We're homeowners! Oh, crap.
September 30, 2008 10:27 AM   Subscribe

We've moved every two years since 2000. Always renting. We're about to move into our very own condo, and in the interests of not being ripped off, we're avoiding the developer's sources/prices and buying our own appliances, window treatments, do our own closets, find our own contractor for the floors, etc. The problem? We don't know how to do any of this stuff. Bonus points: 6 month old baby.

General advice is always appreciated, but if San Francisco or Bay Area specific info, especially so. I'm not trying to be lazy - if you've got a pointer to the definitive DIY home-improvement forum, I'll take that, too.

1) Dryer needs to be an stacked electric condensation one - Bosch seems to be the answer here. Is the laundry closet's second floor location going to be an issue? I've heard talk of deals targeted at first time buyers at Sears/Lowes/etc. if you buy them all at once or open a store credit card. Any other tips? Any especially good appliance stores local to the Bay Area, in particular?

2) Window treatments - my only real concern here is my kid not choking on them or pulling them down. Is there a particular kind we should be looking at? Curtains? Blinds? Anything else?

3) I plan on doing up our closets myself in either Ikea Antonius or Elfa. Are there any other comparable solutions I'm not considering?

4) We want to do hard wood floors. If you've got any pointers towards a kind of wood or a particular Bay Area contractor, I'm all ears.

We've got a month-to-month lease, and the willingness to stay out of the new place until the floors are done, appliances delivered/installed. Any tips about moving w/babies (even if only across town) are also much appreciated. I guess the real question is if anyone's got tips on where's the particular balance for saving a buck vs. minimizing hassle when transitioning to your very own place. Thanks hive mind!
posted by NoRelationToLea to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hardwood floor treatments can be very dangerous and noxious. Don't expose your baby to those fumes. They will last months at least. I was watching the renovations being done on the next door apartments, a long term project, always the same workers. When the floors were done, a different crew came in. I asked why they didn't do that too, like they did everything else. "Oh, the Haitians always do the floors. They all get brain cancer." Do just a little research and you won't let that happen to your baby. A dirt floor would be preferable.

Also new carpets out-gass noxious fumes for months if not years. Get natural un-dyed wool.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:46 AM on September 30, 2008

Oh, I might also add, when those floors were being done. a fussy upstairs neighbor called the NYC environmental police or some such, and they came and emergency evacuated our building for eight hours and had huge industrial fans brought in. And we're not even in the same building.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:56 AM on September 30, 2008

You can get hardwood flooring that is pre-finished.
posted by lee at 11:00 AM on September 30, 2008

If this is new construction, buy pre-finished hardwood and you can skip all the stuff about stinky finishing chemicals. You can either get engineered stuff of the traditional 3/4" hardwood. But prefinished is the way to go if it's a brand-new floor.

In general I would say that your time is worth a lot and you won't save much money DIY on this stuff. The appliances that the developer buys will be decent but basic and they can get wholesale deals that aren't available to you. Unless you have a desire for a very specific (and usually much more expensive) appliance, don't bother.

As for tips moving with babies, we moved into our first townhouse-condo with a 3 month old (construction strike!) and our second house with a 2+ year old and a second 6-month-old. Basically one person gets the kids and one person supervises the moving. The person with the kids goes and does something else all day - don't let the kids just hang out around the new place. Go to the new academy of science in Golden Gate Park or something. be prepared to have a backup place to stay the night - our move from condo-to-house was delayed by several hours when the movers didn't show up and I was unloading the truck until 3 AM. My memory is fuzzy on where everyone slept but it may not have been in either house. If a grandparent is available, moving day is a great day for a visit there!
posted by GuyZero at 11:09 AM on September 30, 2008

We got top-down-bottom-up cellular shades from blinds.com. Top-down is nice since we can still get light from the top while keeping privacy. They were quite reasonably priced and installation is super easy for even the moderately handy. We just use the low-tech cord wrapper things to keep the ropes away from little hands, but if you want to spend a bit extra you can get built in cord keepers and all sorts of other features.
posted by true at 11:13 AM on September 30, 2008

Zero-VOC-when-dry floor sealants are trivial to find, and are low-VOC when wet. That random (probably unlicensed) NYC installers used absurdly toxic materials does not mean the rest of the country is equally retrograde.

