Posts tagged ‘remodeling’

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: Day Six

Today I started tackling the most dreaded of the painting jobs, taking down the old doors to prep them for painting. Since I worked a long time last night, I only got about an hour’s sleep and then got back up and tackled it some more. I did a little necessary utility stuff around the house, picking up trash, moving stuff around and other non-project related stuff. But I finally got around to the front door.

Just like much of the rest of the house, the doors are in bad shape. From the prior photos you have seen a glimpse of the doors: flaking paint, with old green paint underneath and more recent white latex on top. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the previous owners did not bother masking off hardware and instead just painted over it, and over it, and over it…

I positively hate that. Nothing about a wall looks worse to me than a having an outlet or a brass part attached, and then painted over. It looks trashy. It screams, “LAZY!!” It just looks… bad.

There are elements to any wall or door. We have switches, and outlets, and doorknobs and latches and hinges and all kinds of things. Yes, you can paint over them. But the result is a hurried, messy, sloppy appearance.  Not my cup of tea at all.  And the front door is a focal point of the house, so I’m not going to subject it to the treatment it has received in the past. I want clean. Pretty. Attractive. Detailed.  Which as you can see from the photos, it is not.

So, the door comes off. As does the brass knocker, the two deadbolts, the doorknob and the hinges. In short, anything and everything on this door comes off. So, I started unscrewing and unbolting, and with all the hardware off, then I got the door off. The second picture is a closet door, but you see the same thing: more sloppy painting.

This actually took awhile. The paint was deep and thick and hard. I had to chisel a lot of it off to get to the screws underneath.  One way to get them was to take a thin screwdriver and after chipping the main paint covering off, chiseling out the groove so the blade of the screwdriver fits neatly again.

It’s a big, heavy door. I guesstimate it weighs nearly a hundred pounds. I put a piece of cardboard under one end and dragged it outside to where I had two saw-horses set up.  So, then it was time to sand.

Starting with a belt sander, I covered the entire door except for the recessed moldings. For that I switched to a rotary paint stripper, attached to my drill.

This is a 3M coarse sanding wheel, available at Wal-Mart or most hardware stores for about $4.00. They can last a long time.

It isn’t necessary to take every single bit of paint off, but it is essential to have it all smooth. No chip lines, in other words, or places where it could peel up in the future.

A couple of words on sanding. Please use a good, HEPA-quality dust mask. Especially when working with very old paint such as this. It almost certainly is lead paint.

Secondly, the belt sander and sanding wheel both generate a lot of speed, and heat. It is prudent to back off every so often for two reasons. One is to give the machine time to cool down. Another is a principle of adhesion, related to the Blish Principle. In the early 1900’s a Navy Captain by the name of John Blish noticed a peculiar and dangerous phenomenon. When Navy crews fired the big five-inch guns with live rounds, there was generally no problem. But in training, they used much weaker blank loads. And the barrels of these big guns would often violently unscrew and kill or maim crew members working in the turrets.

Blish noticed it never happened on the full-strength loads, so he realized the excess heat and pressure formed a metallic adhesion strong enough to prevent the barrels from becoming unscrewed. This principle was patented in a single-shot gun he designed, which caught the eye of General John Thompson, who used the Blish lock in his invention, the world’s first, and most famous, submachine gun, known as the Tommy Gun.

What does that have to do with sanding old paint? Nothing at all. Except this: old paint under heat and friction also has a tendency to adhere strongly to surfaces. If I kept sanding and sanding, I would likely still be out there now. But if I take a moment, really just a few seconds, and then begin again, that short interval of lifting the sander off the surface, allowing it to cool, and beginning again allows it to expand and then contract in rapid fashion, and then it loses its grip on the surface and flakes off easily.

So, after an hour of sanding, I was down to bare wood or the first primer surface. With a few flecks of green paint here and there, but the main thing is to get it smooth. If the paint didn’t come off on all that sanding, it isn’t likely to come off at all.

It was half done when I took this shot, and was sanded one more time before calling it a day.

We’ll pick it up again tomorrow as we start the painting of this nearly 70 year-old door.

Oh, before we close, a quick tech tip:

I have a TV, an old analog unit, that I keep in my garage. With all the analog signals now history, there’s no way to watch TV without the digital converter. So, I got one. When the hurricane hit last week I hung out there to keep an eye on things and watch the news reports. I brought the TV into the house, along with the converter box and was stumped.  I had no antenna.

But I did have this:

The older generation in their forties on up have seen these: before cable TV and coaxial connectors came, all antennas were connected via screw connectors. When newer TV’s came out with only coaxial connections, people either had to buy new antennas or get these coaxial adapters for their old antennas. So, I had one of these in my electronics box, and some wire.

I have digital antennas and older rabbit ears, and even some amplified ones. (Unfortunately not at the house.) But all I did here was to attach a length of speaker wire to the terminals, about five feet of it, and just hang it up on the wall. I had doubts it would work, but I gave it a shot. And I got more channels with a piece of wire and this connector than any of those other antennas, some of which cost more than $60.00!

Go figure.

Previous total:  $174.00

New total:          $174.00, still no new purchases, continuing with the trim and door work.

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: 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 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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