Buying A Condo – Reflections after One Year

Buying & remodeling a condo has been a year-long affair. Four months shopping seriously. One month in escrow. Another month in serious remodeling and moving. And another six months slowly rounding out the rest. I thought I would share a couple thoughts on how home-ownership has changed me, how I went about finding contractors, and the remodeling projects I pursued.

Imbuing new owners with an ownership culture – I think homeownership is a great thing and something that we should all aspire to. It was a remarkable change in my mindset – I suddenly wanted the apartment clean all the time, the tiniest scratch in paint or hardwood made me depressed, which meant I cleaned more and I pushed the people around me to keep the space clean. But more than that, I felt like the neighborhood, its cleanliness, its reputation, reflected back upon me, which meant that all of a sudden I was wanting to explore the neighborhood, patronize neighborhood businesses, and I was pulling for the local businesses to succeed. All of a sudden, I really wanted to know what that old  Naan N Curry on the corner was going to become. All of us being financially invested in our neighborhood encourages all of us  to treat the neighborhood with respect, we want property values to go up.
General Contractor vs. individual contractor service providers – I’m a strong proponent of the idea of doing it all at once through a contractor. I didn’t do this – I spent over $15K and hundreds of hours of my own time learning about hardwood, engineered hardwood, and laminate, and then comparing options of each, before deciding on engineered hardwood, and then deciding on a store, and a particular shade, and a particular installation method, and then getting building permits and HOA approvals and reserving elevators and coming home from work. And that’s just for hardwood. A similar process occurred for bathroom tiles, carpeting, painting, plumbing, and appliances. At the end of the day, I had to find one hardwood store and installation contractor that I could trust. And I had to then find another contractor that I could trust with carpet. And another for paint. Etc. Instead, had I found one highly recommended contractor to price out everything we wanted, then I might be able to trust him with the details. And then trust him to get good deals and to outsource only the things he couldn’t handle on his own. The results may or may not be better because I involved myself in every detail – it’s hard to say. But I do know that it was a really tough time – it was a ton of fun but it was also a tremendous amount of time and stress and a very steep learning curve for me to overcome.
The integral of my marginal benefit curve for home improvement is infinity.
  1. The first three months was a whirlwind of big stuff that I’ve already mentioned:
    1. hardwood
    2. carpet
    3. baseboards
    4. tile
    5. paint
    6. appliances
  2. Then came the second wave of improvements for another three months – the smaller stuff
    1. re-painting certain walls
    2. all new light fixtures
    3. wall-mount TV
    4. wallpaper
    5. shower towel rods
    6. area rugs
  3. And after another three months I got to the third wave of improvements – the even smaller stuff
    1. new bedroom furniture
    2. new artwork for every wall
    3. shelving for more storage
And finally, now that all of this is done, my appetite is still not sated. I want new living room furniture. I want a credenza. I want to move the upstairs TV downstairs into my bedroom and wall-mount it, and then wall-mount an even bigger TV upstairs. I want more recessed lighting (in phase two I swapped out all the fixtures but didn’t add any new holes in the ceiling for any net-new lights). And I still can’t believe I haven’t bought a washer / dryer! I still haven’t changed out the kitchen countertops and cabinetry – that’s next! And right after that is the bathroom countertops, sinks, and cabinets! I could easily pour another $15K into this place without being happy.  And there’s the moral of the story – there is no end point. The marginal benefit of each improvement diminishes, approaching zero, but never actually reaching zero, and so, left unchecked, I would spend all the way to infinity to improve this condo. I don’t know where to draw the line, except to say that for now it’s good enough, and to hypothesize that were I to rent it out now, I don’t think additional improvements would fetch any higher a rent – at this point it would just be for my own vanity. And so I’ve taken two months off, and I’m hopeful that I won’t make any other improvements for another six months.

One thought on “Buying A Condo – Reflections after One Year

  1. I CAN TOTALLY RELATE!! I just finished posting about buying our first home. It’s INSANE how much perspective changes and “what will the neighbors think” becomes very important!!

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