11 More Home Renovation Tips

Amy Overton and dogs11 More Home Renovation Tips  

In the second of my two part series on home renovations, my talented sister-in-law Amy Colton offers her tips for DURING CONSTRUCTION. (See BEFORE RENOVATION tips here)


1-Plan For The Pets    

If you are living in the home during construction be sure to make a plan for your pets.  The first day our dogs chased a bulldozer around the mud in our back yard, we realized we needed a plan.  While the workers loved our pups (except when our male “marked” one of the men’s leather tool belts), it was just easier when the dogs went to live with our son for a few months.

2-Meet the Contractor Every Day

Know what is happening every day.  I scheduled a meeting with our contractor for the same time each morning, and he walked me through what would be accomplished that day.

Office under construction

3-Check Progress Daily

Keep a measuring tape handy and check the progress at the end of each day.  Reference your house plans and notes often and make a list of questions so you can be sure to address any issues with your contractor.  Ask questions if you don’t understand something or want to make a change.  Remember, it is MUCH easier to make changes before drywall goes up!

4-Anticipate Surprises

Unlike new construction, renovations come with the inherent issue of “we didn’t know until we got in there.”  Your flooring is rotted under the bathroom tile you removed, the wiring is not up to code, the ceiling beams need reinforcing since you removed a support stud.  All these things mean more time and more money but knowing it is a possibility can help alleviate stress.

5-Answer A Zillion Questions

Be prepared for questions.  There will be what seems like endless questions on issues about which you have no opinion. Do your best to think through your choices (with input from your advisors – architect, contractor, designer) because you will be the one living with it.  Do you want to replace the 40 year old insulation in the renovated rooms, where do you want the light switches, where do you want the HVAC vents, what color grout, and on and on.

Master bedroom paint samples

6-Assign Responsibilities

Be clear about what you are responsible for and what your contractor and/or designer are responsible for.  Are you ordering the hardware or are they?  Are you buying the light fixtures or are they?  Are you scheduling with the wallpaper installer or are they?  There are grey areas so it is important to ask questions and take notes!

7-Be Available

You may not be able to drop what you are doing and run to the house at any time, but you don’t want the project delayed because the workers need an answer to proceed. FaceTime, texting pictures or just a phone call can help keep the project moving forward.

8-Be Prepared For Delays

Even with the best contractors, some sub-contractors work under what we started calling the 80% rule.

They complete 80% (or less!) of the work, then leave to do 80% (or less!) of someone else’s job.  They come back a day or two later to (hopefully) finish the work at your house but they are missing a part and it has to be ordered.  Or the part is broken or is the wrong size.  They forget to bring the tall ladder, the right wrench or the jigsaw so they have to come back yet again.  But it is already Thursday and they decide to wait until next week to return and finish.  This is when your patience starts to shred and you are glad you hired your contractor.  You have to trust that he will keep your job moving forward, while reassuring you everything is ok so your head stays on your shoulders.


9-Praise Often

Be generous with your praise of the work. And not just at completion, but all along the way.  Many of the builders and subs are real artisans and are proud of the work they do.  And you get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar.

10-Offer Treats!

Occasional snacks, coffee, Gatorade or treats are always happy surprises for the team at your house.  Especially at the end of a project when you are VERY ready for it to be finished.

11-Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Communication is the key to a happy relationship with your contractor.

Be clear with your expectations but ALSO be realistic, flexible and nice.  Ask questions along the way to avoid crises in the end.  Sometimes issues come up that are unavoidable. For example, the cooktop vent we selected protruded into the office behind our kitchen resulting in one less shelf in the new office cabinets.  We were bummed, but it was unavoidable.


ENJOY your beautiful new space!

New Master bed


Our construction project took 6.5 months, rather than the estimated 4. The price tag was higher than the bid, though many of the added costs were upgrades we made.

