Tuesday, May 20, 2008

One more before and after

Last summer


1:30 p.m. Day 2

Holy moses, these guys work fast.

View from the north

Wall up close

The concrete block for the retaining wall comes from an Omaha company, Watkins, which has a showroom with helpful staff and lists of contractors.

We're using the Vertica Pro straight edge, which is designed for big walls.

Each one of these suckers is a foot square and weighs 115 pounds.

I chose the standard gray because I thought it fit best in the neighborhood, where most retaining walls are old concrete or stacked limestone. Brown tones looked too suburban.

The bottom layer is sand for drainage. The black netting is geogrid, which helps stabilize the soil.

This underground drainage pipe leads out the rear of the wall, where a concrete flume drains to the alley. The downspouts on this side of the house also will drain underground.

Let's not lose sight of the goal here with all these details ...

This is how it's looking for passersby.

Dying to know more? See Watkins' instruction sheet on how to build a wall with Vertica Pro blocks.

End of Day 1

A major retaining wall project makes a bit of a mess.

Sand and gravel in the street

The neighbors are letting the contractors work from their empty lot to the north of the house. Well, it used to be empty.

Left side of lot, seen from front porch of flip
Sand on the left, garbage concrete on right

Center of lot

Stacks of block waiting installation

Right side of lot

Top view of wall on right, equipment in the background

It's 6:48 a.m. on Day 2.

I can tell from the diesel rumble that they're here already.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Noon Day 1

It's noon on Day 1 of the retaining wall project.

The early-morning backhoe was the fun part.

Now they are painstakingly scraping the dirt away from the foundation.

They've created a trench for the concrete blocks to sit in and are starting to fill it with gravel (for draining I presume).

This looks worth every penny I'm paying.

They've got two Bobcats, a backhoe, dump trucks taking out scrap and bringing in gravel ... with the rumble of heavy equipment around, it's like having my own Ax Men crew.

Uh, you don't watch Ax Men?

Wall comes tumbling down

The last project is under way.

Linhart Construction is replacing a 100-foot long timber retaining wall on the north side of the property.

About a decade ago, the wall was built wrong, with undersized timbers and no supportive "dead men," by a contractor who bailed halfway through the project.

The wall was bowing more than a foot in spots. The interior dirt eroded into sharp slopes. The house already leans a little to this side.
It will be replaced with a concrete block wall, 100 feet long and about 5 feet high, with a second-tier wall in the front.

The wall, topped by a classy PVC drainage system

I hired Linhart because the company does major construction all the time.

This was a small project in their book.

My initial contract called for the project to be delayed until after Oct. 1, 2007, when a tax was lifted on repair work. That saved $1,500. I shaved off another chunk by planning to re-seed the neighbor's lot myself.

That got it down to $15,500.

Then winter came early and hung around, followed by regular rainshowers this spring.
I sold the house with a stipulation that I would pay for and continue to oversee this project.

Linhart called last week to say they would start at 7 a.m. Monday and wrap up by Wednesday.

I could hear the chug of a truck coming around the corner at 7 almost on the dot.

A backhoe peeled apart the wall, making the timber look like matchsticks and crackle as they split.

By 7:30 a.m., the wall was gone.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Closing on a house is a little anticlimactic for the seller.

You sign the paperwork a few days in advance, and someone eventually calls to tell you your check is ready.

In this case, the buyer had already moved in, so there was no official key handover.

However, it's thrilling to log onto my online mortgage account and see ...


MUD sent FINAL BILL last week.

It's not officially over, though.

The large retaining wall project is scheduled for next week. I am paying for and overseeing that project, as well as seeding the neighbor's lawn that will get torn up in the process.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The lending lie

I think lenders are automated to say, "Of course, we can close by then."

Last week, I had the buyer's lender walk through all the steps that needed to occur and the time frame for each.

We had just gotten word that the appraisal verified the house was worth the purchase price of $120,000.

