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A New Start, Another Old House… 

My last entry was a few months ago, mulling over possibly purchasing a gorgeous turn-of-the-century farmhouse not far from my home in Mooresville. I wrote the owner and never heard back, so I let the house search go for awhile. 
And too, I wasn’t at all sure of my financial ability to purchase a new house, anyway. But that’s not correct. I’m no longer an “I” but a “we.” My girlfriend Gerri and I have solidified our relationship over the past couple of years into something quite permanent indeed. Even so, owning a home for ourselves seemed to be a dream, something to think about every so often, but maybe it would just be a dream. 

And one day in early May I saw an email update from an online real estate search site, Zillow, showing a decent-looking home in our price range and close to town. Long story short, we applied for approval and were immediately pre-approved. The bad news, the house was already under contract by the time We got to see it. And it was in rough shape, anyway. 

But we were buoyed by the sudden revelation we were pre-approved. I pulled out my computer and searched my favorited homes to see what was still available. My eye was continually drawn to a Craftsman bungalow in the heart of Kannapolis, just 15 miles away. I had saved the home as a “favorite” some months back, appreciating its Craftsman features and tasteful updates. I showed it to Gerri and we both liked it, a lot. We toured it the next day and though it was a bit more than I wanted to pay, we found out then the sellers had reduced the price by $10,000. 

It is sufficient to say we both fell in love with the house. The floors were straight and true, none of the sagging and settling common to many older homes. It had just undergone a major facelift and every surface was gleaming and shiny. The major systems, electrical, HVAC and plumbing were all brand new. It looked like a new house. In short, in two days we had an offer in place and it was countered in a small detail or two and we accepted the counter-offer. 

  

The house is on a quiet, tree lined street in the heart of Kannapolis, NC. It was built in 1930 and sits on a large lot. There are two pecan trees and two peach trees out back. I’ll let the pics tell the story… 

  
   
               
The house is 1372 square feet, which doesn’t count the upstairs. That would make it 1712 square feet of HLA (heated living area) once heat and AC are routed there. 

Though it has been renovated, there are many changes I would like to change over time, including adding a second bathroom and a master bedroom closet. And turning those upstairs rooms into functional bedrooms, instantly adding value to the home. 

We close on Monday, June 22, 2015, and the ride begins! 

  

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Making a Contact

My last entry a few days ago contained mention of an old farmhouse I’ve had my eye on for over a year now. I pass by it at least a couple times per month, always wondering who owns it and what the story is behind it. I stopped to shoot a few pictures to share in the previous entry to point out my tastes in old houses.

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Even as I was writing, the wheels started turning. My sleep became erratic. I knew I wasn’t going to rest until I got the bottom of the mystery.

Friday morning, I drove out to see my great-uncle Glenn. He knows everyone around, and he thought he knew who the owner was, but wasn’t entirely sure. But a cousin of mine lives just right down the road from the old house and her husband Johnny runs a big farm there. As luck would have it, Johnny was unloading a dump truck load of seed corn when I stopped by. He knew immediately which house I was talking about and who the owner was. I started to go then, but for some reason I decided to wait, and think it over. I needed to reflect on what I should say.

The house wasn’t for sale, so how do you approach someone and ask if they’d be interested in selling, without the conversation turning into a gruff “No, now get out of here!!”?  Well, sometimes, that’s just going to happen. I had to be careful to exhibit the right amount of interest. Not too much, or they’d likely ask too much money, but not disinterested, either, or they wouldn’t care about selling.

I went back Saturday afternoon and there was no one home at the owner’s house. I went back to the old house down the road and found the grass freshly mowed. Obviously, I’d just missed him. I decided to hang out and shoot a few more pictures. I was just finishing when I heard the clatter of a diesel engine and saw a tractor pull in and stop. A man hopped down and I asked if his name was Ralph (the owner’s name). He was, and shook my hand and I introduced myself and simply said I was interested in the house and wanted to know if he’d ever considered selling it.