Over all it was an exciting and fun experience, and we have new friends for life in our contractor, Salem Forsythe, and all his team.  To say nothing of a fantastic group of handymen on call!  We LOVE our newly renovated rooms (and the small new space we added), and the project was very well worth the time, price and emotional energy!

new master bedroom close up of bedNew kitchenBathroom Light fixture bathroomOrange girl knobsNew view of fireplaceNew view from Den into kitchen

The Exiles Return by Elisabeth de Waal

The Exiles ReturnThe Exiles Return by Elisabeth de Waal

If the name Elisabeth de Waal sounds familiar, then you probably read her grandson Edmund de Waal’s book The Hare with Amber Eyes, a memoir of their family, the Ephrussis, wealthy Viennese Jews by way of Odessa.

The Exiles Return, Elisabeth’s posthumously published novel, is not as engaging as The Hare With Amber Eyes, but its portrayal of post World War II Vienna and Elisabeth’s unique perspective make it a worthwhile read.

Elisabeth de Waal, born Elisabeth von Ephrussi, was raised in the grand and gilded Palais Ephrussi on the Ringstrasse in Vienna.  After studying law, philosophy, and economics at the University of Vienna, she moved abroad. She bravely returned to Austria shortly after the Anschluss (the act that allowed Germany to annex Vienna) to retrieve her parents who lingered too long in the mistaken belief that their status as prominent Austrian citizens overrode their Judaism. After the war, Elisabeth devoted over a decade attempting (with limited success) to reclaim her family’s looted art collection from the Austrian government.

In The Exiles Return,  three characters return to 1954 Vienna. Although their circumstances are quite different, their lives ultimately intersect in (rather melodramatic) ways.

Kuno Adler, a Jewish research scientist, leaves his wife and daughters in Manhattan to return home as part of the repatriation program sponsored by the Austrian government.  Theophil Kanakis, a wealthy member of Vienna’s Greek community, is looking for fun and bargain buys.  And eighteen-year-old Marie-Theres Larsen is a bored American teenager on an attitude adjustment trip to her mother’s family.

Overall the novel is a bit stilted, but interestingly several “third rail” topics such as Nazi atrocities, homosexuality, abortion, and suicide are broached. While not shocking today, these would have been risqué in the 1950s when Elisabeth wrote the novel.

I appreciated this novel, but it is possibly more noteworthy for the writer than the writing.


The Guardian (London): “This is a rewarding study of loss, and a fine snapshot of a city and society standing ravaged at a crossroads.”


Elisabeth de Waal was born in Vienna in 1899. She wrote five unpublished novels, two in German and three in English, including The Exiles Return. She was married to Dutchman Hendrik de Waal and lived in Tunbridge Wells. She died in 1991.

The Hare with Amber Eyes

11 Home Renovation Tips Part 1

View of Exterior under construction11 Home Renovation Tips  

My sister-in-law Amy Colton is the most organized person I know, having  successfully managed everything in town (The Antiques and Garden Show, The Swan Ball,  her husband!) but even so when she announced a  MAJOR HOME RENOVATION,  I wondered about her sanity!

Of course, worries unnecessary. Amy managed a extensive master bedroom, bath, kitchen, laundry room, and office remodel/addition  on time and on budget (mostly.) All while living in the house!

In two posts (Before Renovation and During Construction,) she describes  her top renovation tips.

Fear not– you can do this too! (all photos “before)

But as Amy says, careful  planning, patience, flexibility, and the occasional snacks are essential to the  success of your project. And now from Amy–


1-Do Your Research

Careful planning is the key – do your research! This is the most important step of the entire process, as your architect, contractor and/or designer cannot help you if you do not know what you want.  Be specific!

Take note of features you like in your friends’ homes, ask friends what they love about their houses, and go to open houses or planned home tours.   Talk to experts – we met with our appliance repairman for two hours to find out what he thought were the best appliances and why.  Take one of your dinner plates to an appliance store and make sure it fits in the fancy dishwasher drawer you are considering.  Measure the depth of the refrigerator to see if the Costco pizza box will fit.

A lot of  endless hours browsing the many websites catering to the home and decor industries (I found HOUZZ to be the most user-friendly and helpful).   Make a “dream” list – you can always cut back later if it gets too pricey.

