Thursday, September 27, 2012

The House That Craig's List Built

Have champagne tastes and a beer budget? Craig’s list can help with all of your home-building material needs (if you follow a few smart tips).

OK. I admit it. I am a Craig’s list addict. I have bought (and sold) so many items that I’ve lost count. But, the biggest compulsion to surf the listings has come from my extensive house renovation and the need to buy lots of materials—soup to nuts—on the cheap. How else could a Franco-file like me who loves Provence-style architecture and d├ęcor acquire reclaimed terra cotta tiles from a French chateau for one-tenth of what they cost in the real-world? Or, get a Liebherr fridge for hundreds, instead of thousands of dollars? Or, get nearly a whole house’s worth of stain-grade, arched French doors and casement windows for $500 total? Craig’s list.
But, this free listing service is not without its downsides and pitfalls. Of course, there is no return policy on Craig’s list. Whatever you buy is yours to keep—or resell as the case may be. And, of course, there’s the human factor. Most people are honest and trustworthy, but some just aren’t. Craig’s list killers aside, most people are regular folk just like you and me. But, you do have to keep your street-smart commonsense radar on high. (See sidebar for safety tips). This is all about getting deals—not steals.
Disclaimers aside: Over the years, I’ve had a great time shopping, scored some awesome stuff and have met some interesting, quirky, fun people to boot. I’ve also made some mistakes, bought some duds and have therefore, discovered a few how-to tips to getting what you want—in great condition—for less.
Here’s a list of some of my top tips.

Tip No.1: The More You Can Surf, the Better.
Remember Tom Hanks’ desert-island character in the movie “Castaway”? He got up every day just to see what useful stuff the tide would bring in. Think of searching for stuff on Craig’s List the same way. Check online first thing in the and before you go to bed. And, sometimes you’ll be surprised what you can find any time during the day. If you’re one of the first to call about an item, you increase the odds that you’ll score it—especially if it’s a really amazing bargain.

TIP No.2: Know How to Search. The best spot to look for home materials is in under “Materials” in the “For Sale” items section. If you want the best deals, search only “Materials by owner.” This will filter out many (but, not all) retail stores using Craig’s list as a free advertising tool. When plugging in key words, you may want to keep it broad. If I’m looking for an arched door, for example, I’ll plug in “arch” to expand the number of items that will come up. Some people don’t use the term arch, however, so you can also get creative and plug in “rounded” or “curved” or even “circle.” I’ve happened upon some interesting materials that I likely wouldn’t have found just by running down the full materials list because I misspelled them. Intentionally misspelling a keyword can sometimes bring up a gold mine.

Tip No.3: Do Your Homework. Remember, you’re on Craig’s List for the deals. It doesn’t make sense to buy from this listing service with all of the risks involved (again, there is no return policy) if you’re not paying substantially less than retail. So be sure to know what stuff costs in the real world. Don’t know? Google it. And don’t just google one store. Google a couple to get a good range in price.

Tip No.4: Expand Your Search. Didn’t find what you need? Try looking in a different, but nearby city. The list is located at the far right of the main page of Craig’s list. Occasionally, your search will include (at the bottom) items from nearby areas anyway. If it’s not too far, it may be worth the drive. And it never hurts to ask the seller if he or she will be in your area, or wouldn’t mind meeting you halfway. You won’t know unless you ask.

Tip No.5: Don’t Fall for This Hummer Trick (I Did)! I once purchased a waterfall faucet from a seller who met up with my husband and I in a park. He arrived in a shiny, new Hummer and seemed bent to impress us on talking about his wealth, including mention that his backyard was as big as the park we were meeting at. That should have been a red-flag right there. He told us the faucet he had (still in the box), which he displayed to us in the back of his pretty hummer, cost in the thousands. I wasn’t so sure and should have trusted my gut. I said “no” at first to the deal. My husband tried to negotiate a lower price. The guy hotly disagreed and then, drove off, only to return a minute later, agreeing to the lower price. We bought the faucet for the lower price, but it was no deal. A google search of the brand later proved we overpaid by $40 retail. What a shame! We won’t do that again. The tip here: Know what stuff costs ahead of time and trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right: Walk away.

Tip No.6: Check Out the Free Stuff.
Craig’s List has a “free” section under all “For Sale” items. This is a place where people just want to get rid of stuff. Often, they’ll put their goods in an alley or on their front curb and send out a Free Curbside Pick Up Alert. I got two truckloads of river rocks for free once by finding one of these postings. A property manager of a ranch in Malibu was looking to do some landscaping and clear the property of rocks. My husband and I rented a truck and acquired several tons, which we later used to build a custom waterslide and waterfall in the backyard. We nabbed for free, what would have cost us thousands from a building supply shop.

