Flipping the “Dog House.”

Why I haven’t been blogging for the past two and a half years….

The house-hunting ordeal had begun again. This was not a new game for us; we had lived at 16 different addresses in our nearly 40 years of marriage; this was not a corporate move as many of the prior ones had been, but finding a long-term home after retirement. And, after years of major renovations in the homes we had purchased, my handy-man husband had stipulated he didn’t want to buy another house that needed work!

We began looking on-line, ruling out hundreds of homes before ever driving by or stepping inside them. Wrong room lay-outs, not enough bedrooms, awful kitchens, no garden space in the back yard, lack of garage, or just out of our price range took its toll. Finally we narrowed the list to about 30 homes and contacted a real estate agent who drove us around for weeks, only to have us turn our thumbs down on all of them.

It was discouraging. This community has thousands of homes for sale, but every single one of them had some major flaw that eliminated it from our consideration. After all, this was not a house that we would need to resell in a year or two when the company needed my husband’s skills at a new location; this would be a permanent home until we were too fragile to live on our own.

One sunny Sunday afternoon, as my husband settled on the sofa for an afternoon of football, I dug back into the internet searching and discovered two “Open House” homes in an area we liked. He was involved in watching his games so I went alone.

I fell in love with the first house. From the moment I walked through the front door, I liked everything I saw. (Remember, we were looking for a house that wouldn’t need any work!) And this one was a beauty! There were no worn, dirty carpets to replace; there were no textile floors at all. All of the floors and even the stairs were finished in wood. It had real wooden cupboards in the kitchen.

Our dream list included a formal living room, formal dining room, large kitchen, family room with a fireplace, at least four bedrooms, a screened back porch, and a space in the backyard for a garden, a two car garage and a shed. And this place had it all…almost. The only thing missing was the screening on the covered porch in back, but that was an easy fix. It was at the high end of our price range but was the first house that actually fulfilled our list and it was beautiful.

I then drove a couple of blocks to the second Open House listing. Pots of dead plants peeked out from under the overgrown shrubbery and long grass grew from the multiple cracks in the driveway. The door was missing from the mailbox and the screens were tattered. Paint was peeling from the front porch and door trim and the front door and garage door were painted a hideous purple. Things didn’t improve much when I walked inside.

The floors were covered in original builder grade carpeting that was nearly worn through and filthy. The walls had recently been spray painted in a flat white, complete with paint runs down the walls and on the dusty, faded window treatments. Most of the window glass had broken seals and were completely fogged. The kitchen was big with a nice floor-plan but the condition of the appliances, cabinets and flooring were a complete distraction. Two of the four bathrooms had new ceramic floors, but the other two floors were worn and torn. Even the registers were bent and rusted.

Upstairs bedrooms still sported the original builder grade paint and an accumulation of all the dirt and abuse from the day it was first purchased by the original owner. Outdated light fixtures missing globes, filthy carpet, dirty walls and cracked door frames adorned every bedroom and peeling thermafoil cabinets in the bathrooms.

No shed or screened porch in the backyard, either. The two car garage didn’t even have an automatic door opener and was filled with boxes. The man door to the side yard was rusted nearly through.

The house was a wreck. I didn’t spend much time looking at it, mentally contrasting it with the jewel a few blocks away. My husband heard a glowing review of that house when I got home but was told, “Don’t waste your time even looking at the second house; it is a DOG!”

We went through the “Jewel House” a couple of times with our agent. And my husband’s engineer eye pointed out flaws that I had overlooked. The shed was too small, the backyard wasn’t large enough, and there was a foreclosed, crumbling house right next door. The street was busy, with lots of cars parked alongside because the driveways were so short.

We continued the hunt, but our selection was rapidly dwindling. So, we finally expanded our search to include “houses that may need some work.”

We toured houses with buckled floors, mold issues, holes in the walls and ceilings, and some that needed major foundation repair. Even despite these major flaws, we never found a floor plan that we agreed on. We wanted a house with a downstairs bedroom and bath so when we are too rickety to maneuver stairs, we would have a bedroom on the main floor. Surprisingly, they are very rare in our community.