2-Get Organized

Get an accordion file, spiral notebook with pockets and/or large envelope to hold the (endless) bids, invoices, receipts and notes you will have to keep up with throughout the process.  I was surprised how often we had to reference them.

3-Grab a Pencil

Make lists and take COPIOUS notes.  Before AND during renovation.

Breakfast room before

4-Measure Twice, Cut Once

Once you have drawn plans, understand what you are getting.

We marked out the plan of our new kitchen with blue tape on the floor of our garage and were surprised how different the space looked than it did on paper.  Six inches or even a foot doesn’t seem like much when you look at it on a ruler but it can make the difference between a tight or comfortable space when moving around your kitchen.

It goes without saying that the earlier in the process you catch mistakes or make changes, the easier (read: less expensive) it will be.

5-Prepare a Detailed RFP

The devil is in the details. The more you decide in advance of bidding out your plans, the more accurate your bid will be to the final cost of your project.

If your contractor included pricing for tile on your kitchen counter, you will have a big surprise when he gives you the bill for the honed marble you selected.

So before you put your plans out to bid you should have a full electrical plan in place (can light or fixture, dimmers, 3 way plugs, switch plate covers?), all features of cabinets selected (overlay or inset doors, soft close drawers, pull out drawers in lower cabinets, style of doors), type of flooring (wood, tile or natural stone) and know what appliances and plumbing fixtures you want.

It will help the bidders and you will have a better idea of the true cost of your renovation.

Kitche before looking to FR

6-Ask About Features

Ask your architect what the pros and cons of a particular feature are if you are wavering about it.

Your architect is there to be your advisor but also may not tell you the downside of something if you have expressed enthusiasm for it.  We had conversations about stand-alone vs. built-in bathtubs, tank vs. tankless water heaters, glass front cabinets, counter height and more.


Recycle what you can from your old space to the new.

We put old kitchen windows into a new basement room, kitchen granite was used on the laundry counter and the kitchen double sink was cut in half and the larger piece now serves as our laundry room sink.

Master bedroom before

8-Question the Bid

When selecting your contractor, be sure you understand exactly what their bid covers (some include appliances, some do not), how inevitable changes are handled (is it a fixed bid or do they add a percentage to new costs) and what their timeframe is (do you want to tie a bonus or a penalty to a completion date?)


9-Coordinate Calendars

Once you have selected your contractor, work with them to make a calendar of dates for the project.

What are the deadlines for making selections such as appliances (cabinets can’t be ordered without appliance specifications), bath and kitchen fixtures, counter tops and paint colors? Note when you will be out of town, when they will be out of town and any holidays when there will be no workers at your house.

Update this calendar periodically as dates (inevitably) change (rain delays, illness of subcontractor, backordered items, etc.).   If you are working with a designer, add their dates as well.

10-Gather the Entire Team

If possible, meet with your architect, contractor (and possibly designer too) all together.  There are inevitably some issues that require input from the whole team and problems get solved very quickly when they are all looking at something and discussing solutions together!  (*this may happen during construction rather than before).

11-Make a Hard Deadline

Using the calendar you and your contractor put together, make plans to host a party or have weekend guests at a reasonable date following the construction.

It helps (everyone, including you!) to have a looming (motivating?) hard deadline and you will be surprised at the energy it generates!

Stay tuned for home renovation tips During Construction in the next post!

Is Nashville Really A Sellers Market?

Nashville SkylineIs Nashville Really a Sellers Market?

The big story in 2014 was a shortage of inventory, characterized by multiple offers, desperate buyers sneaking notes into neighbors’ mailboxes, and an abundance of cash deals.

However the stats don’t actually support this, at least in Davidson County. Here, with the exception of homes priced under $500,000, the inventory of homes in months is in the low double digits, not exactly a sellers market. (A balanced market is considered between five and six months.)

So this is a tale of two cities. In “hot” sections of town, newer homes, priced right are flying off the shelves. Elsewhere, a cooler climate.


