Bathroom Remodel Inspiration and Tips

Much like Buying a  Car, I really do not consider a Bathroom Remodel to be very much fun. But, the end results are fun and the process is quite interesting, below is my bathroom remodel survival tips for a better experience, and a great final product!

  1. Have a Plan.  Determine what you are willing to tackle, set a budget, then do a bit of research to make sure everything is within the budget.  And, if your house is from the 1970’s (mine was built in 1979), then add another 30% “unknown” expenses to your plan.  I found a great looking bathroom in a magazine, then copied the colors & styles like a paint-by-numbers picture.
  2. Bath demo1Demolition – Now this part is actually fun.  For my project, we removed everything except drywall & the shower surround.  Out with the old toilet, flooring, vanity cabinet, sink, faucet, medicine cabinet, mirror, light fixture, outlets, switch plate covers, toilet paper holder, and all towel racks.  Under the cheap vinyl tile, was the original linoleum flooring from 1979.  Both layers of flooring were removed by hand in minutes with a scraper and hair dryer blowing at the seams and under to loosen the glue.  This is a great demo video from TheyMightBeHomesteading.com, the cabinet removal tip was very helpful.
  3. Repair any damage.  Removing the cabinet revealed a bit of damage on the dry wall during the original installation (some idiot used a nail to find the stud, twenty times).  Removing the mirror caused some dry-wall damage, as well.  Otherwise, the walls & ceilings were in excellent condition.
  4. Bath tape wallsPaint the ceiling and walls.  Repeat.  Even primer/paint in one needs two coats, especially if you have highly textured walls from the 70’s.  I used a primer coat of Kilz, then 2 coats of Bher primer/paint and it looks amazing!  If you plan to reuse any lighting, outlet plates, medicine cabinet, etc remove all of these before painting the walls and give them a deep cleaning.
  5. Light the way.  Replace the outlets, with the electricity turned OFF, we upgraded all of our outlets to GFCI.  Install new light fixtures, or replace the old light fixtures that have been cleaned or refinished.
  6. In a previous bathroom refresh, I painted the inside of the medicine cabinet (Rust-oleum spray paint works great!) and a quick post to Craigslist on the free section, my old medicine cabinet had a new home.  For this complete bathroom redo, we opted to buy matching mirror and medicine cabinet.  Everything that was salvageable was posted as FREE in craigslist and had a new home in less than 24 hours.
  7. Flooring – Since my bathroom is small, my tile installer had leftover tile that I could buy as part of the installation for a very low price.  I provided my color and size preference, then he brought 3 different tiles for me to choose from.  I was able to have high quality, beautiful tiles installed for less than buying tiles (not quite as nice) from my local home improvement store.  For larger projects, I may have considered buying or renting a tile saw and trying to install myself.  Lay the tile before the cabinet, one of the added bonuses is any unevenness of the floor is fixed by the tile so that the cabinet is level.
  8. The vanity cabinet, sink and faucet installation required several trips to Home Depot,
    Vanity top
    Vanity top

    and ACE hardware (just for kicks), then installed pretty quickly.  After many research trips to every cabinet store in town, I found the color and style that I wanted for a good price, then ordered on-line (with free shipping from Home Depot to reduce the risk of me dropping and breaking during transport).  Set the cabinet in place, far enough from the wall for the vanity top to fit snug.  There was a bit of shifting the cabinet into place when the vanity top was placed on top.  When the cabinet location was set, then we removed the vanity top and then secured the cabinet to the wall with screws to the wall studs.  I selected a vanity top with a built-in sink for a cleaner look, and one less install step.  The vanity top is “glued” to the cabinet with clear or white caulk.  Then the vanity back splash is glued to the wall.  When everything is set and dry, then the faucet can be installed.  The instructions on the faucet involve screwing the hot and cold water hoses into place, and secure the bottom bolts of the Bath finishfaucet on the underside of the vanity top, and drain plug in the sink.

  9. Step by step instructions (to remove) and install a toilet.  This is a messy part of the project, and not quite as easy as everyone says.  Toilets are heavy and awkward shaped.  Have towels and plastic bags close by for the old toilet ring & wax seal, and the new wax seal is messy, too.  Pay close attention to the order of all the washers for the floor bolts.
  10. The existing shower is still in good condition, and looked great after a long scrub with CLR.  We opted to leave the existing shower surround in place and replace the shower doors for a clean, modern style.  After pricing replacement doors at the local DIY retailer and quotes from contractors it was a much better deal to buy the shower doors and have them installed by a professional.
  11. The old shower drain, handles, and shower head look worn and dated, so we replaced the old chrome ones to match the new accessories.
  12. Add the new towel bar, robe hooks, toilet paper holders and decorate!

