Archive for August, 2011

Home Repair on a Budget: Day Five

Today I faced a minor challenge and found a good way to overcome it. It has to do with making smooth paint lines.  Let’s get a little background on the situation first.

If you’ve read this blog, you know this little house in Wendell was built in 1944, and has seen a lot of changes in the past few years. When I moved in every wall save one, the back bedroom, was covered in wallpaper, some of it very old, some newer, but all of it needing replacement. Getting rid of the wallpaper was a nightmare. Some of it was stuck on so tightly it was pulling part of the wall off with it. Then, the baseboards had been painted multiple times over the years.

Between the two, a rough, bare wall, and very old baseboards, as well as some settling and shifting over the years, has meant the edges where the baseboards join the walls, as well as doorframes, are unpredictably uneven in places.

True, if I were a contractor, I would likely replace all the baseboards, and I probably will at a later time, but for now it’s imperative I get this house ready before cold weather. So the old ones stay.

All right, I have rough, uneven baseboards due to sloppy painting in the past and being painted over and over (lots of buildup) and I have walls not always mating to the baseboards in a smooth way, plus being rough themselves in places.

I tried the tried and true means of using blue masking tape to edge the walls for painting. And when I peeled it off, I had quite a bit of bleed. Here in this first picture you see an example of this.


This is certainly not acceptable. How can I fix this?

Well, as it turned out, a simple mistake led to a solution. At one spot, I did not use tape, thinking I could hold the brush steady.  I was right, I could, but the brush itself has a certain “spring” to it and the bristles moved upwards slightly as I painted, adding paint to the wall.

When I pulled the tape off earlier I was seeing what you see above, and then it hit me. At that other section, accidentally moving the brush against the wall had at least created a perfectly straight line. So, I realized an intentional bleed line could create an excellent, smooth line. Instead of painting just the edge of the baseboard, I could also paint a very small section of the wall white as well.

To do it it simply means dipping the brush into the paint no more than an eighth of an inch, the holding it at about a forty-five degree angle and moving smoothly and quickly along the top of the baseboard, allowing a small amount to touch the wall itself. This next photo shows how much more precise the line looks after doing that.

See the difference?  What was before an ugly, uneven line is now perfectly smooth, and it would take close inspection for one to realize one is looking at the wall painted white as well as the baseboards.

You can also see in the photo on the bottom left one of the rough spots that was giving me trouble, and yes, I will have to go back to fix this. There are many, many such spots here and there, but that’s part of the charm of an old house, anyway. They are not perfect!

No additional money has been spent. No need to, I’m still working on the trim!

Previous total:     $174.00

New total:             $174.00

Until the next post….  Happy home repairs!




Home Repair on a Budget: Day Four

Tonight I got a good start on my trim work. First up was a trip to Wal-Mart for more paint. I also realized I was going to need a tool for this: a belt sander. So as the sun set, I drove on out and picked up a gallon of white, semi-gloss trim paint, a work light, a belt sander, and some sanding belts.

I’ve been doing night work because first, I’m a night owl, plus the cool evenings have been ideal for this kind of work. With the walls done, it is time to get serious and pay some attention to detail. So, the trim work in the living room is the next item.

I had not used the masking tape I bought before, for two reasons. One, the renter that was in briefly last year simply painted over everything with the brown paint. Walls, baseboards, door frames, etc. So, with the trim already covered in the brown paint, splashing a little tan paint on it as I went along would make no difference. And second, there really is no need to be super neat doing both trim and walls. One can be messy with one, if very careful with the other. And it makes no difference which you do first, so long as the second job is done with a lot of care.

So, I just painted with abandon when doing the walls, but on the trim, time to be focused and neat. So, I taped off the walls to prevent oversplash and messing up the new paint.

Edge of living room extension, trim work begun

I am fairly satisfied with how it has turned out. It will definitely need more than one coat, as you can see. And of course, once the floors are done, I will have to come back and install quarter-round moldings all the way around. This house had carpet installed, and no quarter rounds at all, except in a few places. The paint is just a basic semi-gloss latex. Nothing expensive. About $16.00 for the can.

A couple more pics.