Tip No.7: Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate.
Hey, this is Craig’s list, not Home Depot. You’ll never know how low someone will go in price unless you ask. Often, sellers just want to get rid of their stuff to clear out space and they’re happy to see it go. Or, their wives are. Don’t underestimate the power of a clean garage. We once negotiated free delivery because the item (an entire kitchen’s worth of cabinetry from a showroom display from a store that went out of business) was being stored at a facility that was costing the seller money every month. He delivered it for free just to empty out the storage unit!
Also, keep in mind that Craig’s list shows when an item was posted online, so you may have more negotiating leverage with a item that’s been online for awhile. While listings get deleted after seven days and have to be reposted, you’ll begin to notice items that haven’t sold because you’ve seen their listing reappear for weeks or even months.

Tip No.8: It Pays to Have a Truck. Our family has a Jeep, not a truck. So, some big building materials we’ve purchased have required that we rent a pick-up. Home Depot rents trucks by the hour, but it may take you several hours to complete your delivery. To get a house-worth of windows and doors, we had to rent a pretty big U-Haul. But, we once picked up a seven-foot kitchen island (see pic below) by renting just the trailer. They cost just a fraction of what a vehicle costs (ours cost just $15 per day) and there’s no mileage fee. But you will need a trailer hitch that can pull it—and be somewhat coordinated to pull, park and maneuver them, especially if you need to do a lot of backing up.
You should also factor in weight. Items, such as stone, bricks and even roof tiles are heavy and the vehicle you have—or rent—needs to be able to handle the total load, which can easily be several tons. Not just any pick-up can handle a ton.
When you consider the cost of an item, always consider transportation. How much gas is it going to cost to get you there and back? Add that to the cost. And, of course, if you have to rent a vehicle, that fee could be significant.

Be Smart, Be Safe When Meeting

I’ve never had any problems with Craigslisters (other than the huckster with the Hummer mentioned above), but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t nut jobs out there. When making a plan with a seller to meet, use your street smarts and common sense. If a seller just sounds “shady,” don’t meet—no matter how great the deal. Getting something on the cheap is a powerful motivator, but don’t let it over-ride your natural commonsense or gut feeling about a person or situation. In general, here are a few safety guidelines:
• Don’t go alone. I always bring my husband with me and he’s 6’4”. He’s an engineer by education, but he’s also an actor. The parts he gets cast for are Russian mafia hit men, prison wardens, executioners and cops. The dude is scary so people don’t mess with him. If you have a friend like this—bring him along.
• Meet in public places when you can. For smaller items, meet up at a public place where lots of other people are located. Any Starbucks parking lot is often a popular meeting spot—it’s where we picked up a range hood once (see pic below). Only meet at a park if it’s a busy one and it’s not at night.
• Always bring your phone (with the seller’s cell phone number programmed). Sounds like a no-brainer, but it helps when you call the seller just a few minutes before you arrive at a meeting location to give them a courtesy ETA (or if you’re running late in traffic). (How many people say they’ll be somewhere and then flake? By calling when you get close, you convey to the seller that you’re one of the “descent” folk.) You can also call if you just can’t find your meet up location and need some help. Word to the wise: Always ask what kind of car they’re driving so the two of you don’t sit in a parking lot looking for each other.

We met up with a Craig's list seller at this Starbucks in Bakersfield to acquire a brand-new stainless steel range hood--still in the box.  New it costs nearly three thousand (we checked at Best Buy the night before), but we got it for $500. It was a wedding present for the seller, but didn't fit his island range, so he just needed to free up space in the garage. We couldn't find a range hood that would fit our kitchen on the Los Angeles postings, so we had to expand our search to Bakersfield. Sounds like a long drive (it was an hour and half), but we combined it with a family trip to the Kern River. See below.

Yes, it's crazy to drive all the way to Bakersfield to get a range hood found on Craig's list. But, we stopped at this swimming spot on the Kern River and it made the drive worth it. There's my husband and six-year-old way down there climbing on boulders. It was a great day for swimming. We found some gold-colored rocks glistening in the stream of water and thought, wow—is it possible to get this great range hood for such a deal and find some gold nuggets on the same day! (Ok, probably I was the only one thinking that. )

Here's our huge kitchen island--another bargain on Craig's list. It fit my Provence-themed kitchen decor, but at seven-feet-long, this was one mighty piece of furniture to transport. In this case, we rented a trailer at U-Haul for $15. Cheaper than finding a truck big enough to move this.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Kitchen Inspiration: Rustic, Yet Modern With a Twist

I must admit I've likely logged quite a few hours just surfing the internet looking for kitchen inspiration. And it's interesting how my tastes have changed. First, my preferences leaned toward an old-world Provence farmhouse style kitchen like the one shown above. I liked the stone range hood and the light cabinetry.

