Posts Tagged ‘Flip or Flop

02
May
19

Mill Street Blues: Love It or List It

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.

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12
Apr
19

Mill Street Blues: Hunting & Blathering

Fans of HGTV are familiar with the House Hunters series and its progeny, House Hunters International and House Hunters Renovation.

For the uninitiated (and those for whom the title is a bit too cryptic to decipher) House Hunters involves one or more people—usually, but not always, a couple; and usually, but not always, attractive—looking for a home in a specific geographic area aided by a local real estate professional. Over the course of thirty minutes (minus 8 or 9 for commercials) the parties view and assess three properties, each one ticking off some—but never all—of the boxes on the parties’ wish list.

Yep. Three. No more. No less.

As if choosing a place to live were like The Dating Game.

“So, house number one: What is your idea of a nice romantic evening?”

“Great question. I think my idea of a romantic evening would be lying down beside you on my deep orange textured shag carpeting, where I’d gaze with you winsomely upon my velvet avocado wallpaper and show you what seven thousand dollars below budget feels like.”

“That sounds, uh, interesting. House number two: same question.”

“My idea of a romantic evening is sitting with you before a roaring fire under my vaulted ceiling with exposed beams, surrounded by real linen blend wall paper and sustainable bamboo hardwoods, eating ramen soup and hot dogs.”

“Wow. You must really like ramen soup and hot dogs.”

“No. That’s just all you’d be able to afford after paying the mortgage and utilities.”

“I see. And house number three?”

“Well, I can’t offer either velvet or linen wallpaper, but I am in a good neighborhood and right on budget. That being said, a romantic evening to me means taking you to my kitchen, showing you my huge peninsula…”

You get the idea.

And if only it were that easy.

We could make it even easier, I suppose, by posing it like that age-old philosophical question: If you were marooned on a deserted island, what is the one thing you absolutely would have to have with you?

Only in this case, it would be, if you could live in one place and only that one place for the rest of your life, which place would it be?

It would be a tough choice—especially for me and the Jarhead, who have moved so often our friends and family probably think we’re in witness protection. Or on the lam.

In case you’re about to check Google or the FBI website for our names and photos, let me save you the trouble: The only thing we’re guilty of is criminal indecision.

And in case you were going to check Google or the American Psychiatric Psociety website for a list of psymptoms of psychological disorders, let me save you that trouble, too: What we have is a type of addiction where you can’t live in a house without modifying it in some way, and also a form of hoarding where you are unable to sell a house you’ve fixed up without first living there—if only for 385 days, like our last one.

And if you believe that, I have a lovely bottle of windmill noise cancer pills to sell you at a good price.

Seriously, though. If we had to choose a home from a pool of just three, it would be like having to choose only one cat from the shelter (as in, next to impossible) or asking my friend Von to select a piece of chocolate from a Belgian sampler (meaning, delightful or deadly, depending on the odds of finding a piece that contains cashews, almonds, or coconut.)

Fortunately, we aren’t forced to choose a project from just three pitiable properties. UN-fortunately, that means we can end up touring five, ten, sometimes fifteen houses before finding one that can be saved without spending more money fixing it up than can be made when it’s time to sell it. And if we’re outbid by another buyer or can’t put together an offer that’s acceptable to the seller, then we’re right back at square one. I’m not suggesting what we’re doing would make for a bingeworthy TV series, but there is plenty of drama.

And just for the record, we’re not going through these homes whining about laminate countertops, popcorn ceilings, or carpeted floors like many folks do on House Hunters.

Some of these people truly could use a lesson in perspective, come to think of it. Perhaps HGTV should develop another program called Get Over Yourself, where the participants from House Hunters tour three properties whose occupants are barely keeping a roof over their head so these jerks can understand just how effing good they have it, and maybe learn not to be so glib and condescending when talking about their own tastes and preferences.

Just sayin’.