Finally, he said, “Let’s go through the ‘Dog house.’” And, as he toured the house, he said, “I like it!” I groaned. Sure, it was livable in its current condition, because a family had lived here for years, but it was a wreck of a house.

There was a bedroom and full bath on the main floor but there was no shed and no screened porch. And, there was WORK everywhere! We debated its pros and cons at length, but I reluctantly agreed to making an offer when he asked, “Would you like it if it had wood flooring throughout, a new kitchen, a privacy fence, a shed, a screened porch, and modern light fixtures?” “Well, sure. It would be like a different house then.”

Despite not wanting to take on another home remodel project, we agreed on the floor plan, the neighborhood, and the largish sunlit back yard. We are not afraid of doing hard work and have the know-how to do many things ourselves so we placed an offer, subject to the house passing a home inspection.

The inspector said the house was well constructed, better even than some of the homes in surrounding neighborhoods, but refused to turn on the microwave oven because the plastic back of the box was melted off from an interior fire, the dishwasher flooded the kitchen floor when we tested it, and the carbon monoxide alarm rang continuously. A separate heat pump inspection revealed a cracked heat exchanger and owner’s bypass attempts that were pumping toxic gas into the home whenever you turned on the heat.

We threatened to withdraw the offer if they did not replace the heat pump and surprisingly, they installed a new unit. The appliances were ancient, and we decided not to make an issue out of something we would be replacing anyway.

In our area, the seller must vacate the house of all possessions before the final closing. The purchaser makes a final walk through the property, viewing it empty, and has a final opportunity to change their mind and withdraw the offer. And the sale nearly fell apart at the closing table.

During their pack out, someone had backed a truck into the garage door, and smashed it to the point of being unusable. We said we wanted a new garage door; they said it was like that when we placed our offer. I produced photos and our agents began to negotiate. I was ready to walk away from the table; the sellers were not happy that they were forced to replace the heat pump and did not want to replace the door. Finally they said that one of their helpers had backed up too far and smashed in the door and would give us the money for an equivalent door. Tense emotions calmed and we closed the sale.

We were moving into the “Dog House” but the overwhelming amount of work prevented us from making that move right away. We began stripping carpeting from all the floors, tearing up the worn hardwood in the entry, and taking down the dust-caked, paint smeared window treatments. The first week of home ownership was a flurry of appliance shopping, meeting with window repairmen, and multiple trips to the landfill. We hired a company to repaint interior rooms, and it was one of the best decisions we could have made.

The upgrades were not all cosmetic; there was rotted subflooring that needed repaired, and holes in the walls, as well as places where the plaster had fallen off from moisture damage. The house looked much worse once it was emptied, and we found surprises that were hidden by the worn carpeting.

We had purchased new stainless steel appliances and had no sooner arranged for delivery when the refrigerator died. The grease caked stove was the only appliance that was still functional when the new units were installed.

Instead of selecting solid hardwood flooring, we decided to install a laminate throughout the house, based on scratch and dent resistance reviews. We have installed and lived with solid oak hardwood floors in a previous home, and found them to scratch and dent easily. We had installed premium laminate flooring in the condo we were currently flipping and were impressed with the durability, feel, and luxurious appearance, as well as the ease of installation.

We figured it took roughly three 8 man-hour days per room to install the flooring and my husband, my daughter, and I tackled the project. We lay flooring in the critical rooms, like a bedroom and storage room so we could vacate and sell the condo, slowly moving our belongings out of storage units as flooring was finished in each room. Basically, we camped in the construction zone.

When the flooring was finished, the furniture brought out of storage, boxes unpacked and life began to settle in, we received a letter about a class action lawsuit concerning our flooring selection. We needed to test it for formaldehyde gassing as it might be a health hazard. After thorough testing, the flooring was deemed acceptable.

