August 28, 2009

Labor of Love

Peeling Off Layers

After the first mistake of purchasing 35 Thayer was behind us, we persevered through the next several blunders with our convenient rose colored glasses firmly affixed over our eyes. On second thought, perhaps it was more like a blindfold because we sure happened to disregard a slew of important barriers as we leapt over them.

Ah how I sometimes yearn for the early days when we were still smiling, laughing, no matter what type of nightmare we encountered. It makes me wistful to be that ignorant again.

Our house was located, as I mentioned at 35 Thayer Ave. Many might imagine this to be a busy street with loads of activity, just as an avenue should be. Our house however was situated at the end of what can best be described as a field of dirt; not even so much a street, let alone an Avenue.

The aforementioned field that was our street held just one house, ours. The rest of the field was conveniently the back entrances to a little shopping plaza. The plaza consisted of an urban clothing store, CD creation shop, Laundromat, church, convenience store and one storefront which went through a myriad of different shops; one of which went right through Matt and I, but that fun snippet must be saved for later.

At the time we saw nothing wrong with the odd layout of the street, just the odd layout of the interior of the home so we got right to work on changing it all.

In every room of the house, of which there were eight including the two bathrooms, there was dark wood paneling, drop ceiling, chocolate brown trim paint and at least (but usually more) 10 electrical outlets which were conveniently placed at about three feet off the ground.

It isn’t as if the home inspector did not warn us about the fact that not only was the fuse box a Federal Pacific (known for spontaneously combusting and burning down countless homes before they were shut down) but that it was less than 100 amp service and to make things even more interesting they had gone with the old ‘shove a nail in there so it will never trip off’ trick.

That small bit of information would have been enough to get out of the purchase contract. Instead we waved the inspector off as if he had never done this before and that we clearly knew exactly what we were doing.

I would like to remind you at this time of the cackling which should be taking place.

As the paneling came down we discovered the strapping used to hold it was tacked up right over the old wallpaper from the 1950’s. We had just gone back in time five decades; well, really two I suppose considering when we first walked through the door the entire house was like stepping onto the dingy and dusty set of a Quincy, M.E episode.

Even more interesting than the chosen décor were those outlets I had mentioned. Turns out the genius who lived there took the one (yes, one) original outlet in the room, attached lamp cord to it (see photo) and ran it to the additional 9 outlets through the space. Doors and windows are not exactly an issue when there is that much cord -- feel free to just go up and over!

The paneling tacks happened to miss the strapping in some areas. We counted 6 spots where fire had burned the wallpaper due to punctured wiring.

Since the paneling was coming down the drop ceiling also had to go; mostly because the paneling went to the original ceiling. Of course it did. Perhaps the second layer of ceiling should be stripped then too right? Not too many people are into puke yellow aluminum siding as a modern treatment option. At the time it was installed though I suppose it was a good sturdy base to hold the warehouse style fluorescent lights strewn about the home.

Those lights would have been perfect if we had intended to fill up the house with a whole bunch of pot plants that we would cultivate. Looking back that might have been a safer option.

Talk about scary electrical nightmares. The photo next to the charred lamp cord depicts the outlet in the ceiling mounted light box, 1 fluorescent light is plugged into that, an extension cord is plugged into the fluorescent light box, the cord was supposed to attach to the other fluorescent at the opposite end of the room but since it didn’t quite make it the mastermind of power decided to splice in another. Of course electrical tape should be good enough to hold that connection together for decades. No fear of this house burning down. She wasn’t going anywhere.

Now that the drop ceiling was going we might as well pull up that hideous, vile smelling, brown, gold and orange 1970’s shag wall to wall carpeting. Oh goodie, there is another layer of wall to wall underneath it that this one was simply tack stapled to. Why tear something out when it could simply be covered up right? Unlike our predecessors, we chose to toss it and finally reached the hardwoods.

Because we had gone this far we figured why not rip out all those hand made, wide pine, tongue in groove, crooked kitchen cabinets and the countertop that was harvest gold and cracked. Come to think of it all three harvest gold appliances that did not work could go as well. And since the kitchen was now bare, tearing up that floor would be a piece of cake.

We then discovered another layer. Then another. Then another... All told we pulled five layers out of the kitchen before reaching the subfloor.

Once everything throughout the house was stripped (thanks in very large part to great friends, some of our more helpful family, a few million enormous cups of coffee and one or two overnight hotel stays) and the final pile of horsehair dust was swept into a green contractor bag, we had taken enough out of the house to completely fill four 40 yard dumpsters.

The good news was that we estimated to have gained back over 20,000 cubic feet of space by simply peeling off layers. The onion theory does ring true when it comes to renovation of an 1850’s farmhouse however -- the more layers that are peeled the more likely some tears are eventually going to fall.

August 26, 2009

Labor of Love

Down the Rabbit Hole

Back in 2002 Matt and I purchased a house in Springfield, Massachusetts with the sole intention of fixing it up to flip it quick. Therein lies the first mistake, we had no idea that a home has a life of its own and the second you intend on doing anything other than what it wants the sucker will come right for you and stab you in the jugular until you are left to quiver in the corner like a mass of goo in full submission to its life force while it bleeds you dry.

Or something like that.

