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Taking Granite for Granted – Lesson Five

HEADING TO HEATH: TAKING GRANITE FOR GRANTED – LESSON FIVE

Almost Paradise

The granite situation had been so dire, I’d postponed my hair appointment.  Now I don’t get my hair done every week like my mom used to.  For her it was a  Friday morning thing she did come hell or high water.  I’m not kidding about the high water part, but hell might have at least made her reschedule for later in the day. I go about once every six weeks and the last three days of that six weeks are painful, but for once I moved the appointment.

It was only a one day postponement.  I decided the appointment would become the first thing on a long list of things I’d been putting off.  Not hard things, not frivolous things, just things like taking the dry cleaning and using a good coupon or two.  Bill added an item or two to the list, like checking on the house.

Not Quite Paradise

I soon figured out that while I was getting the hair on my head sorted out, the granite picture had skewed once more.  I started getting calls from Bill that were quite unpleasant.  After the granite people measured the cabinets, Bill went to their office to approve the overlay for cutting the granite.  Unfortunately, MaryCarmen had been wrong.  After they measured everything was not OK.  The price had changed.  There was a little bit for this and a little bit for that and all of a sudden the granite was out of our budget AGAIN!

To the Slab Yards Again!

The next day we were back at the slab yards.  This time we didn’t even go to IMC.  We just parked at Levantina.  We’d seen a few slabs there we could afford, even if we didn’t love them.  Bill liked one called Black Magma better than I did, but we were pretty desperate.

Here’s the thing with Bill.  It’s not enough for him to observe that something is wrong.  He has an insatiable desire to fix it.  Since we’d been earnestly shopping for granite for months with no success, there was obviously something seriously wrong with the system.  He’d been trying to fix it ever since MSI wouldn’t give him even a hint of what he might be able to afford. At Levantina he finally found someone who was willing to talk to him about it – John Mitchell the GM.  John completely agreed with Bill about everything that’s wrong with the system.  Along the way, we got an education in the slab business, most of which we’d already earned on our on, but we didn’t find any granite.

After our re-education, we got serious about the Black Magma, but wouldn’t you know it, it was on reserve!  Completely frantic, we started visiting everything that even looked like it had granite.  It was late on a Friday but we were desperate.  We’re talking a converted car repair shop on Harry Hines where they had a few slabs.  A floor shop on I-35 with a few slabs out back.  Some places we just scoped out for a closer look on Saturday.  Others we went in just to cross them off our list.

Come Saturday Morning

We woke up determined to find a slab no matter what!  We went back to the Levantina area and visited some of the smaller players in the area.  Louisiana Stone: Lots of slabs displayed willy nilly in the library style, nothing to give a hint of the price.  We marked it off the list.  Lackstone:  smaller collection, but displayed beautifully.  We found a contender called San Luiz, but our fabricator couldn’t give us a price.  EXPO Stones:  Lots of selection, but nothing anywhere as pretty as other things we’d loved.

We went to Lackstone to give the San Luiz another look.  Then we sat in the car trying to decide whether we should reserve it or not.  That’s when the phone rang.  An ecstatic MaryCarmen called to let us know “for this moment only”they were willing to mark down the granite to meet our budget.  Bill wouldn’t give her an answer.  He hung up and we pow-wowed.  Verona – nothing.  IMC – nothing.  MSI – never again.  Levantina – reserved and I wasn’t crazy about it.  Lousiana Stone – nothing.  EXPO – nothing.

Who were we kidding?  We went back to MaryCarmen and took her up on her offer.  Were we through?  Look into my eyes!  I am honest and Lesson Six is coming!

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Taking Granite for Granted – Lesson Four

HEADING TO HEATH:TAKING GRANITE FOR GRANTED – LESSON 4

How Much Did You Say?

You’ve only been waiting for a week, but we waited several weeks before hearing exactly how much our granite would cost.  When we did we couldn’t believe it.  At first, our contractor assumed someone had measured wrong.  But no, the ridiculous number the fabricator quoted was actually what he expected for us to pay.

