The Humorless Twit’s Home Improvement Hell | May 2008


Need some painting done? How about a window or door repaired? Plumbing problems at home? Or do you want to redo the kitchen? Then DON’T visit my website at There isn’t enough money in the world to convince me to take on another home improvement project, ever!

The millions thousands hundreds okay, handful of you who read this space regularly may remember that I got married–quite happily, I might add–just last year. I’m still very happy with my wife (hi Sweetie!).

But there is one aspect of my marriage I could’ve lived without: moving.

Moving sucks anyway, but it’s worse when you have to try and sell your old place–and the real estate market is bad.

Knowing that nobody was buying real estate and that I had to fix my old condo before selling or renting it anyway, I resigned myself to paying two mortgages (at least temporarily).

The first thing I needed to fix was the floor. Because of my old age and infirmities, this was one thing I couldn’t do myself. So I had one of the big-box home improvement stores install the new floor.

And they did a fairly decent job–fast, too, as promised. If only my store credit account limit had been enough to allow me to hire them to do everything else I needed….

When I originally bought my old condo, I was in a hurry to move in. So I took a cursory look at everything and bought the place. The appliances and fixtures looked new, and the structure of the building would be the association’s responsibility anyway, so what was there to worry about?

If only I had taken a closer look at the doors and the paint–especially on the trim and moulding. After I moved out of the old condo, I knew I’d have to paint it. But after I took a close look at the bedroom (thankfully, it was a one-bedroom condo) and bathroom doors, I knew I’d have to remove the old paint before painting.

My past experiences with paint removal have never been good. I’d rather… watch paint dry. But my paint removal experience at my old condo, unbeknownst to me, was about to become a nightmare.

I began, naively, thinking all I’d have to do would be some light scraping and possibly sanding. I used plastic putty spatulas to peel off old latex paint that, at first, came off easily. The elastic latex peeled off in large pieces, looking more like a rubbery mask than paint.

But then there was the next coat of paint. And the next. And the next. Layer upon layer of old caked-on paint covered the doors and moulding. Removing it felt like peeling an onion, or opening a Russian matryoshka doll.

I started the peeling and scraping by myself, spending a few hours during the week, after work, and Saturday afternoons. As the scope of the paint removal project increased, so did my efforts. I started going to the old condo Saturdays and Sundays, bringing my wife along with me.

Weeks of this became months. I felt awful about making my wife come along so I stopped bringing her. By now, the plastic spatulas gave way to sharp metal putty knives; for a while, I even used an old, rusty razor blade that cut through old paint like a scalpel through butter–until it cut me and I had to get a tetanus shot. I even tried a variety of chemical paint strippers but all they did was make the old paint gummy and even more difficult to remove.

Eventually all that was left were a few small paint chips, stubbornly clinging to the wooden doors and moulding. By now it was February of 2008 (keep in mind, I had started the paint removal a couple of weeks after the floor tile had been installed, in August 2007) and, for the first time in months, it was clear that I was finally almost ready to paint and clean, the last two steps in my home improvement nightmare.

At this point, I figured I’d be ready to rent the condo (I had given up on the idea of selling it, for now) by May. That’s when a nice, middle-aged lady came knocking at the door of my old condo while I was there, scraping away.

She told me she needed to move out of another condo at the same community by April 1. She wanted to stay in the community and she admitted she was a bit desperate because all the other places she had gone to see had fallen through and her current landlord had told her he wouldn’t renew her lease because he had relatives from Cuba who needed a place to stay–namely, his condo.

I told her I didn’t know if I’d be ready by April, but that I’d keep her in mind as a tenant. I also made it clear that what I really wanted to do was sell the condo but that I was realistic enough to know it won’t happen for a year or two and that I’d be willing to rent it out until then. We exchanged phone numbers, she gave me a few references, and we agreed to keep in touch.

Some of my former neighbors knew this lady and said she’d make a great tenant. So did her references; I had little to fear in terms of her causing damage, they said, and I wouldn’t have to track her down when the rent was due.

So I knew this lady would be a good tenant, but it would mean I’d have to kill myself to finish by April 1. Or to put it another way, either I’d finish the condo–or it would finish me.

I told my wife and she offered to help again. She even kindly, ahem, “volunteered” her brother and mom, an offer I accepted one Saturday in March as we slapped the first coat of fresh new paint on the walls of my old condo.

Complicating the deadline (there’s always a complication, isn’t there?) was the little fact that March and April are the busiest months for me at my day job. Outside of taking a rare afternoon off here and there, getting any significant amount of time off to work on the condo would be out of the question.

This meant I’d have to go to the old condo after what would already be a long work day (I’d get out of work at six or seven during our busy season, skipping lunch to boot, when I’d get out at five the rest of the year), every day during March. And I’d have to work all day Saturdays and Sundays, no sleeping in late on the weekends like I had been doing.

So I’d run off to the old condo every chance I had, patching holes in the walls, sanding, masking off areas for paint, painting trim items or touching up the walls, and cleaning. I’d get home and into bed by 10 or 11 each night. I was a zombie and the whole month was a blur to me. Things came down to the wire: a few urgent items I absolutely had to fix before my new tenant could move in weren’t done until the last few days in March.

But finally, I finished everything and was able to give my new tenant the keys to the condo a few days before April 1.

This whole experience is so recent that as I write this on a Saturday, this is the second weekend in a row since last summer that I have not had to go to the old condo. My wife is blissfully napping next to me on the couch as I type. My dogs–happy that I’m home–are sleeping on their beds right now.

I used my big-box home improvement credit account to pay for the floor installation and, out of curiosity, spying the bill for this account on a table next to me, I opened the envelope. My credit limit has just been increased. Now. When I could’ve used it a few months ago to have new doors and moulding installed and the painting done by one of their contractors, and not had to have spent miserable MONTHS of weekends scraping old paint off of moulding.

The bill is on the floor in front of me now, in thousands of little pieces. Timing is everything, huh? I got your timing, right here, Mr. big-box home improvement credit account man!