Hindsight is indeed 20/20 and had we known then what we know now, we would have done things much differently. I feel strongly that it’s VERY important to use contracts in most situations from freelance jobs to hiring a contractor, and yet – we didn’t. Our emotions ran high and we put our trust in other people because we were so overwhelmed. In the timeline, you can see it took just over 2 weeks for us to purchase the RV, drive it home, get enough demo done to know we were way in over our heads, and lock in a renovation company. Then things took some time, and that should be expected in a renovation.
Spoiler alert: Our situation didn’t end badly, it also didn’t go exactly as planned. We were pretty angry about a few things and a contract would have eliminated that issue.
THE SEARCH FOR A RENOVATION COMPANY
Dane and I were both looking up RV renovation companies online, focusing our search on as close to Reno, NV as possible. Dane actually found an article titled something like, “10 Best RV Renovation Companies”, and I contacted the 7 companies that were close enough for us to drive to in 10 hours or less. We were receiving replies that companies were booked, they only did a minimum of 60K renovations, etc.. etc.. and we continued to feel even more discouraged. Then one replied that they could get us by the beginning of June – which seemed a long way off, but was closer than anyone else, and we set up a zoom meeting to chat cost, timeline, etc… This was the rig that we wanted to live in full-time and we had been planning to move in the Spring we purchased it, so at the time we felt like our dream was taking forever. Not to mention, it took over 6 months to find our second choice in RV floorplan. We were overwhelmed by the covered-up water damage, feeling swindled and stupid, and the only way to go was forward.
My first piece of advice is to allow this process to take the time that’s needed and to try not to feel pressured. I do realize that for some people, it’s a more urgent necessity and I’m still giving you the same advice. For many, this process takes longer and costs more than you anticipated.
Side note: If you’re looking for a renovation company, there’s an article on the top 20 renovation companies that you can check out HERE. I’m not endorsing anyone, just helping you with your first step. The renovation company we used is not on this list.
MEETING EACH OTHER VIA ZOOM:
Both parties had a list of questions – and both of us needed to get clear about cost and what we wanted, and our budget set the time frame. The zoom call was an enormous relief. We had found someone who understood how important this was to us, how much it meant, how overwhelmed we were, that we had a set budget, etc… I felt SEEN, understood, and taken care of. It was wonderful and we felt really great about how we were moving forward. We were clear that our budget was 25K (at this point, we were 25K into the rig and we were using all our savings), and we were very clear on what we wanted, as well as how it was prioritized.
Here is where I would have begun making changes in the conversation. Don’t hire someone hourly. EVER. Hire by the project.
We weren’t as concerned about how long it would take as much as how much it would cost to do the things we wanted to do. Hourly means you are trusting that they are putting in the time and that they aren’t slow. Project means the entire list gets done regardless of the time, so it’s motivation to NOT be slow. I cannot state this strongly enough. The company we hired worked hourly – $75 an hour to be exact. I don’t have an issue with the amount, what I DO have an issue with is seeing posts from the company on social media about how hot it was and that they couldn’t work during the majority of the day, asking for tips on hot summers, etc… and knowing it was our rig that couldn’t be worked on. I have no doubt that we were not getting the 40 hours a week we were paying for. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that our list of to-dos wouldn’t be completed.
DROP OFF DATE, RENOVATION START/END DATE
I can’t tell you how relieved we were to have found someone an 8-hour drive away, with photos of other renovations that were beautiful, and a slot on the calendar. We had a timeframe and a plan and we could breathe a sigh of relief. The time between securing the company, the drop-off, and when the renovation began definitely added to our timeline, however, we scheduled the drop-off on a good weekend for both of us and if I’m really honest, I was so discouraged, it was a relief to drop it off in the hands of someone who would make magic where I fell short.
OUR STYLE, EXPECTATIONS, AND THE TO-DO LIST
After the zoom call, we connected via text and email and I listed out what we wanted to be done, I sent photos of ideas for our style and things we wanted, as well as a walk-through video showing the damage and explaining what we wanted to do. This is where we became excited! Not only would all the water damage be fixed, but we could also start dreaming up the end product and have most of it done within our budget. I felt like I was being overly detailed about what we wanted to be done. I was also a bit scattered.
These are two things I would change. I would have been more specific about what I wanted to get done and more concise in my delivery.
