Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When It Rains It Pours.......Right Into the Basement

So, when we bought the house, there were some puddles in the basement.  But I didn't worry about it too much, I figured it would be easy to fix.  I think I was a bit cocky after our Craftsman Bungalow - a few gutters made a world of difference.  And it seemed like most of the water was coming in from the Owners side of the house, which didn't have gutters.

So one of our first projects - install gutters on the missing side.  And then wait for some rain to test it out.

Yea, well, that's where it got interesting.  We'd actually had a stretch of really nice weather and hadn't had much rain in awhile.  But suddenly, our cell phones were going off with severe storm warnings (we didn't even know they could do that - scared us to death when they went off in unison!) and the National Weather Service was predicting severe storms.  We ended up with 6.5 inches of rain in one evening and everything was flooding - sirens and flashing lights seemed to be everywhere.
 And of course this is the point during the storm where I decided to go see how my gutters were working.  

Yeah, 10:30 at night and my husband was not happy, but we donned our raincoats and headed over to the house to check it out.  And as luck would have it, the electricians had been rewiring the basement that day, so we knew there wouldn't be any lights in the basement.

We pulled up and raced to the front door - and discovered ankle deep water in front of the porch steps.  Ugh!  Next, we turned our cell phone flashlights on and went down to the basement.  Sure enough - water was coming in at a good clip on the new gutter side, as well as the front and back of the house.  Sigh....my gutters didn't do the trick.  (Sorry there aren't any photos, but we were too busy unplugging things and moving tools to take pictures!)

The next day, I took a look to reassess the situation.  And once I stepped back to look, there was a big realisation.  There is a 'saucer' around the house on 3 sides.  So when it rains, the water is channeled towards the house.  

For example, when we get a really heavy rain, the driveway next door dumps its water next to our house.  And because the ground slopes towards the basement, the water naturally goes in.

In front, the ground swales towards the front door, but it can't drain away and goes back towards the house, instead of draining to the street.  
And the saucer around the front steps creates the ankle deep puddle (which must be a nasty, icy mess in the winter!).

The back of the house was even worse.  We had just pulled the old deck out (more about that later) and discovered the ground pitched down 12 inches towards the foundation.

So, we called in the experts and they came out to do some regrading.  They created a swale next to the house, that pitches towards the street.  This required the installation of window wells to change the grade.

In the front yard, they  pulled away the 'saucer' and regraded so the yard drains towards the street.   (oh, and I had them pull the lilacs out that were on either side of the front door.  They were way too big for that spot! And would cover the front windows soon.)  And they used the extra soil they dug up, to fill in the big holes all across the back of the house.   That should fix the grading issue we found there.
Finally,  Greencare Landscape Management came out and hydroseeded the front yard.  It was a fun process to watch, as they sprayed seed and a binding agent all across the new soil.  That helped it 'grip' the yard.  But it requires regular watering and a little patience to get the grass seed to sprout.

In a couple of weeks, we have a beautiful new lawn!!!  Nice improvement, don't you think?

Now we just need to wait for some more rain to test it all out - but hopefully not 6.5 inches at once!
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Is 'Condo-ize' a Word?

Expanded Living Room
We're trying to figure out the future for the duplex.  I like the idea of keeping it for awhile and renting it out.......hubby's not so crazy about that idea.  He would like to sell it, using our usual business model.  We've also had several people suggest we turn it into condos.  'Condo-ize' it they say!!!  Hmmm, not sure that's a word.  But it's an interesting idea.

We bought a condo last year (our store is actually a condo).  It made it much more affordable, and we didn't want the entire building.    The whole process and ownership model with a condo board has gone well (But maybe ours is easier, because it's only one of three units).  And the idea that everyone helps with things like maintenance is nice as well.

So, I'm curious, if you're in the market for a new place, what would be your preference?  Rent?  Buy the whole unit and rent out one side?  Or buy a condo?  I'd appreciate your input!

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

So, You Don't Think You Need Title Insurance? Think Again!!

Lucky #7 was bought as a foreclosure.  Foreclosures are always challenging, but this one was especially so.  You have to have a strong stomach to get through the process!  First step on this one was a bidding war.  We made our bid, along with 4 other parties.  Good news - we got the house and went under contract.

But going under contract on a Foreclosure is always a bit daunting.  In addition to the standard Purchase and Sale Agreement, you also have to sign their special contract - usually 15-30 pages long that gives them all sorts of leverage and wriggle room.  We've been through the process before, so I wasn't quite as overwhelmed to sign it (the first time we bought one, it was nerve wracking!).  But it's still an uncomfortable feeling, because you really are buying 'as-is' and it doesn't matter what you find later - it's yours and the bank isn't going to do anything about it.

But one clause that I found odd in this agreement, was that they would do the title work and would pay for the Title Insurance policy.  Hmmm......and the title company was in Maryland.

I quickly contacted Abby Douglas of Douglas Title Company (she helps me with all the properties I acquire) and we agreed that it made much more sense for me to pay for my own title insurance and have it done by a Maine company.  That way we would follow Maine practices and I would have someone looking after my interests in the property.

