Posts tagged ‘home’

Hiatus Time

I haven’t updated this blog in quite a while, so I thought I’d better do that. First, the big news: I moved. A lot of reasons but my grandmother turned 100 last year and I felt the need to be closer to her. With no job anymore (I’m on disability) I decided it was time to move. I finished up the remaining few details and finally the house was sold.

It wasn’t an easy decision. Buying that house on my own, with no help from anyone, had been a personal triumph for me. I had lost a previous home due to my father’s business going under and having to rebuild my credit from scratch. So it really meant a lot that I was able to make the purchase and have a roof over my head. In the end, however, family and other concerns won out.

And yes, I lost a lot of money. One thing that surprised me was how much the crash had devalued my property. Comps were misleading: I had tax values but very few recent sales to compare it to. So instead of breaking even I lost money. It’s hard to be too pessimistic when everyone else is in the same boat, though.

So, I relocated to my late mother’s hometown of Mooresville, NC, and moved in with my grandmother, over 175 miles to the west. One of her late sisters had an in-law suite built onto the house and I stayed there. Very cramped quarters but it worked for awhile. Then I found out the cute little house next door was for rent, and the lady across the street owns it. We met and spoke about it, and though she was adamant at first that no pets were allowed, I begged her to consider just my cats. She relented and I moved in exactly one year ago. There have been a few issues with the house, a tiny 786-square-foot cottage, but it is tightly built and cozy. Very well cared-for, as well. A short walk through the woods and I am at my grandmother’s house so that is a perfect situation.


So what’s next? That is a good question.

My my goal at present is to buy a house, hopefully an older one with lots of charm and character. You won’t find me in a cookie cutter subdivision. If I had unlimited funds, I’d buy a vintage Victorian mansion and spend my time sanding and refinishing it until it looks like knew. Unless someone is giving one away, I’d say that’s somewhere in the distant future, if it ever happens at all. More likely is finding an older house with a lot of character, within my budget, and making it my forever home. Because honestly, I don’t ever want to move again.

In the meantime, I will refocus the blog on various homes I see and like, and discuss them as they capture my interest. Stay tuned, and we’ll see what happens…


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: Days Eleven-Fifteen

I combined several days of entries into this one this time, simply because the work was repetitive: no need to repeat “I painted trim today” for four days straight. On the plus side, I have good news.

All the paint and trim in the living room and hallway has been done. Four straight days of marathon sessions resulted in completion of one LONG project. The living room, as I believe I mentioned before, has eight doorways, three windows and crown moldings and baseboards. So the vast majority of the work was trim work.  I didn’t take pics: the room is still full of the detritus of a major paint job. Tomorrow I will clean a lot of that up.

I did start on the bedrooms tonight. The first thing was to paint the front bedroom door and remove the hardware from the closet doors and second bedroom door.

One thing I had forgotten about: this old house has two old-fashioned box locks, the kind that uses a skeleton key, on the closet doors.

I doubt these locks have ever been used, they’ve been painted over many times.

I got the paint off the screws and removed them, then the lock slides right out.

Once the lock is out, it’s time to get the paint off and free the deadbolt. There was so much paint that seeped into the lock and dried it was stuck solid. Had to take it apart (VERY CAREFULLY) so I didn’t get the cams or springs loose. Here’s the inside, with the deabolt removed for cleaning.

The deadbolt fits directly beneath the brass striker, and it’s also solid brass. After I cleaned the mechanism I oiled it with a touch of transmission fluid and wiped it clean, then put cover on.

Then it was time to clean the paint off the outer face of the lock.  Once I’m finished with the doors I can get a buffer and polish the lock face, which is solid brass.

Lastly, the house has these neat crystal doorknobs, definitely an item you can’t find anymore. This was installed on one of the hall closets this evening as I got the hardware re-installed in the living room and hallway.  Gotta love this old stuff!

Previous Total:     $216.50

New Total:             $216.50  (Still no new purchases, but will have to spring for more paint, soon!)

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 Seven and Eight.