I also didn’t highlight the OUTSIDE of the RV enough. We had delamination that we asked to have fixed (and they said no problem – that’s easy) and I did discuss the roof being checked and fixed (cuz – water damage) especially since 4 fans were being replaced. I didn’t even know about removing the exterior edge seals, cleaning them, and replacing them, so I didn’t ask for that. Especially with existing, extreme water damage, the roof, seals, edges, windows, etc… should have been a top priority for the renovation company – to make sure the NEW renovation wouldn’t get ruined. It didn’t really come up in conversation.
This is where you want a renovation company to know much more than you do, look at things closely, and make recommendations.
Here’s the list of what we wanted to be done:
Hello! I’m attaching some photos of ideas that we love, a wishlist, and the walkthrough (video) I did today.
Shiplap back wall
The water tank moved back to open up storage under the bed
Wall built to block off the bedroom from the bath
Corner cabinet removed and shelves (or a cubicle shelf?) added for better use of space
Composting toilet installed
Check hot water heater – possible replacement?
Shower – remove and replace
Remove and replace the fridge with a larger model
Replace kitchen cabinets? Add cabinets? Flip-up table? (there’s a photo below that’s an idea of what I mean)
Countertop and sink installed
Add twin daybed (I provided)
Replace water damaged area (Rebuild)
A follow-up text of our list:
1) Remove and replace damage in bedroom and cabover
2) Kitchen cabinets over slide (rebuilt & added to) – convection microwave and induction?
3) Kitchen countertop (installed)
4) Door in bedroom & bedroom storage (corner cabinet and shelves in closet)
5) Composting toilet with urine directly diverted into the gray tank (requires a vent, electrical outlet, and tubing to the gray tank)
6) Paint (I provided the primer and all paint)
7) Installing the vents/fans (I provided the fans)
I do have other questions –
The sink and counter in the bathroom – I was looking for a counter/sink all in one unit but having trouble finding the size. Maybe just a counter/sink is easier.
I don’t have a kitchen sink yet – I was hoping to make it a bit larger, so maybe waiting on getting one until you evaluate it.
I do have the faucets, the composting toilet, vents, etc…
In a perfect world, we’d have you do “all the things” on the list. I thought it would be easier for us to see the big picture and dial it back if necessary.
I didn’t add in or send a photo of the propane tank. We of course worry about the furnace, water heater, propane tank, etc… (and want those checked)
I want to check the propane tank – it’s bigger than I can probably carry I think Double the size for a bbq. It’s great that it’s bigger, but not so big that we’d still have to fill it. It might be better/easier to have two smaller ones we can remove and fill.
I wanted to ask about a mini-split for heat & AC and just removing the furnace. EASY stuff like that…
You will have to let us know. Lots of things are POSSIBLE but maybe not the right direction. And we don’t know. I DO know I’ve heard a lot of positives about mini splits and the furnace is 21 years old and the ducting takes a ton of space under the fridge and shower.
Water heater replacement is another big one.
Some of these will need to be decided before reno because they impact it, others we can wait on.
We discussed TONS via text about ideas, things that could happen more easily, and some (like replacing the furnace and fridge) that didn’t make sense – at least not now. There was constant back and forth of ideas, photos, questions, etc…
THE DROP OFF AND WALK-THROUGH
We were so excited to hand off the RV to professionals who would take our ideas and make them a reality. When we met, we all spent time walking around the outside (yes, we can fix delamination, no problem. yes, we’ll replace the exterior plywood where needed from water damage. yes, the roof will be checked and fixed). On the inside, we were told what projects could happen, which were unrealistic (yes, a new on-demand water heater. no, on the fridge and furnace – leave them. Yes, on redoing kitchen cabinets and adding an extension. no on the door between the bedroom and bath – not enough room. yes, on all the paint and re-doing the interior walls with water damage. yes, on adding shelves in 3 locations and replacing the corner cabinet with better use of space.) I felt like I was being heard and my ideas were coming to life. More importantly, I felt so much relief that our RV would be water-tight and fixed.
Here’s another huge mistake. WE HAD NO WRITTEN CONTRACT. The conversations were one email (above) and lots and lots of text messages before, during, and some after the renovation. Nothing was written down at all while we did the walk-through.
THE RENOVATION PROCESS
We were told the renovation would begin at the end of May/beginning of June. Things happen – timelines change and it didn’t begin until the week after the 4th of July. I mention this because I would have wanted my timeline to be estimated – and go longer to complete it. Working by project instead of hourly means timelines will shift more and I’d prefer that by far.