We had a very pleasant conversation, over an hour, and he isn’t the only owner, ownership is divided among five members of the family. And it wasn’t clear whether they’d have interest in selling at all. The contents of the deceased owners were still inside and the family wasn’t sure what to do with all that. They didn’t have room in their homes for all of it, but apparently they weren’t ready to sell the belongings, either.

Ralph agreed, the house was reaching the point of needing serious attention. I got the overall impression he might be very willing to consider it, the house plus about a third to a half acre. But it would take getting a consensus from all five owners, plus some kind of disposition in place for the old furniture and belongings inside. He mentioned there had just been two break-ins recently, and some high value furniture items were stolen.

My guess is that is a plus in my favor. When a house has been targeted like that, it is often revisited and more things stolen. Hopefully, that might be an impetus for them to consider disposition of the property. It is not a high-crime area at all, just rural and secluded.

So, I wrote a nice letter today, thanking him for his time and hospitality in speaking with me about the house. I reiterated my desire to place a fair-market offer on the house, sometime after the first of the year, and I would work with them to alleviate any concerns they might have. I will mail it tomorrow afternoon and see what happens.

Likely, nothing will. But like my father always said (didn’t everyone’s father?), “The worst that can happen is they say no.”

For now, I wait and see…

Planning Time

I restarted this blog yesterday, indicating it was a hiatus time for me, no longer owning the house I poured blood, sweat and tears into. I’m helping take care of my grandmother, living in a small, cute rental beside her. But my girlfriend and I are making plans to buy our own place.

That really opens up the doors labeled “Possibility.” It also opens a fair number of cans of worms as well.

I absolutely adore and love my girlfriend. She’s smart, funny, keeps me smiling and laughing, and I honestly couldn’t have picked a better person.

But while we see eye-to-eye on most things, she isn’t a fan of old. Or, a better way of saying it, she doesn’t want a project. Whether new or old, she wants it to be more or less move-in ready, minor upgrades such as countertops or faucets acceptable. Me? I’m up for a total gut job, putting in new walls, insulation, refinishing floors and such. Somewhere there is a middle ground, we just have to find it.

But that doesn’t mean any old house will do. I am not a fan of plain brick ranch homes, for example. They look boxy, unadorned and often without the kind of character that I appreciate. I’m glad my better half agrees on this. There are some fantastic ranch designs, however, that aren’t plain and boxy. They are just above our price range, for the most part.

So, what do I like?

I’m a fan of the turn-of-the-century Victorian designs and early century Craftsman designs. They often have peaks and gables that add interest and character to the roof line, and their eclectic flow and tall ceilings give the houses a sense of large size, even when they aren’t very big at all.

Here is a quintessential, archetypical Victorian design that actually has some elements of Craftsman design, as well.

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Notice the roof lines and the dormer window. And the large pillars on the porch. This is a very well-built country farmhouse not far from where I live.

More views:

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The house is unoccupied and has been for many years. The front door is padlocked. Someone is obviously mowing the grass, but no real care is being given the the house. The front porch has a place where the roof is leaking badly and the porch ceiling roof has rotted. Still, the house isn’t sagging or badly damaged in any way the I can see. Even the awesome chimneys look to be in great shape.

It is not for sale, sadly. But I’m hoping that may change…

In short, this is a hunkering down, taking stock and planning time. What will the budget be? How much can we afford? What do we want?

A lot of possibilities…

Home Repair on a Budget: Days Seventeen Through Twenty-One

Well, the biggest milestone has been passed. All the painting of the front and sides of the house has been done. That is, the living room, the living room extension, hallway, and the two bedrooms have been completed.  I can’t begin to tell how relieved I am.

There will be a good many touch-ups to do, and things to correct and redo later, but the main job is done.

A few pics…

This is the back bedroom, with the double window facing the backyard. This window is in the roughest shape of all. Will need to be completely redone at a later date.

This is the closet of the back bedroom. Only bad thing about this door was someone painted it with a roller brush at some point. Ugh!

