李文-Palo Alto独立屋建房日记

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My Diary

Almost every day for over 20 years I’ve searched real estate listings and “homes for sale” advertisements, but I was not able to find my own “dream house”. My long constant involvement with homes for sale has given me a very good understanding of what is important to both myself and home buyers. Hopefully my diary will help others decide if they want to try to build their “new dream home” or search through real estate listings for the best home for them.


November 2009

  • Moved in just before Thanksgiving and celebrated
  • City workers were very helpful: worked overtime to install gas meter and turn on gas just before Thanksgiving


October 2009

  • Finishing touches


August 2009

  • Installation of driveway and front walk pavers begun
  • Install lighting fixtures
  • Stair railing


July 2009

  • Ripped out family room fireplace after no success getting vendor to fix his mistakes and poor workmanship
  • Talked again with a different fireplace company – it will take them 6 weeks.
  • Found distant fireplace vendor with promising design, who says it could probably be built and shipped in 3 weeks.
  • Master bath shower installed
  • Driveway prepared for paver installation


June 2009

  • Family room fireplace vendor’s work is a huge disappointment. Poorly cut, unevenly installed, cracking mortar within the first week, gas control access door blocked by hearth.
  • Installed faucets and bathroom sinks. Found I had overlooked some pieces for my powder room. My contractor’s recommended plumbing store came through superbly as always.
  • Received door hardware and installed interior door knob sets.
  • Custom hardwood carpentry in living room and dining room nearly complete
  • Followed up on another recommendation for driveway paver installer.
  • Had a recommended landscape designer come to my house. She drew up some very promising landscape plans while at the site.


May 2009

  • Varnish doors
  • Interior paint: first molding, next walls
  • Master bathroom tile must be protected from paint
  • Overlooked exterior lights, had to cut hole in ceiling to add wiring
  • Visited local lock shop to choose door knobs and locks. Owner (~30 years in business) was very helpful.
  • Replacement kitchen hood expected first week of June
  • Finish carpenter began work on Sapele molding and fireplace for living room


April 2009

  • Stone counter tops
  • Gremlins create significant setback – front of hood separated from sides
  • Painter put sample paint on walls several times (great guy). Finalized paint color choices.
  • Tile guy suggests using counter top stone for window sill
  • Talked with recommended vendor for family room fireplace surround and mantel. Alternatives seem too expensive.
  • My contractor got the fireplace vendor to come out and resolve the problems with the living room fireplace, but the vendor’s service guy did not come when promised. Serviceman came later, when no one could meet him, and remounted the firebox but did not center it.
  • Trying to pick out interior lights. Place order for living room lights but store came back a week later and told me they were no longer available.
  • Hired local finish carpenter and have him buy sapele molding and wood panels from the local custom mill.
  • Hired custom shower vendor after making a few small modifications to their drawings.


March 2009

  • Driveway arbors and porch railing installed
  • Missing interior doors arrived.
  • Trying to get firebox for living room centered in frame.
  • Found local custom fireplace mantel and surround shop. They seem like they would be excellent for the fireplace and could also do hardwood wainscot. Also found a local finish carpenter who seems better able to handle the work that will be required beyond just the fireplace.
  • Talked with shower custom shower vendor. Received a drawing from them for the master bedroom shower.
  • Kitchen counter tops installed
  • Reported some problems with windows to my window salesman. He quickly contacted the window manufacturer. The manufacturer wanted to have all of the work done in one visit which could not be done soon. Salesman got them to come out and solve urgent problems so interior painting would not be held up.
  • Stone siding and travertine porch tiles completed


February 2009

  • Wrong stone delivered for siding. The store is very responsive.
  • Trying to find wood to match that used in living room and dining room windows. My window salesman was very helpful and found out they were built using Sapele. He also gave me the name of a wood mill to talk to.
  • After two weeks of internet searches and following up on recommendations, I found a local small businessman who runs a custom mill. He should be an excellent source for molding and other hardwood pieces. The carpenters he recommended are too busy to do the work.
  • Followed up on recommendation for driveway paver installer/vendor. The cost seems higher than it is worth to me. Looking for alternatives.
  • Hardwood floors installed


January 2009


  • Paint exterior of house
  • Prime interior
  • Slate roof – many slate tiles broken during shipment but roofer was prepared, so no delays
  • Install interior doors – forgot to order a pair of doors for a closet
  • Underground utilities
  • Very concerned about how timely and completely our interior designer will provide needed information to my builder.
  • Picked out stone veneer siding
  • Found a stone counter top fabricator who seems to stand out above the others with his knowledge and commitment to guide me with solid information.