At the time we purchased the house we had been engaged for about seven months, had known each other a little over three years and had been living together since September of 2001. We were planning a fall wedding and thought it would be a great way to start our married lives, with a little cash in our pocket.

Insert hysterical laughter here. Continue cackling for the remainder of this story, no matter how long that might be, and then for approximately 2 years after it is over.

We chose Springfield as our investment location for a few reasons. First it was close enough to Boston that we could get there if we needed to, and considering we were intending on completing all the work ourselves, we would definitely need to. Second it was cheap as hell. Being just two hours west of Boston we were amazed at how low the prices were in comparison. Finally, we could get bang for our buck. The cost of entry ran under $50,000 and that was for a home of approximately 1500 square feet.

We should have seen the red flags. We should have paid more attention to all of the signs along the way guiding us into different directions. But we were naïve; we were determined to do what we wanted no matter the cost.

Cost being the operative word here.

We took a couple weekend scouting trips to the area and got a feel for where we would be buying and working. Once we felt comfortable with it, a real estate agent in the area took us through four homes in various neighborhoods.

There was the 500 square foot, one bedroom home with a huge side yard and driveway in the Pine Point area which we dubbed Grandma’s Cottage. That home was in the best shape physically of all of them and would have turned a small profit but due to the size we considered it could be a lengthy period before it would even sell so we offered them about half of the listing price, just to see what would happen. They flat out rejected it and we moved on.

Next up was the huge home on Pendelton, the heart of the second scariest neighborhood in Springfield. The interior stairs had holes in them. In fact everything had holes except the plywood covering all the windows that had not yet been smashed, and some that had. When we headed down the tiny back hall stairs to the basement I was nervous we might find people living down there. I didn’t even know anything about the neighborhood at the time and still I could feel it was sketchy. No offer; again, we moved on.

The next house we saw is the woulda, coulda, shoulda if ever there was one. Had we known more about real estate speculation or what level of work would be involved in completing a renovation to an entire home we would have placed an offer on the little ranch with perfect siding and a new roof over on Vadnais. Sadly we allowed the sound from the expressway out back, the smell of cat pee and the completely demolished kitchen to deter us. The home was on a slab and a total gut renovation (even back then when we were completely green) would have likely only taken through the late fall. The systems were totally intact meaning we would not have needed Jerry, the pirate Electrician; a chapter in and of itself.

We thought they were asking too much for too small a house once we saw the size and listing price of the next place and thus began our slow descent down the rabbit hole known as Thayer Ave.

August 7, 2009

Semi Broken Thoughts for Friday All About Painting

I painted yesterday so as I sit here typing all I can see is splatters of primer all over both hands (yes I have to look at the keyboard when I type) and it is making me think of all things related to painting.

There is something completely satisfying for me at the end of a very intense day of ladder work, cutting in and rolling that I find tough to explain but of course I will try. When I paint (I don’t mean faux, that I actually do have to think about some of the time), I can just zone out and sing along to music I don’t even like that is blasting from the jobsite radio. I eat my lunch out of a cooler. I can wear whatever I like. Sweating is a definite. A workout is involved all day long. I can accomplish a little or a lot each day and no one is there to bitch about it as long as I wrap the entire job on time.

Yesterday I cut in and rolled out the walls in two entire rooms and began cutting in a third in about two hours. Our time was limited as the other kid who was cutting up carpet on this particular job site had gotten a ride there with my dad and had to be back for his other job by 3:00. My dad is protective and since this isn’t in the most desirable area he doesn’t want me there alone so I left with them.

I knew our time would be short so I cranked ass on purpose. Matt and I are going back this weekend. There are three rooms upstairs and 5 rooms downstairs to finish priming. Considering my performance yesterday I’d say between the 2 of us we will have those banged out by mid day on Saturday.

A lot of times I’ll eat lunch on the fly which means I chomp away on my sandwich with one hand while I cut in with the other. I of course did that yesterday because of the limited time but because I didn’t want to eat paint, I first wiped down my left hand with a Wet-Nap. Immediately I started to chuckle because, well, of course I had a Wet-Nap in my ‘Mom Bag’.

When I was working with the awesome faux ladies in Long Island I used to bring my lunch and other stuff everyday in a tote bag. The gals dubbed it the Mom Bag because anything you had to go to your Mom for, you would likely find it in my bag. The current contents include stuff like - straws, plastic utensils, hair bands, Wet-Naps, band aids, ibuprofen, girlie stuff, hand sanitizer, lotion, tissues, cough drops, change, napkins, and usually a roll of toilet paper and a plastic shopping bag but both of those are at the current jobsite.

Hey you just never know and I was a girl scout so I like to be prepared (although I think that is the motto of the Army or something but no matter, it’s a good one to keep in mind).

Taking off at the end of the day after having rocked it like yesterday always makes me feel like I just went to the gym for a couple hours, it is fulfilling but I am totally drained. I fell asleep on the couch last night and this morning my shoulder is definitely killing me but I don’t even care. Tomorrow we are planning on spending a healthy eight hour day out there then another 5 on Sunday and I go back for at least 4, maybe up to 6 on Monday which should take me through just about the end of Phase II of the job. Once the plumber, electrician and my dad (the finish guru) get through the place I will be back out for a couple days to complete the final bits.

This is my meditation.

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