A five ft long tick list hangs on the side of the refrigerator. It details all of the things for each room, from replacing the rusted air vent covers, replacing window treatments, replacing the outdated light fixtures, replacing the paint crusted, mismatched door hinges and knobs, to replacing the torn screens and broken window panes. As we finish and item we scratch it off the list.

We purchased a shed from a company that delivered it to our lot, hired a contractor to build the screened porch on the back of the house, and hired a carpenter to install a privacy fence. I tackled the peeling thermafoil on the bathroom vanities, peeled them off with a heat gun and painted them. The guest bath on the main floor has been stripped out and upgraded.

Instead of putting bandages on the awful kitchen cabinets and worn out kitchen floor, we decided to gut and replace everything with new flooring, custom wood cupboards, and the prettiest granite countertop I have ever seen.

Two and a half years later, most of the rooms are done, but we still have some big projects to tackle. One bathroom is still untouched, sporting its 1980 wallpaper and broken acrylic shower stall. We are in the process of insulating and dry-walling one of the two large unfinished rooms, and still have one exterior door to replace.

The “Dog House” has essentially been flipped. It is beautiful, welcoming, and prettier than it was when it was new. We host weekly Bible Studies and it is a place of ministry. My daughter said, “You have flipped the “Dog “house. What do you get when you flip the word Dog? It is now the ‘God House!’” You can’t get any better than that!

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Condo-Shopping Speed-Dating Style

Speed dating provides an opportunity for busy singles to spend a few minutes chatting with other singles in a controlled environment and quickly decide if they want to get to know each other better through subsequent dates. It is fast and furious and often mocked on sit-coms and commercials. Really, how well can you get to know a stranger in five minutes?

This week’s condo shopping experience felt very much like speed dating. We drove to Virginia on Monday, interviewed real estate agents later in the week and selected one to work with. Our agent sent us links to 15 homes in our price range, which we rated in descending priority. Some were ruled out because of square footage, others ruled out because of price, and most second floor units were discarded. That narrowed the field down to eight homes that we wanted to visit. We set up our house hunting on Saturday.
In four furious hours of shopping we toured these properties, selected a home and placed an offer to purchase; it was almost like speed dating.

This will be a second home for us, similar to the northern cabins that many Michigan families own. It will be occupied part-time and doesn’t have to be fancy or luxurious, which is a very good thing considering our lower price range! We discovered that most of the homes in our price range are foreclosures, bank owned, repossessed, or abandoned. Only a couple properties we wanted to view were for sale through a private owner.

The bank-owned units were scary. The utilities are disconnected, most appliances missing, and are sold “as is,” meaning that the bank will not make any repairs that the buyer discovers during personal or home inspections. The buyer pays to have utilities connected before the inspection, and purchases these properties at their own risk. Most of the bank-owned units we toured were distinguished by tattered window treatments, broken door locks, missing appliances and light fixtures, stained carpeting, and black mold.

And, bank-owned properties are notoriously slow to close, taking months to come to an agreement, as opposed to the 30 to 45 days usually needed for a sale to close by dealing with a home-owner. Possession is negotiated with the seller, and can be at closing or after an agreed upon time to give the seller time to remove their things. Bank-owned properties are empty and possession is immediate a closing.

We found only one home in our price range that we liked and placed an offer. It is well maintained, but the cabinetry and fixtures are dated. The carpeting is neutral, but worn, and the window treatments are not to my taste. This is minor when compared to the conditions we encountered in the bank-owned properties. We like the neighborhood and the lay-out of this unit; cosmetic things can be reasonably corrected.

The seller countered our offer, and we accepted their new price. Now, we start the parade of appraisers, inspectors, and financial juggling to pull it all together.

Once we close and have possession, we will start a frantic week of repainting and re-flooring before moving our furnishings from our apartment in Tennessee to this new dwelling. The target date of the move is mid March. I don’t think the “speed” part of this speed-dating process will slow down any time soon!