Don’t panic. There are houses out there. Maybe you need to consider a different neighborhood or an older home, adjust your wish list or budget. Be prepared for a multiple offer situation. 


Don’t assume. You may own one of those houses in a trendy neighborhood, but you still have to price it right. Don’t assume that your house, especially an older one, will sell without staging and a strategy.

The Property Brothers Do Not Live In Nashville

House under constructionThe Property Brothers Do Not Live In Nashville

Everyone knows The Property Brothers, Drew and Jonathan Scott, the tall identical twins from Canada who host several “reality” shows on HGTV, which while entertaining, bear no resemblance to reality or at least the reality of the real estate market in Nashville.

For those of you not familiar with their signature show, Property Brothers, here is a brief rundown.

Jonathan (contractor) and Drew (real estate agent) find demanding buyers their dream home before revealing that it’s priced far above their budget. After delivering the crushing news (and the buyers are shocked, just shocked!!), the brothers convince the buyers that the only way to get their ideal home is to buy and renovate a lower-priced fixer-upper. This is all accomplished in an hour including the obligatory “big reveal.”


  1. There is an unlimited supply of awful homes in desirable neighborhoods just waiting to be scooped up for a song.
  2. Prospective home buyers never look at Zillow, their local MLS, talk to their friends, or visit an open house before starting a house hunt.
  3. After having confessed their strong aversion to a fixer-upper, the buyers unhesitatingly embrace their real estate agent’s advice to undertake a major gut-job.
  4. Complete home renovations never take more than six weeks.
  5. Homeowners are thrilled to participate in the renovation whether swinging a sledgehammer or painting a room and never get in the way of the crew or hurt themselves.
  6. Ugly surprises (mold, corroded plumbing, flimsy foundations) are easily remedied with an influx of cash and minimal tears.
  7. Ugly surprises never postpone the move-in date.
  8. It is possible to renovate an entire house including a basement for $20,000. (You do know the prices the boys quote are insane?!)
  9. After the contractor renovates the house, he cleans and furnishes it too.


Not to say that with the right real estate agent and some reasonable expectations you can’t have a well-scripted home renovation, but better to be  prepared for improv!

Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson

VictoriaVictoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson

A.N. Wilson’s biography of Queen Victoria doesn’t break any new ground, but it is a readable and often witty account of the complicated Queen.


The New York Times: “To survey the political history of the world’s most powerful empire while also doing justice to the inner life of a short, stout mother and grandmother is a tall order. That Wilson succeeds testifies to an ability he shares with Victorian writers like Dickens and George Eliot: to make readers sympathize with the heroine despite, or even because of, her very human foibles.”


A. N. Wilson is the author of biographies on Jesus, Milton, Tolstoy, C. S. Lewis and Dante. His acclaimed histories, The Victorians and God’s Funeral, have made him an authority on Victorian-era Great Britain. A former columnist for the London Evening Standard, he now contributes to the Times Literary Supplement, New Statesman, the Spectator, the Observer and the Daily Mail. 

I also highly recommend An Uncommon Woman, Hannah Pakula’s biography of Victoria and Albert’s oldest child, Vicky, The Empress Frederick, wife of the Crown Prince of Prussia, and mother of Kaiser Wilhelm.

Multiple Offers: Getting Personal

Writing letterMultiple Offers: Getting Personal  

During the go-go years, an offer accompanied by a heartfelt letter and photo of your darling family became de rigueur for buyers in a tight market. The argument was that  since sellers have an emotional investment in their home, appealing to them on a personal level might make your offer more appealing, especially in a multiple offer situation.

In certain “hot” sections of Nashville, the personal missive is back, but is it an effective strategy?

We discussed multiple offers in an F&C meeting a few weeks ago. Several agents had been the deliverer and/or the recipient of personal communiqués. Did they work?

Sometimes. In one case, a “quirky” letter may have sealed the deal. In another, an overly intimate letter may have sunk the buyers.

Getting personal is a risky strategy.  Better make the financial terms and other conditions of your offer speak for themselves.