December 2008

  • Drywall installation
  • Tyvek wrap
  • Rain gutters
  • Install wood siding
  • Prepare walls for rock siding – moisture barrier, mortar and wire
  • Going to follow appliance distributor and several vendors recommendation to not use a remote blower with a Vent-A-Hood liner/fan.
  • Resolve wood versus stone work-surface for living room cabinet
    • Cabinet vendor cannot supply single piece wood top of the needed shape
    • Interior designer says wood is the best choice
  • Talk to carpenter to get custom hardwood mantel for living room fireplace
  • Expected interior doors but manufacturer says delivery will be after the first of the new year.
  • Using recommended floor installer, visit SF supplier for hardwood


November 2008

  • Order major appliances
  • Kitchen cabinet delivery expected
  • Still trying to resolve kitchen hood liner recommendations and size
  • Appliance distributor and several vendors recommend not using a remote blower with a Vent-A-Hood liner/fan.
  • Found good interior doors searching internet, local vendor seems to be good company to work with, placed order
  • General contractor provided recommendation for hardwood floor installer
  • Visited several tile shops. Found a couple tile murals which I love. I’m going to have one installed in my kitchen, the other in my entryway.
  • Talked with several stone counter top fabricators. Trying to think through options and recommendations.

October 2008

  • All windows have been installed
  • Bathroom fans
  • Wiring for lighting and recessed canister lights
  • Trying to find an affordable way to have hardwood wainscot in the living room
  • Trying to resolve standard kitchen hood size with desired range and resolve hood liner/fan recommendations
  • Looking for interior doors
  • Decided to commit to a slate roof. Picked the color of the slate.
  • A friend showed me the master bathroom tile work she had done. It was beautiful. I’m going to use the same type of basket weave floor tile for my master bath.

September 2008


  • Windows are being installed
  • Rough plumbing, including valves
  • Roof plywood sheathing complete
  • Begin working with chosen cabinet supplier
  • Visited a couple San Jose stone slab vendors and picked out some stone slabs I want for my kitchen counters.

August 2008

  • Heating/cooling ducts about to be installed
  • Dining room tray ceiling looks promising
  • Considering alternatives for coffered living room ceiling
  • Inspector has questions about notched garage beams –
    Contacted architect, he reviewed construction and provided letter for city stating that the notched beams are fine.
  • Framing fireplaces – trying to work out design details
  • Visit Purcell Murray to look at appliances
  • Decide where any TV sets will be located so that cable can be placed
  • Begin talking with kitchen cabinet vendors


July 2008

  • July 30: Visit plumbing store
  • July 29: Visit plumbing store
  • July 28: Living room covered ceiling beams
  • July 27: Garage rafters up
  • July 23: Rear upstairs bedroom roof sheathing nearly done
  • July 23: Family room skylights will be shaded by loft
  • July 22: Upstairs hallway rafters
  • July 21: Rear upstairs bedroom rafters put up
  • July 19: Entry way roof sheathed
  • July 19: Living room roof sheathed
  • July 17: Crew chief discusses ceiling options for front porch
  • July 17: Front porch roof sheathed
  • July 16: Front porch rafters up
  • July 14: Living room rafters nearly finished
  • July 14: Get answers from architect regarding coffered ceiling in living room
  • July 11: Living room rafters going up
  • July 9: Rear upstairs bedroom rafters up
  • July 7: Crew chief solved minor issue with eave blocking a window
  • July 7: Changes to powder room sink & door
  • July 3: First roof beam and rafters up


June 2008

The most visible rapid changes began taking place this month. After the floor joists were installed approximately a week was spent installing the under floor pipes and ducts. When the city inspector came out he said that it was a very good job and that he would buy the house. He also noticed and was pleased that the construction crew placed empty plastic water bottles over long anchor bolts protruding up from the foundation as a safety precaution.


After the inspection, the flooring and framing took off at a rapid pace. Probably the biggest surprise was how much effort was spent reviewing the windows. The architect’s drawings don’t completely specify the windows. The construction crew chief really showed his experience by asking questions early so that construction kept racing on while the issues were resolved. He also spotted other issues such as not enough space for a light switch between a door and a window. The builder and his crew are doing an amazing job keeping the project constantly moving ahead, spotting issues that need to be resolved, and advising us about details so that we can decide.