This is the closet door of the front bedroom, with a part of the doorframe and edge of wall that protrudes forward a bit. The windows and doors of this room were in the nicest shape of anywhere in the house.

Tomorrow is the big day: floor sanding.  I dread that…

Old total:  $284.83

New total: $284.83  (no new purchases)

Home Repair on a Budget: Day 16

I’m scratching my head this evening, but I think one mystery about my house has possibly been solved. Several features about this house have always puzzled me, such as why the ceilings and doorways are lower than most houses, and why the walls don’t seem to mate up just right in places.

I have come to believe my house is actually one of the post-war kit houses that could be ordered from Sears and other places and were shipped by rail and assembled on site. The ceilings, for example, are about 7’6″ high, and the doorways are lower, about 6’6″ or so. And many places such as corners don’t seem to have been mated together properly, with a few gaps here and there.

Another thing: all the corners in the house have small 1×1″ trim boards attached where they join, but in some places 1×2″ boards were used. Very odd, since most houses use joint compound and drywall tape, or plaster, to form the corners.

This is one such corner. I hate that the camera really struggles to translate the color, but anyway, every place where there’s a joint you have this kind of mating: wood strips to close the gaps in the walls.

And then there’s this curious place in the hallway floor. This was discovered after the old carpet was ripped up. There’s this line where it looks like the floor was just cut. At first I thought it was done to install the old furnace, but then I noticed the line is on a direct plane with the center of the house, directly under the roof peak.

It was odd to me they would cut the floor like this, and even seasoned HVAC guys don’t generally do sloppy work like this. But it makes a lot more sense if this is actually a seam where two halves the house are joined together.

I will need to research these old houses some more and see if I can find what model it was, and where it was sold.

In other news, my bedroom door is done and both bedrooms have received the first coat of paint.  Her’s a quick view of the back bedroom.

Oddly, this back bedroom has a small chair rail. I’m leaving it, will just be a new challenge when it comes to painting it.

Lastly, this little scraper is worth it’s weight in gold: I think it was about $5.00 at Lowe’s. With several packs of scraping material or sandpaper, it cuts right through old paint fast. Definitely a good investment.

You can see the attached scraping material on it, it’s some kind of very rough mesh. You can even use them to scrape small items without the handle tool.

Had to buy more paint this evening. So, new totals are in order…

Old total:  $216.50

New Total: $284.83

Home Repair on a Budget: Day Ten

Today marked a milestone of sorts: all the trim, windows, doors and door frames have finally received the final coats of primer in preparation for painting. The baseboards have long been done, but the door frames and windows, and the doors themselves were taking some time. This is all focused on the living room and hallway for now, which is the main living space.

The living room and hallway have eight doors total and three windows.  Front door, coat closet, kitchen door, bedroom doors (2), bathroom door, hall closet one and hall closet two.  And two windows on the front of the house and one smaller one on the side.  That is a LOT of trim  work. Nothing to do but keep plugging along on it.

One issue, as stated earlier in this blog, was my earlier over-extending myself and subsequent exhaustion. I’m learning to slowly pace myself, keeping in mind Wyatt Earp’s famous quote on gunfighting: “Take your time, but quick.”

Here is where I am today.

This is the front door and the hall closet, masked, primed and ready for paint tomorrow.

I forgot the pictures of the windows, but it’s nothing new, and same old stuff.  I am actually not sure if I will even paint the windows themselves; I may replace them entirely in the near future, depending on funds.  We’ll see. If not, I will tackle that a bit later.

This is the hallway, with the twin closet doors and the bathroom door. The primer is still wet in the picture; when it dries it is flat and non-reflective.

The two bedroom doors are opposite these doors.

This is one VERY tight space to work in. Back in the day, there were minimal (if any) code requirements regulating the size of hallways and widths. To give you an idea of the size, that bathroom doorway measures exactly 24 inches wide, so the hallway isn’t much wider than that. Bending over runs the risk of brushing against a newly painted surface, which I did today!

