Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Big Pause

As the 10 year anniversary of SoPo Cottage approaches, it seems odd that we will hit the 'pause' button.  I started this business because I love renovating old houses.  I love taking an awkward layout and turning it into a floor plan that works for today's lifestyle - while maintaining the antique charm and uniqueness of the house.  I love fixing the safety issues and lousy energy hogs that cost too much money and are bad for the planet.  I love working with a team of skilled craftsman to create something beautiful.

But it might be time to take a break.  Why?  Well there are 3 issues.  First, there are some new building code changes and ordinances that will likely cripple my business model.  New energy and ventilation regulations will add more costs, while also requiring dramatic changes to the exterior of a home.  Later next year, the city will require sprinkler systems be installed - which adds around $30,000 to the cost of the project.  And now houses built before 1942 need a 90 day review by the historical and architectural review board, adding new challenges to timelines. 

Thanks to COVID and tariffs, lumber costs are up 120% with large percentage increases across most other products as well.  That's a staggering increase and you can add long lead times as well.

And then there is the unprecedented cost increase in real estate.  When I run the numbers on a new project, it quickly becomes apparent that it could be a money losing proposition.  My profit margins are much smaller than most flippers.  As a recent appraiser pointed out, I just put too much money into these houses.  I do it because I want the home to be the best that it can be.  Yet as much as I love this work, I need to make a small profit.

So for now I guess I'll hit the pause button.  I'm a bit terrified.  I'm a workaholic by nature and have no idea what I'll do every day.  I may continue to update this blog and social media periodically.  But in the meantime I'll just do some thinking if there is something else I want to do when I grow up (and I do owe you all the before and after pics of the ranch).  And hopefully some perfect project will come on the market that will make logical business sense.

Thanks so much to all of you for following along as we've renovated 17 houses.  Your support, comments and advice have been a great source of energy and motivation.  And hopefully in return you've gotten a bit of inspiration or ideas for what you can do in your own home.  

I hope the adventures will start again soon.  But for now, it's probably time to step back.  But I promise to get Romancing the Ranch Before & After photos out soon!

All the best,


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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Open House Sunday, October 18th, 11-2, 127 Providence Avenue

And it's done.  Thanks to the hard work of an amazingly talented crew of people, we've gotten this one across the finish line.  And we truly have Romanced the Ranch.

I promise to start compiling all the 'Before & After' photos soon, but for now, here's a few peeks of the finished product.

The mudroom is a show stopper as you come through the front door.

And the antique newel post and balusters provide some historical charm.

But the bigger 'wow' moment is as you enter the main living space.  This may be the biggest open concept living space we have ever done.

It's an inviting room with the wall of windows and doors looking out to the private back yard.  The fireplace wall is flanked by built ins and provides a focal point for the large space.  Of course Holly Lombardo's amazing painting is the finishing touch!  

The kitchen is large and the island provides the perfect spot for family and friends to gather.

Remember the old living room?  Now it's turned into an ensuite bedroom - what a difference!

And the old basement is now a bright, light living space that the new homeowners can use any way they want.

If you're local, we will have an Open House this Sunday from 11-2.  We will be following all the COVID safety protocols (so please don't come if you have any symptoms) including wearing masks, limiting the number of people in the house, social distancing, open windows, etc.  We want everyone to be safe!   And as usual, we'll be collecting donation for the South Portland Food Cupboard.  If you could bring some non-perishables or a cash donation, they would really appreciate it!

In the meantime, I'm going to start sorting through the hundreds and hundreds of photos I've taken and see if I can start creating some fun 'Before & After' posts!  

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Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Pandemic Project - aka Romancing the Ranch

This house has had an unusual journey compared to our usual projects.  Of course the whole world has been on an unusual journey in 2020. We bought this house in February 2020, just as we started hearing reports of some new coronavirus that was spreading across the world.  In March, our daughter in NJ was expecting twins and we drove down to help out for a couple of weeks.

And that's when things went crazy.  She went to the hospital to deliver, just as they were setting up the first COVID tents at the hospital entrance.  Her husband was allowed in with her - but he had to stay until they were all discharged.  We were back at their house, helping with their 2 year old, who didn't quite understand the whole idea of getting a new baby brother and sister.

