a handful of granite colors that are included in the special, and none of those bargain-basement colors would really work.

Things I learned about granite: the big stone yards have slabs of many different types of granite, but they often also have “prefab” countertops, that are 8 or 9 feet in length, and the right depth for kitchen countertops (25″), with a bullnose edge already attached.  Those are generally a much cheaper option, since they are cut and fabricated in bulk.  If you get a slab, the fabricator needs to cut each countertop piece, trim out each exposed edge, etc.  By getting the prefab countertops, you save some big steps, and therefore a good chunk of the price.

The first granite company I contacted quoted a price for the slab, and didn’t even mention prefab countertops.  Their bid was much higher than I expected, and they didn’t provide some of the information I needed, such as where they wanted me to pick out the stone.  The second company was much more informative, and had better pricing than the first.  They were the ones who told me about the prefab stone.  I would have gone with them, but they said that it would take nearly 2 weeks to install it, and that was too long.  I needed the tops installed in about a week, if possible, so we could install all the new faucets, install the mirrors, and get these places rented out.

I circled back to my contractor, and he gave me the name of a guy he had worked with on a prior job.  He said the guy did a good job, but couldn’t tell me whether his pricing was good, because the homeowners hired him themselves.  I called him, sent him measurements and countertop layouts, and he came out promptly to confirm the measurements.  His quote was a bit better than the second granite company, but even more importantly, he said he would be able to come out and measure in the next day or two, and then get the countertops cut and installed within about a week from then.

He did exactly as promised, and the countertops came out beautifully.  You’ll see them in the final photos, but here’s a sample (below).  The color is steel gray, and it’s hard to tell in this photo, but it’s a black base with silver/grey chunks in it, so it looks really great with the paint color.

granite countertops

In the next post, I’ll give you the big reveal, but here’s a couple of quick before and after photos to tide you over:

apartment building rehab

Before (obviously)


renovation apartments La Habra