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Talking Home Building And Real Estate With Rich LaPlante, Author Of Never Again

Talking Home Building And Real Estate With Rich LaPlante, Author Of Never Again

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Creating your dream home is a bit like a marathon, during the process it’s easy to say “never again” but somehow time mutes memory what remains is the excitement and the belief that it will be easier next time. Novelist Richard LaPlante has had a very interesting life that has involved remodels, complete builds, and house flipping in two countries and he chronicles those experiences in Never Again: Building The Dream House, a memoir of home building from the ground up published by Escargot Books. LaPlante and his first wife, a screenwriter, fixed and sold several houses in England long before house flipping was in vogue. Later he jumped the pond, falling for hopeless fixer-uppers throughout the Hamptons. Another leap and he moved his second wife and their young children to Ojai, California and that’s where the real drama begins as they decide to build their dream home on a mountain. Amid failed movie projects, kids’ tennis tournaments, and the acquisition of a Guinea pig or two, the family deals with rains, fires, temperamental contractors, mercurial craftsmen, and much more.

For many people the “never again” moment comes midway through the first remodel. The ever escalating bills, the continual discomfort, and the constant negotiations with contractors are all enough to make even the most stoic of homeowners say uncle. LaPlante however falls freshly in love with every new project despite facing just as many, if not more obstacles than most. His memoir of house building is full of disasters of both the construction and natural varieties. We had to hear from LaPlante himself what he learned from the experience and if the title of the book means he really will never build again.

1. Your book chronicles an Odyssey-like journey toward building your dream home and it’s clear from the title that you wouldn’t do it again but would you ever sell the home and live elsewhere?

I already have my eye on a Spanish Mission style house that sits within eyesight of the ‘dream house’ that took us seven years to build. Its an original Richard Requa (architect and builder) home and one of the few that he built when he redesigned the town of Ojai in the 1920’s after a wild fire burned much of it to the ground. In fact it was the place that I originally spotted and wanted to buy and renovate when we came to town. Unfortunately it was already sold but, yes, I would be tempted to sell the ‘dream’ and buy the Requa, if it was available. It’s hard for me to resist an ‘original.’

2. Many people think of building their own home but wonder if they will be up to the task. What qualities do you think someone who wants to build their own home should possess?

A strong marriage for starters because there will be lots of decisions and lots of strain. Lots of extra cash is next, because the project will inevitably run over budget with the changes and corrections that take place. Then the ability to work with all kinds of people, because between contractors, building inspectors, and banks, all kinds of people is what you are faced with. An eye for detail and the ability to not cross the boundary between friends and business; when it comes to firing someone who has not done the job correctly, its always harder if you’ve been out to lunch with him or her and shared your life stories. In summary, it takes perseverance, patience, firmness, a good judgement of people and the ability to ride the rough patches – like failed inspections and low bank balances – and the vision to create what you wanted in the first place.

3. In the book your relationships are often tested. What advice would you give a couple going through a major remodel or new build together?

Understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and respect each other’s decisions while allowing plenty of breathing room between nails. Several bottles of good wine also helps.

4. The real estate market has stabilized in recent months. Are you tempted to buy again as an investor?

I would love to if I had a penny left over from my last project. A small renovation would be ideal, with the potential of a rental income.

5. The contractors and various subcontractors in your book are all rather interesting characters. What do you think it is about the home building business that attracts such unique personalities?

There were lots of cowboys, meaning people who,claimed they could do things that they actually could not, and me, not knowing the various trades in depth – like the difference between a finish carpenter and a framer -believed them. I think the building trades attract some of these people, who prey on the ignorance of the owner-builder. They may be characters and they may be full of jokes, promises and fun, but when you end up thousands of dollars in the hole and have a half-finished ‘masterpiece’ they become much less interesting and a lot more infuriating. Still, it makes for a great story.

Having said that, there were also lots of great characters who actually knew what they were doing and did not take advantage of our relative ignorance and a few who actually watched out for us. I believe the building trades also draw a lot of hard working independent spirits, men and women who are disciplined enough to be their own bosses and can be relied upon to get their work done on time and on budget. The trick is separating the good guys from the cowboys. They are all interesting people, but for very different reasons.

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