Lyndhurst Castle | Fairy Tale Manor in New York

I love Castles!  Gothic architecture is so enchanting, like a Fairy Tale come to Life.  I was so excited to visit Lyndhurst Mansion in New York state.  Nicknamed Lyndenhurst for the beautiful linden trees on the property, it is formally known as the Jay Gould estate for people without any imagination, named for previous Railroad tycoon owner.  For the rest of us, this country house and surrounding 67 acre park is an American mini-Castle waiting to be explored.

Front view from the road
Front view of the Lyndhurst estate from the road

porch view2

Overlooking the Hudson river, it is easy to forget how close this is to the most populous city in the United States (NYC).

Castle from rear knoll view
Castle from rear knoll view
Sunset over the Hudson
Sunset over the Hudson

I was surprised that my group were the only visitors at the time, since this treasure is free admission to the public and open from dusk until dawn daily.  While the building themselves were locked tight during our visit, we were allowed full access to explore the grounds including the outbuilding and stables.

Stables
Stables

There is a running trail along the parameter that would make for a nice romantic stroll and picnic.  The estate has plenty of quiet areas, strategically placed benches, and wonderful little details at every turn.

Porch Bench

Porch Bench

The gorgeous estate is the best of architecture, serenity, and style wrapped up in historical charm.

outbuilding sign
Outbuilding with sign

Buying a New Car | Tips to Negotiate Like a Pro

Over the weekend I bought a new car.  It is not exactly a “fun” activity, but this was certainly less painful.  I can count on one hand how many cars that I have bought in my life, and the last car I bought was almost 7 years ago.  Despite that, I think I am getting pretty good at this.  So I will share what I did “right” and what I will do better next time (hopefully another 7 years).

Ready for trade-in
Ready for trade-in

Research – I researched my current car for trade-in value and I knew what it was worth for private sell versus what the dealership would “pay” for it. According to Kelly Blue Book there was a $2,000 difference between what I might get from a private seller and what I “should” expect from the dealer. Who knows how long it would take for a private sell, and the last time I did that I met way too many weirdos.  Many of these interesting people thought I was Bank of Jen and that I would finance them (um, NO!). Not to mention the logistics of trying to find a time to schedule a test drive when I am available, they are available, and a bank is open.  For $2,000 or more I would broker the deal, if I have to. The “little-known-secret” is that trade-in amount is taken off the car purchase price BEFORE tax, so do the math and know the break even point of private sell versus trade-in for the sales tax difference!  Now that I know this information, it can be a very useful negotiating tactic.

Example, $30,000 purchase price less $10,000 trade-in value means $20,000 is subject to sales tax at 8%. With the trade-in, I would pay $1,600 in sales tax, but with cash from the private sale I would pay $2,400.  In essence it is $800 sales tax penalty for private sale money paying for the new car rather than trade-in!

More research – I researched what manufacturer and model car I wanted to buy, and from which possible dealerships.  I read car reviews, asked my friends what they like about their cars and reliability, and test drove several cars at various dealerships.  When one of our cars goes in for maintenance, I mention that we are considering a new car so we get to drive a variety of “loaner” cars, this is far better than any 15 minute test drive (and no pesky salesman). I actually ended up buying the same model (different year and features) of a loaner car we had last year because I liked it so much. Once I narrowed it down to a couple different model cars and dealerships, I signed up for the dealership emails to keep me informed on specials and events.

Total Cost of Ownership – Understand exactly what each car will cost for the entire time you will own it.  Above and beyond sticker price, what will it cost you annually?  What kind of gas mileage does it get?  What are typical repair costs?  What are typical maintenance costs for oil change, tires, and scheduled service tune-ups?  Are you buying a subscription service such as satellite radio, navigation, road-side assistance, etc?  How much is the car insurance premium?

Timing – Timing for the dealership is very important.  January & February are slow months for car sales.  February is a short month, but dealerships still need to make their sales  quotas and this is great for buyers!  They are really motivated at the end of the month, one more car may make a huge difference for them.  Normally, I would go on a week night and avoid the weekend for even better deals. Thanks to a email sent Friday, I knew about 30+ new vehicles that were demo or display from the Phoenix Open golf tournament at really great prices including the model that I wanted.  I shopped the sale early to get the best selection to choose from, and to ensure they had enough inventory for motivation of a great offer to me.