It has been awhile since I posted an entry in here.  Two reasons.  I got busy with some other things, including two trips to my sister’s for babysitting duty up near DC, plus things around home got busy as well. One of them, trying to locate a cheap old vechicle to use to pull my trailer when I get to the point of hauling some heavier lumber.  (I did find something neat, a Korean War vintage jeep, honest to goodness US Army issue!  It runs and drives, just needs some brakes and going over to make sure it’s road-worthy.) 

And the second, well, I just sort of ran out of steam. I was going like gangbusters, with no thought of pacing myself. Big mistake, I should have set a time limit. But instead, I just kept forcing myself to go and go, and wound up exhausted. Of course, that’s part of the reason I’m on disability in the first place. My meds keep me that way a lot, and I have to learn my limitations.  Lesson learned.

Okay, so I took my break and I’m back to work.

One issue that became a factor as well was the weather. September was one heck of a soggy month in NC.  We had massive amounts of rain and moderate temperatures to boot. I’m keeping power bills down as I’m not staying in the house presently while I’m doing this work, so it’s necessary to keep the air off. It’s expensive to run a heat pump/AC unit in a house with no insulation.  And by the time I got back from  my sister’s house the temperatures nosedived, and we had frost the past two mornings.

The first thing I did last week was to crawl under the house. I have an oil furnace that worked great for several years, but after the flooding a couple of years ago, I haven’t been able to get it to fire up. It’s totally dry now,  but I pulled the primary control board, something I’ve never done, and got it out.

   It didn’t look too bad on first glance, but once I pulled the board out of the housing, the story became clear. Heavy corrosion had caused the multiple contact bridging and of course, that means short circuits. Not enough to trip the circuit breaker, but enough to render the board’s relay inoperative.  So I’ve got one on order, which should come in a week or so.

  Here, one can see just how bad the corrosion was, between the two circuit boards. Nothing to do but replace it.

And that was Day Seven, just getting under there and retrieving this thing. I have about 40 gallons of fuel oil in the tank, enough for about three weeks of constant use.  I plan to use the oil and heat pump in conjunction, a dual-fuel system. The oil furnace operates with one single large vent in the floor of the living room, and it heats the whole house nicely. I installed new ductwork throughout the rest of the house so the heat pump provides a nice, even heat and circulated air.  Between the two, I think I can have a much better heat system overall, and more efficient.

Day Eight: back to painting. My last entry involved sanding and prepping the front door for paint. I stored it in the workshop but dragged it inside to paint. I turned the heat on to 69 degrees, and opened my can of primer. I already had this, plenty of it, in fact. So, after one last sanding it it was time to prime and paint.

That was done in about three hours, allowing time to dry between coats.   After the door was finished I got some of the hardware out. The hardware, hinges, locks, escutcheons and latches, were hopelessly coated time and time again with paint, multiple coats and applied thickly, in gobs at times.  I chipped the old paint off and began the task of sanding down the worst of it. Like the door, I was unable to remove all of it. Just way too much of it and it was too thick and hard. And all of it was different. Bright brass deadbolt, older brass doorknobs, steel surface lock and steel hinges. And all the escutcheons were painted as well.

Patient sanding using a paint stripper at least got all of them mostly smooth, and I did    each one of them.

I got to thinking, how to handle this?  Every one of them looked different, and I had        no desire to duplicate the sloppy painting techniques of the previous workers.  I hit          upon a solution I think will work well and fit in well with the plan of keeping this an          “old” house in appearance and decor.

I took all of the hardware and decided to paint them glossy black, as old iron and hardware used to some that way anyway.   So I rummaged again and found some glossy black Rustoleum enamel spray paint.  (Thank goodness I remembered to bring it inside last year before the cold hit. )  So the final thing to do before finishing last night was to lay them all out, and paint them.   Here’s the finished result:

We’ll see how it looks this evening after the parts dry and I get them (and the door) installed again.  Oh, in case you’re wondering, I took down one of the interior doors and stood it up in the doorframe. It doesn’t fit very well, being smaller, but at least someone looking from the outside won’t realize the door is actually open, unless they open the storm door as well, and that’s locked.

Previous total:     $174.00

New total:               $216.50   (cost of used primary control for oil furnace, plus shipping)

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: 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.

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