A man, a plan and very little money: Why I love my contractor

I was planning to take my Mom over to see the place today. My contractor was wrapping up the very last bits of Phase 1, and the kitchen was to be done by noon. When Mom canceled (the wet weather doesn’t do much for her nearly 80-year-old post-polio legs) I decided to head on over anyway. I just needed a “win” to start the week off right.

What a good call that was. I couldn’t believe how great everything looked!

To recap:

I bought the house for about the value of the land alone. It wasn’t a bad fixer since the house is by all measure very well-built, but the family probably wasn’t feeling lucky about a buyer getting financed. The house hadn’t been much changed since it was built in 1957, and it was being sold as-is.

I took a gamble and asked a friend to carry the mortgage until I could fix it up enough to get a normal mortgage (what a friend she is, huh?!) and then my high school pal Jeff Grenz, homebuilder, real-estate broker and pretty darn good musician (also:  Cutest Boy, Mira Loma High School Class of ’76) made sure everything was inspected before I bought the place. I had offered two-thirds of the asking price, but when I finally realized what diamond in the rough I was looking at, I accepted their counter at nearly the asking price. I really liked the feel of family in the home, and I just had a hunch the place was “it” for me, my animals and my gardens.

I figured I’d be replacing a well, a septic system, plumbing, electrical or a foundation, and I was good for any two of those items. I got lucky: Only the septic and the electrical needed to be replaced completely. I could manage them both on my fix-it budget.

Plus:The place needed all new appliances. Being basically lazy, I also had to have a dishwasher (there’d never been one in the kitchen before). Pushing the budget, all of it, but I had an ace in the hole: Brian Harvey.

Brian Harvey, my contractor, is a neighbor where I live now. He has remodeled several of the houses around the neighborhood, and he’s also a great guy. He put in a cat patio for Ilario, and over the last few years he kept my house patched up and running well, a little bit here, a little bit there. I knew he was good, and I knew he was great to work with, but honestly … I had no idea what a stroke of luck having him as my back-fence neighbor truly is.

Here’s what went into Phase 1:

  • New septic, removal of multiple stumps and a massive oleander, plus regrading;
  • New electrical, upgrade from fuses to breakers, plus adding circuits for modern office and multiple freezers in garage (more on why the latter another day), outdoor motion-sensitive floodlights (his idea: “It’s safer for you!”) Plus outdoor electrical/septic connection to accommodate an occasional visitor with trailer.
  • Minor kitchen remodel, adding dishwasher, reconfiguring cabinets (including a couple new cabinets to match), installation of new range, range hood/microwave, refrigerator with water/ice line, undersink filter, new kitchen faucet, new skin for under-sink cabinet bottom.
  • New drywall in one bedroom, patching and re-texturing everywhere else.
  • New shower head and fancy-pants Toto toilet ( (Yes, a luxury item but you know, a toilet is something you spend a far amount of time with, so … why not? I also got an ADA compliant model, because I may need it someday!)
  • Removal of counter and sink near back door and installation of indoor laundry space.
  • New mailbox, which, actually, was handled by his son, who’s maybe … 10? 12? (He did a nice job!)
  • Full clean-up and multiple dump runs.

Every piece of work was top-notch. Every person who worked for Brian on the site was hardworking, good-natured, knowledgable and neat. Brian himself is creative, a real problem-solver who nonetheless never wants to cut any corner that will cause a problem, either legally or in terms of what you’d want to be living with long-term.

Anyone want to guess what I’ve spent so far, labor, material, dump fees and permits? I’ll send a signed copy of the new book to the person who guesses the closest (and Jeff: You’re not eligible. Obviously, neither is Brian!).

Brian told me he loves the place, and that he’s very proud of me. You know what? So am I! I never have seen myself as the fixer kind of buyer, but I didn’t have much choice, really. and it’s working out great.

Next: Fencing, barn structural reinforcement. New windows in the house. Also: Some kind of landscaping for what will now be a very shallow back yard, so there’ll be the maximum available space for pasture. Dealing with the drainage issue in the large pasture.
Next next: My dream home office. (The dining room will do for now.)
Next next next: New HVAC and addition of second bath where there’s an obvious space for it now.
Next next next next: Changing orientation of original bath to create a small master suite with big closet.

And you bet I will be having Brian handle it all. I can’t recommend him enough.

Brian Harvey
Contractor’s license: 831557
Sacramento, CA 95864
(916) 532-5004

Now, it’s time for some sweat equity: I gotta paint the interior!

Picture time:

Top: Brian Harvey and McKenzie check out the refrigerator. You can’t see that this unit has a minor ding on the cabinet side and was last year’s model to boot. Because I was buying four appliances at the same time, the salesman at locally owned Filco (ask for Haipham; he really knows his product lines!) gave it to me for a cool $1K off the price of a flawless current model. I spent $3,300 for four name=brand appliances — fridge (Whirlpool), range, microwave with vent (both GE) and dishwasher (Bosch, my third Bosch dishwasher!), and all had top marks from Consumer reports. Nothing all that fancy, but what a great little kitchen I have over there now.

Middle: Not easy to get a pan shot. Check out the new pull-down faucet with soap dispenser.

Bottom: McKenzie next to the dishwasher and range. I still have to pull off all the protective plastic.

  1. Wow, it is really coming together! Looks wonderful, and what a relief to have parts of the improvements DONE! Never having owned a house, I have literally no clue on how much improvements cost, or appliances…but I am going to guess 8k. Wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually a little less.


    1. well crud, I meant to type 18k.


    2. Ooooo! Nice faucet! And good choice on the fridge, I’ve had my french door fridge for almost a year and I’m madly in love with it. Plenty of room for McK meatloaves and whatever Drewbie will eat on any given day!

      You did, however, forget to include a picture of that mailbox you mentioned, or are you just trying to keep your hordes of followers from finding you?


      1. Nothing fancy. It’s this one, in dark green:


      2. Hmm, I must be way low then with my guess of 15K. Guessing low because I know you were being careful. Maybe way more dump runs than I’m guessing or septic or permits was more expensive than I guessed?
        Very glad that you found someone reliable and skilled! That is priceless!


        1. I think you’ve forgotten that I live in California! Everything’s pretty expensive here.:)


          1. I hope not much more expensive than Seattle :)


          2. You’re all pretty close, but over.

            As for the “reveal” … check back in five years. :)


          3. I have no clue about costs so I’ll just look forward to the big reveal. I just love that kitchen! It’s darling.


          4. Want the kitty book, so I’m guessing $25,486.23 Hope it’s less for your sake!


          5. oooh which model Bosch did you get? My Kenmore is making noises like it is going to die soon. I have heard Bosch makes an excellent dishwasher.


          6. glad to hear everything has gone so well, and you are happy with it. looks like MeKenzie likes it too. i bet i’m high, but i’ll guess $23533.17….that includes the appliances. whatever it is, it’s really priceless since you will have your entire family with you when you finally move in. looking forward to seeing it in person on the 1st. i have some boxes and butcher paper for packing if you need them, let me know. :)


          7. Accolades and hugs! Smile….And yes, the value of a good handyman/contractor can’t be stressed enough. I have a good one down here, too, and since Paul used to do all my handyman stuff, I feel so much better knowing there is someone to call.

            Good for you.



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