Talk to your real estate professional about the best strategy for you in a multiple offer situation.

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement

Prayers for the StolenPrayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement

I admit that I was reluctant to read a book about women who live/hide in a bleak Mexican outback dominated by drug cartels and scorpions, but Prayers for the Stolen is remarkable. Ladydi Garcia Martinez is a heroine to remember.


‘The New York Times: “Prayers for the Stolen is as harrowing as you would expect, but it’s also beguiling, and even crazily enchanting.”


Jennifer Clement is the author of numerous books, including the Widow Basquiat. She was awarded the NEA Fellowship for Literature and the Sara Curry Humanitarian Award for Prayers for the Stolen. Formerly the president of PEN Mexico, she currently lives in Mexico City.

The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher

Henry Ward BeecherThe Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher by Debby Applegate

Although his sister Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is the better known of the two Beecher siblings, in the mid 19thC, the eloquent and energetic Reverend Henry Ward Beecher was arguably as celebrated.


A pastor of the first mega church, Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, Beecher was a combination of Oprah and Billy Graham.  A vocal abolitionist, his enormous congregation adored him, and his sermons were widely quoted.  In addition to his pastoral duties, he edited several religious newspapers and maintained an ambitious lecture schedule.


Preaching was the family business. Henry Ward Beecher was the eighth of twelve children of renowned Calvinist preacher Lyman Beecher. Raised on the fire and brimstone sermons of his father, Beecher eventually rejected his father’s doctrines in favor of a “gospel of love” that is the foundation of mainstream Protestantism today, but was quite radical at the time.


In 1874, Beecher’s legendary charisma got him into trouble.  He was accused of adultery with Elizabeth Tilton, the wife of an old friend. The six month trial (no verdict) was exhaustively covered by the newspapers. Beecher continued working during the ordeal, but his reputation suffered a severe setback.

The Most Famous Man in America is not just a portrait of a complicated man but also an insightful portrayal of Victorian America, a contentious era of major upheavals in politics, religion, business, and the media.

Many thanks to Saralee Woods of BookMan BookWoman for recommending this biography.


The New York Times: “Applegate…tells this grand story with aplomb, intelligence and a sure feel for historical context.”


Debby Applegate is graduate of Amherst College and was a Sterling Fellow at Yale University, where she earned her Ph.D in American Studies. She was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for her biography of Reverend Beecher.

The Inheritance of Loss By Kiran Desai

The Inheritacne of LossThe Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize, The Inheritance of Loss is a poignant and darkly humorous novel by Kiran Desai.

The novel takes place in a lush, isolated part of India  in the northeastern Himalayas. Kalimpong is like the last slice of cake that no one claims, but everyone nibbles before the table is finally cleared. Skirmishes, police actions, and riots are common here as India, England, Bhutan, and Tibet reach for the last dollop of icing.

This is not the India of Thomas L. Friedman- bustling PhD’s processing your tax returns. This India is still processing the remnants of British colonialism.

In Kalimpong, vestiges of the British occupation are everywhere especially at the crumbling home of Judge Patel and his granddaughter, Sai.   Sai reads the works of  P. G. Wodehouse and James  Herriot,  and teatime is a carefully observed ritual served by  “the cook.”  As a retired member of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), the judge is practically a stranger in his own country. At one time, the ICS meant security and respect. Now it is a reminder of an era many would rather forget.

On the other side of the globe, the cook’s son is an illegal immigrant in Manhattan. Fearful of deportation, Biju is outrageously exploited by everyone, even (or especially) other immigrants. Like the judge’s father who sought to improve his family’s status by sending his son to England, cook thinks America is his child’s ticket to prosperity. Sadly, Biju finds America as oppressive and class conscious as India.

The fragile tranquility of life in Kalimpong is disrupted by two events, 16-year-old  Sai falls in love with her tutor, and civil war breaks out.

As the fighting intensifies, long held beliefs and traditions come under scrutiny. The residents of the mountain community start to question their personal identities. But in Kalimpong,  as elsewhere, there is no easy answer to the question,  “who am I?”