We had A LOT of contact during the renovation process and needed to make decisions often. This is part of why I was surprised by the lack of communication – it felt like a lot of communication and yet, so many things weren’t discussed.
The end result is beautiful. We opted to spend more to replace the floors – something I’m really happy we did. There were other charges that we weren’t expecting and also weren’t discussed directly. It’s tough to find out there’s $3500 extra you didn’t know about. As we got to know our renovated rig, we also realized there were “extra” things that were done that we didn’t realize. Wires are wrapped up and enclosed neatly, a corner shelf that we love, and details that take time to notice. Overall, not only is it beautiful, we got many of the things we wanted.
Post-reno I asked questions and they were great at answering texts. We’ve remained on each other’s social media since the renovation was completed. I’ve never spoken badly about the renovation, and I’ve never used their name. That should be handled privately if necessary.
Although I couldn’t foresee or change the lack of communication from the renovation company, or that with a tight timeline things wouldn’t be able to get done, it was an incredibly frustrating end result after what seemed like an ideal situation. From the seemingly small things to the really huge ones, a contract would have eliminated any he-said-she-said and we wouldn’t have been unpleasantly surprised with things not getting completed, or completed differently than we wanted. It would also protect us in the event that things weren’t done as they should have been as it showed liability.
The things that didn’t get done, or were done differently I saw on the final walk-through video we were sent, or after we picked up the RV and spent some time in it. Being surprised by things that weren’t how we wanted them was discouraging, especially after going 6K over budget. Each of these should have been a conversation so we at least knew there was a change and could make a choice, but I had to watch the video, find things, and ask about them.
Things that didn’t get done:
- The corner cabinet in the bedroom. It looks great but it was supposed to be replaced with shelves that added more space and instead was painted and had a new counter from our butcher block
- Shower – we wanted to replace it and opted to have it painted white. The trim was supposed to be painted black and wasn’t
- There was a light fixture by the front door and I had purchased a replacement for it. It was eliminated
- The cabinet over the toilet was removed and wasn’t put back or replaced
- The kitchen sink – we went back and forth and decided on a sink from a link we were sent. What we have isn’t the same at all and I don’t like the sink that was installed. Also, it’s not an under-mount like we planned
- The kitchen sink faucet needed to be offset which wasn’t discussed. I would have preferred to have options on a smaller sink and centered faucet
- The bathroom medicine cabinet was removed – we had wanted to keep it
- Since the medicine cabinet was removed, we thought a bathroom mirror, as well as curtains, etc.. were being installed and weren’t – not a huge issue, but unexpected future purchases
- We had the upper cabinets turned into shelves. The “lip” that was done isn’t what I asked for
- The propane, fire, and CO2 detectors were missing or 20+ years old and that was never brought up
The biggest things that didn’t get done:
- The composting toilet urine diverter didn’t get done. We were told since it was a $1000 toilet, he didn’t feel comfortable installing a diverter but we weren’t told until I noticed in the end video and asked
- The existing kitchen cabinets were not rebuilt
- The kitchen cabinets that were supposed to be built weren’t done. A fold-down table was put to the side – not even remotely what was discussed. We hated it. It was the first thing we did to finish the demo ourselves
- The exterior delamination wasn’t addressed. At all. Only one side of the cab-over was pulled back and replaced
Other issues that have come up in the 7 months after we got the RV back:
- The on-demand hot water heater connections and the propane stovetop connections weren’t tightened. When the propane was turned on, the detector came on – thankfully as it was 20+ years old. We had to have an RV maintenance company come and fix the propane leaks and they recommended we replace all detectors (which we did). It only cost $250, however, this happened because the propane connectors weren’t properly installed and it created a lot of stress
- There are screws in the exterior siding in the cab-over. We have no idea why and it’s one more place water could potentially come in
- We are currently dealing with a leak from one of the fans that were replaced. It’s destroyed a lot of our roof and we’ll have to bring the RV in to have the roof replaced.
Allow me to clarify – I wasn’t expecting perfection. In retrospect I was hiring someone who could do something I wasn’t able to do – I was hiring an expert. As we’ve had over 16-months invested in our RV (and live in it full-time), as well as going through a professional renovation, we’ve learned a lot. I want to highlight what we did right and wrong, and what in my opinion the renovation company did right and wrong to potentially save someone else a lot of stress, grief, money, and time.
Use a contract, be specific and concise in the language you use, and use written communication to cover both parties.