Things are really moving along at the fourplex!  In the last post, I reported on the installation of the artificial turf, the new garage doors, the demolition of one of the kitchens, and the delivery of all of the new ranges.  This past week was renovation part 2, and it was really busy, too.  The termite tenting was done last Monday through Wednesday, which is awesome, because that means that every living thing in the building is now dead.  No more cockroaches or mice darting around the apartments everywhere I walk!  Now I just need to keep cleaning up all the carcasses of the dead bugs, but that’s much better than worrying about live bugs going down my shirt.  *Shudder*

The Renovation Continues: My Contractor’s Lengthy To-Do List

As soon as the termite tent was removed, my contractor got to work replacing the remaining interior doors and the front door to Apartment C. He’s done a lot already, but he still has a huge to-do list.  He has to install seven bathroom vanities, including cutting out the backs as necessary to fit around the plumbing coming out of the walls, he has to install an entire new kitchen in Apartment C, he has to install a wall air conditioner (bigger cutout needed), and after the interiors of the units are painted, he has to put up all 10 ceiling fans, all of the new bathroom light fixtures, all of the kitchen and dining room area fixtures, and all of the new bathroom towel bars, toilet paper roll holders, and robe hooks.  He also has to coordinate with the plumber for the installation of all of the new toilets and sinks, and the electrician to run the electrical for the last two ceiling fans.

My Vacation/Work Day

new stainless steel range

One of the new ranges. Nice, right?

I arrived at the building early Thursday morning to meet with the decking company and to try to install a range or two before work.  After being there for about an hour, I checked in with the office and decided to use a vacation day from work so I could get more things done at the building.  I installed two of the ranges—well, one and a half—before I discovered that the gas connector on three of the four units was the wrong size.  I discovered this after I installed the second range, because it was difficult for me to attach the gas line.  I thought it was because the threads were dirty, and that that combined with the teflon tape made it hard to turn.  But after I got the line attached pretty well, I noticed a little curled sliver of metal coming out of the connection I had just tightened.  Crap.  That was part of the threads.  I had to admit the problem to my contractor, and then head to Home Depot to get new gas valves with the correct threads for him to install later.  One more job for him to do.

Resurfacing the Deck

The workers from the decking company arrived and began to prep the area.  The one upstairs deck on the property is 173 square feet and doubles as the entryway for Apartment A.  Unfortunately, whoever laid the deck last was an idiot, because it had negative drainage toward the front door of Apartment A.  There was cracking and a small hole in the deck near A’s front door, which looked like it had previously leaked into the garage below.  I wanted to meet the decking company to make sure they saw that and that they could correct the drainage problem when they laid the new deck.

To correct the drainage, we needed to build a little “hill” in front of the door.  My contractor added a piece of wood to raise the threshold under the door, and he cut the bottom of the door itself to fit the new threshold height.  The decking company laid material up to the height of the new threshold so the water would drain away from the door and off the other direction.  The decking company also noticed another section of the deck where water had permeated the cracked surface and rotted out the plywood base, so my contractor had to scramble over to Home Depot and buy another sheet of plywood to patch the base so the decking guys could finish.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a good, flexible contractor.  There are so many things that crop up like this in the middle of a project, and having a contractor who just rolls with the punches and adapts makes the project go so much faster and smoother.

On the Hunt for Handrails

missing handrail

Not exactly a safe setup. A kid could step off the landing and fall down the stairs.

While the contractor and the decking guys were occupied, and I had a bit of time, I figured I would go out and see if I could find some simple handrails for the area at the top of the stairs inside the three townhouse-style units.  One of the units was completely missing a handrail, and the other two had old wood ones that had come loose and that looked really crappy.

All I needed was one straight, rectangular piece at the top of the stairs.  Two of the units needed a 60″ piece, and one needed a 56″ piece.  Simple.  I figured I could get one off-the-shelf somewhere, or at the very least, I’d be able to order it fairly cheaply and get it within a week or so.  WRONG.

I checked with a local fencing company, but they only did chain link.  I checked with a number of iron and metalwork companies, all of whom had websites featuring exterior gates and fences made of wrought iron.  Nearly every single one said they did exterior only, which is crazy because there’s literally nothing different about doing an interior piece.  It’s a powder coated piece of metal railing.  That’s it.  I finally got one company that said they could do it, but their cheapest price, for the most basic railing, was $200 per linear foot.  You’ve gotta be kidding me.  $1,000 for one 5-foot section of railing?  That’s robbery.