The question I keep coming back to is, when is it “good enough,” and when is it time to replace? The answer to that is simple for now: reuse everything and replace nothing, keeping in mind the goal of a tight budget. The baseboards and trim could definitely use replacing, they have worn places, a bit of dry rot here and there, and overall have no redeeming qualities in terms of how they really look. If you see the pictures above, notice the window frames. Just plain 1×3 boards. Not edged and beveled. Just plain boards. Not really pretty, no. But that’s all right. This house was never a showplace. It was designed for one thing and one thing only, functional living space. So the builder stuck to the basics.

That said, there will be a time, assuming I stay in the house, that a lot of this will be redone anyway. For instance, this house has no insulation at all. None. Not even anything in the attic. As I make plans for the future, I will consider knocking out the exterior walls and replacing them at some point, and putting insulation in each of them. That is, removing the sheetrock or whatever the walls are made of, and then installing insulation, new wiring, and sheetrock. But that’s a later project, and well beyond the scope of this one. As stated before, my goal here is to get this house livable, and we’re a long ways from that.

Let’s see what the budget numbers are now.

Belt sander, flat brushes, one gallon paint, belt sander refills, and a new gas spout for my gas can: $95.93

Previous total:                                                                                                                                                  $78.97

Total                                                                                                                                                               $174.90

We’ll see what tomorrow brings…

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Home Repair on a Budget: Day Three

Following a delay of a few weeks to do a babysitting job and take care of some things at my grandmother’s house, I got back into the swing of things this week.  The first order of business was purchasing a little more paint for the walls. I had enough for the first coat, and about half a second coat. Thus a third gallon was necessary. This worked out perfectly, as I now have a half-gallon left over for touch ups when I need them.

So, I tackled it and knocked it out in one day for the main part of the walls, and the second day I did all the edges around the trim, windows, baseboards, and so on.  Thus, this short post is actually a Day Three and Day Four, combined.  Which makes sense, as the work was really all one thing: painting walls. Nothing exciting about that. So where are we on the budget?  Let’s see.

Previous spent:                                           $46.53

New paint, brushes and tape                    $32.44

Total                                                             $78.97

That total represents 3 gallons of Valspar flat wall paint, masking tape, brushes, and a pan for the roller brushes. I bought enough roller brushes for the whole house, so that expense won’t be repeated. Next project: trim work!

Home Repair on a Budget: The One That Got Away

July 27, 2011

First, no additional work has been done on the house this week. I am out of paint, so that will have to wait until I get paid next week.  Instead, this post will deal with a house I almost had, one that still has me shaking my head in disbelief at corporate stupidity.

In mid-2004, emerging from the collapse of my father’s business and my own bankruptcy, I had to forge a new path. I had invested $30,000 against my house to pay for equipment for the business, not knowing just how bad the business was doing. My dad, notoriously private in matters of money, could not bring himself to tell me before accepting the money. Adding insult to injury, years later, after he promised me he would leave more than enough in the will to cover what I lost, he passed away while leaving the whole estate to my stepmother. I never saw a dime.

Well, all that by way of explaining this situation. I fought hard to rebuild my credit from 2002 to 2004. And I succeeded. It wasn’t stellar, mind you, but still well into the 600′s. Not too shabby for having a bankruptcy, foreclosure and an auto repossession two years prior. I sucked it up and moved on.  I lived in a cheap apartment and lived frugally for two years.

In March of 2004 I took a patient suffering from dementia and other maladies from the hospital back to her residence in Wendell in my ambulance. At two a.m. we arrived at her house and her family greeted us as we came in. I noticed the “For Sale” sign mounted in the front yard and inquired after the patient was placed in the bed. The man eagerly  handed me the MLS printout. Very reasonable, $67,500.  I calculated and realized I could make that payment.  So, I started talking to my real estate agent. She helped me locate a really good mortgage company who helped me get the ball rolling.  They determined I could probably buy the house.

But Allie, my agent, wasn’t sold just yet. She insisted on a broadening the search a little. So I set aside a day and she and I went from house to house looking at lots of different homes from modern to falling apart.  None met my criteria. We had one last house on the list, in Zebulon, just three miles down the road. As I pulled up, I just sat, stunned.

An absolutely charming house, with a nice barn (not a storage building or a backyard garage, but a real honest-to-goodness barn) out back, loads of nice plants and just beautifully maintained. Outside, anyway. Inside, it was a disaster. Paint hung in strips and tatters from everywhere, like so much incomplete confetti. Boxes and debris of mostly office-type stuff was everywhere. Still, I noticed a walk-up staircase and found two more bedrooms up there. Four bedrooms total, three fireplaces, and a nice, full bath. Full back porch, glass-enclosed. Roomy living room with nice, even floors. Beautiful entrance hall which led to a dining room. The kitchen was old, but adequate.

