How to (barely) survive a remodel with kids

Kaler remodel 1

So, you’re living the American Dream. You get married, buy a home, and you have a kid — your entire life has fallen into place.

But then something happens that changes everything: You have one more kid.

Of course, it’s wonderful! The more the merrier. But now it feels like you’re jamming 9 crayons into an 8 pack. This is a real dilemma. You love your house. You have their heights marked on their bedroom wall. You finally got the backyard just the way you like it. None of the neighbors have ever sued you. So, what’s the solution?

Easy, let’s buy a bigger house.

This starts out pretty fun, but be warned, the phrase “open house” is a gateway drug. You start looking at any house you can get your eyes on. You get hooked. Ooooh, a pool and grotto. So, that’s what a “veranda” looks like. Wine cellar/panic room? I’ve got to have that! It’s intoxicating … right up until you do the math.

You’ll lose the 6 percent realtors commission right off the top, plus the added cost of the bigger house, plus the moving expenses, added furniture, utilities, schools, and the cost of making that yard just the way you like it. You might even find that one beautiful spacious house with everything you want at an affordable price, and you’ll even try to overlook the fact that it’s next to the freeway on-ramp and under the power lines. But on your third visit, the gang tags on your garage door will make you see reason.

At this point, you’ll think about re-imagining your current home as a more efficient space. In your mind, you’ll combine the cramped styles of Japanese hotel rooms and collegiate dorms. Is it even legal to build a triple bunk bed? Again, reason will take over.

Can one of the kids live in a tent in the backyard? No?

Well, that leaves only one option.

Build an addition!!!

Here are my sure-fire tips to limit the amount of pain you will inevitably suffer:

1. Find a contractor

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Next to your spouse, your contractor will be the most important person you choose in your life. And honestly, it’s pretty close. You’re going to have to trust them beyond reproach, because the truth is, if they want to take you for every thing you’re worth, it’s not that hard.

Cracking open a house is like going to the dentist for the first time in many years. Everything seems fine until they scrape off all the plaque and then realize your electrical system isn’t up to code. It all starts to add up: new roof, HVAC, insulation …

And just like the dentist, they tell you, “you don’t have to do this today, but you’re already in the chair, so let’s put on those much needed new gutters.” When looking, search hard. Do your research. Get references. Get a bunch of bids. Do a blood test. And then get more references. Check reviews. One more reference. Find out where they live. Learn about their family. Have dinner with their parents. Go on a vacation together … You get the picture.

2. Get a bid

OK, you’ve chosen the contractor and you have his bid. Now ask for his “worst case scenario” bid. Now ask for the highest bid he could possibly imagine. Now ask him how much it would cost if your house was destroyed in a nuclear explosion. Now take that one and add 10 percent. Still not sure if you’re ready for this? Take all the money in your wallet, drop it in a trashcan, and light it on fire. Now, take that trashcan and smash yourself in the face with it. If you’re comfortable with that feeling, proceed.

3. Get the finances

Let’s face facts, if you had the extra money to drop, you would’ve bought that house with the jacuzzi in the nice section of town. The only thing you have of value is the home you’re adding on to, which means you’re going to have to borrow from Peter to pay Paul. (And yes, both Peter and Paul are your house.) This means taking out a “Home Equity Loan.”

What’s this process like? Imagine a colonoscopy with a calculator. Not getting it? You’re going to be mathematically assaulted until Stockholm Syndrome sets in and you do everything the bank tells you. At which point, they’ll strip you naked in the bright light and take a long hard look at your “Debt to Earnings Ratio,” and it won’t be pretty.

4. Co-existing with construction

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Of course, you would love to move out during this horrible time, but if you had that kind of money, you’d probably have bought that place with the stables out back. So, let’s forget that option and get realistic.

You could try to have you and your kids stay with family, but that is usually the log line of a horror film that ends with a cop getting nauseous as he looks over the grisly scene. Nope.

On your budget, you’ll be trying to seal off a section of the house and live like squatters. This can get a little tricky, so here’s how you do it: Suck it up and adapt. Let the workers do their job. It’s going to be loud, it just is. Yes, they’re going to be blasting classic rock all day, but if you’re nice, they’ll throw in “The Wheels on the Bus” somewhere between Blue Oyster Cult and Grand Funk Railroad.

5. Make sure the remodel is progressing on time

Cue hilarious laughter from all involved. I was joking with this one. Like a Möbius Strip, it will have no end. You’re going to spend weeks waiting for that Italian tile that your wife had to have because it matched the Walker Zenger backsplash, which you’re still waiting for. Your roofing crew will tear off the existing roof and then not return until it’s rained at least a day or two. That professional grade Wolf stove will have to be handmade by aeronautical engineers in a hermetically sealed bio-sphere at the bottom of the Aegean Sea.

And don’t ever ask your contractor, “What’s the hold up?” because you’ll just look stupid when he says, “We’re waiting on an inspection.”

6. Living without a kitchen

You can’t use the kitchen for at least a month. Probably longer. Breathe deeply and adapt. Remember college when you survived with a hot plate, mini fridge, and paper plates? Let’s re-live that. Maybe play some hacky sack in the quad, go to a reggae festival, or read Catcher in the Rye again [delete: “again”]. It’ll be make you feel young again.

7. Coping with the stress

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Take up meditation. Be like Elsa and “Let it Go.” As soon as the work begins, you’re going to have to find a way to keep your sanity. Keep imagining what it will look like. Remember you’re doing this for your kids and that the addition will be a perfect fit for your home.

Wait … Did I say “meditation?” Sorry for the typo. I meant “medication.” Yeah, that sounds better. Enjoy!

Jamie Kaler

Jamie Kaler

An accomplished actor, comic, host, voice-over artist, and radio personality, Jamie Kaler is best known for his starring role as “Mike” on the hit TBS show, My Boys. His prolific acting career includes appearances on Friends, Will and Grace, How I Met Your Mother, Parenthood, and King of Queens, as well as numerous films and over 150 commercials. He is currently the host of America: Facts vs. Fiction on the American Heroes Channel, which is entering it’s third season, and has his own radio show on SiriusXM named Kaler. As a voice-over artist he is the voice of the "Bloopers Host” on the cult classic Robot Chicken and has been the national spokesperson for Carnival Cruise Lines.

Originally from New Hampshire, Jamie graduated from Boston University on an NROTC scholarship and served as an officer in the U.S. Navy before beginning his career as a performer. As a comedian he was one of the new faces at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal and has appeared on Chelsea Lately, The Late Late Show, Live at Gotham, Mock-pocalypse, and World’s Dumbest.

When not working, he is obeying every command of his wife, Kate, and two daughters, Hannah and Claire.

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