So......she got to work.  In Maine, a title company typically goes back 40 years to examine the title.  Abby ended up going beyond that as she started researching, and that's where the fun started.

Evidently, when this house and the one next door were first built in the 1920's, they were owned by a brother and sister.   The sister decided to give her brother 10 feet of her property - so he could have a driveway (and ultimately a garage was built at the end of the driveway) next to the house.  Nice sister, don't you think?  And she did it all properly and took that 10 feet off of her deed.  The problem?  Her brother never added it to his.  And so for the last 80+ years, that 10 foot strip was in limbo.  Abby quickly found it when she looked at the plot plan (hint - ALWAYS order a plot plan, it's worth it!) which showed a lot 60' wide, but the deed said 50'.  This was something that the bank had to address.

The next issue?  Mortgages that were never properly closed out or 'discharged'.  And not just one mortgage.  Several.  You see, when the big recession hit, lots of mortgage companies went out of business.  They were bought up by other companies, but the mortgages didn't get properly managed in that transition.  This house was bought, sold and ultimately foreclosed up during that time frame and there were multiple mortgages that were improperly discharged.

Which brings us to the topic of Title Insurance.  First thing we needed to know - is this house insurable?  To decide that,  the insurance company looks at these different risks and decides whether they are likely to become an issue or not.  In our case, we had the driveway issue and improperly discharged mortgages to deal with.  That's a lot!  But particularly for issues like mortgage discharge issues, they see that all the time as a result of the mortgage crisis.  They know whether it's something they're willing to insure or not.  Thankfully, we were able to get affirmative coverage for all of these issues.  And having that kind of insurance makes me comfortable that if anyone was ever going to file a claim, that we are covered.  Plus, they will provide that same coverage for the next buyer.

The morale of the story?  Buy enhanced owners title insurance when you  buy a house.  It's a one time fee (for this property it was around $750) and will give you great peace of mind.  Yes, if you're getting a mortgage the bank will also get title insurance.  But that just protects them - you need your own and it's worth every penny!!   And once you receive your policy (it comes in the mail a few weeks after closing)?  Put it in a safe place and hopefully you'll never have a reason to use it.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Update: Owners Kitchen Design

So let me bring you up to speed on the other kitchen.  In the Owner's Unit, we opened up the wall between the new dining room and the kitchen, creating a great new space.  And that gave us the opportunity to set the kitchen up a little differently than the unit next door.

Check it out, it's changed a bit since the last time I shared it with you!  With the new header installed and the wall to the dining room removed, it has a whole different look and feel.
We had to remove the wall between the two kitchens to accommodate new plumbing and electrical, so this photo looks a bit odd.  But once the electrical, plumbing and drywall are done, this will be a wall of cabinets and appliances.  An extra feature we'll be installing -  soundproofing material between the two units, to keep the tenants from driving each other crazy.
Kitchen Starting Point

As a reminder, here's the before picture!

And here's the birds eye view of the design plan:

The appliances are all on one wall, which creates an efficient layout.

And we created this 'hutch' style cabinet to provide extra storage.  The glass cabinet will be lighted.  And we'll include a USB connector as well as an outlet above the counter space.
Like the unit next door, we'll also use Martha Stewart Purestyle Cabinets in 'Heavy Cream' and quartz countertops.  But to change it up a bit, we have a glass and marble backsplash that we'll mix with white subway tile.  
And last, but not least, we'll include an industrial style faucet for the new double, stainless steel sink!

Of course the space still looks a bit rough, but once we finish up the infrastructure, it will be time to install the cabinets!

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Kitchen Design - Tenant's Unit

With demo behind us, we're off and running to put the house back together again!  And the kitchen will be a real centrepiece of the design.  So I thought it would be fun to review the plans - starting with the Tenant's Unit.

We started with a tired old kitchen that was badly in need of updating.

A key to the new design is to open up the space between the kitchen and the dining room, by removing some walls and moving the china cabinet a few feet to the right.

But as luck would have it, they were structural walls, so the guys had to put in some new engineered beams (LVLs) to distribute the weight from above.  They started with a temporary wall, to handle the load while they installed the beams.

Then they lifted the new beams into place.  They're big and heavy, so it was quite a production.  After that, the temp wall came down.

And now that they're in place, look how open the space is!!!
From the kitchen, you can see all the way out the front window!  And that really sets the stage for the new design.

And as a reference, here's what it looked like 'before', looking towards the front of the house..

We knew from the start that this would be a galley style kitchen, but we still wanted to create a space for a couple of stools, so the chef can chat with the family!  We also wanted lots of storage and some open shelving.  After a couple of passes, we came up with this design.

It leaves the sink near the windows, so there is a lot of natural light.  And we have a cooking centre on the opposite wall.  Best of all, there is lots and lots of storage space!

