Friday, August 31, 2007

Roll the tape

I have made it a habit to shadow the home inspector during an inspection. I seem to learn a lot about a house that way.

I was checking out the basement with inspector Mark Byrd when I noticed this on the left.
A crack in the foundation had been patched.

With masking tape.

Why, that's not masking tape, the inspector told me.

That's single-ply foundation sealant, he said with a laugh.

There was more tape to come.

Single-ply window draft sealant.

My fave:

Single-ply patching plaster.

Aunt June's relative was a railroad electrician and rewired the house years ago.

He busted holes in the walls to put in new Romex, then someone repaired with kraft paper and masking tape. I mean, single-ply ...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Removing paint from hardware

At some point in your home-renovation lifetime, you will discover some moron painted over the vintage door knobs/drawer pulls/etc. in your house. I learned this nifty trick from This Old House.

* Put item in a Crock-Pot that you are willing to dedicate to home renovation purposes.
* Cover with water, at least an inch or two over the item.
* Add a tablespoon or so of laundry detergent.
* Cook on high overnight.
* Remove item from water. (Yes, the metal will be hot, genius.Use tongs.)

The paint peels right off, like cheap Wite-Out instead of decades of latex.

* Let cool slightly.
* Rub off paint with paper towel.
* Clean with metal polish. (I like Noxon 7.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Not just for wallpaper steaming anymore

While steaming off the kitchen wallpaper, I set the steamer plate on the floor for no reason at all.
I had gotten two layers of linoleum off the floor easily, but a layer of construction felt was stuck to the yellow pine floor, thanks to a good 50 years of footsteps.

I picked up the plate, and voila -- the felt softened and bubbled.

It smelled like the air after a night of fireworks, and the liquified floor stain was a little poop-like.

But two mornings of light scraping and the felt was off the floor.

The steamer also loosened the adhesive on old plastic tile that had been around the kitchen sink.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Painting to sell

Tim Reeder, a real-estate agent who specializes in old homes, gave this advice on painting to sell a home:

Bland neutrals scream "investment property" to home shoppers. People who like old homes want something different, not cookie cutter.

Pottery Barn has an online index of the paint used on each page of its catalog. Pioneer Paint, the local Benjamin Moore store (map), carries their collection (That's the Fall '07 selection on the right).

More painting tips:

* A professional painter tells me Benjamin Moore's Impervo oil paint is the best on the market and ideal for woodwork.

* Got a painting project that will take days?
- Put brushes and rollers in plastic bags.
- Store the ones used with latex paint in the fridge and oil ones in the freezer.
- Let them warm up a few minutes before your next day's work.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Filled to the brim

Aunt June's family had slogged on and off for a year to empty her house.

The house, built in 1903, had been in the family for 90 years. Apparently, every time a family left, they tucked a pile of possessions in the basement.

Add Aunt June's packrat habits to that (she saved the neighborhood newsletters in case a relative wanted to make a scrapbook), and it was filled to the rafters.

The family took what they wanted, filled one roll-off Dumpster and had a three-day estate sale and a garage sale. And the main floor was still pretty full.

As part of the purchase agreement, I offered to finish liquidating the estate.

80 boxes of vintage glassware, books and knick knacks.

Great stuff, but who else could see the potential?

When I walked into a small neighborhood thrift store, Blue Flamingo, the clerk was wearing a vintage sweater vest patterned with strawberries. Perfect.

Blue Flamingo finds the best home for donations: they sell what they can, shuttle pots and pans to programs for the homeless and transitional living, and matches other items up with other programs.

They have a backyard garden to teach people how to grow. A family literacy program. A monthly music night, where volunteers sometimes bring salsa made from the garden's produce.

The Blue Flamingo staff, some of the most genuine and gracious people I have ever met, was absolutely giddy over the stuff.

Aunt June's leftovers have moved on to fill other homes, and maybe even help a few people along the way.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hidden treat

In the basement, I discovered these old hand-carved house numbers. You'll be seeing them on the front of the house eventually.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The good, the bad and the ugly

The good:
Half of the kitchen was bare by the end of the day.

The retro red wallpaper had been covered by faux-woodgrain cabinets and paneling. The upper half of the walls and floor were golden yellow, sort of a '70s bumblebee-inspired kitchen.
The wallpaper, paneling and linoleum were torn out with bare hands in a total of 30 minutes. Really.