The entire house just screamed, “Potential!!!”  It was solid and well-built. About the only problem I could find was the messed up paint.  I have experience with paint, and I knew immediately why all the paint was peeling in the rooms. Someone attempted to paint latex paint over oil-based paint. Can’t be done without first priming it with an all-surface primer.  But that was not a big deal. Paint is paint. Easy to rectify and redo. The floors were in nice shape. Other than paint and fixing a weak spot on the small front porch, this house would be ready to move into in no time.

Without further ado, I put an offer to purchase in writing, for $7,000 less than the asking price. Since I had financing provisionally secured, and did not have to wait on a house to sell in the meantime, I figured it would sail right through.  A cash offer, in other words.

I could not have been more wrong.

Had the house been owned by an individual, it most certainly would have. I was surprised from the seller’s Realtor that the house was owned by the corporate giant Glaxo-Smith-Kline.

GSK has a significant office and manufacturing base in Zebulon, and this property was on the back side of their campus. They had no use for it, and wanted to sell it.  No big deal, I thought. The guy warned me it might take a few weeks.

But he called me back in just a few days to tell me my offer was acceptable to them. I was ecstatic. I called my financial guy at Charter Funding, Bill Borter, and informed him. He said, great, fax me the accepted offer and we’ll get started.

I called Allie and asked her to secure that for me.  But it still wasn’t there a week later. I called the GSK Realtor directly myself, finally, to ask what the hold-up was. It was now September, 2004.  He explained they were just checking some “things” first. No big deal, but to be patient.

For two months, I went back and forth with them. No formally accepted offer. I was the only bidder. But they had some issues to deal with. Finally they told me what one of the issues was.

The house has an oil furnace. I love oil furnaces, they heat better than any other fuel and are far more efficient (more BTU’s per unit of fuel than any other type of fuel out there).  ”So, it has an oil furnace?” I said. “What’s the problem?”

“Well, the tank leaked,” the Realtor explained.

I shrugged.  ”It happens.  No big deal. I’ll just have to order a new tank or new fittings, wherever the leak is.”

“Well, it’s a bit of a liability problem for them, you see.”

No, I didn’t really see. They had already stated the house’s old well could not be used and the house would have to be connected to city water.  That seemed a waste to me, but I acquiesced to the requirement. But if these guys are chemists, they should know one thing clearly, oil and water do not mix.  Oil is lighter than water, and will be absorbed and eventually broken up by the dirt and soil. It’s carbon-based, you see. There’s not too much danger of huge contamination, and most likely none in the water table. And even if it did get in, it doesn’t mix. As the guy described it, it was a drip, anyway, not the whole tank rupturing.  But, all right. So I agreed with all of that. City water, replace the oil tank. Don’t get me wrong, a huge spill of hundreds or thousands or millions of gallons of oil IS a huge natural disaster. A couple of dozen gallons from a heating oil tank, not so much. To wit: the grass and plants beneath the tank were growing healthily.

So, I waited again. Weeks went by.  No word. I left messages which were unanswered. This was getting strange. Finally, I got a call. There was a problem.

As it turned out, the property lines were off. In short, instead of the property line 10-12 feet from the house, as it seemed to be, the actual line ran right next to the house, and the driveway wasn’t technically part of the property, nor was the barn.  Now this was a problem.  But it was only twelve feet, right? Negotiate with the neighboring property owners and get it fixed, right?

Wrong. As soon as they found out GSK owned the property and there was a property line dispute, they went nuts, demanding almost $20,000 for that tiny strip of land. The entire lot wasn’t worth much more than that alone. The negotiations slowed to a crawl while I waited, fuming.

At that time was now early December. And Bill Borter called, with bad news. Unless I could secure the signed offer to purchase, my funding would not be available after the first of the year. Investors for mortgage companies have only so much they can allocate, and they can’t make money waiting. This investor wasn’t willing to wait any longer. I called back to tell GSK to get a move on, time was running out. No return call.

A week before the end of the year, GSK suddenly got busy. We think we have the property line worked out.  Do you mind if we go ahead and fill in the old well? Do you require this or that prior to closing?  Wow, I’m thinking this might actually happen.