Nor am I walking through our prospective projects in four-inch heels, false eyelashes, and a Brazilian blowout, and screaming at the mouse droppings in the kitchen, the chickens roosting in the garage, or the dude sleeping on the pile of clothes in the back bedroom. To be fair, the mouse droppings are the only item from that list that I, personally, have run across while touring a home, so it’s probably not fair to judge Christina until I’ve walked a mile in her designer platforms. But I like to think I’d know enough to shut my mouth and slip back out the front door so as not to get us shot or shanked.

Even without the chickens and the squatters, some of what we’ve run across during a tour or a remodel would still give you pause. A basement filled with rotting clothing and garbage may not shank you, but it will make you stop and think about the date of your last tetanus shot. As will the carpets covered in cat, dog and human waste; the rusted-out razor blades you pull out of the furnace vents, and the long, thin lines of sticky yellow-brown liquid that adorn the walls with bits of fuzz trapped in and around it like bees suspended in fossilized tree resin.

And let’s not forget about the graffiti, the freezers filled with rotten food, the cat litter clogged toilets, and the wobbly outline of a child’s hand drawn repeatedly in colored marker next to the scribbled words “Natalie’s time out hand” that you hope was written by a living, breathing child named Natalie, and not by a vengeful spirit come to haunt her.

Wow. That sure took a turn toward the dark and surreal.

If you’re not afraid to find out what’s around the next corner, be sure to tune in next time for Mill Street Blues III: Love It or List It.

27
Mar
19

Mill Street Blues

It all started innocently enough, as many spectacular disasters do—with an abundance of good intentions and a dearth of interest in doing research and checking references.

The Jarhead and I, having survived multiple military deployments, thirty-two income tax seasons, and five home improvement projects—including one whole house renovation–decided to go into business flipping houses.

It made perfect sense at the time. As the more creative member of the team, I would come up with the designs, choose the furnishings and fixtures, and do the accounting, while he—as the stronger, fitter, and more mechanically inclined member of the team, would be the muscle, the engineer, and the eye-candy.

As with our marriage—ill-advised as some considered it to be back in 1985—we knew it wouldn’t be easy. As with raising children, we knew there would be challenges. As with military deployments, we knew we would need to plan well and be prepared for surprises. And as with income tax returns and other home improvements, we knew there would be tears, heated exchanges, and homicidal ideations. But we also knew that with patience, dedication and—if necessary—copious amounts of alcohol, our business could be a smashing success.

And so, one month after the Jarhead retired, we bought a domain name, created an LLC, acquired a trailer, and started shopping for investment properties. There were other steps involved, as well. I’m just listing the highlights.

You’re welcome.

We didn’t issue a press release—mostly because no one reads the newspaper anymore, but also because we weren’t sure anyone would care that we were going into business, and because we didn’t want to have to admit it later if the endeavor was a colossal failure. But we told a few friends, and word got around.

Those who didn’t hate it, loved the idea. They imagined the Jarhead as a midwestern Tarek El Moussa to my shorter, plumper, and false eyelash-free Christina. Or as a taller, darker, and less excitable Chip Gaines to my shorter, plumper, blonder, and less patient Joanna. Or as a shorter, older, and handsomer Jonathon Scott to my shorter, plumper, blonder, and slightly less masculine Drew. You get the picture—with my apologies.

And just over a year later, here we are—still married—and about to embark on our second flip. There have been ups and downs, setbacks, and surprises, which I hope to cover in future posts.

And even as I joke about spectacular disasters and colossal failures, from my perspective it’s been a mostly positive and highly educational experience. Case in point: I’ve learned how to (and how NOT to) install vinyl flooring.  I’ve also developed new appreciation for people who show up for appointments and meetings on time, and I’ve learned many new words for ordinary household devices.

For example, cabinets that don’t appear level when hung, are pecker-heads.

Screws that won’t turn at the speed or in the direction you want them too, are also pecker-heads.

Cordless drills with lithium batteries that won’t hold a change are quite vexing, and, therefore, are also pecker-heads.

If you type it often enough while watching someone hang kitchen cabinets, your Android keyboard will eventually recognize the word pecker-heads.

Apologies for the blue language. However, if you’re easily offended, you probably shouldn’t be here in the first place.

And for those of you who aren’t easily offended, be sure to tune in next time for Mill Street Blues II: Hunting and Blathering.




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