Real Life Superhero – Carly Kiser

Wednesday May 20th

Imagine you’ve just moved halfway across the country. You’re pregnant and already a mom to a toddler. Your husband is the CEO of a startup based in another state (read: never home). And you’ve just started a new job as a VP of a major bank.

Now imagine tackling a studs-up remodel of your home – without the help of a General Contractor – at the same time. Oh, and the new baby is arriving in just 7 short months. No pressure!

Crazy, right? Maybe, but that’s exactly what Carly Kiser did in 2017-2018.  

She and her husband had already “popped the top” on a home in Denver and had a horrible experience with a General Contractor. They were concerned about timing, too, since the market was hot, contractors were already booked, and there was no time to spare. With the constraints of time and quality in mind, they decided to go it alone.

Here’s how it all went down:

The House

The Kisers bought their 1950’s era Northbeach bungalow in an estate sale in August 2017. The house featured an amazing view and was right on the beach, but the interior hadn’t been touched since the home was built.

The Budget

The project was originally budgeted at $170k, but they ended up spending $240k (with an additional $75k going towards landscaping).

The Project

A complete tear-down to the studs, but with very few structural changes. The plan was to take out a wall, gut the kitchen, add new floors, do a complete electrical rewiring, put in new plumbing, all new interior paint, doors, and trim. Put in a new deck and new exterior railings.

The Timeline

December 2017 – before the baby arrives in July 2018

The Inspiration

One of Carly’s clients is an online interior design firm called Havenly. Havenly created a mood board that provided the inspiration for all the finishing and design choices.

Getting Started

Carly reached out to two architects to get recommendations for a project manager, someone who would oversee the details of the remodel. Carly interviewed four candidates AND all of their subcontractors.

She ultimately decided to hire Juan Rodriguez, a jack-of-all-trades who had his own drywall business. This would be Juan’s first major remodel project – and his sole focus for the next several months.

“I trusted Juan. He was honest, he was curious, he was hungry. I went and talked to the GC’s he had worked for in the past. I asked them about his project management experience. I went to see the projects that he owned from end-to-end,” Carly shared. “We went through an entire due diligence process.”

Working with Subcontractors  

Carly individually contracted with each of the subs, but Juan managed them and the overall timeline. Juan made recommendations, and she interviewed each one. She also hired subs she talked to during the initial project manager vetting.  

“I got Juan’s buy-off on everyone we hired at the very beginning. I knew he was the linchpin,” said Carly. “We didn’t agree on the floor partner, and he pushed back. But I appreciated that he was a great ‘thinking partner’ and didn’t take all my recommendations at face value.”

All the subcontractors Carly chose were “hustlers.” They were hardworking and would come to her with problems. “At no point was I resentful about the delta in the budget because I understood where it was coming from,” said Carly. “I pushed them to do a non-fixed price budget so they were compensated fairly for the work.”

Sourcing Materials

This turned out to be the hardest part. Juan didn’t have the relationships with the sourcers because it was his first big project. Carly spent time on mom blogs and Nextdoor (this was pre-Fresh Chalk!)  to find great suppliers.

“The materials places are critical, because they often will do the actual installation.” Carly was especially concerned with a showcase countertop installation. “I was very careful because we have a peninsula with a waterfall edge to the floor. That’s a 45% cut angle and I wanted it to look like a single piece of material."

Countertops - Integrity Stonework

Game On

Here’s how the project played out, phase by phase:

Demolition & Hauling

“This is a glorious phase! We moved out want watched the destruction take place and a clean slate emerge.”

Electrical and Plumbing

“This is the worst part - it takes forever. You have to have the patience for the minutia. You have to be on the site all the time. You have to be on it, and making constant decisions.”

Plumber - Perez Plumbing

Drywall & Floors

“We added a fourth bedroom in the basement, took down walls, opened the staircase, re-patched walls. We put in hardwood floors upstairs (feathered in, but not finished until the very end.)”

Kitchen and Bath

“This happened fast. We got some great budget-saving tips from Havenly. The kitchen cost $28,000 (excluding labor) including all appliances, which we purchased at the Albert Lee at semi-annual sale for 1/3 the price and held onto for 4 months.”

Carly also used Ikea boxes and put custom fronts from Semi-Handmade on them. That saved tons of money -- full cabinets of equivalent quality (soft-close doors) would have cost 3x as much.

Fixtures & Countertops

“Pinterest was ultimately my worst enemy, because I quickly realized I really have 15 dream kitchens in my heart, and it took discipline to figure out which of those was right for the house we had purchased. I relied heavily on the mood boards Havenly put together for me to make sure that each of the material choices were cohesive with the direction we had chosen.”

Tile & Paint

“At one in point in the project I had 7 different paint samples of “light gray” on the walls and ultimately went with the color we had in our Denver house and loved, ‘Balboa Mist’ by Benjamin Moore.  I leaned on the tile experts at Seattle Tile to help me understand how a simple rectangle tile could ultimately be more interesting based on its size, the pattern it is laid it, and the grout.”

Deck & Landscaping

“Knowing that our family loves to spend time outside and entertain family & friends, and that we wanted to enjoy the view of the Puget Sound, maximizing the size and layout of the deck was critical.  We also knew that great landscaping could go a long way towards creating a delightful space. At this point in the project we were tired of bleeding cash, and it was tempting to ‘DIY’ this phase (building the fence, laying the patio, adding soil).  I’m thankful we talked ourselves into hiring professionals to execute on our vision – otherwise we’d probably STILL be working on it, and wouldn’t be nearly as happy with the results.”

Landscaping - Rainbow of Magnolia Landscaping


“Now as a busy family of 4, I’m grateful that we invested the time and resources to fully transform the house into a home we can enjoy and be proud of, without having to look around and see unfinished projects.  While we had a measurably better renovation experience than our time in Denver, this project was a reminder that even with the best professionals, your active involvement and oversight is critical in driving to the outcomes you want.”  

Top Tips for Being Your Own GC

  1. Make sure you understand the domino effect of schedule changes on everyone down the line.
  2. Order supplies like lighting, plumbing hardware, and appliances early.
  3. Create an online share file for exchanging information with contractors.  
  4. Once you’re close on selecting subcontractors, move quickly. Their availability might be here today, gone tomorrow.
  5. Remember people’s names. If you interact with them, have respect and be thoughtful.
  6. Provide food and drinks, especially if people are working on the weekends or a holiday.

Check out Carly's profile on Fresh Chalk and see all her great renovation recommendations!

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