"These are the rocks of King Herod," Lior our Israeli guide pointed out.' "They're distinguishable by their large size and shape . . ." With all due respect to the painstaking and labor intensive process of uncovering and preserving past civilizations, AND at the risk of sounding terribly sacrilegious, one rock pretty much looks like another to my untrained eyes (no matter how sacred) whether it's from the Byzantine era or the Ottoman (but maybe that's just me).
Having just returned from the "Holy Land," I can tell you that Jericho is the oldest continually occupied city in the world, dating back more than 8,000 years (give or take a few) so no matter where you look in these walled cities, there's something of historical significance to see - and ALL of it matters; wars have been waged over these sacred sites.
Moreover, Israel, is essentially one large mass of limestone, meaning there's no shortage of "sacred" ruins to explore. In fact, like modern day Legos, these chiseled blocks were constantly being reused every 600-700 years as one monument was destroyed, only to be replaced by another. Given the massive weight of these stones, it only made good sense to leave them put.
Along with aqueducts, recycling was invented by these early builders long ago. I'd wager that there are more churches, mosques, and synagogues in Jerusalem than in other place on earth. Dubbed the "Land of the Bible," Jerusalem is not only the place where Christianity was born, but where Judaism and Islam took root, so when visiting this small nation, one gets a much better sense of what and why these rocks are so darn significant and as importantly, why, thousands of years later, they remain very much so.
"What's holy, remains holy, " Lior patiently explained to our group and by "group," I mean "me." I was touring with some intellectual heavyweights who had done their homework prior to boarding the plane. Luckily, you don't have to be Indiana Jones to understand that even back then, Real Estate played an important role in the life of its inhabitants - and still does . . .
When archaeologist and geologist dig, they don't just uncover one site, but often, several generations (those crusaders weren't kidding around with their pillaging and what not . . .). While I don't profess to be a religious scholar by any means, renovations are something I know a thing or two about. (Now you're talking my language.) So how's mine coming along you ask? In a word - S L O W L Y!
Like the Romans, Cliff and I might have been better off leveling the place and starting from scratch. Certainly, it would have been easier in many respects and I suspect, less expensive as well, but we wouldn't have honored the home and that's important to us both. As it turns outs, we're preservationists.
So what have I learned through my half dozen renovations and home improvement projects that might be of importance to you?
1) Renovating is always more expensive than you think and takes longer than you thought so leave room in the budget for some flexibility AND be ready to make some compromises along the way. Staying anywhere close to your budget is largely going to be a matter of compromise and staying sane - a matter of patience.
2) The more ambitious the project, the more likely unwelcome surprises are going to manifest. While unwelcome to be sure, roll with the punches. It's too late to go back so the only way through, is forward. Onward, there will eventually be a light at the end of the tunnel. (I promise.)
3) A reliable, trustworthy contractor is worth his weight in gold so select your team carefully. Not only will you be spending an inordinate amount of time together, when it comes to construction, you truly get what you pay for. Like good lawyers, you're not necessarily looking for the cheapest bargain in town. Experience typically costs. Do the work correctly the first time and you shouldn't need a second pass for many years to come.
4) Demo happens quickly, the rebuilding takes quite a while. Don't let those first few weeks set unrealistic expectations for the timeline. You won't actually see real forward momentum until the foundations, rough plumbing, HVAC system, and new electrical gets put into place. "Form follows function" is absolutely true with respect to home improvements.
5) Remodeling is a mess! There's no way around this. If you have to live through it, prayer (or drink) may be in order. If you have another place to stay, do so and come back after the painting has been applied and the floors have been finished. The drywall dust alone is worth the inconvenience of moving twice.
6) Renovations require 1001 decisions. From where to hang lights, to the selection of stone, tile, cabinets, flooring, windows, knobs, etc., etc., etc., it can all be a bit overwhelming. If you aren't working with a professional designer (and yes, they can save you thousands of dollars in mistakes so consider a designer as part of your team) you'll need to learn the art of decision making in short order. If quick decisions aren't your forte, consider selling and buying a "turn-key"property instead.
7) Establish a design theme and stick with it throughout the house. Don't make the mistake of thinking every room needs to be different. Schizophrenic homes are unnerving and they don't necessarily add value; they detract. While there's too many interesting finishes from which to choose, let your home's architecture guide your choices. An ultra modern kitchen in a turn-of-the-century home is going to look out of place, just as old-world finishes are going to chafe in an uber contemporary residence.
8) Don't scrimp on lighting or windows. If your home doesn't have a natural abundance of light, add it through smart placement of recessed lighting, sconces, chandeliers, new windows and skylights. Good lighting reaps its own rewards, but also overcomes the objections of any future buyers who typically respond to the desire for "good light." Light ranks at the top of the list for most home buyers.
9) Ditto for exterior landscaping. While it's tough to come up with the extra money for outside improvements once the interior renovation has broken the budget, excellent curb appeal should never be underestimated. If you haven't the dollars to do the work this year, budget it for next. The first impression of your home happens from the curb.
10) Even if you think this if your "forever" home, chances are it isn't. While you may choose to have a black toilet and metallic tiles; it's unlikely that the next owner will appreciate these design elements the same way. The "classics" are classic for a reason. Make timeless choices, and you'll be much better served in the end.
11) Finally what we can't see in the renovation is undoubtedly more important than what we can, but it won't necessarily reap large financial dividends (sorry). New sewer laterals aren't necessarily sexy and they certainly aren't visible, but they're important nonetheless, and honestly, there's no point in creating a masterpiece up top if the home is sitting on crumbling foundation down below. Get the basics in order first and then address the aesthetics. That way, your home will still be standing for generations to come.
Jet lagged, but certainly wiser for wear, I'm home and ready to "rock" and roll.
How can I help you? (P.S. -You can follow my ongoing renovation on my new Blog: Renovation Riptide. I invite your comments and stories. )
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.