Monday, January 30, 2012

The Accident

Have you ever had one of those moments when you knew you were doing something potentially unsafe....but you did it anyway and lived to regret it?  Well, that was my experience when I was standing on a 5 gallon bucket of joint compound, jumping on the edge to get the darned thing to close.  Next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor with my wrist bent at a very odd angle.

I was home alone - Richard was at Home Depot.  Thankfully my friend Lynn was able to be Florence Nightingale (it helps that she's a nurse practitioner) and drive me to the emergency room.  She also had the presence of mind to pack my arm in snow, which kept the swelling down while we waited.

Wallpaper is easier to strip with 3 hands!
Turns out, I broke both my wrist and foot, which is going to slow down our progress on our project.  Richard is a trooper and is doing the heavy lifting.  And Lynn came to help me strip wallpaper (Note my fancy Hannaford bag as a cast cover!).  

And I have promised to stay off of joint compound buckets!

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Problems - Insurance Inspection

We got a call from the insurance company this morning with the feedback from their inspector.  Our insurance agent has been great to work with.   But when she called with the inspection report, I’m sure she thought she was delivering really bad news.  The insurance company identified lots of major issues that needed to be fixed right away.  An inspector would come back again in 30 days to follow up.  What topped the list?
1)  The pool is a big concern, including the fence and lock on the gate (good thing it's already gone!)
2)  The windows didn’t pass inspection (I guess they noticed the gaps, broken glass and rotting wood!)
3)  The soffits are rotting, which could result in water damage in a major storm.
4)  The front porch wasn't stable (hence the trampoline effect on the far end)
5) The back deck doesn't have a railing at one end (even though it's only 2 steps off the ground)
6)  etc.
7)  etc
8)  etc....

The good news – there aren't any surprises here.  We’ve already identified these items through the home inspection and they’re part of the renovation plan (and we're a bit surprised the knob and tube wiring wasn't on the list, although that replacement is already in the works.  In other homes we have bought/sold, this was a show stopper).  Now we just need to make sure everything gest done in 30 days!  Otherwise they will cancel our insurance.  And now that winter is really here, it's hard to do some of the outdoor items.

But it does make me wonder.....what if we were a young couple that had used every cent they had to buy the house.  How could they afford to make all the required changes???  Thankfully the next owners won't have to worry about any of these issues.  
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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Short History of Wallpaper……all in one house!

15 minutes after closing and the wallpaper  is already going!

Wallpaper, Wallpaper and More Wallpaper

Our project house has 7 different wallpapers, ranging from an early victorian floral to a 60’s geometric in the dining room and then lots and lots of vinyl floral and prints everywhere else. 

Grimy granny paper
 So, how do we get it off?  I've stripped lots of wallpaper over the years and thought I'd start this project with a new tool.  Wagner makes a pretty nifty wallpaper steamer for $50 that I've been dying to try (yes, I know normal people don't get excited over a wallpaper steamer).

Old victorian paper

Old paper wallpaper is a dream to strip.  Just get it wet and scrape it off.  Vinyl can be trickier.  Most newer vinyl paper is ‘strippable’.  Simply find a loose corner and you can tug the vinyl layer off.  It leaves the paper behind, but that’s easy to remove.

Trickier is early vinyl…..and this house has a lot of it!!!  I started in the front bedroom and found I could pull it off, but it took chunks of the wall with it.  These are plaster walls in a room that appears to have housed a teenager that kicked the walls a lot.   Lots of damage that’s going to require taping and joint compound before it will look nice.

Fixing the holes after wallpaper removal

The back bedroom wallpaper (aka granny paper), however, won’t budge at all.  Here’s where the stripper comes in. We just plug it in and start steaming.   See how easily it comes off!

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Monday, January 23, 2012



The windows are here!

And the new kitchen flooring is here!  

And yikes, they just called and said the kitchen cabinets are done (in 2 1/2 weeks vs the 5 weeks they said it would take).  

Here comes the red birch flooring!!!

Where are we going to put all this stuff?  I know it's a good problem to have, but we're running out of storage space.

The Waterhouse Builders team is hard at work on the front porch, and they are going to start installing windows during inclement weather.  So that will start to free up some floor space.  And our flooring guy can come soon, but we need to get the new drywall ceilings installed before the floor goes in.  That is scheduled for next week, so we'll be able to see some big changes quickly!