The underwriters needed to approve the loan, which could take two or three days. The lender needed to order a reinspection, have the inspector look at the house and submit her paperwork. Then closing documents could be drafted, which would take two to three days. Then I needed to sign paperwork, then the buyers needed to sign.

This conversation was last Tuesday afternoon.

"So obviously we're not closing on Friday," I said.

"Of course, we could close by then."

They toss this around cavalierly, even though people's finances and living arrangements hang on their hollow words.

Now it's:

"We can close Tuesday."

"We can close Wednesday."

I'll believe it when I've got the check in my little mitts.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Disorganized people are exhausting

The title company handling the sale called Monday to have me come sign the paperwork.

She just learned the loan was closing Tuesday.

I said, that's funny, because we were supposed to close last week.

She still had the original date of May 15, which changed within a week of the purchase agreement.

The loan officer for the buyer was supposed to take care of these things but did not. And he works in the same office as the title company! Sigh.

My suggestion:

Don't rely on others to communicate key information.

Assume everyone else will screw up.

In each of my three real-estate transactions, some glitch came up because of poor communication.

Advocate for yourself. Nag.

I was better this time around but missed some opportunities. I had left a message for the title company several weeks ago but shrugged it off when my call wasn't returned.

In your flip notebook (you are carrying one with you, right?), keep a list of each person you talk to, what they say and the date of the conversation or message. Hold them accountable for what they say.

Hell, you should do this all the time if you ever want stuff done. The world is filled with irresponsible boobs.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


The loan officer for the buyer must set up the FHA appraisal/inspection, and the inspector needed to look over the work to verify it was done. The loan officer said he'd set it up for Monday.

I knew the inspector's schedule had been busy, and I had her e-mail address. I decided to drop her a line to tell her we'd be ready by 5 p.m. Saturday in case that helped her out and sped up the closing.

She was there at 5:15.

The buyer and her parents had walked to a neighborhood church for the evening service. I had finished the windows and had been cleaning paint goobers off the wood floors.

The inspector absolutely raved about the work.

I had been rushed, so I wasn't exactly pleased with my work, even though it got the job done.

"Gorgeous," she gushed, looking at a mundane window jamb.

The inspector signed off on everything.

No money would have to be put in escrow for repairs.


Then she surprised me.

She said I'd been the best thing about her last two weeks. Wha...?

"You have character and integrity. You don't find that very often."

Her eyes welled up. She thanked me and said she hoped to run into me again.

The church choir finally sang.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Anti-climactic move-in

The buyer moved in Thursday as a temporary renter until the house sale closes.

Every day the sale is delayed, she has to pay an extra interest charge, raising her closing costs.

The buyer offered to help with the FHA-required work, but the weekend when I did most of the work, the appraisal wasn't done so we didn't know if her loan amount would be approved to buy the house.

I didn't feel right putting her to work if she wouldn't get the house.

So I asked her to help by leaving the cleaning to her once she moved in.

I feel bad that the house is incomplete. Of course, I pictured this, church-choir "Ahhhhhh!" moment, presenting her charming, sparkling-clean new house to her.

Instead, she spent her first night on a horrendously windy, potentially snowy night with only half the windows in the house. (The church choir stood mute.)

I had taken the 20 main-floor windows to P&M Hardware a week ago while I painted.

Of course, the reglazer had to tell me how his sister used to work for the FHA and this shouldn't be part of the inspection, yada yada yada. Fighting them isn't going to close the house faster.

Total bill: $140. Worth every penny.

I finished reglazing the upstairs windows myself for speed's sake. Needless to say, my putty is not as smooth as the old man's at P&M.

DAP has an awesome new product that makes it easier-- window glazing compound in a tube like caulk. You used to have to take a wad of compound and roll it into a skinny cylinder shape. Now it just comes right out of the tube. Find it in the caulk area in the paint department at Menard's.

I reinstalled batches of windows Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with a helping hand from the buyer's dad. (Small windows you can usually do alone, but big ones are a little awkward.)

I did a little more paint touchup, and we were ready for re-inspection.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Getting closer

The appraisal came back at $124K, enough to back the loan.

