If These Walls Could Talk … Updated

House Remodel

A new owner adds their personal touches,  San Diego makes it through the 60’s and some guidance on how to select a contractor. . .


In 1960 the family I purchased the house from bought the property and added their personal touches to it with a foyer, additional square footage creating an eat-in kitchen and larger master suite, and a permitted “shed” in the back yard.

Here are some interesting milestones in San Diego’s history from 1960-1970:

City of San Diego population is 573,224. San Diego County population is 1,033,011.
State approves proposition to deliver water from northern California as far south as San Diego.

American Football League Chargers open first season at Balboa Stadium.

Mission Valley Shopping Center opens.

Jonas Salk establishes the Jonas Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla. The 26-acre campus, designed by architect Louis I. Kahn, overlooks the Pacific Ocean on Torrey Pines Mesa.

University of California at San Diego opens 1,000-acre La Jolla campus to first class of undergraduate students.

Roger Revelle is main force in founding UCSD and the first of its colleges is named in his honor.
City Administration Building opens downtown at Community Concourse.
Sea World opens in Mission Bay Park.

Archeological digs begin at Presidio Park above Old Town, eventually revealing foundations and artifacts from the earliest Spanish inhabitation of the 1700s.
Beatles perform before 18,000 adoring fans at Balboa Stadium.
Mexico authorizes maquiladora factories, Mexican assembly or manufacturing operations that can be wholly or partially owned and managed by non-Mexican companies.

Bob Breitbard completes Sports Arena in Midway area.

$27 million San Diego Stadium opens in Mission Valley as home to the San Diego Chargers and the San Diego State University Aztecs football team. Stadium is renamed for San Diego Union sports editor Jack Murphy in 1981; Qualcomm in 1997).

The minor-league San Diego Padres become a Major League Baseball team and play their first game in the new San Diego Stadium.
Committee of 100 leads successful bond drive for first historic reconstruction in Balboa Park (Casa del Prado completed 1971).

San Diego–Coronado Bay Bridge opens, replacing ferry service across San Diego Bay.
National League Padres begin playing at San Diego Stadium.
Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) launches preservation drive for old Victorian buildings.
San Diego hosts year-long festival to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of California on Presidio Hill. Old Town becomes a state park. Hear State Senator Mills tell about the creation of Old Town State Park. from our Oral History Archives.

San Diego becomes California’s second-largest city, with a population of 696,474. San Diego County population is 1,357,854.
San Diego City Council dedicates 6,000 acre La Jolla Underwater Park.
City of San Diego population is 696,769. San Diego County population is 1,357,854.
Mayor and council members indicted in Yellow Cab scandal.
Mexican-American community campaigns for creation of Chicano Park beneath San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge. Read Journal of San Diego History article about creation of Chicano Park.

Now that my house is complete I thought it could be helpful to share with you some guidelines to use when selecting a contractor.  In future posts I will share some lessons learned and take you along as I embark on my landscaping adventure!

Phase I:

Ask your Realtor, your inspectors, friends and family.  You can also pay a visit to your local lumberyard or home improvement center.  They see contractors regularly and know which ones buy quality materials and pay their bills on time.

Once you’ve assembled a list, make a quick call to each of your prospects and ask them the following questions:

*Do they take on projects of your size?

*Are they a design and build firm or just build?  If they build only, you may need to contract out for the services of an architect and/or designer for additional fees.

*Are they willing to provide financial references from suppliers or banks?

*Can they give you a list of previous clients?

*Can you visit some of their projects?

*How many other projects would they have going at the same time?

*How long have they worked with their subcontractors?

*What kind of warranty do they provide?

The answers to these questions will reveal the company’s availability, reliability, how much attention they’ll be able to give your project, and how smoothly the work will go.

Phase II:

Based on the phone interviews, pick three or four contractors to meet for estimates and further discussion. A contractor should be able to answer your questions satisfactorily and in a manner that puts you at ease. It is crucial that you two communicate well because this person could be in your home for a long time depending on the extent of the project. To be safe, also check with your state’s consumer protection agency and your local Better Business Bureau to make sure contractors don’t have a history of disputes with clients or subcontractors.

Now that you’ve narrowed your list, call former clients to find how their project went and ask to see the finished product. Visit a current job site and see for yourself how the contractor works. Is the job site neat and safe? Are workers courteous and careful with the homeowner’s property?

Phase III:

Once you have your short list of contractors whose track records seem clean and whose work ethic looks responsible it’s time to start looking forward to your project. A conscientious contractor will want not only a complete set of blueprints but also a sense of what homeowners want out of a project and what they plan to spend. To compare bids, ask everyone to break down the cost of materials, labor, profit margins and other expenses. Generally materials account for 40 percent of the total cost; the rest covers overhead and the typical profit margin, which is 15 to 20 percent.

Payment schedules can also speak to a contractor’s financial status and work ethic. If they want half the bid up front, they may have financial problems or be worried that you won’t pay the rest after you’ve seen the work. For large projects, a schedule usually starts with 10 percent at contract signing, three payments of 25 percent evenly spaced over the duration of the project and a check for the final 15 percent when you feel every item on the punch list has been completed.

NOTE: If you are using a renovation loan like I did, make sure the contractor is experienced with their management.  The bank has very specific procedures they follow and you don’t want to lose time with a contractor that doesn’t understand the procedures and/or that doesn’t follow them.

I recommend throwing out the low ball bid since this contractor is probably cutting corners or, worse, desperate for work. Beyond technical competence, comfort should play an equal or greater role in your decision. The single most important factor in choosing a contractor is how well you two can communicate.

Phase IV:

Draw up a contract that details every step of the project: payment schedule; the change order process and additional charges; proof of liability insurance and worker’s compensation payments; a start date and projected completion date; specific materials and products to be used; a requirement that the contractor obtain lien releases (which protect you if he doesn’t pay his bills) from all subcontractors and suppliers; warranties for materials and labor. Insisting on a clear contract isn’t about mistrust- it’s about insuring a successful renovation.

Interested in selling your home or buying a property?  Please send me an email or call me at 619-888-2117.  I can help you prepare for the successful sale of your property!