But now we need to find some space for the drywall delivery!  Hmmm....I wonder where we will find 12' of wall space to lean them against??

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Demo = Exhaustion

Removing the wall between the kitchen and dining room

We’ve demo’d lots of houses before, but typically one room at a time.  Tackling an entire house is a big challenge!  Thankfully we have the Waterhouse Builders team tackling the front porch.  But Richard and I got to demo the inside (true confessions, Richard did the majority of the heavy lifting!).  It's dirty, exhausting work - but a necessary first step to updating this tired old house.  

There was some good news.  As we ripped out countless acoustic tiles, no rodent droppings or skeletons rained down on us (which has happened to us in other houses – could it be due to the unusually large cat population in the neighborhood?).  And the weather was unusually mild as we dragged everything across the front yard into the dumpster.

Everything seems to lean at a different angle on the porch!
But there were some surprises as well.  And you guessed it - they all cost more money!

1) We knew the front porch dipped and swayed, turns out, there weren’t any footings at all.  The porch had to be totally removed and footings had to be installed.  And the bay window that projected out on the porch - the only thing holding it up was habit.

2)  We had hoped that after peeling back multiple layers of kitchen floor, we would find the original red beech flooring that is throughout the rest of the house.  Sadly, that wasn’t the case, just rough pine boards with some sort of linoleum glued over the center section.  Cha ching, cha ching!

Wires that were under the vinyl siding - not to code!!!

3)  We knew the house had knob and tube wiring that needed to be replaced.  But when we pulled back the vinyl siding on the back to replace the sliding door, we discovered newer wiring had been run right under the vinyl.  And nails had actually pierced the cable as they installed the vinyl.  Scary and amazing that it hadn’t started a fire at some point.
See the nail going right through the electrical cable???
The last surprise from the demo process, is how exhausted we are every night.  Sure, we knew this was a lifestyle change for us.  But we're in good shape, surely we can do a full day’s manual labor.  But Richard keeps keeps telling me there are 2 kinds of people in the world.  The kind that take a shower before they go to work in the morning and the kind that shower when they get home.  We’ve crossed to the other side!   No more sitting in front of a computer or in a conference room all day.  Surprise, surprise– for the first two weeks, we've dragged ourselves home each night, barely able to muster the energy to cook dinner.  Of course the good news is that being more active has helped us each lose 5 pounds!  Now we’ll see if we can keep it off.
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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pool Demo

Going, Going, Gone!

Alex Beaver of Beaver Building (Best Dam Builders Around! - ) committed to removing the pool in one day. We were skeptical, but Alex assured us that they did it all the time.

Alex's crew(Big Larry and Little Larry) arrived bright and early with lots of heavy equipment and industrial strength pumps. Within minutes there was a river of pool water streaming down the street, and we were praying it wouldn't wind up in our neighbors' basements. Fortunately, the storm drains did their job, and the waters subsided quickly.

We did time lapse photos of the whole job - take a look, it's fun to watch!

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

More before photos

Here are a few more of the 'before' photos of our project.  We're hard at work, so hopefully you'll see lots of 'after' photos soon!

Dining Room - check out the lauan plywood built-in and boob lamp chandelier
Our lovely kitchen....can't wait to open up that wall behind the refrigerator!

Powder Room/Laundry Roon


Front Bedroom - dark blue wallpaper and acoustic tile ceiling.....lovely!

Upstairs Bath

Back Bedroom with Grandma wallpaper and clock hung at ceiling level....hmmm....

3rd Floor Bedroom - no heat and DRAFTY windows!

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Game Plan

So, there’s a lot to be done.  Where to start?  What needs to happen before the really cold weather sets in?  This is Maine, so winter weather is a big factor in our plans, even though this season has been unusually mild.  So what are our priorities:  1) Get rid of the pool, before it becomes a giant ice cube.  2)  Replace the front porch while we can still dig footings.   We need to move quickly - baby it's cold out there!  