May 2008

  • May 30: Talked with city electric inspector
  • May 29: Mud sills and floor joists partially installed
  • May 27: Talked with city sewer inspector
  • May 23: Neighbor “joked” about trying to stop construction.
  • May 22: Foundation poured
  • May 21: Trying to get sewer & underground electric information from city
  • May 21: Foundation forms inspected
  • May 20: Met city inspector & tree arborist.
  • May 20: Meet with architect to review foundation forms
  • May 19: Building foundation forms underway
  • May 16: Need letter from survey engineer certifying foundation framing location
  • May 16: Foundation framing begun
  • May 15: Begin digging trenches for foundation
  • May 14: Lot ready for construction
  • May 13: Hole from old partial basement filled in, soil engineer performs test during fill
  • May 12: Lea & Braze survey the lot and place markers for the foundation
  • May 8: Demolition debris hauled away
  • May 7: Demolition debris hauled away
  • May 6: Plans dropped off to Lea & Braze who will perform survey
  • May 6: House demolished
  • May 5: Garage demolished
  • May 4: Lea & Braze survey lot in preparation for grading
  • May 1: Pre-demolition inspection passed


April 2008

  • April 28: Demolition permit ready to issue
  • April 24: All city departments have signed their approval for my house plans
  • Conference call with plan checker and architect – the line showing the two halves of a casement window was inadvertently deleted, the plan checker decided this was a change from the previously reviewed plans.
  • April 21: I am also trying to contact plan checker to understand objection
  • April 17: Architect attempting to resolve plan checker’s objection to windows
  • April 10: Temporary power pole installed, sewer capped, temporary water connection set up

Temporary fencing is installed around the property and around the two redwood trees. The electric power, gas, water, and sewer are disconnected. A temporary electric power pole and a water faucet have been installed to help both demolition and construction.

March 2008

  • City reviewing plans
  • March 19: Structural engineer wants changes addressing problems identified

January 2008

  • Jan 8: Revise master bedroom fireplace
  • Jan 4: Architect reviewed favored contractor’s bid and provided us with a few words of caution

December 2007

  • Questions sent to favored contractor about his bid.

October 2007

  • Visiting plumbing fixture vendors
  • Visiting kitchen cabinet vendors
  • Reviewing windows and skylights

August 2007

  • I discovered a great opportunity to work with a new broker. I’m moving my office and putting my house plans on temporary hold.
  • Aug 3: Details of soffit ceiling, crown molding, and window height
  • Aug 2: Move living room fireplace, shorten master bedroom french doors to provide room for corner fireplace

July 2007

  • July 31: Interior designers recommendation for built in cabinets
  • July 24: Reviewing ceiling height and windows
  • July 13: Review contractor questions so he can prepare a bid
  • July 10: Review ceiling height and windows
  • July 7: Send kitchen revisions to interior designer
  • July 3: Obtained quote for house windows

June 2007

  • June 20: Complete plans submitted to the city building departments
  • June 9: Revise master bath, add attic access for storage, add trellis over driveway
  • June 6: Revising windows, move front door – architect was ready to submit plans
  • June 5: Notify architect we want to go with light weight slate roof

May 2007

  • May 29: Received information from Tru-Slate (brand of light weight slate roof) with addresses of past customers.
  • May 25: Target date to submit plans to city
  • May 24: Trying to decide on roof material

April 2007

  • April 17: Received roofing material recommendation from architect

March 2007

  • March 29: Architect found out the next door neighbor filed a last minute complaint claiming
  1. The house is too long and takes up too much of the lot
  2. The upstairs windows create a privacy problem for his back yard
  3. The upstairs would block the sunlight from reaching his yard
  4. The upstairs is too close to the property line

The plans met all of the city requirements but he can appeal if the city approves the plans causing a rather lengthy delay. He has a older two-story house with quite a few windows facing my yard. My architect suggests we move windows.

