I guess when we decided to build/buy a house in Poland, we didn’t realize exactly what we were getting into. We bought a house in the raw developer’s state so stan surowy zamknięty. What that means is that the house was built, there were walls, windows and such but nothing else. That sounds pretty easy, right? I mean the hard part was done wasn’t it? Hah or so we thought.
The first question is why a house? You can buy a cool apartment in the city center and live close to everything and have old wood floors inside, great atmosphere, etc. But where we live those kinds of apartments cost about 400-500,000 zl, so we figured a house would be a similar price. That’s not true of course, but at least you have a garden and land which is yours. Also, we didn’t want to live in a nice apartment but surrounded by creepy people who would never pay to renovate the building or might get drunk in the stairway. Let’s be honest, in an apartment you never know who you’ll be living near. So a house seemed to be the most reasonable decision for us in that respect.
Anyway, we finished our house in about one year after the purchase, which put a huge strain on us and probably resulted in shortening our lives by about 5 years or so. Many people give themselves more time, like 5 or 6 years, but renting and paying a mortgage is pretty shitty so we tried to finish as soon we possible. Just to make it liveable and to move in. Here were the most difficult parts of our experience and a couple good ones.
Decisions. This has nothing to do with living in Poland but holy shit there are a lot of decisions to be made when even finishing a house. I thought it would be simpler but there are tiles to choose, types of wood, design of the kitchen, which appliances, which fucking lamps. Jesus it’s a nightmare. I was so sick of it (my husband more so because let’s be honest he arranged everything and I just made the decisions) that I didn’t really like living in the house for a while. All your regrets and bad decisions just staring you in the face all the time. But now I’m feeling better and I don’t see all those little errors as much as in the beginning.
Everything in Polish. Obviously everyone who worked on our house, including construction workers and architects, were Polish. That means I had to speak with the workers – I often work at home – ask them to do things, know all the words for things in the house in Polish that I don’t even know in English, etc. It’s funny because there are still things I don’t know in English like wylewka, poszlifować and I’m never sure if tynk is dry wall and karton gips is plaster or vice versa. There are like also three words for sink – umywalka, zlew, and the strangest zlewozmywak. Baseboards have two words – listwy and cokoły. Tiles are kafle, kafelki, or płytki. Sofa is sofa, kanapa (not kanapka, as I’ve learned the hard way), or wersalka. People think English has too many words. Anyway, now I’m an expert. But, as a result, we just always use the Polish words but house things when we talk to each other e.g. “Can you clean the szuflady?” or “The blat has another stain on it”. Something like that.
Workers. Ok so I think workers are probably unreliable in most countries. My parents said it’s hard to find someone good in the States too BUT. The weirdest thing for me is that it seems to be just accepted by everyone that many construction workers drink. That’s something I can’t understand. Granted, not all of them drink. In fact I think the guys who worked inside our house didn’t drink but they weren’t very good anyway. Funnily enough, the guys who worked outside like on the driveway did drink and they did a rather good job. Strange, but true. At least they threw the cans in our recycling bin. That’s actually the only way I knew they were drinking. Essentially though, if you’re planning to do any kind of renovation, finding good workers is the most important element. Otherwise, they’re going to fuck up everything – which leads me to…
Fuck ups. I know this happens to everyone who builds a house/does a renovation but holy mother. We were sent the wrong wood for the floors and then it turned out the company was going bankrupt and wouldn’t be sending us the correct wood so we had to find and order new wood in 3 days. Then they sent the wrong doors and I only noticed when they were already installed. One toilet was cracked. Half the tiles for the downstairs floor were defective. We ordered our stairs in March and got them in September and just got the handrail at the end of December. Our concrete kitchen counter (blat) had to be redone twice. We finished our upstairs bathroom – tile, everything – and then it turned out the hot water didn’t work. So we had to cut the tiles and fix the pipe after the fact. The fireplace was finished only to realize they had forgotten about the vent for air and had to completely rebuild it. Our initial electric work was bungled so badly that we had to bring in another electrician for 4 days to figure out the idea of the original electrician who, get this, DIED and therefore his concept with him. And the list goes on. We never thought we would experience the number of problems that we did. But there were some good things too.
Your best hope for survival:
Architects. I would highly recommend hiring someone to help you make the decisions. There are so many things you just don’t know about – how things work, what the best material would be, who good specialists are, where to buy nice materials, how to match things together – it’s much harder than it seems. A good architect will be costly, but overall will make your place beautiful, functional, and long-lasting.
Good specialists. A great carpenter and a good handyman generally were two things that saved us. We have a lot of wood elements in our house and our carpenter did a kick ass job. We also have one handyman who worked efficiently, was nice looking and arrived on time – what a concept. I’d say almost all the others were just tragic. They showed up when they felt like it, did the work poorly and were generally a bit odd. The only way to find someone good is to get recommendations from people so ask around as much as possible.
I know many people like the idea of living in a house but the point is if you’re thinking about whether you’d like to live in one, consider whether you’d like to put yourself through that hell. Is it really worth it? I’m not sure. Basically you can’t avoid doing renovations because it’s rare to find a place you’d like to live that doesn’t need fixing up but perhaps a flat would take less time to renovate and be less of a pain in the ass.