That's assuming the loan underwriter agrees -- that will take another few days, so Friday's closing is definitely delayed.

The buyer is moving in Thursday as a renter until we can finish navigating the banking bureaucracy.

Two recent housing horror stories:
  • My friend is going through the same low appraisal hassle on her adorable bungalow in Morton Meadows. The drive-by appraisal was $10K under the purchase price, so the appraiser is coming through the inside this week. (It's a conventional loan, so an interior inspection was not required like an FHA loan.)
  • When a former co-worker sold his house, his buyer got STOOD UP by the person buying his old house. The guy just didn't show for closing. So the buyer unexpectedly has two houses.

Housing prices may not have dipped like the rest of the nation, but this is how the crisis is hitting here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Roller coaster continues

July 1, 2007

This morning

"This is the perfect example of the three most important things in real estate," the FHA appraiser told me Monday.

"Location, Location, Location."

The appraiser agreed that there are no suitable comparable homes -- similar age and square footage sold in the last three months -- in the neighborhood. She reviewed a year's worth of sales. It's also not comparable to homes the next neighborhood over because they aren't walking distance to the Old Market.

So she's using NEW CONSTRUCTION as part of her appraisal! Yes!

In fact, some of the new construction is actually smaller than the flip (about 1,400 square feet). A two-bedroom, one bath at the Towns sells for $241K.

She also had a pile of recent sales and listings of older homes.

I'd been in most of them and could tell her their condition ("Um, this one had a pair a furry handcuffs hanging on a closet door knob." True story.)

This is where knowing your neighborhood and staying on top of the real-estate market pays off. She at least knew I didn't pick the price at random or based on profit.

Thing is, she still doesn't have a price yet.

This bodes well for backing up my measly $120K purchase price, but we don't have it confirmed, now four days from supposed closing.

New construction down the hill:

This morning
The appraiser also was tickled to hear I had painted and gotten the windows underway. She swung by to take a look and get updated pictures to her report.
If I can get the windows finished (most of which are at the reglazer's), it looks like we might avoid a repair escrow altogether.
The final word rests on the loan underwriter, but things are swinging the right way.
We supposedly should know by the end of today. But I've heard that twice already.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Appraisal issues

The FHA has tightened its appraisal standards due to the housing crisis and typically requires houses to be compared to similar properties sold in the neighborhood in the last three months. They also can use current listings and pending sales to a degree.

Remember when I thought it was an advantage that nothing had come on the market in my price range in my area?

I had three written offers at and above the list price of $118,000 in less than a week, which shows the market agrees with the price, but it has to be proven through other sales.

The house has to be appraised at or above the purchase price in order for the buyer to get her loan. Banks want to recoup their money by selling the house if the buyer should not repay the loan.

Where I screwed up: I threw out the other written offers. They were only good through a certain date, which had passed, so I couldn't think of a reason to keep them. I have contact info for the potential buyers for an updated offer if this sale fell through. Now I have learned those written offers could have been used as part of the appraisal.

The appraisal was supposed to be finished Friday but was delayed because the appraiser was still trying to find "comps."

Today I should find out what the FHA has appraised the house at. Then the FHA inspector will have to come back to inspect the work I've done, which should lessen or eliminate the the amount to be put into escrow.

Depending on where the dollars fall, all of this could potentially undermine the sale.

Keep in mind, the buyer is supposed to close Friday.

I'm out time and money for this last round of projects; however, the house looks even better, should I need to put it back on the market.

The buyer has to move out of her apartment regardless.

So we're left to negotiate big decisions under unnecessary pressure because this appraisal/inspection process occurs so late.

Appraisal basics
What to do when an appraisal comes in low

Working alone?

Keep a cell phone in your pocket if you work by yourself.

I keep this in mind after one of my boyfriend's college friends slipped off a two-story barn and landed on his back. Still conscious but not moving a whole lot, he reached in his shirt pocket and called for help.

There's a million ways to hurt yourself doing home projects, so better to have a phone on board in case you manage to immobilize yourself.