Now the kitchen wasn’t the only slab we were dealing with.  When we picked out the Blue Fire, we’d picked out Carrera marble for the master bath.  We’d gone through several surfaces in the Jack and Jill baths, but pretty much landed on some remnants of something we saw at our fabricators.  Thankfully, in the other places with counters, we were using furniture with the top already attached.When we discovered that Blue Fire was completely out of our reach it was back to the granite slab yards.

Back to the Yards

I’ve got to tell you that inventory or no inventory, Verona has been the nicest most cooperative slab dealer we’ve dealt with.  Unfortunately, another visit didn’t turn up anything we hadn’t already seen and rejected.  They had something they were calling Lapidus in the Value aisle, but it didn’t approach the Lapidus Juniperious we’d seen the first time we were there.  We almost settled for Golden Crystal, but it was all reserved.

IMC didn’t take long.  Now that we knew H meant TOO HIGH for us, all it took was one walk-through to figure out that L meant LOATHSOME and M stood for MEDIOCRE.  So we went back to Levantina.

After not finding exactly what we wanted there, we decided to visit a granite fabricator we’d talked to during a remodel we were working on.  The skies opened and a light shown on a gorgeous piece of Lapidus Granite.  They quoted us a price we could live with and we thought our troubles were over.  There was the little problem of language, however.

I’m slow, but I’ve learned to stay out of the way when Bill is negotiating.  I sat on a sofa playing with my phone while Bill tried to massage the price he’d been quoted on the granite.  However it was pretty humorous.  Bill used all his best negotiating points and MaryCarmen of Texas Granite was having none of it.  That failing, he started nailing down the details of the bid.  Trying to pin down MaryCarmen was like herding cats.  Whatever he asked, MaryCarmen ‘splained, “Do not worry.  This is only the bid.  Tomorrow we measure and everything will be OK. You will see.”

When Bill posed a different sort of question, he offended MaryCarmen who snapped back, “Look into my eyes! I am honest!”  At that point I nearly fell off the couch laughing, but I maintained my composure somehow.  In the end, Bill scheduled a time for them to measure the kitchen and we went to celebrate…a little prematurely I’m afraid.  Lesson Five is next week.  “Look into my eyes!”

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Taking Granite for Granted – Lesson Three

HEADING TO HEATH: TAKING GRANITE FOR GRANTED – LESSON 3

Lots of Lessons to Learn When Building

I need to let you know something.  I may be the one who is telling you all about this build, but I’m not the driving force behind it.  I’d like to hear a round of applause for my husband.

When it came to finding the lot in Heath, I think I can honestly say I was the one making things happen.  Once Bill said we were going to move, I devoted all my time to finding the right property and then to getting our house on Squaw Valley sold.  Then I handed the baton to Bill.

He’s been the one who has made the design come together, negotiated the contract for the build and then he’s really been the one managing the build.  Whittle & Johnson has been building homes for a long time, but custom building homes for individuals has not been something they’ve done a lot of.  They specialize in building spec homes for the Whittle Development Co.  Of course, after going through our build, they may be ready for anything.  Then again, they may just go back to building spec homes.  It’s been rough.

Back to the Granite Grind

So, once the cabinets were scheduled for installation, we had to find some countertops or the whole build was going to get behind schedule.  Bill had been watching for slabs online, he’d been calling around and he’d been talking about getting out there to look around again.

The day came for looking, albeit a chilly one.  Verona didn’t have anything new, so we started at a place called IMC.  The good news was that their marble was inside.  The bad news was that they kept the doors open, so it was just as cold inside as it was out.

Their version of the price game was L,M,H,H+ and E.  The E was for exotic – or don’t EVEN think about it.  As I mentioned before, Bill is magnetically attracted to exotic marble.  He gave up on so many loves that morning that you had to feel sorry for him.  Every other slab he loved was E, the rest were H+, as in HIGH PLUS!!

