When the Jarhead and I finally found our first official ‘flip,’ we thought we knew exactly what to do. Avid fans of HGTV, we had the drill down pat:
Step 1: Demolition. I don’t think I have to explain this, but I will. It means for a few weeks you get to wreck stuff.
Step 2: Identify between 2 and 20 previously undisclosed and expensive issues that will severely disrupt the timeline for your project. Or greatly impact the budget. Or both.
Step 3: Agonize over those problems and their various implications. If necessary, discuss each problem at length—and preferably on camera for all the world to see—with the appropriate expert and/or your favorite therapist. You might try discussing them with your spouse or business partner, but only if you have no religious or moral objections to the concept of divorce, and don’t mind getting up close and personal with terms like division of assets.
Step 4: Devise a solution to the problem(s.) For most people, this means giving up some pricey element of the design (like, say, custom cabinets) in favor of a more economical one (such as stock cabinets) or giving up a luxury item (for example, that gold-plated coffered ceiling you’ve had your heart set on since 2011) in favor of a necessity (like, say, walls.) For others (like the folks on Flip or Flop) the answer is never to cut one or two custom and/or luxury items from the budget, but rather to ADD three or four more. That way buyers will be so blown away by what they see, they won’t even notice the ridiculous asking price.
Step 5: Put the house back together. Try to do this in the proper order, if possible. For example, it’s best to drill your dryer exhaust vent BEFORE you spray the top of the basement walls with foam insulation. That way you can see where everything is and you won’t accidentally drill through all the fancy new wiring you had the electrician install a few weeks earlier, and you won’t have to stop what you’re doing to run down to the local home improvement center to purchase a junction box so you can get the power back on to the laundry room and finish installing your dryer exhaust vent.
Step 6: Look at the comparable homes that have sold in your neighborhood within the past 6 months, then flip a coin or use a set of dice to choose your sale price. If gambling isn’t in your blood, you can instead hang pieces of paper containing the numbers 0 to 9 in random order on your wall, then put on a blind fold and throw a dart, an ax, or a sauce-covered meatball at the wall five or six times and record the number that you hit each time. The five or six-digit number you wind up with then becomes your sale price. (Note: If at any point you do not hit a number, just keep throwing the dart, ax, or meatball until you hit enough digits to create a five or six-digit number. It doesn’t have to be complicated.)
Step 7: Put the house on the market. This is best done with the help of a realtor. If you aren’t one and don’t know one, do like we did and simply conceive one. It may require some serious advanced planning, but 30 or so years later, it definitely will be worth it.
Step 8: Cross your fingers and hope to attract a serious buyer. If you’re not superstitious, take up drinking instead. That should get you through the tense moments.
Step 9: Pray that the sale goes through. If you’re not religious, take up drinking instead. If you’ve been drinking all along, send me your address. I’ll come join you.
So as you can see, we knew what we needed to do. And we were ready to do it.
What we didn’t know was how hard it can be to part with a house once you’ve finished it. Or how hard it can be to decide WHETHER to fix it up to love it or fix it up to list it.
The house in question is a 3-bedroom wing and gable farmhouse. Built in 1900 and situated on a corner lot with a 1-car garage, it had somehow escaped our notice for several months despite being located only six blocks from where we lived in and despite having been on the market for the better part of two years. Featuring 18-inch stone foundation walls, 9 ½ foot ceilings, covered porches on the front and back, and all the original doors, brass knobs, latches, and stamped hinges, it had the potential to be a grand home.
But for the clogged kitchen drains and toilet, the lack of a working stove, the interior water damage from ice dams over the foyer, the stained and frayed carpet, the cracked plaster, the insanely steep stairway, the smell of cigarette smoke, the stench of cat pee, the beams that had been compromised by a coal furnace fire in 1960, the beam and other structures that had been compromised by the wayward saw of an unimaginative HVAC installer that same year, and the renters who did everything in their power to make it look as nasty as possible while it was up for sale, the place would have been snatched up and fixed up within days of hitting the market.
Fortunately for us, the house was so far gone, no one else could see it’s potential. Had it been on the market in May of 2016 instead of July of 2016, we would have bought it instead of the once decrepit 3 bed, 1.5 bath ranch we spent 15 months turning into our forever home.
Thus, before the demo even started, we were asking ourselves: Are we going to fix up this little farmhouse to love it? Or are we going to fix up this little farmhouse to list it?
Or, to put it another way, after working for 15 months to gut and rebuild the decrepit ranch, were we going to love IT? Or list IT?
In the end, of course, it came down to money. With the formerly 3 bed, 1.5 bath ranch now a fully updated 4 bed, 3 bath ranch, it was more house than two soon-to-be empty-nesters needed. And with 4 bed, 3 bath ranches in higher demand than 3-bedroom farmhouses, it was almost a no brainer.
I say almost because, although we now live 3 blocks further the train tracks, the sound of that train passing through town—which it does almost every hour on the hour, all night long—carries further southward than it did eastward. And because Mill Street has no stop signs between Main Street and Clark Street, no one obeys the posted speed limit. And because a surprising number of Weyauwega residents seem to be unfamiliar with that portion of a vehicle’s exhaust system commonly known as a muffler, this house isn’t nearly as quiet as the last one.
Had I known that, we probably still would have sold the ranch and moved here, but we would also have replaced the old sash windows with something that offered better sound proofing.
Fingers crossed that won’t be an issue for the Craftsman bungalow we are rehabbing right now. Also built in 1900, it stands just a block from the railroad tracks in Neenah, which virtually guarantees that in five weeks or so, we won’t be asking ourselves whether to love it, or list it.