But the week after Christmas, still no word. I made a call to the Realtor and spoke at length to him. He informed me it now looked like April when all the paperwork related to the property line would be resolved. GSK finally paid $16,000 to settle the dispute. My price would not go up, he assured me.  I then had to put my foot down. “I don’t care if you take the rest of 2005 to settle it,” I said, “But I need that signed Offer to Purchase contract right away. You have until December 31, after that I withdraw my offer.”

In the meantime, I went back to the house the old lady lived in, the first one I looked at that night I brought her home. She had since been moved to a nursing home. The house was empty. Allie and I toured it again. I was less impressed this time around, but still, I found it adequate and inexpensive, well within my budget. I signed an offer to purchase, knowing it was now a long shot I would see the paperwork from GSK on the one I really wanted.

On January 2, 2005, I called the Realtor representing GSK and formally withdrew my offer to purchase. My financial guy was already at work, ready to move. I hated it, I really did. The Zebulon house was much nicer, had more room, and was on an infinitely prettier lot. But the circumstances could not be avoided. And I could not wait. I had already checked around, and I could not find another mortgage company to work with me, so I was stuck with what I had. But Charter didn’t try to dump a junk mortgage on me. It was a thirty-year, fixed rate, 6.2% loan only a little bit above national average, a fair reflection of my credit and the times.

On February 2, 2oo5, I walked into the house for the first time, my very own. One cannot imagine my excitement of that day for me. The past three years, nightmare years, all evaporated in an instant. I had done it, all by myself. And that’s a good feeling. I owned my own house!

So, what happened to the house? The GSK house? I had not been by there in some time, and two years ago I got to thinking about selling mine and buying that one, if it was available. So I drove by to take a look.

I was flabbergasted. GSK had torn the house down, even the beautiful, picturesque barn. Gone completely. Saddened at the sight, I put the car in reverse and drove away. I have not been back, though in my mind, I find myself still thinking about how nice it would have been, and about all the things I had planned to do to fix it up.

Home Repair on a Budget, Day Two

July 21, 2011

One thing I did not mention in my previous post was how much I have spent up to date. I wanted to include those figures in the blog, because doing this work on a budget is sort of the point here. I am not including previous work, which includes buying and installing (by myself) a complete 3-ton heat pump/AC unit and all the vents and ductwork associated with that.  I also put on a new roof, including all new half-inch plywood.

So far, as I start renovating from scratch, I have spent a grand total of $46.53. I got two gallons of paint and a set of disposable roller brushes.

Today’s work was to start on the second coat of paint for the living room.  The first day (actually it was two days; I didn’t think about doing a blog of this until day two, but never mind) I shopped at Lowe’s and picked out a color and got two cans of paint. Probably should have gotten the cheapest, but I know from long experience you get what you pay for. Cheapest was $8.00 a gallon, this was $17.00. But not the most expensive I could have gone with.

First coat went on well, but as I started this evening, I noticed the paint in the roller pan (dried hard after yesterday’s painting) started peeling off and getting on the walls. In other words, small little strips of dried paint lifted off the bottom of the pan and curled around the brush, then transferring to the wall. I had never had that happen before, most of the times it dried rock hard and stayed on the bottom of the pan. I am guessing the humidity prevented complete drying this time.

Lesson learned. I brought the pans home and they are soaking in the tin washtub in the backyard this evening. I will thoroughly clean them tomorrow afternoon before going back over.

So, I did not get the entire second coat done, more like one-third. I did manage to get the first coat on the hallway, though. One thing is clear: I will need one more gallon of paint. Thankfully, pay-day is just over a week away, so that will help. It’s no biggie, I can always find another project to work on in the meantime.

Here are today’s pictures. This first one shows the hallway leading to the two bedrooms and the bathroom. I’ve just done roller brushing so far; I will do the trim edges once both coats are complete for the walls.

Second photo shows the view along the living room wall as it leads to the front bedroom. Note the opening for a wood or coal heater pipe in the wall; chimney is directly behind the wall.

Lastly, this photo below shows the corner of the living room. This was an addition built on later, perhaps in the fifties or early sixties. Does make for a nice, wider living room. Could be a dining area or something else. I will likely use it for my study.  Paint had not completely dried, so some sections are darker.


