Aspen Princess: Weighing the relative value of cost vs. character

Alison Berkley Margo
Aspen Princess

Ryan and I are becoming professional bidders.

Now that we have some money available to do some home improvements, we’re raring to go with a few of the projects we’ve been dying to do since we bought our house six years ago.

For six whole years, we’ve been sitting around doing fantasy remodeling and fantasy shopping and putting on fantasy additions.

“We should build out this way and do a two-story addition with two bedrooms downstairs and the master suite upstairs,” I’d say to Ryan. “Definitely big windows and French doors with a cantilever deck to really open the indoor space outdoors.”

“What would be so cool is if we had a garage on top that was flush to the driveway,” he’d say.

Naturally, we have totally different ideas about what the house really needs. I’m all about the kitchen and a master suite, and all Ryan can think about is a garage, the bigger the better.

For a while, he was totally hung up on this idea of building what he likes to call a “mine shaft elevator.” Inspired by the old mines we saw on a trip to Creede last summer, he wants to build a hand-crank elevator that would go from the driveway to the front door. This would alleviate the challenge of having to navigate the 17 steps that go from the driveway down to the house.

That’s usually when I respond with some non-committal uttering like “Ohhhh,” in the same tone I uses to appease the baby. It’s my way of disagreeing with him without having to incite an argument about something that’s never going to happen anyway.

We started to figure this out early on when we invited our architect friend over to take a look at the house and give us his advice.

“The first thing you have to understand,” he said, pacing back and forth and stroking his chin in a way that made it clear he was about to deliver some bad news, “Is that as soon as you start tearing down walls and applying for permitting, you’re going to have to bring everything up to code. You can count on seeing 20 to 30 percent of your budget going to updating stuff like septic before you even begin.”

Then he told us how much architectural plans would cost, and we were like, “Maybe we should just figure this out ourselves.”

And so began our professional bidding career.

Then we had a general contractor come by, thinking we could just hire him and not do anything too major, stay away from structural stuff and just modify the existing space, maybe think about a small addition.

“Yeah, so on the low end, you have to keep in mind new construction is going to run you around 300 bucks a square foot, and that’s if you do everything yourselves,” he said.

I’m really bad at math, and as much as I love the idea of myself wielding a power tool and safety goggles dressed in sexy overall cutoffs, it didn’t take long to do the math and realize that we don’t have an extra $300,000 lying around.

Like when I was telling the lender at the bank about what we had in mind for our home equity line, she said, “Maybe you should think about borrowing at least twice that amount. Taking out a construction loan?”

Then she showed me how much a construction loan would cost and that was another bid that I got and said thanks, but no thanks. Sorry, not sorry.

OK, so instead of going huge, we would just take on the smaller projects that have been bugging us since we moved in. I’ve been dying to redo the kitchen because I hate the fake wood paneled cabinets and the fake green granite (yes, green granite) countertops. I talked to another contractor who told me to call this kitchen design place in Basalt. I did, and when we told them our budget, the lady laughed at me and said, “Yeah, we don’t really do any kitchens for under $50,000.”

That would be bid number four, ladies and gentlemen. They say you can do a lot with paint, and maybe some new pulls, right?

Finally, we wised up. What we really should be doing is investing in the property that generates revenue, which is our little rental apartment downstairs. Yes, that’s it! These are renovations that would pay for themselves.

The first thing we decided to do was improve the entrance to the apartment with a nice flagstone walkway. That is, until we got two separate bids, one for $8,000 that would mean we’d have to settle for painted concrete, and one for $10,000 if we decided to go with flagstone.

Ten grand! For a sidewalk!

The best part is how these guys come over and tell you they’re super busy and they probably won’t have time, and by the way, we’re going to charge you an insane amount of money, just to see if we can get away with it. And then we won’t call you for another month because we just found four more jobs for quadruple the money. See ya!

Needless to say, this was bid number five.

“It would be a good workout,” I told Ryan when he decided to add the walkway to our DIY list. “I mean, maybe I could dig, move a few stones with you?”

At the end of the day, we do love little our house as it is, even if we have painted subfloors and a kitchen that looks like it was patched together with whatever went on sale at Lowe’s. So what if the only way into Levi’s bedroom is through our room or a trap door in the ceiling? Who cares that our master bath has no shower and only saloon doors for privacy?

Just like us, our little house is full of flaws, but it’s big on character.

The Princess needs money. Email your love to


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