Next door was Levantina.  They played another version of the price game.  You go pick stuff out and then they will tell you if it is low, medium or high.  That was marginally better than MSI, but not by much.

Can We Move Something for You?

Here’s something else you hear a lot of at slab yards.  Slabs are displayed in one of two ways.  One way lets you see an entire slab of granite or marble.  The other way is more like books on a shelf with some strategically placed spaces for you to peer down the length of the slab.  Needless to say, seeing the whole slab is much to be preferred.  So the slab employees are constantly asking, “Can we move something for you?”

Our friends at Verona used a mixture of the two methods.  To MSI’s credit, they show the full slabs, with a plaque which shows the name of the type of stone and the country of origin.  IMC goes one better – showing slab and type as well as the price game designation.  Levantina uses the library book method.

No matter what method is used, most people need more than one slab and they like to see all the slabs they are going to get.  That’s why, even when you can see whole slabs, you might need some slabs moved.  When slabs are displayed with the library book method, that’s the only way you’re going to get an idea of what you’re looking at.  Don’t worry though.  They have really cool machines to move the slabs with and I think they actually enjoy doing it.  Beats having a real job, I guess.

In Love With Blue Fire 

We spent the day going back and forth between IMC and Levantina.  There were dramas and frustrations, but we found what we thought we wanted.  Blue Fire Granite is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life.  It was categorized as an H, which concerned us, but the salesperson told us it was reasonable.  In fact, it was at the lowest level of the H category.  That couldn’t be too bad could it?  Find out next week.

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Granite Interruptted

The Masons Begin

The Masons Begin

HEADING TO HEATH: GRANITE BEFORE THE STORM

Nothing on a building site happens in a vacuum.  While we were shopping for the elusive granite slab of our dreams, we were also picking out brick and trying to find a vendor for the pre-finished cabinets we’d chosen for the kitchen.  (Cabinets – another long story I won’t go into right now.)

Holiday Interruptted

On a Saturday in late December, after our disappointing return visit to the granite slab yard, we were on our way to a holiday event with the family in Flower Mound.  Our fabricator had given us the names and addresses of some other slab yards to check out and one of them was sort of on the way to Flower Mound.

Now, what works for one person might not work for someone else and visa versa.  So, if you’re looking for granite or marble, don’t let me stop you from going to MSI over on Valley Branch Lane, but we won’t be going back.  Remember the price game I mentioned when I started talking about slabs.  Well, MSI ain’t playing.  Yes, the price game is irritating, but it’s better than a poke in the eye and that’s about all we got.

See, MSI won’t even tell you a price range, much less a price.  No ABC.  No 123.  No Low, Medium, High.  You just go in there, write down which slabs you like and they turn the list over to your fabricator.  One thing we’ve learned is that Bill naturally gravitates to the most expensive slabs in any slab yard.  Having him write down what he likes and then waiting to hear from a fabricator would just be an exercise in futility.  You have to say, “Bill, you can only look at X.”  Without that, we were wasting our time.

It Hit Us Like a Brick Wall

After wasting time at MSI, we continued the trek to Flower Mound.  We were discussing the cabinets, which we planned to look into after our family event.  The phone rang and it was the guy who is building next door to us in Heath.  “Uh Bill, I thought you said you were having some sort of pattern in your brick.”

Come to find out the masons had finished up with the job they were working and started bricking our house.  The only problem was that they’d never given us pricing for the work we wanted done.  Standard brick-laying was included, but we had some special treatments we wanted done – if we could afford it.  The whole issue of our cast stone was up in the air also.  The masons were laying on straight brick as if no cast stone or brick patterns were involved.  Our options were being walled-up you might say.

