Once their daughter went off to college, Hanako Yanagi and Rick Wolff decided to relocate to Wine Country. Within days of looking, they signed a lease and moved in.
But they really needed to sell their Willows home, where they'd lived since 1995. Over the years they had replaced the original 1945 windows, added pavers to the driveway and entryway and worked on the landscaping.
The house needed a lot more than paint to create curb appeal. Their Realtor, Doug Willbanks, with Coldwell Banker, Menlo Park, advised them to spruce up before putting the house on the market. His comparison-sales numbers convinced them that they could get closer to $1 million than the mid-$800,000s that an "as is" sale could produce.
They signed their Sonoma lease in February, knowing they'd need to list their Menlo Park home in the spring. But they were no strangers to renovations. Only recently they had completed a total re-do of their Northstar condo at Lake Tahoe.
After getting bids of close to $100,000 from five contractors, they settled on Scott McDaniel from Sparks, Nev., who delivered the job for less than $40,000.
But would he come to California?
"In construction you have to be willing to travel. If work is slow and there's several weeks of work in Menlo Park, why not go?" was McDaniel's response.
McDaniel arrived with co-worker Kenny Dargert, whose expertise is in granite and marble fabrication. He ordered custom cabinets from a colleague in Reno and trucked them back after a trip home.
The men worked 10 to 12 hours a day, completing the fully permitted work in seven weeks and under budget. They mostly slept in the house, moving out to a box van briefly when they lacked plumbing. Between the backyard barbecue and the microwave, they were able to prepare most meals on site.
"It's easy to live nowadays," McDaniel said, and not having to go to a motel saved money.
Besides the price, the couple had enormous confidence in their work, admiring both their craftsmanship and their work ethic.
"They're not juggling five jobs. They stay here until it's done. Their toughest critic is themselves," Yanagi said.
McDaniel and Dargert, and a third painter, enjoyed the work so much they're planning to start doing business as Three Guys from Reno.
The "Three Guys" imported more than brawn. It was their idea to replace the old red-brick fireplace surround with a new wooden mantel and travertine marble.
"There's not a stitch of vinyl or carpet to be seen," Willbanks said, pointing to the newly refinished floors.
The focus of the renovation was on updating the kitchen and the sole bathroom. They gutted the old kitchen, brought in custom-made cabinets to maximize storage (and include soft-close roll-out drawers) and added halogen lighting under the upper cabinets.
It was Willbanks who located the package of GE Profile stainless-steel appliances at Airport Appliance in Redwood City that included a double-door refrigerator with a bottom, roll-out freezer.
Not everything went smoothly.
When the men removed the old floor in the kitchen, they found the subfloor inadequate to support the new travertine tile squares. So they built a new subfloor.
Colors in the home create a soft palette, with the beige travertine repeated in the kitchen and bathroom flooring, as well as the living room mantel. The counter is granite, with a basketweave travertine backsplash from Chic Tile in Redwood City.
Special touches in the bathroom include a porcelain vanity atop a wooden cabinet, soft-close drawers and bright xenon lighting that meets environmental standards.
In general, McDaniel said, the house was in pretty good shape, with seismic improvements already made.
On March 31, the stagers arrived with everything from furniture to designer touches. Vivian Chen, from One Two Six Design in Mountain View, met early on with the owners and Willbanks and actively participated in choosing colors, counter-top material and even window coverings.
"Our biggest challenge was how to maximize space and make it look bigger and brighter, to attract the first-time homebuyer," Chen said.
She offered a soft gray that complemented the slate on the porch and the pavers in the driveway.
Inside they agreed on Navajo white, "playing safe" because the space is small.
"We didn't want to use stronger colors (which would) make the space look smaller, but we wanted it bright," she added.
For the master bedroom, she chose silver sage but punched it up with lime-green accents.
Chen drew upon the contents of her 14,000-square-foot warehouse in Mountain View to furnish the house. She typically rents furnishings for a month, with an extra two weeks thrown in. "Ninety percent of houses are sold within six weeks in the springtime," she said.
The 1,090-square-foot home on a 5,005-square-foot lot at 316 McKendry Drive was posted on the Multiple Listing Service on April 6, asking $983,595 the average price for five homes that sold since January 2010 within a quarter mile, Willbanks said.
The first open house, on Sunday, April 17, drew 50 groups of viewers and three requests for disclosure packets. At press time, there were no offers, Willbanks said.
As for Wolff and Yanagi, after two months in Wine Country, they're starting to think about their next step.
"We might get a house and redo it," Yanagi said.
"Or build a house with these two guys," Wolff said.
"Absolutely," she added.