LONG HAUL : 3 Homeowners Say Trouble by Yard Yields Profit by Mile

Imagine living in a motor home in your driveway for weeks and climbing through a window just to use the bathroom.

That's what Patty, Chris and Amy McManus of Van Nuys did when they were adding a master bedroom suite and enlarging their family room in a remodeling project last year.

"We were having all the hardwood floors sanded in the house, and the bathroom window was the only way we could get in," said Chris, 43, the owner of a home-based computer security business.

The McManus family decided to remodel their home because they felt it was too expensive to move. They bought their house in 1975 for $56,000, and at the time they started the remodeling project in February, 1987, the house was appraised at $170,000. "We felt we could always get the money out," said Patty, 40, who also works for their home-based business.

Their remodeling effort took six months--not three as planned--to complete. And they had their share of problems.

When it was too late to easily rectify, the McManuses, who had hired a contractor to supervise all the work, noticed their bathroom sink wasn't centered in the cabinet.

And when Chris was away on business, the back of the house, where the bedroom suite was being added, was secured only by plywood boards. Patty and Amy, 13, slept with a fireplace poker by the side of the bed for self-defense.

"Toward the end of the project, the tile and brick workman put a step in the wrong place and had to redo it three times," said Patty.

"Then, when he did the tile in the shower, the drain didn't allow the necessary room for the shower drain cover to fit properly. And when the sink installer broke a tile while installing the sink, the same tile workman cracked the entire hand-painted back splash in trying to replace the broken tile."

But now, their project complete, their neat, country-style home reflects none of the disorder they recently experienced. And, after spending about $45,000 for their project, their three-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath home with a family room, dining room and pool "is worth at least $335,000," said Chris, smiling. Would they do it again?


Steve Heimlen, 28, is single--but married to the idea of moving up in real estate.

A commercial property supervisor for a North Hollywood real estate firm, Heimlen says he knows how to find good subcontractors and knows decent construction when he sees it.

Less than a year ago, he bought a 1,450-square-foot home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a den in Canoga Park for $125,000.

"I was looking for a real dog," said Heimlen. "But the market is so hot that you have like 10 minutes to make an offer. This house was listed on a Friday, and they had six offers by Sunday. I made a cash offer."

Before bidding on the house, Heimlen quickly figured out what it would need, estimating $4,000 for central heat, $1,500 for basic landscaping, $10 a yard for carpeting, $1,500 to $1,900 for painting, $1,000 for drapes.

He spent $10,000 on the house, and did a lot of the work himself. He moved a doorway to allow room for a couch near a fireplace, removed paneling and put up dry wall, put in linoleum in the kitchen, added an enclosed patio, and put in new hardware (knobs, handles, etc.) and fixtures throughout.

Heimlen was frustrated soon after he started. His painter had put all the vents, fan covers, light fixtures and screws in a pile in the back yard while he was painting. When the clean-up crew emptied out the back yard, all the 1960s screws and fittings were taken away with the debris. Heimlen had to spend several weekends trying to buy the right screws and covers for his fittings.

Heimlen just sold his remodeled house for about $170,000. He bought another house, in Woodland Hills, for $220,000 and plans to put in a wet bar, sun deck, arbor and new carpet and convert a carport to a garage . . . and sell it next spring for $325,000.

When Tom and Juli Boyd started remodeling their Studio City home in 1984, they had already bought, remodeled and sold six condominiums in Hawaii. They felt they knew what was necessary to turn a ho-hum residence into something special.

But after adding a studio behind the garage, a master bathroom and extending their master bedroom, redoing their kitchen and doing cosmetic work throughout their two-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a den, their biggest lessons involved money and mess.

"We expected to spend $15,000 on the project. We spent closer to $35,000," said Tom. He added that now, when someone says a remodeling job will take "a certain amount of time or money, we multiply it by 2 1/2. Next year, we'll multiply it by 3." (They bought another house in Studio City that they are renovating.) But the money seems to have been well-spent. Tom, 37, a studio musician, and Juli, 31, a ballet dancer, estimate that the value of their house has tripled since they bought it four years ago.

At first, they hired out work to people they considered reliable, including a contractor whom they later fired. But when the workmen consistently didn't show up, they did some of the work themselves. When the men they hired to hang their dry wall didn't work because "the surf was good that day," Tom and Juli learned to do it.

"The project was extremely stressful on the marriage," said Juli. "With dry wall in our underwear, we were more apt to snap at each other."

"We'd look at each other and laugh--maybe it was just the paint fumes--but it's all-consuming. Right now I'm thinking about the paint that's peeling in the bathroom," said Tom.

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