Last round

The retaining wall on the north side of the house is still waiting to be replaced, a project under contract but delayed by spring rain.

The ground behind the wall is slumped and sliding because the wall was built with 1) undersized timber 2) with no supportive "dead men" in the bottom half.

Top view of retaining wall

(that's a sagging PVC pipe that's supposed to serve as a downspout)

The new wall will be made of concrete block and raise and level the dirt along the northside of the house.

I thought it'd make life a lot easier for when the homeowner wanted to paint.

Or, you know, I could do it now.

I spent Sunday morning balanced with one foot on the bowing wood wall and one on the soggy slumped earth while wrangling a paint roller on a 10-foot extension pole. I mean, how else would I spend my weekend?

I got the final coat of paint on the house and took the Shop-vac to the yard to vaccuum up the paint flakes.

The house looks better, but not dramatically so -- just freshened up. Whatever. It's done.

Pained painting


If you haven't painted in a while or are painted unusual areas such as a ceiling or, say, leaning out a house to paint a dormer, take a pre-emptive strike of Tylenol or some other pain reliever before bed.

You'll wake up with a spring in your step instead of a creak in your bones.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Dormer painting

Saturday kicked off with pinching my thumb and index finger in an articulated ladder (one that is hinged to move into a variety of positions).

If you're familiar with these ladders, you know how I did it. If you aren't, the explanation is not worth your time.

And yes, that's my "painting" hand.

On the FHA's painting list is this dormer.

Not that it's a pain to get to or anything.

I set up shop from inside the house.


I removed the window (which will be reglazed anyway) and the storm windows. The window was too high for me to reach out while standing, so I sat on the sill to scrape and paint. I tried to move slowly and be cautious about keeping my weight centered inside the house.

I also imagined falling to my death, the media discovering my FHA rants online, creating a groundswell of criticism leading to Congressional hearings, where my mother -- who already, when she heard the list of required projects, immediately declared "that's bullshit" -- would testify and show death-scene photos of a little chalk outline around my body and my paint roller, and the paint splat where the roller hit the ground. Sadly, I survived, and legions of homeowners will continue to suffer through slap-dash repairs, crumbled deals and unnecessary last-minute stress.

I did what I could within arm's reach, then I used an extension pole, which screws into the handle of a paint roller.

I used electrical tape to attach a paint brush to the pole to get the trim.

Hell of a view up there.

That's downtown Omaha's skyscrapers in the distance. Both of them.

This is the finished dormer. I know, you can hardly tell in the picture. (sigh)

I was not insane enough to get on the roof to paint the dormer's sides, but I'm hoping my good-faith effort on everything else will weigh in my favor.

The difference is more obvious on the main floor siding in this photo. The left side has been scraped and primed. The center is untouched. The right has been scraped.

I ended up doing most of two sides of the house from the windows, which worked pretty slick. (The other ones I could reach while standing inside the window, not sitting on the sills.)

By the end of Saturday, all the scraping and priming was done.

Today should be the final coat. Whew.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Friday's FHA adventure

What better weather to wake up to on a day you really, really need to paint a house exterior.

I switched my focus to the windows.

The FHA is requiring all the windows to be reglazed, which means replacing the putty that holds the glass in place. Plus, I have to scrape and paint all the sill areas.
This is because the areas where the putty and paint are flaking are exposing wood and possibly spreading that evil lead paint.
The windows are double-hung sash windows, but they were rehabbed at some point.

On an older window, you have to pry off a few pieces of wood trim, pull out the sash, then carefully detach the sash rope and either tie it in a loop or knot it around an object like a large screw -- if you're not careful, the rope goes shoooooop and disappears into the window frame -- then you've created a big job for yourself.
On these, you press the sash to one side -- one of the metal tracks is flexible (I think they're called a "metal jamb liner") -- and you can shimmy out the sash without removing any wood trim. The elastic sash cord has a plastic cap on the end, which holds it in place on the sash and, when the sash is removed, keeps it from disappearing into the wall. Sweet.