I checked at Home Depot, but they don’t sell them anymore, either in store or online.  By this point, I was honestly considering ordering some outdoor fencing and somehow adapting it to make it work.  Fortunately, I talked to someone at Home Depot who recommended going to a nearby hardware/TruValue store.  I went there, talked to a clerk, and they had a vendor they could special order from to get the railings.  At first, the hardware store employee was estimating that it might be 3–4 weeks for delivery.  Yikes.  I’d like to have these apartments ready for rent in the next two weeks if possible.  The employee made a couple of phone calls, and then told me that he could get the railings made and powder coated in about a week, and they would cost $225 a piece.  SOLD!  All told, it took me about 3 hours to get the railings sorted out.

Finding New Vanities and Kitchen Cabinets

After handling the railing issue, I headed over to Builders Surplus to find the remaining vanity and kitchen cabinets.  The first time I went there and picked out the first couple of vanities for Apartment B, I made the grave error of not checking the plumbing configuration behind the cabinets first.  Both cabinets that I picked out didn’t work with the location of the angle stops and the P-trap.  Luckily, the smaller cabinet that I picked out for Apartment B was able to be used in Apartment D, where the plumbing was reversed.  For the larger cabinet, though, it wouldn’t work in any of the apartments, so I will have to pay a couple hundred bucks to have a plumber move the pipes over a foot or so.  Dang.

I learned my lesson after that.  In my second go-around, I specifically looked for vanity cabinets that had no drawers, so they couldn’t interfere with any plumbing.  Last week, I had about 20 minutes to kill before a lunch meeting over in the area of the Builders Surplus store, so I popped in there really quickly on a recon mission and snapped photos of the order tags for the few vanities I could find that would work.

Now that I knew which cabinets I needed, I figured I’d just walk in, find those cabinets again, and place my order.  No dice.  Apparently, in the week between my recon mission and this day, those cabinets had completely sold out.  #&$*!  Fortunately, the guy behind the counter was able to help me quickly locate some alternative choices that had just come in.  I ordered and paid for the bathroom cabinets, and would be back to pick them up on Saturday.

I also worked with the guy to select kitchen cabinets that would fit the kitchen layout in Apartment C.  It took nearly an hour to get the optimal layout, but at the end I was really happy with it, and the price was pretty reasonable.  There are no exchanges or refunds at this place, so you have to be really sure before you place your order.  I didn’t place the order just yet, because I wanted to double-check the measurements in the kitchen before I locked in.  They kept the layout map in their file, so the next time I came back, I could make whatever changes I needed and buy the cabinets quickly, instead of starting all over.

Wrapping Up for the Day; Final Review of Apartment A

I got back to the building, verified the measurements on the kitchen cabinets in Apartment C, and made just a couple of tweaks to the proposed layout to get more storage space.  I started to lock up all the units.  When I got to Apartment A, I was surprised at how much the apartment still smelled bad.  The tenants had been gone for a week and a half, the unit was well ventilated due to the large window that the tenants broke, and all of the bugs and mice were dead or had evacuated, so it shouldn’t have smelled anymore.  There was something lingering around.

I went into the kitchen and opened one of the cabinets.  There was the smell.  The whole inside of the cabinets was permeated with a musty, almost urine-like smell, and it obviously wasn’t going away.  I took a second look at the condition of the interior shelves and drawers, too.  Not good.

kitchen cabinets

The kitchen cabinets from the outside. Not bad overall, apart from the cockroach-carcass outline where the old range hood was. That will be cleaned up and painted.

sagging shelves in kitchen cabinets

The insides are not in great shape. Note the sagging of the shelves and the staining. This cabinet wasn’t all that bad, though, comparatively.

under sink cabinets

This is where the real problem is. There are some really nasty smells coming out of these lower cabinets, and it appears to have soaked into the wood.

I called my contractor, who had gone home for the day.  “If I say we need to rip out and replace one more kitchen, are you going to kill me?”  He said it would be fine, but he worried about finishing quickly enough, since he had a lot on his plate still.  I told him I wasn’t going to be mad if it took a couple of extra days, but I really think this kitchen needs to be redone, too.  The smell was just awful, and I can’t imagine a tenant wanting to move into an apartment that smelled like that.  Besides, this was one of the kitchens that needed a new countertop.  The last thing I wanted to do was spend a couple thousand dollars on a granite countertop and permanently bond it to cabinets that were on their last legs.  Better to just get it out of the way now.  Looks like another trip to the cabinet store.