Waterhouse Builders Team - Shane Brennan, Henry Mayer & Mike Backman
We searched for contractors to help us get going.  For primary carpentry, including the sagging front porch, we are working with Mike Backman and his Waterhouse Builders team.  Having a good contractor is a key element of renovating an old home.  Mike had walked through the house with us before we bought it and helped us establish a rough budget for some of the big items.  The porch and windows were tops on the list, but he pointed out some other things we should focus on as well.  The soffits and trim were in bad shape in several areas and also needed work.  We’re working with Mike so that his team can be on site right after the closing on the house.  We don’t want to lose any time.

We're talking with multiple contractors to remove the pool.  Turns out, it’s a bit more complicated than just draining it and filling it with dirt.  If you don’t pull out the sides and puncture the bottom, you get the dreaded ‘cesspool effect’.  Which means it doesn’t drain and stinks to high heaven.  This is a job for big equipment!
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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Our first project - a 1900 Victorian

After months of searching, we finally found the right house!  

Our realtor, Marc Gup, gave us a quick call to say he thought he'd found the perfect house for us.  It has all the elements we want to flip a house.  We couldn't wait to see it!  What did we find?  A good solid house, desperately in need of updating.  Built in 1900, it has an interesting architectural style.  The front appears a bit Victorian with a steep gable roof and wide front porch.  Inside it has square Arts & Crafts columns between the Living and Dining Room.   The kitchen is dark with ancient cabinets and a tired ceiling fan that provides the primary source of light - that is if you can walk through the room, find the pull chain, and yank it on.  I guess no one thought about putting in light switches.  There's lots of electrical work to do.  This house has knob and tube wiring, which no insurance company wants to cover in your homeowners policy.  Hmmm.....did someone say Money Pit?

Ah, but it's an old house you say - what about charm?  Well, there are stained glass windows going up the staircase.  But they sport Purple & Orange glass panes that only a Phoenix Suns fan could love (the 3rd floor stairwell has the same color scheme!).   Not sure that qualifies as charming.  There aren't any original light fixtures.  There are 7 different flooring types, ranging from hardwood that can be refinished, to Congoleum (remember Congoleum??? I loved it in the 80's), multiple vinyl tiles patterns and some odd striped wall to wall carpeting.  And we will be the proud new owners of 5 different wallpapers, which provide a pretty good history of wallpaper styles in America since 1900.

Our initial game plan for any house is to replace the kitchen and baths.  After all, everyone knows that’s what sells houses.  But this place needs more than that and we need to carefully evaluate how much we could afford to invest to make sure we don’t lose money on the project.

The good news – it has a brand new roof and a pretty new furnace.  The not so good news – the front porch bounces like a trampoline and needs to be completely rebuilt.  The windows are original and leak like sieves, with broken sash cords drooping from the corners.  And there is an inground pool in the backyard.  An inground pool in Maine?  Must be for those few hot days of summer!   And this one hasn’t been well maintained.  Richard lifted up the black tarp that was covering it and a plague of mosquitoes swarmed all over him.  Nasty!!!

But despite all those challenges, we're making an offer.  Hooray!!!
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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Is this the right time to buy?

It depends where you're looking.

Have prices reached the bottom?  Who knows?  The recession has changed all the old rules.  One day the statistics seem to indicate things are picking up, but then there will be another spate of bad news.  So how do you decide?  It all comes down to the old real estate rule – location, location, location.  With that in mind, we had 3 key criteria that we used to focus where we wanted to buy: 

Walkable neighborhood –There is a village environment.  You can walk to restaurants.  Or walk to the new neighborhood grocery store and ice cream shop.  Around the corner is a bakery that Food and Wine calls one of the best from Bangor to Miami.  And proximity to the local college gives it a very ‘hip’ vibe.

Homes have held their value – All real estate is local.  Really local.  So while the country wide statistics are scary, this area hasn’t been hit as hard.  It’s a desirable neighborhood with modest homes, built over the last 125 years.  Most have 3 bedrooms with 1.5 baths.  But there are some larger and smaller homes mixed in.  A nice house that is realistically priced will still get multiple offers. And there is a big influx of young families – so much so that the local elementary school is adding modular buildings to keep up with demand. 

Water – The crown jewel of the neighborhood is the public beach.  It provides spectacular views of the lighthouses, ship traffic and the Casco Bay islands.   And you’ll see people out playing with their dogs and kids every day of the week – no matter what the weather (Mainers are very hardy!).  So when we went looking for a house to renovate, we focused on homes that are walking distance to the beach.

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