Quartz - Solar Canyon
We're using Martha Stewart cabinets in 'Heavy Cream', which is a warm off-white.  The countertops are a beautiful quartz called Solar Canyon.
For the backsplash, we're using white subway and a smaller subway in gold toned marble - which is the perfect shade to connect with the beautiful gold tones in the stained glass window in the front of the house.
Backsplash Tile Design

I'm excited about the pendant over the sink - it is a very cool chicken wire and glass fixture from Nicola's Home.   And we're trying something new this time.   Next to the windows, we will install open shelving.

Last, but not least, we'll refinish the original birch floors.

I can't wait to see this kitchen turn into reality - but of course we're a long way from that day!!!

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dealing with Challenges - Asbestos Removal

When we first looked at this house, I wondered if the white wrapping on the heat pipes could be asbestos.  So I guess I wasn't surprised when Steve Broadhead from Northeast Test Consultants came out and confirmed my suspicions.  They think it's a Johns Manville product that was widely used up until the early 1970's to insulate pipes.  We also discovered that our furnace was wrapped in an asbestos blanket and it too needed removal.  Why is asbestos a concern?  When it's disturbed, the tiny particles become 'friable' or airborne.  If they get in your lungs, they stay there for a long time and can cause major diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Add that to the fact that this is the single biggest budget item on our project, it certainly has our attention!  I'd heard some horror stories of asbestos removal, so wanted to make sure we were doing it right.  Steve walked me through the process and I started to get an appreciation of how big a task this is.

So here's the rundown:

1)  Notify the State of Maine of the upcoming asbestos removal.

2)  Prep the property for asbestos removal.  This requires multiple steps.  First thing, build a custom decontamination unit to allow the workers to get in and out of the work area.  The unit has 3 distinct areas:  A clean room (used to change out of street clothes into personal protective equipment), a shower (which has to have hot and cold running water) and a dirty room for changing out of the contaminated suits.
Triple Layer of Plastic Draping

Next, all openings to other areas of the house have to be sealed off.  Each of the doorways  sealed with plastic and notification signs.  The hole from the old drain in the first floor bathroom?  Yep - sealed off.  And the the basement door egress - sealed with 3 layers of plastic and signs notifying people of asbestos removal.

What about the actual removal steps?   They used a 'wrap and cut' method, which involves wetting the coating, wrapping it in plastic and then using a 'glove bag' to cut the pipes and remove them with the wrapping still intact.  They all wear the proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment - suits, ventilators, etc) through the job.  And they continuously monitor the air to ensure there is no contamination.  Of course I'm not certified to do the removal, so I wasn't able to take any 'in process' photos.

Air Sampler
Glove Bag Kit - so the asbestos is constantly wrapped in plastic and can't become friable
Finally, after removal, the pipes and asbestos covering are carefully wrapped up, labeled and disposed of in a state approved landfill.  The set up took a full day and then on day 2, they did the actual removal.  About mid-way through the project the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) showed up for a surprise inspection.  But it wasn't an issue, because we were following all their guidelines.

The last step was getting the old furnace out of the house.  They wanted to take it out in one piece, so none of the asbestos would get disturbed.  It gets wrapped and sealed in plastic first,  Then the approach was to rent a fancy dolly that's rated for 1200 pounds and can go up and down steps.  Good idea - but it didn't work.  That is one huge, heavy furnace!  What did they do?  They brought in an excavator to pull it out.  With that kind of equipment, they made quick work of it.  And kudos to the team for doing what it takes to get the job done in a safe manner!

Finally, I'll get a final report with all the details of the project, including plans, air sampling data, DEP  logs, etc.  This is great for a future homeowner to understand that we used all the appropriate precautions.

We're glad to have behind us!  Now we can get ready to install the new furnace and all new PEX tubing, to replace the old heating pipes.

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Demo's Done - The Tenant's Unit

Like the owner's unit, the Tenant's Unit saw a lot of demolition as well.  But we configured this unit differently, to provide a large first floor bedroom as well as an open floor plan from front to back.

Here is the dining room before - a nice space, but really closed off from the kitchen.

Phase 1 starts to open up the space.  But we'll need to put in some structural beams, before we can open it up any further.

The kitchen was gutted, but we got an unfortunate surprise.  The common wall between the two kitchens is only 2 1/4' wide - not wide enough for modern plumbing code.  It's also pitched at an awkward angle, which will prevent us from hanging the cabinets level.  So, after much discussion, we realize the entire wall needs to come down and be replaced with new, level studs.  And remember the popcorn ceiling with the big hole in it?  Well it's history!

Like the bathroom next door, this one needed to have all the old fixtures removed.  And after pulling everything out, we realized we need to gut even more, to clean up the space.  We'll also remove the window that was hidden behind the shower wall.  
And remember the two tiny first floor bedrooms?  Well we removed the closet in between them and now we have a giant bedroom!  And we're building new closets on either side of the window, to provide lots of clothes storage.

But the space that I'm most excited about?  The 2nd floor.  We took down all the old walls on the knee wall side and suddenly we've recovered lots of useful space.  This is where we'll add a new bathroom, expanded closet and a big bedroom space.
2nd floor before
2nd floor after gutting walls

Master Bedroom Before
Next steps?  Starting to put it all back together again!  

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