Comparison Shop – I knew what model car I wanted, but I still needed to compare all of the features.  Unless you custom order your vehicle, it is super rare to find the car with exactly the features that you want and nothing extra that you are “stuck” paying for.  I picked out 2 cars, same model, same year, same 90% of everything and drove them both. The 10% difference was worth several thousand dollars and I wanted to be sure of exactly what I was getting or giving up. I had also reached the optional features ahead of time, but no amount of academic research beats actually driving and pushing all the buttons.

Financing – Determine ahead of time how you are going to pay for the vehicle. Trade-in car? Bank loan?  Check? Cashier’s Check?  Maybe a combination?  I paid with trade-in car, check, and the remainder bank loan.  For any bank loan, check your credit score before negotiations, this will allow you to clean-up any mistakes or issues before you are sitting in the finance office.  Because I knew my credit score ahead of time, I had already researched what the best APR they should offer me. Anything less would be a deal breaker for their financing, and I would go visit my bank for a better deal.  Determine exactly how much you can and will pay in “cash” (which is never really cash, but personal check or cashier’s check).  Determine how much you can comfortably pay each month, and do not let anyone or anything make you “car-poor” (when you feel poor because all of your money goes to pay for the car)!  Since I knew I was going to finance part of the total price, I brought my last pay stub with me which was good because I honestly did not remember my base salary amount.

Negotiation – So much of negotiation is preparation in all the steps above, so do not skip!  I brought a print-out of my KBB car values with me.  I brought both sets of keys, my registration, original owner’s manual, and my very clean car (washed, vacuumed, and detailed) for the very highest trade-in amount possible.  I knew how much I was willing to “sell” my car for, and I was not about to accept a $2,000 loss on trade-in!  Most importantly, I knew how much I was willing to spend on my new car.  Have the absolute maximum in your head and NEVER share it with the salesman.  Dealerships play a game with car payment, but good preparation includes knowing the full price of the car as well as monthly car payment, if you are financing.  Cash buyers have added advantage in negotiations, by removing the monthly car payment “game”.

Getting the Deal – I rejected the first offer, and I made them a lower offer of what I was willing to spend for the new car (which was actually a smidge less than what I would really pay, to leave myself some wiggle room if I needed it).  I also did not need to leave with a new car that day, so I was calm and relaxed.  While they kept me waiting, I played games on my phone to seem bored and uninterested.  Yelling or demanding is far less effective than calm attitude of “take it or leave it”.  When they came back with a counter-offer, it was still over the maximum threshold that I set for myself, so I turned it down and got ready to leave. I mentioned that I would keep my car another few months and maybe come back for a car another year older.  Because I stood firm on my reasonable price, they came back with more money for my trade-in and the lower purchase price that I originally offered.  I was able to buy a great car at an fantastic price!

What would I do differently?

  • I forgot the title for my trade-in and had to make another trip home and back to the dealership to drop it off.  If I had brought my car Title with me it would have saved an extra trip to the dealership and about 30 minutes of the whole paperwork process.
  • I ate a very light lunch before going to the dealership, so I started to get hungry at the end.  Since I was hungry, I skipped through a few details before I left. Nothing major, but I need to read the owner’s manual to set the clock because I did not notice that it was wrong before I left.  A lite snack or slightly bigger lunch would have given me more energy to ask the last few questions before I left.
  • My biggest mistake was not calling the Insurance company before I bought the car. When I read the email telling me about the super sale, I should have called for an insurance quote immediately to avoid surprises.  Now I know how much it will cost me, but I was really going in blind this weekend and the Insurance premiums could have made the deal cost-prohibitive or at the very least change the maximum threshold price I set for myself.

Tempe Town Lake Activities | Explore this Man Made Lake in the Heart of Tempe, Arizona

The temperature is starting to cool off and people around metro-Phoenix can finally venture outside with less fear of catching fire, or at least it feels that hot all summer long here.  Today a friend and I took my dogs out for a walk along Tempe Town Lake, the man-made lake in the middle of bustling University town Tempe.The park around the Lake is home to many festivals and concerts, so be sure to check out upcoming events here.

I prefer to plan my own event at the Lake.  Bring a picnic basket for a fun family activity during the day, or romantic get-a-way in the evening. There are plenty of bike paths,  walkways, shade trees, and benches.  The dogs love to walk around the lake with me.  There are mountain views to the north of the lake and the park is well kept and clean.

The main attraction is the lake, and there are quite a few activities to enjoy on the water.  Today we watched people sailing, kayaking, fishing, and on paddle boards.  There is a boat rental office on the south side of the lake for small boats, hydro bikes, and kayaks.Lake or land, the sunset is worth hanging around to watch.