Posts Tagged ‘home improvement

10
Jul
19

Mill Street Blues: Pros and Cons

We didn’t recognize them as such at the time, but there were a few of clues that renovating the wing and gable farmhouse might be a bad idea.

The first came in the form of the blizzard that hit three days before the previous occupants were scheduled to vacate the premises, forcing them to choose between shoveling 22 inches of snow and walking repeatedly through 22 inches of snow to retrieve all of their belongings. Care to guess which option they chose?

The second clue came in the form of all the crap said occupants left behind—in the basement, in the garage, in the yard, and in the fridge. One might assume they got tired of trudging through the 22 inches of snow they had refused to shovel. Then again, they got the important stuff—like the washer and dryer that, legally speaking, were supposed to stay with the house.

The third clue came in the form of two teenage boys who, two days after we took possession of the house, jabbed all four tires on the dump trailer as it sat in the driveway filled to the brim with several tons of what used to be the roof. Although we took little comfort in learning that the dump trailer was just one of almost 40 vehicles that the little dickens vandalized that night, we took a great deal of comfort in justifying the amount of our restitution claim in court eight months later—and even more pleasure in depositing the check a few weeks after that.

The fourth clue came in the form of a note that was slipped to the Jarhead at a local builder supply store that warned us against working with the sketchy-looking guy who was assigned to hang the new gutters.

Yep. All those signs and still we persisted. Like those idiots in Poltergeist who stayed in their McMansion even after they retrieved Carol Ann from the TV or wherever she was. And the morons in The Amityville Horror who stayed in their Dutch colonial even after the walls started to bleed. And the dumbass nurse in The Skeleton Key who stayed in the plantation home in Terrebonne Parish even after it was clear that the place was replete with bad juju.

Starting to see a common theme? It’s okay to admit that you’re questioning our intelligence. We have questioned it, too. Many, many times.

Like when we looked under the sink and discovered that someone had used an empty tube of lotion and a metal clamp to terminate an old water line. And when we learned that three different plumbers had decided to leave all three generations of water piping in place when it came time to put in the fourth.

And when literally every single gutter on the house began to leak and it became clear that the sketchy gutter guy had much to learn about installing gutters. And when the roofing crew forgot to safeguard the structures around the house before tear-off and the gas meter suddenly had to be replaced.

And when their leader became enmeshed in a feud with the power company after one of their reps had the audacity to suggest that his folks should be a bit more careful in the future. And when he got into an argument with the building inspector and ordered him off the property. And when he called the police when the inspector refused to leave.

Having already racked up more visits from local law enforcement in the eight months since moving to Weyauwega than we had in the entire 8 years we had spent in Oshkosh (where our one and only encounter with the police was the night they mistook the Jarhead for a burglar) I was no longer questioning the wisdom of renovating this house as much as I was questioning whether we’d chosen the right people to help us do it.

That sense continued into the summer as we waited for three weeks for the stairs to be put back together because dude could not find the app that would calculate the run and the rise. In fairness replacing the stairs was added to the scope of work when we realized that the studs and stringers holding them up had been reduced to charcoal by a fire at some point in the distant past. On the other hand, I’m the type of person who would not have taken down the old stairs until I was ready and equipped to put the new ones right back up.

But that’s just me.

Anyway, dude eventually found the app and, eventually, we had stairs. Unfortunately, we then had to wait for the upstairs doorways to be rebuilt. It seems that rebuilding stairs also means bringing them up to code, which means making them less steep and, thus, longer. And making the stairway longer would have left the upstairs bedroom doorways suspended a few feet above the middle of the stairs, which is apparently dangerous and, therefore, not cool. Unless, of course, you’re into strains, sprains, and compound fractures. Which is fine. I’m not one to judge. And I don’t know your life.

I don’t know how much longer we would have waited for the rest of the work to be done after the doorways were framed and drywalled, but I do know this: When we determined that the snow was likely to fly again before dude and company would finish the reconstruction so we could start painting and installing flooring and fixtures, we decided we would rather do the reconstruction ourselves than wait any longer.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I pay someone to build or fix something, I generally expect it to turn out better than if I had built or fixed it myself. Clothing, for example, should look and fit better when I buy it at the store than if I had sewn it myself. I can hem slacks, re-attach buttons, and even make simple things like curtains and blankets, but I SHOP for the clothes I wear because I don’t want to look like the lady who stands at the end of the Walmart parking lot holding a can and a cardboard sign.

Car repair is another example. I could—theoretically—change my own oil, rotate my own tires, and replace my own air filters and spark plugs. But even if I were willing to get all dirty, dusty, greasy and sweaty just to save a few bucks, no doubt I would not do as good a job of tightening my lug nuts and connecting all those grody engine parts to the other grody engine parts as Colton does at my local Tires Plus. (I would have cited a local dealership here, but the last time one of their guys worked on my car they forgot to reconnect the clamps on my engine air filter, and the poor thing shuddered, sputtered, then died as I was heading home. So, there’s at least ONE person in the Fox Valley who isn’t a better mechanic than I am.)

Of course, there are some exceptions. For example, I haven’t found a chef on planet earth that can make bacon and eggs exactly the way I like them. Or guacamole.  But by and large, the people who do stuff for a living should do that stuff better than the rest of us can.

So imagine my surprise when dude had this to say after the Jarhead and I decided our relationship with him had run its course:

Dude: I know we haven’t gotten things done as quickly as you’d have liked, but I hope you’ll keep us in mind for future projects.

