Simonne H. and her partner Sonia H. recently renovated several units in one of their multi-unit properties that they own in Los Angeles, California. As a property owner and manager, she works with contractors year round on both major and minor improvement projects. Her most recent renovation involved the complete upgrade of a fourplex apartment building, in an upcoming technology area in the South Bay of Los Angeles. Purgula recently sat down with her to uncover key insights and learnings from her renovation experience.

Purgula: What did you enjoy most about the process and/or outcome of the project?

Simonne: I enjoyed utilizing my imagination contemplating the designing and planning of the overall transformation of an older property built in 1950’s. We completely overhauled the units’ interiors and the building’s exterior to give a modern feel.

We added new laminate and tile flooring in the bathrooms and kitchens respectively. All the units have new quartz kitchen counters and backsplashes, new stainless steel sinks and faucets, garbage disposals, and washer & dryer connections. We upgraded all electrical throughout the property by installing energy efficient LED lighting, fans and light fixtures, and modern outlets. We upgraded the building’s technology so that all units are now wired for high-speed cable and internet. We wanted to take advantage of new businesses coming into the area to attract prospective tenants, who might require higher bandwidth when working from home.

We were especially attentive about security around the property. The new windows are Milgard Tuscany, constructed of durable premium vinyl with folding, nesting handles to protect children and pets. We invested in Ring security cameras, all around the units and garages. We also improved the exterior lighting that surround the property and included new wrought iron security doors and gates.

Both garages and all units were professionally re-roofed, with new insulation installed in the attic. The electrical infrastructure was upgraded, as well, including GFCI outlets in the garage.

To give the property curb appeal, we finished our project with landscaping improvements, which included a new drip irrigation system.

P: What did you enjoy most and least about the process and/or outcome of the project?

Simonne: I enjoyed the sharing of ideas and interviewing of vendors, which I found illuminating and very enlightening. Plus, I learned so much by using YouTube and Google to research options, trades, processes, materials and best practices!

What I liked least was interfacing with some real “knuckle heads” and having to fire a few! But thank God, the best is always yet to come and the next vendor was always better than the one we replaced.

P: What was the single most challenging aspect of this renovation?

S: I really enjoyed this renovation! The outcome was spectacular! That said, the biggest challenge was dealing with greedy, rude, disrespectful, and egotistical vendors. They were often presumptuous when they thought something needed to be done and expected that I was obligated to agree with their assessment. Their assumptions implied that they had my wholesale buy-in of several types of critical decisions, including: authorizing additional work or repairs; automatically agreeing to price increases without proof; and accepting change orders, without confirming scoping details.

These same bad vendors did not expect me to question anything or the final result. They even misjudged my knowledge about rules regarding progress payment scheduling, as set by the state licensing board. In short, I found it interesting how I was treated as a woman who owned property and knew what she wanted.

P: What was the biggest surprise that you encountered during this project? What were the underlying causes and circumstances? What, if anything, do you think could have prevented them from happening?

S: Sadly, the biggest surprise was that all of the contractors with whom I interfaced were men who were initially under the assumption that I needed to obtain someone else’s opinion or authority to make decisions about my property! They posed disrespectful questions like: “Do you need to ask your husband?”; “Do you have a property manager?”; “Who reviewed the contract?”; “How did you find that tradesmen?”. In short, I found it disappointing how I was treated differently as a woman, who has owned property for many years, and was qualified to make her own decisions. This attitude and behavior was something out of the 1950’s.

I even had to intervene on many occasions, as some of the vendors were becoming territorial about my property. Adding to the stress was the fact that various projects began conflicting, intersecting while becoming interdependent on one another.

P: What was the biggest lesson you learned that you would like to share with other homeowners? Would you have done anything differently?

S: Get Everything in Writing! No matter how nice the vendors seem and whatever they might promise you along the way, make sure that you can enforce it with a written contract, email or text. All of these written media will stand up in court, should you need to litigate.

Make the final payment for work that has been completed ONLY when it is to your satisfaction! Try to buy your own items. This way you have a packing list, bill of goods and the product/items and you maintain control if the vendor or contractor does not work out. Best of all you can move forward with another contractor without missing a beat, since you have all the materials ready to go.

P: Do you have another project planned in the near future?

S: I am better equipped to take on additional projects after this one. Though all of our other properties will only require minor updating in the future, possibly re-painting the exterior of a triplex or duplex. Nothing as major or extensive as the revitalization and renovation of this fourplex is planned for the near future.

P: Would like to share any additional comments or parting words of advice?

S: Stand strong. Develop and maintain your own sense of style. Know what you like and don’t like. Listen to yourself. Do not allow anyone to treat you or your property without RESPECT. Do not let anyone speak to you in a condescending, inappropriate or unprofessional manner, or make you feel uncomfortable. Remember, YOU own the property, not them, and you are in control!