The next hour or so was filled with flurries of phone calls and text messages.  We wanted to enjoy our family get-together, especially since this was one of the only times we’d see some of them in a year, but it was hard with all the building issues we were handling.  Just about the time we were wrapping up the blind gift exchange a frantic Bill let me know we had to go – RIGHT THAT MINUTE.

GPS FAIL

By the time we got to the car, Bill was nearly hysterical.  Basically, we had a choice of paying either $750 or $2200 and either way we went about it, we wouldn’t get exactly what we’d wanted in the first place.  We also needed to get from Flower Mound to Grand Prairie for the cabinet appointment and we needed to get there fast.  Of course, as we madly drove south, communicating unsatisfactorily with our builder, that’s when we discovered that all that new road construction out by the airport isn’t on our latest GPS update.

Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty and it didn’t get any prettier.  To give our builder’s rep his due, he kept trying to convince us that everything was going to be OK.  The high point make that low point of the conversation was when he told me in order to make it right, if he had to, then he’d have them tear down every brick and start all over.

That was the wrong thing to say to me at that moment.The last thing I wanted was another delay and I was certain, whatever happened, I’d end up with another added expense.  Their favorite increment of add-on was about $300.  We were sitting at the desk of the cabinet vendor when I unloaded my angst on the builder’s rep.  It was not my finest moment of the build.

By necessity, granite fell several slots on the priority table that day.  A couple of weeks passed before we returned to the search for granite, but Lesson Three in Taking Granite for Granted will be next week.

 

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Taking Granite for Granted – Lesson Two

Carrara Shamara - show me the Granite!

Carrara Shamara – show me the Granite!

HEADING TO HEATH: TAKING GRANITE FOR GRANTED – LESSON 2

The Cold Bitter Truth

A slab yard in deep winter is a sad place.  All the good stuff is gone.  The folks at the slab yard were very nice and quite willing to stomp around the chilly yard with us as long as we wanted to, but the truth of the matter was, the yard was full of dogs – and I’m not talking the cute cuddly kind.  Oh, they still had some pretty slabs, but every thing good was either reserved (something I’ll tell you more about) or lone orphans too small on their own to do us much good.

There’s Inventory and Then Again, There’s Inventory

Slab yards have a phrase I hate:  “Keep an eye on our website.”  Trying to fall in love with a piece of granite online is like trying to kiss through a screen.  It just doesn’t do a thing for me.  Bill, bless his heart, can spend hours comparing slabs online.  I last about 90 seconds on a good day.  I just can’t extrapolate a tiny rectangle on the screen into a kitchen counter.  Let’s say that somehow you do manage to find a piece of granite you think you want.  Try calling the granite yard and see what happens.

That’s on Reserve

What you’ll usually hear when you ask about a piece of granite, in person or online, is, “That’s on reserve.”  Reserve is the magic thing you do between falling in love with a piece of granite and discovering you can’t afford it.  The slab yard puts it on reserve so they can tell your fabricator how much it costs and he can, in turn, work up his quote and give you sticker shock.  Before I was through with our granite procurement, I grew to hate “That’s on reserve.”

Reserve can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks.  Take our second visit to the slab yard, for instance.  We wandered around and found nothing that would work.  Oh, we saw orphans we loved, pieces we couldn’t afford and a lot of reserved pieces, but nothing that we could have in our kitchen.  In order to make us feel better they put some slabs on reserve for us.  Not that we understood what they were doing, because weeks later we discovered the four slabs, none of which we wanted, were still reserved for us.

That’s in Tulsa

On our second trip to the slab yard we discovered some of the slabs we were looking at online weren’t even in that slab yard.  Some of the slabs were actually pieces which had been purchased by the slab yard and were in transit.  When were they supposed to arrive?  Sometime in March?  That wasn’t helping us.  We needed our slabs in weeks, not months.

Big vendors, like Verona Marble, also put slabs out on consignment to other yards and those yards can be all over the place.  Sometimes that’s at a place across town.  Sometimes it’s far away.  Slabs in Tulsa weren’t doing me much good since I’m extrapolation-challenged, but that didn’t stop them from showing me a picture of them.