Since you're in California, find products that meet the requirements of CHPS.

For prefinished flooring, beware of formaldehyde in the glues. This can also be trivially avoided by simply looking for products that advertise the absence of formaldehyde. Think about what sort of underlayment you need -- if there's anyone occupying the space below you you'd better splurge on a decent underlayment or they'll be knocking on your door every time anyone wears shoes in your place.

Regarding closet systems: Rubbermaid makes a system that competes with Antonius & Elfa (the Rubbermaid system is rubber-dipped wire). I have not used it personally, but considered it at one point (before deciding to skip the whole "closet system" concept for unrelated reasons). You should be able to find it at any decent hardware store or "home center." With three competing systems you should be able to find one that works for your life & finances.

Consider whether or not you really need an ice maker in the refrigerator.
posted by aramaic at 11:20 AM on September 30, 2008

Consider whether or not you really need an ice maker in the refrigerator.

After avoiding refrigerator icemakers for years we finally got one when we bought our new house and we actually use it a lot. If you are going to buy appliances yourself, don't cheap out too much as you will have to use them everyday for quite a while. Spending the extra on the Bosch dishwasher we had previously was some of the best money I ever spent - the GE we have now is about the same as simply letting the food decay on the used plates in terms of actual cleaning capability. Avoid GE appliances in general - I have had nothing but bad experiences with them. German appliances are fantastic.
posted by GuyZero at 11:50 AM on September 30, 2008

Consider whether or not you really need an ice maker in the refrigerator.

They're nice, but they also destroy your energy rating. Not that this is necessarily a terrible thing, but rather that if you use one you should recognize that the Energy Star label on that fridge is no longer applicable (actual energy use will be up to double what's stated on the label in some cases). Consumer Reports did an article discussing this; I was frankly amazed at the impact.
posted by aramaic at 12:18 PM on September 30, 2008

Shop hard. Ask for dented appliances, ask for discounts if you agree to buy multiple appliances. Ask for free delivery & setup. Lowe's seems to send discount cards when you do change-of-address forms. I got better appliance prices at a locally owned store, and it was easier to negotiate for free delivery/setup.

Freecycle is an amazing resource. I've gotten lost of useful stuff and given away lots of stuff. ReStore is a recycling source and raises funds for Habitat for Humanity.

The hardest part is that you really have to be there to supervise the work. Plan on putting in a lot more time than you think.
posted by theora55 at 1:40 PM on September 30, 2008

Locally, every Thursday beginning at 6 PM, the Lowes store has a special "scratched, dented, and returned merchandise" sale. The discounts can be huge. If, for example, a refrigerator has a dent on the side which will abut your cabinets, you'll never see it after it's in place.

Also, my wife insisted on a fridge with water, cubed ice, and crushed ice on the door three years ago. We both agree now that these features were not worth the several hundred dollars extra we paid for them.

I mean, how much work is it to occasionally fill an ice cube tray?

Plus, the interior real estate consumed by the mechanism inside the freezer and fridge don't justify the supposed convenience of the features.
posted by imjustsaying at 2:48 PM on September 30, 2008

To fill in details: totally new construction. As for the DIY savings - let's just say it's very much worth my time to take on (some of) the hassles myself. The developer's associated design firm's pricing is very, VERY high.

Thanks for the input everyone. Obviously, everyone's hassle vs. penny pinching metrics are a bit different, but I really appreciate the different perspectives.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 5:03 PM on September 30, 2008

Recommended flooring contractor: Bay Flooring Solutions. (650) 355-0324. bfs235@sbcglobal.net. I've heard nothing but good things about them.

Closet systems: Consumer Reports recommended both Rubbermaid and Elfa. They say the Rubbermaid lacks some accessories that other systems have, and that explains why it's somewhat less expensive.
posted by jeri at 2:00 AM on October 1, 2008

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