I’ve mentioned in a comment here and there, as part of my lifelong study of American culture through immersion, it’s once again time for my family to move.* This means I have to get this house ready for sale, get prepped for the movers, say goodbye to our friends here and close-up our local accounts, plus get some kind of idea regarding temporary housing in our new location and begin the process of shopping for our next house.

Pretty much of my previous remodeling projects were on islands, both metaphorically and literally. There was one time, thirty years ago, when I had some work done on a retail space that was decidedly on the mainland, but everything else prior has been in a remote location, either offshore or in the desert. Essentially this is my first remodel, easily accessible from other towns.

Our last house was bought as a fixer-upper. I had “retired” from the go-go part of the internet after the last bubble and though I was planning to take some occasional design jobs when they sounded super-interesting, I was mostly going to stay home with our (first) kid and learn everything about child-rearing and building systems, while fixing-up our house.

This started out well. Using books and the internet, I learned everything I could about HVAC and plumbing. I also studied for my homeowner’s electrician’s license and started theorizing about home automation, greywater and rainwater recycling. Adding to my knowledge, I joined the building committee for my daughter’s school. They wanted to build something low-impact, green and healthy, all concepts I had researched and wanted to include in our desert home.

The work started out fine too. By having everything planned out in advance, I could go ahead and allow or prepare for future systems as I went along. Unfortunately, there was a big hailstorm which pushed the roof to the top of the agenda and because it felt like an honest day’s work, plus quite a bit of the sheathing had been destroyed and I wanted to replicate the locally-milled boards rather than cover it all with OSB, I decided not to hire it out and fell into a years long, tedious job. Thankfully, a couple of exciting internet opportunities became available and I started working on a couple of new sites of my own, but every minute I was in front of the computer or traipsing around on mountaintops installing and powering a cloud over a remote canyon, I wasn’t working on the house or the roof.

When it came time for us to move, I had a lot of unfinished stuff and there were things left to do to the house, where it would no longer be a fixer-upper. Fortunately though, a small town in the desert is a lot like an island in that there’s only one or two people with specialized skills and because the market is so limited, they’re eager for work and have reputations for doing a good job. This made it easy to put on my General Contractor’s hat and pretty much gut the house over our last couple of months, rebuilding or replacing almost everything except for the kitchen and the full bath, plus we finished incorporating an attached apartment into the main house, converting its space into a three-quarter bath, a den, a hall and two bedrooms.

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The house where I currently live is not a fixer-upper, but we bought it knowing that the kitchen and one bath needed work and I’ve let other stuff fall by the wayside. So, though it’s nowhere near the rush of activity that our last house’s sale prep required — most days I had six to nine people working on something — there has been the illusion of bustle as we’ve remodeled these two rooms and have done other projects to get the house ready for listing.

What’s different is that because we’re not on an island or anything geographically similar, finding subcontractors hasn’t been easy. In our last house, the fellow who replaced all of our ancient windows was happy for the job and willing to work with my schedule, while here it took two weeks to find a professional window cleaner with a tall enough ladder to reach my second floor, who wanted the job. (There is one guy I’ve hired to build cabinets, who would probably gladly send a couple of inexperienced minimum wagers with a rented ladder and I don’t doubt if the money’s right, the company who trimmed my trees would send a crew, but if I’m going to pay someone to clean my windows and there are multiple people advertising, I’d rather hire someone I know would do a good job. Of course if this were an island, most likely there wouldn’t be any professional window cleaners and whomever had the ladder would win.)

Hell, even my general laborer and the fellow with skills are juggling me with other, similar jobs.

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I guess it’s good for them and the economy that everybody has all the work they want, but because this makes some of those I’ve hired less than reliable and others aren’t motivated to want the work, it’s made my job kind of difficult. The movers are coming on a certain day. We’ve now decided to stay a little after because it’ll be easier to paint and decide about the floors with the furniture gone, but I really would like everything else done.

In the meantime, the guy who gave me a three-page contract is running a week behind, while I don’t doubt that one of the people with whom I just shook hands will be here at nine.

As for myself, I’ll be moving the dishwasher and putting a cut-off on a gas line.


*My wife’s career is really what causes us to move. We used to move a couple of times a year, but as she’s progressed, our moves have become fewer and further between. My “study of American culture through immersion” is just a happy fringe benefit of our lives.