Lastly, this is a bit of a mystery to me. This is the front bedroom doorway. Notice the door jambs.  They only go about two-thirds of the way down, and are neatly cut off.  This is true for both doorways.

I’m at a loss to explain this, but I have one possible idea. If anyone knows otherwise, shoot me a comment.

My guess is it was not closed completely to allow for better air/heat circulation. Back in the day, this house was heated with a wood or coal or oil stove, with a flue opening in the living room. And later, an oil furnace was installed in the living room floor, with a single large vent blowing the hot air upwards.  So there was no heat flowing to the rooms. Having a slight opening in the doorway would allow for some heat to come in, I guess.  In theory anyway. In the winter, you’ll freeze your hiney off if you leave the doors closed.  Of course, now the house has a fully central heat pump system, so it’s no longer an issue.

Tomorrow’s job: painting all that trim with the final coats of latex trim paint.

Previous Total:    $216.50

Today’s Total:       $216.50    (Again, no new purchases.)

Home Repair on a Budget: Day Nine

Today I can breathe a bit easier: my front door has been reinstalled and the house is once again secure.  Although, I’m a little upset the work involved in reinstalling the door resulted in a whole lotta paint chipping  off.

Of course, I can only blame myself. I was in a bit of a rush, as I’m leaving town for the rest of the week to visit my grandmother so I really needed to get the house secured before I left, but the black spray paint just didn’t have enough time to thoroughly dry. Surface dry, yes, but not all the way through.

Here’s where we are…

Once I got the big surface lock installed, I noticed the paint chipped from screwdriver. It managed to flake a large, noticeable portion off a couple of places. Well, quick solution for now…

I got the rest of the screws installed (3) and then grabbed a small, cheap paintbrush. I sprayed a generous glob of black paint onto the cardboard I was using, and then dipped the paintbrush in that and then applied it to the chipped area.

Then it was time to go over all the surfaces on the lock and get them all covered.

I think it turned out fairly well, but this story isn’t quite over.

So, I got the hardware in place, the locks reinstalled, and the doorknobs secured. Then the last step: the hinges. Three very heavy, large hinges.  One of the screws broke when I removed it; these are old flathead screws with a single groove on top. I’d much prefer a Philips head screw, but there’s nothing wrong with these. Plus, they were already used and holes were reamed out for them, so back in they went.

And then it was time to move the door off the sawhorses and back to the door frame. And that’s when the trouble REALLY started. Obviously I took no pictures of this ordeal, the darn thing weighs close to a hundred pounds.  Yes I can lift a hundred pounds, quite easily, in fact. But lifting a hundred pound object and aligning it precisely to a specific point at a precise angle, and you can see the difficulty.  After more than twenty minutes of balancing and pushing and pulling and getting things to fit just so, I finally got one hinge lined up, the middle one. I’d have much preferred to get the top one first, but that came later.  More pushing and pulling and coaxing, and finally I got the bottom and lastly, the top. There is definitely some play in the hinges mounted on the doorframe, so I will have to go back and work on that. Really, the entire doorframe needs replacing. That will be a project for a later time.

Now the door is in place, deadbolt lines up, and the house is secure, but the biggest issue here is that the process of pushing and pulling really did a number on the hinges just freshly painted.

I will have to wait until I’m back to repaint, carefully masking the area to avoid overspray.

If you look closely at this photo, the bottom hinge shows a lot of white/green paint on the bottom.

Also, there is no catch on the large black lock, which also got scraped in the final door installation; I need to redo that area to better secure it. The catch is painted and ready to install, but I need to paint the doorframe first and repair the area where the catch is installed with a new block of wood behind it.

And here’s the view from straight on.

I have no idea why the cell phone cam chooses to distort colors like this, and it also shows some kind of ghost image.

Kinda freaky, when you consider last night was Halloween!

Cool, I gots a haunted house!  🙂

Next up, I will be finishing the trim work, painting the door frames, interior doors and windows.

Stay tuned!

Previous total:  $216.50

Current total: $216.50, no new purchases.

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