The bad:

OK, this is the most disgusting home-improvement project ever:

Tearing out plaster and lathe overhead in the bathroom.

Whacking out plaster and wood over your head while being showered with coal-like, nasty dirt. This is the payback for easy wallpaper removal.

The ugly:

Me afterward.

Home renovation donations

Habitat for Humanity runs ReStore, a shop where you can donate used stuff for home remodeling for another to buy. You can write it off on your taxes as a donation, someone else gets a deal for their house project, and Habitat uses the money for its mission.

The Omaha store is on 24th Street a little south of Leavenworth.
Council Bluffs has one, too, but I haven't been there.

You'll find windows, doors, vintage sinks, tile, cabinets, light fixtures and more. There's brand-new in the box stuff sometimes.

Sample deals: I got this bathroom light fixture for $8, and two boxes of this sage green tile by Dal Tile for $20 ($120 value).

Yesterday, I donated the kitchen cabinets from my flip.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Flipping financial software

When trying to decide whether to buy this house, I did spreadsheets of expected closing costs, carrying costs and rehab expenses, but got stumped trying to calculate potential taxes.

Then I found this software, which does taxes and way more:

Flipper's & Rehabber's Cash Flow Analyzer®.

Input your numbers, and it does all the calculations: Initial expenses, taxes, a month-by-month financial report, and more.

The goal-seeking page is very cool: If you want to make 20 percent by month 6, it will tell you want you need to pay for the house or have as rehab costs.

*** Note: The Flipper's software functions off Microsoft Excel, so you have to have that program first.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Kitschy kitchen


Last night we pulled the kitchen cabinets, which were well-built homemade cabinets but had an unfortunate wood-grain laminate veneer.
I debated whether to paint them, but decided buyers would appreciate new ones.
During that decision, I came across the product Cabinet Coat, which is carried by True Value and seems to be highly recommended by DIY-ers for painting cabinets and Formica.

We unearthed vintage wallpaper.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Old-house books

Here are some of the books I used have found helpful while renovating my 1910 American foursquare:

Renovating Old Houses: Bringing New Life to Vintage Homes
George Nash

This book explains how your house is put together and what to do when it seems like it's falling apart. Even if you aren't crazy enough to try this stuff yourself (I think I'd hire someone for "correcting swayback roofs"), it's good to know how it's done.

A Field Guide to American Houses
Virginia and Lee McAlester

Learn the right terminology for old-house architecture. Lots of pictures and drawings to guide you.

The Complete Photo Guide to Home Repair
Black and Decker

This book gives fix-it basics and troubleshooting advice wth lots of photos and diagrams. I fixed my leaky faucets thanks to this. Even my brother-in-law, who manages store that sells construction materials to contractors, loved it. Menard's put this book on sale or offers rebates once in a while.

Flip: How to Find, Fix and Sell Houses for Profit
Rick Vilani and Clay Davis

I can't tell you whether everything is accurate because I haven't done it myself yet, but I was impressed with this guide to flipping.

For chicks:
Dare to Repair by Julie Sussman and Stephanie Glakas-Tenet
The Woman's Hands-On Home Repair Guide by Lyn Herrick
Home repair books written by women for women.

For relaxation:
Tracy Kidder

This incredible nonfiction book captures the anxiety from all angles of the construction of one house. He tells the stories of the homeowners, the builders and the architect.

House: A Memoir
by Michael Ruhlman

This is the painful, heartwarming and hysterical tale of one family's decision to buy and fix up a century-old house in Cleveland. Dealing with contractors, living in chaos -- if you have remodeled, this man has put your thoughts into words.

If you're a cook, you may recognize his name from the books "The Making of a Chef" and "The Soul of a Chef," where he dives into the Culinary Institute of America and the world of restaurants by trying it himself.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Here's the story ...

Five years ago, I bought a fixer-upper in Little Italy, the old immigrant neighborhood near downtown Omaha. Next door was a friend's great-aunt, Aunt June, a charming little old lady who had lived there for 50-some years.

Aunt June died last year. Her house had seen better years. I worried about a meth lab moving in next door. So I bought it. Yesterday.

My plan: Get the house updated, then see whether it's financially smarter to rent or sell.