Just Walk Away Renee

So, at the end of the day, we sadly left the slab yard.  We were told to keep checking online. (Yeah, sure, I’ll get right on that.)  They put slabs on reserve for us.  Then we called the fabricator and got a list of other places to visit.  Come back next week and you can visit these other yards with us.

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Taking Granite for Granted – Lesson One

Eeeny Meany Miney Moe

Eeeny Meany Miney Moe

HEADING TO HEATH: TAKING GRANITE FOR GRANTED – LESSON 1

Next time you walk into someone’s kitchen and see a slab of granite on their countertop, don’t just walk past it.  Stop and admire it.  Your host and hostess will most likely puff up like you’ve complimented them on a grandchild.

Just in case you’re ever foolish enough to want to build your own house (something we’ll NEVER do again) then let me give you a primer on selecting granite.

First Loves in the Slab Yard

Back in the early days of our build when we were still blissfully unaware of all the headaches ahead, our builder told us to go on over to the granite place and pick out a slab.  They were a little premature.  Since we had no place to store the pair of slabs we’d need, the trip was pretty much in vain.  In fact, it left us with a misconceived assumption that later brought only heartache.

See, we went to the granite yard in September and they had what seemed like zillions of beautiful slabs.  We ASSUMED they always had that many slabs – not like we asked or anything.  It just seemed reasonable.  They were in the marble and granite slab business, so why wouldn’t they always have lots of marble and granite slabs.  We wrote “lapidus juniperious” and ‘carrera marble” in our notebooks and walked away.

The Price Game

We did learn one important thing on this first visit.  For the most part, granite yards are not going to tell you a price.  Their customer is your fabricator and the fabricator doesn’t want you to know what his mark-up is.  There are exceptions to that rule, of course, but none of the places our fabricator recommended were among the exceptions – and we inherited our fabricator from our contractor.

Instead of knowing actual prices, you play the price game.  At Verona Marble Company they had price levels 1,2,3 and on up, but we were told level three or the Verona Value slabs were our best bet in our price range.  Verona Value is truly a good deal if you can find what you want.

You know how show dogs have certain traits that make them winners.  The traits don’t necessarily make them a better dog pet-wise, but they do make a big difference in the arena.  Granite and marble are a lot like that.  When a professional buyer is looking for, let’s say, lapidarius, there are certain traits they expect to see when they go to the mining areas.

Now, just like the show dogs, there might be a perfectly beautiful, perfectly desirable piece of granite available that isn’t quite up to lapidarius standards, but when a buyer from a major slab yard asks for lapidarius, no granite miner in his right mind is going to pull out the second rate stuff.  I’m sure there are slab yards all over the place that make their living selling substandard slabs, but that’s why you want to be careful about who you buy from.  There’s nothing wrong with choosing a mutt, but no one should sell you a mutt when the price tag belongs on a purebred.

Verona takes the middle ground.  Much of what they have is the best of the best.  They truly have beautiful slabs, but some of those beautiful slabs are mutts and if they are mutts, then you get a bargain.  Other slab yards choose abc or some other scheme besides numerical grading, but the effects are the same.  You wander around the slab yard guess-timating whether or not you are going to be able to afford what you are falling in love with.

A Chilly Second Visit

By late December it seemed as if we were getting close enough to countertop time that we’d better revisit the slab yard – only it was a virtually empty slab yard.  No juniperious anything.  The lapidus wasn’t exactly right, either.  It was also very, very cold.  See, Verona Marble starts getting their shipments in early spring and when we visited them in September their inventory was at a peak.  The bad news is that they don’t get any shipments after that, so by December we were pretty much looking at leftovers.  If we did happen to like a slab, it was an orphan – the only one of its kind and not big enough to cover our footage.

That’s when our education really began.  Come back next week for Lesson Two in Taking Granite for Granted.

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