February 2007

  • Feb 27: Architect submits plans to the city. Sign posted on property notifying neighbors they can go to the planning office to review the plans.
  • Feb 21: Architect meets with city to review new plans
  • Feb 15: Receive proposal from new civil engineer.
  • Feb 13: Begin discussing our house plans with the neighbors
  • Feb 5: Civil engineer created unpleasant disagreement with architect. Looking for new civil engineer.
  • Feb 5: Sent revisions to architect: moved stairs, increased size of master bedroom walk-in closet, straightened wall in front of garage.
  • Feb 2: City indicated they would not support a request for a variance for the garage location. Received sketch of new floor plan moving living room to the right side of the house, obscuring the view of the garage from the street

Moving the garage back from the front of the house has resulted in a nice courtyard. I actually like the revised plans more than the original. The garage is behind the living room with a driveway curving around the living room and then heading into the garage. The driveway will be like a patio behind the living room and to the side of the dining room and kitchen. It will be a nice semi-private area that provides open space near my “public” rooms.

I also met and talked to one of my neighbors. He was reluctant to provide a written statement that he had seen my plans and approves of them. He also asked if it wasn’t my understanding that since I was not asking for any variances, that he would not be able to object to anything anyway. Actually, I think we both feel the new house will be a positive step.

January 2007

  • Jan 31: Alternatives: detached garage, move garage so that its front is 46′ from the street, apply for variance
  • Jan 31: City said that since the other two houses on the block did not have a garage at the front, I couldn’t.
  • Jan 31: Architect met with city to review proposed house plans
  • Architect submitted the proposed house plan to the city for review
  • Jan 8: Met with tree arborist to discuss the two large redwood trees
  • Jan 8: Moving around paper models helped discover some changes to the master bath which allow the master bedroom closet to be larger

December 2006

  • Dec 22: Architect came up with an interesting idea to have the kitchen turned 45 degrees relative to the rest of the house. This was done to break up the long, somewhat narrow, floor plan
  • Dec 17: Told architect about house at corner of Yale & College which we found to be quite attractive. Contrast between bright white wood porch and trim contrasted nicely with gray walls.

November 2006

  • Create lists of desired features
  • Architect prepared 3 conceptual plans. Each plan has tried to meet my goals in a different way. We’ve met and talked over the strengths and shortcomings of each of the concepts. He has begun creating detailed plans based on “Plan B”.

October 2006

  • Oct 27: Received architect’s revised contract
  • Oct 25: Received list of architect’s recommended contractors
  • Oct 18: Architect emailed proposed contract to me
  • Oct 16: Wish list sent to architect
  • Oct 12: Worked with interior designer and moved paper models around to come up with basic floor plans. Initial design has garage at front of house with a large courtyard alongside of it. The living room looks out on the courtyard.

September 2006

  • House design wish list for architect prepared
  • September 28: I met with architect John Barton to see if we could work together to design a new house for me at 250 Palo Alto Ave. He immediately responded to my questions with promising ideas.
  • Interviewing architects.
  • My lot is only 50′ wide, the house will have to be quite narrow if the garage is at the rear of the lot.

My Dream Takes Focus

I’ve dreamed of living downtown for many years. Finally in 2005 I found a solid beginning. A 90 year old home with vinyl siding, a brick front yard, a dilapidated garage, and two huge redwood trees. This house was probably quite a dream home when it was built … but not in the way Filoli or Villa Montalvo were. It was solid little 2 bedroom, 1 bath home with a nice living room looking out on San Francisquito Creek. The house appears to have been cherished, having several small renovations performed. A third bedroom was added at the rear of the house. Probably it had redwood siding which had been stripped off, styrofoam insulation added, then vinyl siding put on.


I’ve owned property in Palo Alto for over 20 years. Although each home I’ve bought has been special in some ways, I’ve never owned a house that meets my business needs. I’ve owned and lived in two different homes having a detached cottage. A cottage helped me keep my business well separated from my personal living space, but I spend much of my time at home working. A detached cottage is not ideal for me. None of the homes I’ve owned have been very attractive from the street.

I strongly believe in owning real estate both for my own living and as investments. Over the years I have been fortunate to purchase properties which I felt were unique and offered some hard to find features such as a large lot size. Ten years ago I hired an architect to create plans and even began notifying neighbors as part of the approval process. That effort came to a halt after about one year and $20,000 of expenses.

I’ve reached a point where I’m ready to start building a new home in Palo Alto on property which I’ve owned for several years.

My Goals:

  1. Very attractive.
  2. Large home office which can be kept neat.
  3. Personal living area near my home office but out of view.
  4. Three bedrooms plus two and a half baths. (or more)
  5. Blend outdoor and indoor areas to provide a pleasant and inviting home.