Me: I don’t mean to be unkind, but it isn’t just the timeline I’ve had a problem with. To be honest, the quality of the work isn’t quite what we expected.

Dude:  Well, let’s not forget that when we bid the project, it was going to be a flip.

Me: Personally, I would have expected quality work regardless of what we were going to do with the property. I mean, no offense, but when I hire someone to do a job, I expect it to look better than if I had done it myself.

Dude: Well, I never said we were professionals.

And here I thought a professional was someone who performed a service in exchange for money.

Silly me.

 

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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.

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.

24
Jul
15

Hose Improvement

Let me preface today’s post with the following: this time it was neither my fault, nor my imagination.

Yesterday at approximately 4:20 pm, as I was on the phone chatting with a friend about the my recent bathroom remodel, I happened to look out the front door and find the yard around the porch flooded and the mulch in my shrub bed floating like tiny logs on a mighty river. Since it had not rained in days, and having not turned on a hose, sprinkler, faucet, spigot, or other water source in over a week, I was both shaken and confused.

Having seen the bathroom contractor using the garden hose to mix grout for the floor tile, and to wash said grout from the container in which he’d mixed it, I briefly wondered if perhaps he had finished and left for the day without shutting off the hose. Upon closer inspection, however, I realized that the water was not coming from the hose but from one of the channels of the four-way hose manifold that was attached to the faucet. Further examination revealed that one of the hoses that had been attached to said four-way hose manifold had been blown off its outlet and was now drifting among the floating logjam of mulch.

Fortunately I knew I could handle this problem myself and, thus, did not have to bother the Jarhead to stem the flow and stop the flooding. Instead, I simply flipped that channel’s switch to off, made a mental note to inform my loving spouse that his attempt to mend a leak on that particular hose had failed spectacularly, and went on my merry way.

It had been leaking for several weeks before he got around to fixing it last weekend—after he got sick of having to go to the front of the house to turn on/shut off that channel whenever he wanted to use that hose so water didn’t run across the porch floor 24/7. And, knowing how little free time he was going to have in the coming weeks thanks to an approaching work deadline, I figured we’d be playing the hokey pokey with that spigot right up until it was time to winterize and put away the hoses for the year. But since that hose happens to be the one that wraps around the end of the house and to the back yard, and since it is the only one we have that CAN be used in the backyard, I also knew there was a chance he would get to it sooner—if only to prevent the lawn and his sweet corn plot from dying from lack of rain.

At this point you may be wondering why I didn’t just fix the hose myself. If so, I advise you to read back a few posts to “A Haunting in Oshkosh” where you will learn that I am wholly unqualified to use power tools. Although it is not a matter of written record, it should be noted that I am equally unqualified when it comes to plumbing and electrical repairs, so there was no way I was going to touch that hose. Even if my feminist dander was nudging me to do so, my arthritic hands held veto power, and so instead of grabbing the pliers and trying to join the hose and connector, I threw on my swimsuit and joined Princess Primrose in the pool.

Several hours later, after visiting the pharmacy, a retail store, and two home improvement centers—where I not only made returns and purchases but also managed to resist the urge to buy a hose repair kit—the Princess and I returned to the house and set about to completing our evening chores. A few minutes later, I heard expletives coming from the south end of the basement where the Princess had gone to clean the cat boxes.

Joining her there, I found the carpeting in the storage/litter room saturated and water seeping ever so slowly toward the laundry room. Immediately the Princess and I started taking from the room any and every movable object that could be damaged by standing water. Once we had removed every last wooden, paper, fabric, and cardboard item from the area, we began searching for the source of the water in hopes of preventing further damage to the rest of the basement.

The first thing that came to my mind, of course, was the plumbing in the newly remodeled bathroom two floors up. Yep. Despite the fact that the plumbing went in two days earlier and had not leaked in the intervening hours since then—and despite the fact that I had witnessed with my own eyes the flooding of the ground above that part of the house just hours before—the first explanation to enter my head upon finding a half-inch of water in the basement was a plumbing problem. Although it pains me to admit it, the Jarhead may have reason not to trust me with tools, pipes, or electricity.

In my defense, I have more experience with contractor mishaps than I do flooding. It wasn’t too long ago that a handyman whom I had hired to replace the floor of the cabinet under my kitchen sink managed to shoot a nail into the water line behind the wall. That mistake went unnoticed until 10pm the next evening when El Noble came home and found the ceiling in the basement family room raining and the carpet a sopping wet mess.

Still, I don’t know why I didn’t think of the most likely scenario instead of the worst. It’s not as if I’m unfamiliar with the water cycle or the concept of cause and effect. In any event, after finding no leaks in the water lines or drain pipes—and after ruling out both paranormal activity and an extinction level event—it finally dawned on me that the water in the front yard had not magically evaporated into the air above, but instead had seeped down into the ground, and taken up residence in my basement, below.

Satisfied that I had found the most probable cause for the water intrusion, the Princess and I then set about to finding the fans, the Shop Vac, and an extension cord so we could begin the cleanup. This, thankfully, was the easy part since, having run this drill in the family room three years ago, we both knew what to do.

The Jarhead, who conveniently came home AFTER things were already well in hand, took a look at the ground, the hose, and the basement and ultimately agreed with my diagnosis. He also agreed to have another go at fixing the hose.

He’d better get it right this time or I may have to ban HIM from hose improvements.




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