I do love the vaulted ceiling and open beams shown here. Again, there's another big range hood in this kitchen. And traditional lower cabinetry. Although there are no upper cabinets.

I do love the floors of this kitchen. The terra cotta pavers look great against the white walls and cabinetry. There's yet another big range hood.

But then, I started looking at some kitchens with rustic elements, but decidedly cleaner lines. No upper cabinets here, but there are open shelves. And no big range hoods.

And then I'd find more modern twists on the farmhouse kitchen, such as this one with nice chunky concrete countertops and what looks to be a polished concrete floor. 

Notice this kitchen has the open-beamed ceiling and no upper cabinetry. Some incredible stone countertops. I love how the modern-ness of the stainless steel plays off the rustic stone, wood and even burlap textures. And, I think, this image made me start to dream about putting a skirt below my farmhouse sink. I've got one stored in the garage (thank you, Ikea).

More skirted cabinet inspiration. And look at those clean polished concrete floors. How easy to clean. One of the greatest features of this kitchen is how the delicate crystals on those cute sconces on the back wall play off the rustic quality of the brick. The dichotomy of old and modern is what makes this kitchen something special and sooo interesting to look at.

This kitchen is one of my all-time favorites. No upper cabinets. A lot of stainless steel playing off textures of terra cotta and a wood island wrapped with metal. I definitely want to bring in an element akin to that big beam running across the back wall even if it's just decorative, not structural. And I'm leaning toward a stainless steel range hood with a stainless steel backsplash as the one shown. It's highly functional (and likely a lot less expensive than a custom stone hood).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Getting a New Roof: Icing on the Cake

This image shows a little bit more progress on the front. The plywood has been completed, but the bump-out for the bedroom has yet to be started. That bay window off to the right was eventually removed and replaced with an eyebrow arch wood window. Another Craig's List find. 

Here's a close-up of the wood shingle roof. I loved this roof. It was one of the original fairy tale details that made we want to buy this house in the first place. Amazing that it lasted all these years--never a single leak. We had to remove this roof because we literally raised our roof and created a steeper pitch. There was no way to put these shingles back although we did actually consider that option. When our crew removed this roof, it turned out to be six layers thick! Who knew! They don't build roofs like this anymore. Again, Craig's List came to our rescue: We sold a good portion of the old shingles. We just couldn't see putting those beautifully patina'd pieces of wood into a landfill. I actually offered Anthropologie, one of my favorite stores, the shingles for free for an in-store art installation. But, we ended up selling them instead.

Here is our inspiration for our new roof. Provence barrel-style clay tiles. I just love this color palette. Sun-drenched, terra cotta with some mossy greens and merlots. We investigated acquiring these tiles, but unfortunately, they are too heavy. Building and Safety stipulates a lightweight tile.

More inspiration for the colors we like for our new roof. Our exterior walls will be stone as well, so this image captured the nice textural element when combining the clay tiles and stone. We'll go with Vineto Fieldledge from Eldorado Stone because it's what we've used on our guesthouse and we'd like to stay consistent. It's made from cement, not actual stone, but it looks great and is easy to work with. It also has the salmon tones that I like. And it should match this tile color nicely.

More inspiration. I actually printed out this photo so that we could try to duplicate the patina of this real authentic tile on our brand new "S" tiles from Boral.

This is a sample of the reclaimed tiles we'll be using on our kitchen floor. We'll try to match this color palette on the roof.

More vintage Provence tiles shipped all the way from France. We can't use these (they're too heavy), but we did buy a few—at $3 each—to help us match the color and patina.

This image shows some of our color experimentation on our new "S" type Boral Claylight tiles in the corono del oro color palette. We'll also mix it up with the merlot color palette as well. That bucket is a nice mix of stucco (gray) and some cement and water. This is the real icing on the cake so to speak. I used some of our "S" tiles that were broken to test out this slurry. We picked up quite a few tiles from another Craig's List poster. They were $1 each, which is half the price of the cheapest retail roofing supply store in Los Angeles, so it was worth the effort to drive out to Burbank and pick them up. Of course, when buying tiles new, you also have to consider the transportation fee, which is pretty steep for tiles. The guy at the roofing supply store wasn't a big fan of our idea to slurry up our tiles. He thought the grout or cement would wash off. But, we're willing to experiment. Unfortunately, new tiles just don't have that old world patina and may take many years to develop it.