Our couple-of-weeks stay turned into almost two months, as a household of sleep deprived adults tried to take care of 3 tiny, demanding people, while it seemed like the world was melting down around us.  Only a few miles west of Manhattan, we watched the daily Governor Cuomo updates as hospitals and health care workers toiled endlessly to help the mounting number of COVID cases.  And we ordered all of our food online and then bleached everything on the front porch, terrified of bringing the disease into a household with newborns.

My daughter and I had to stop watching the news, it was just too upsetting and anxiety producing.  

The thing that kept me sane?  Planning this project.  

COVID changed everything 

I brought all the dimensions from the existing house as well as a series of photographs.  That let me create the design in my CAD model and start developing options.  It was a distraction from what seemed like a world that was falling apart.  Playing with my CAD model was soothing.  I tried moving the kitchen to different locations.  I also played with taking some space from the existing garage to create a better entry, that would let the old living room become a bedroom.  All of this planning gave me something else to focus on, in a calm and orderly way. 

But the evolving pandemic started to influence the design.   Suddenly, having a big entryway that let you shed your outerwear (and mask) in a safe manner made lots of sense.  Similarly, having a sink close to the front door so you could wash your hands was also helpful.  

And what about lots of storage space for all those pantry items?  Seriously, where do you keep all those paper towels and cans of soup???  A big pantry suddenly seemed like a smart idea.  And a laundry room with lots of storage space was a slam dunk.

All the room in the basement?  Well that could suddenly be flex space, to to be used however the new homeowner saw fit.  It could be a home office and gym space - or a playroom for the kids.  Whatever works best for them!

With all the built in bookshelves - this could be a perfect home office

This is a huge room - how would you use it?

With all that pandemic inspiration, the design was born.  The house has a big foyer with lots of room for outerwear (because we have a LOT of that in Maine).

I love this foyer/mudroom with its tall ceiling and bountiful storage!  

The big kitchen also features a walk in pantry to hold all kinds of staples. 

Have you seen the Fall 2020 Maine Homes magazine?  This project got a shout out! πŸ˜€

We started the project on May 1st.  Fast forward 5 months later and it's almost done.  All those ideas have become a reality and we hope to put it on the market next week.  And while some of the features were tied to COVID, they'll be fantastic for the new owners after the pandemic is a distant memory! 

Here's a sneak peek of the new living room turned bedroom - with an en suite bath!!
This used to be the living room!  The front door was on the left, inside of the new closet

All the last minute items are getting completed!  Stay tuned!
This probably looks like chaos - but it will all be finished soon!!

So while the official name for this project is Romancing the Ranch, I think I'll always think of it as the Pandemic Project - that just doesn't have the same ring to it. πŸ˜‚

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Thursday, October 1, 2020

Curb Appeal Update

There is a lot going on inside the ranch, but there's been a lot of activity outside as well.  So here's a quick update on our Curb Appeal progress.  The dumpster got moved to the driveway, so I was able to capture this photo in the 5 minutes that we were dumpster less!!  πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

As you may remember, we added a double, false gable to the front of the house, to clearly define the new front door.  

We also closed in the alcove between the garage and the main house - to create a new bathroom.  Oh, and we also installed all new windows, which brought lots of light into the house, but created some nice energy efficiency as well.  And the round vent at the top of the gable??  Well that may be my favorite feature!

Since we wanted to give this place some romance,  I had these custom window boxes built and the guys installed them for me.

They also built this lattice trellis I designed, to provide a spot for a vine and also provide an accent under the bathroom window.

The light fixture, house numbers and mailbox provide a nice focal point next to the front door.

Speaking of the front door, remember when I asked for everyone's opinion on color?  The overwhelming input was for color #6.  And in the afternoon (when it's shady) or on a cloudy day, I liked it too.  But in the morning with the sun shining right on the door, it looked like Smurf Blue.  And I just couldn't paint it that color.  So instead, I went one shade darker, with a color called Endless Sea.  Not quite as overwhelmingly bright blue - but still pretty nice (and there is painters tape on the glass inside, which is why the panes look a bit odd)!

And now that the dumpster is moved to the driveway, we're trying to grow a bit of grass.  Give us another 10 days or so and I hope to have an 'it's done' photo of the front yard!!

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