Posts Tagged ‘HGTV

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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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.

02
Dec
14

What Would You Do?

Despite numerous posts affirming my affinity for television, there is a great deal on the tube of which I am not a fan. Examples include soap operas, confrontational talk shows, decoy dynasties, and any and all sporting events that don’t involve figure skates, tennis racquets, or hockey sticks. In addition, I have no time for likes of Dog the Bounty Hunter, Dance Moms, Toddlers OR Tiaras, semi-scripted dramas featuring shallow, insipid, spray tanned people from New Jersey, or Real Housewives from any locale. And while I have nothing but love and sympathy for the 21st century’s version of Shirley Temple, there is little in the entertainment realm that would please me more than a TLC special entitled There Goes Honey Boo-Boo wherein we discover that her family has entered the witness protection program and/or been relocated to another country, planet, or universe where there are no cameras, cable TV, Internet service providers, or streaming video options.

I don’t mean to give the impression that I’m against reality television as a concept. In fact, I am a devoted fan of several reality programs; I just prefer it be educational rather than exploitative, and articulate instead of asinine. Which is why my favorite reality shows are typically found on The Weather Channel, the History Channel, and HGTV.

One exception is a program on ABC called What Would You Do? For the uninitiated, this is a program hosted by John Quiñones wherein actors are placed in public settings and paid to display some obnoxious behavior or other as cameras record the reactions of the ordinary people around them. For example, in one episode, an actor played a Muslim clerk at a fast food joint while another played a racist customer who berated and verbally abused him repeatedly. In another episode, an actor, playing a mom in a grocery store, tells another actor, playing her child, to steal a wallet out of another actor’s purse in full view of other customers. The goal, of course, is to see if anyone will intervene, and why or why not.

More often than not, the observers are shown doing the right thing by defending the wronged party, summoning help, or, in the case of the stolen wallets, reporting the theft to the victim and then offering the thieving mother money so she could purchase groceries. In each episode the scenario is acted out a handful of times, and each time John Quiñones ultimately reveals himself to those in attendance and inquires as to the basis of any action they did or did not take.

I enjoy this program not only because I like John Quiñones, dig social experiments, and love watching good prevail over evil; I also enjoy it because on several occasions I have found myself in situations where I felt the urge to intervene, and wondering—after either giving in to or resisting that urge—if I had done the right thing and whether others would have handled the situation differently.

On one such occasion roughly twenty years ago, I was in the lobby of a portrait studio of a large department store when I witnessed a boy of about four repeatedly mistreating his two younger brothers while his mother, with an infant in her arms, tried to complete a transaction at the counter. Time after time I watched this child—whom I immediately pegged as a budding sociopath and imagine now to be living at tax payer expense in a maximum security correctional facility for the crimnally insane—smack, kick, and push his siblings onto the floor as his mother stood just feet away facing the other direction. Unsurprisingly, given that they were barely one and two years old, these poor kids would cry out in pain, whereupon their mother would ask the older boy what had happened, and he would respond by claiming one brother hit or kicked the other, or had fallen onto the floor of his own volition.

After seeing this played out for about the sixth time, I finally decided something had to be done. And so the next time the older kid assaulted one of his siblings and then lied about it, I stood up and told his mother as gently as I could that the older boy had been hitting, kicking, and pushing his helpless younger brothers the entire time.

To my surprise, she did not react with anything remotely resembling surprise or gratitude. No. Faced with someone whose only interest was to protect two of her children from the evil lying within the other, this well dressed, 30-something woman looked at me with what can only be described as defeat, and acknowledged my remarks with only the slightest of nods.

I don’t know what anyone else would have done in that situation. And I since I doubt that ABC or Mr. Quiñones would ever pay child actors to abuse other child actors, I may never know. I can only hope I did the right thing, and that my actions gave that mother the motivation she needed to get the boy some help.

Another of my favorite programs is Deal with It, which is a game show in which people are offered money to behave in outrageous ways in public and in the presence of a friend or family member who is not in on the joke. The amount participants win depends on how far they are willing to take the situation, and whether or not they can “deal with” the reactions they are getting from their companion(s) and the people around them.

This show resonates with me because so many people in my acquaintance are, as the Jarhead puts it, bat crap crazy, and/or routinely do things that other people simply would not do.

Such was the case one afternoon as he and I sat down to lunch with two elderly female relatives. With the food—four hamburgers and four orders of fries—having arrived, we all began removing the buns from our sandwiches and applying condiments. As the Jarhead and I took turns with the ketchup and mustard, I noticed one of our companions reaching for a packet of strawberry preserves. Unsure as to her intentions, I kept my mouth shut—for a change—and then watched in stunned silence as she opened the preserves and began liberally applying them to her burger.

Having met this person only twice before, I didn’t want to embarrass her by pointing out what I was sure was a mistake if it wasn’t. More importantly, as this person was near and dear to our other companion, who was not particularly fond of me, I didn’t want to make an issue of the preserves and further damage her already dim view of my character and personality.And yet, I did not want to see this person unknowingly ruin her burger and then have to choose whether to eat it, order another one, or go without. Not knowing what else to do, I sat watching out of the corner of my eye as our companion finished applying the preserves, placed the bun back atop her sandwich, then picked it up and started eating.

To this day I don’t know if the old dear had mistaken the preserves for ketchup and failed to notice, if she had mistaken preserves for ketchup and pretended not to notice, or if she was simply someone who liked fruit with her meat. Deep down, however, as a fan of What Would You Do?, Deal with It, and its predecessor, Candid Camera, a part of me wants to believe she knew exactly what she was doing with those preserves, and was simply having a little fun by seeing if we could deal with it.




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