Total cost so far:    $46.53.  I will keep a running tab of all costs in this blog. Should make for interesting reading.

Home Repair on a Budget: Day One

July 20, 2011

Ok, the work has begun.  One thing that happened, I rented the house last summer to a lady right after I painted the living room.  She didn’t like the color I chose, so she chose to repaint it bowel-movement brown. She even painted the trim brown.  Horrible. After doing this damage, the renter decided not to move in, after all. So, I had to start all over. I chose a light tan color this time. The pics show the before and after.

In the first pic, you can see the ugly brown in the corner where the front door and front closet are. I have scraped, but not painted, those doors.

And the second photo shows the painting begun.  It’s still wet, so it looks glossy. But it’s a flat color.

Sorry the quality isn’t good; took these with my phone. I will have my digital Nikon with me for future photos.

Home Repair on a Non-Existent Budget July 20, 2011

My little house needs help. It was built in 1944, and one family lived in it for all of its life until 2005, when I purchased it in February. It’s just a tiny cottage, one of two I looked at and wanted to buy. This was actually my second choice; the owners of the first house never would sign my contract to purchase due to fear of litigation. (That story is probably good fodder for a blog post some day.)

So, with my financing time running out, I went with the second choice. And all was well. The house is tiny, two bedrooms, one bath, only 950 square feet, but boasts a nice, free-standing two-car garage. And I love to tinker and work on things, so that was a real bonus. Not to mention extra storage space if I need it.

All was well, until… In 2009 I lost my job to medical reasons, and my doc forbade me to return. All right, I had no income, so all I could do was apply for disability. In July of 2010, it was finally approved. I got caught up on the mortgage.

At the time, I had moved out to live with my ex and son. My son was needing extra help and Susan was extremely busy at work, having to stay a lot of extra hours, so it worked out all right. Except…

The thing is, in spite of the nice, three-bedroom house I’m sitting in now, I kinda miss my old, run-down, beat-up house in Wendell, just eight miles down the road. Not to mention, vegetation and neglect have taken a toll and the house is officially eyesore status. Between spending time with my nieces in DC and my grandmother in Mooresville, NC, I’ve had little time to keep it up.

But now I’m ready. And my problem is thus: I may be ready, but have no real resources to put into the house. And it needs a lot. Paint, new floors, remodeled kitchen, remodeled bath, back room completely redone. Landscaping is a severely pressing need. At times I have been beside myself just worrying about it. I was absolutely overwhelmed.

Then I remembered something. Stephen King was once asked how he wrote books. His reply: “One word at a time.” And having written a novel myself (as yet unpublished, but still, I wrote a complete one!) I can attest to the truth of that. You really do it one word at a time.

That lesson came to me the other day. So, I know what I need; now, just how do I do it? Simple: one little task at a time.

I recall an article in home magazine on a turn of the century (twentieth century, not twenty-first century) house that was featured and the single guy living there had done a complete renovation on just $1800.00 Yes, you read that right, Eighteen hundred, not eighteen thousand.

He did all the work himself, and focused his efforts on the necessary and ignored the unnecessary. And it was beautiful. I have done this kind of work before; I spent $7000.00 renovating my first house and turned a $15,000 profit. Having a steady job and a good economy meant I had decent credit and was able to borrow what I needed. That is not the case now.

I don’t even dare take out a loan, and I don’t even have a credit card anymore. I cannot afford to make monthly payments. Well, I take that back. I do have a Best Buy card, which I got to buy my computer. It was highly necessary, though. Other than that, I live on a cash-only basis. I’m not precisely comfortable talking about my personal income, but with my previous posts on disability, those who know me know that is my income source, and if you pay attention to your Social Security statements you know what you would get if you quit work early. It’s not a whole lot.

How much can I afford? Honestly about $40.00 a month is all I can do comfortably. That gets me two gallons of paint and some brushes. Or maybe renting a floor sander. I am thinking on averages, because some things are going to be more expensive; there’s no getting around that. So one month I might spend $100, the next month maybe $20. Some months, nothing. It will just depend.

All right, you get the picture. Follow along and we’ll see just how far a little bit of money takes us. And yes, there will be pictures in upcoming posts. In fact, I will post an old one with this, showing the house in an earlier photo. This was pulled from the Wake County tax website; I ought to get on Google and see if there’s a good street view of it.

My house from about fifteen years ago…

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