Metal track on the left, flaking paint on the right
Plastic tab thing at the top is the cap for the elastic sash cord

It took 40 minutes to remove all the 18 sashes for the main floor windows.

Fortunately, I already know about P&M Hardware, an old-school hardware store on South 24th St. buried among blocks of Latino businesses.

They do window repair for cheap in the basement. Pull around to their garage door in the alley to unload.
They've replaced broken windows for me for about $10 a window. Seems like a bargain compared to doing it yourself.
After that, I got all the sills scraped and painted, put another coat on the front porch ceiling, one on the porch floor to cover my drips and kept painting random bare spots of wood on the outside.

More on reglazing:
Replacing window glass from This Old House
How to remove old-fashioned windows from Old House Journal
Exhaustive old window info from the National Park Service
How to replace sashes from The Family Handyman

Friday, April 25, 2008

FHA paint rules

The FHA doesn't care about ugly.

Peeling paint must be removed from concrete and metal (such as gutters). You give them a scrubbing with a wire brush.

But, unlike wood, because the surface is not porous, it doesn't have to be repainted.

This front porch pillar is acceptable in FHA-land:

All so the children that my homebuyer DOESN'T HAVE won't get lead poisoning.

Go, government!

Porch painting

Thursday's work by the FHA-indentured servant:

No. 1: Scraped and repainted the porch




Blue is a traditional color for porch beadboard ceilings. I went with a pale shade so it should match anything the future homeowner should want to do.

Porch scrapings

FHA rule: No paint chips can be left on the ground. I've covered the area with a drop cloth when practical, but I will have to vacuum the ground!

Christ, who made up these rules? And what do I have to do to become a sovereign nation?

Also done:
  • Scraped and painted both back doors

  • Scraped three sides of house

  • Primed and painted front

  • Primed south side and half of east side
Well, better get started with today's list ...

FH-pain-in-the-A loans

So of course, I thought I was safe posting SOLD, waiting until after the home inspection.

Then came the FHA appraisal/inspection Tuesday.

I know FHA loans have extra requirements so I made a point of checking things that had been an issue when I bought my house with an FHA loan: outlets and I bought a railing to install for the staircase.

Turns out they've lightened some of those rules in the last year, particularly the railing rule. (not needed if the staircase has walls on both sides)

But they haven't modified any of the rules for the exterior:

No peeling or chipped paint.


Um, well, ...

It was obvious to anyone who looked at the house that it would need a paint job sometime. I figured I got the interior up to snuff and the new homeowner could tackle the exterior at some point.

So Tuesday night, I learned that the FHA would require the porch ceiling, some wood trim, two doors and most of the lower half of the house to be scraped and painted AND all of the windows needed to be reglazed to approve the loan ...


They're picky about this stuff because older homes likely have lead paint, which can be a hazard to children.

I've got an idea: How about the government doesn't back loans for families whose kids are so stupid they eat the dirt in the yard? A "don't lick the exterior" clause?

So the options are this:
  • The work gets done before the sale.
  • Money gets put in escrow (held by a third party) to pay for the work later.

The problem with the escrow money is it is 1 1/2 times the amount estimated to hire someone to do the work.

When I bought my house, there was a $500 minimum for an escrow. My porch needed to have the ceiling scraped and painted so I had to cough up $500 to ensure I would do the $30 project later.


We find out the escrow amount today.

I'm under the impression who set aside that money is negotiable, but my buyer's lender has said it's my problem.

Meanwhile, I've taken the last two days off of work to make as big of dent as I can in the project list to minimize the potential escrow amount.

Ideas for the FHA:
  • Inform buyers of regulations in advance to guide their home purchase
  • Give sellers the list of requirements immediately
  • Schedule inspections earlier to allow time for negotiations or project completion
A few helpful links:
Best list I've found explaining FHA requirements
FHA inspection checklist
Difference between a home inspection and FHA appraisal/inspection

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Spring has sprung

The bulb garden I planted along the south side of the house is starting to bloom!
This is what I look at out my kitchen window.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


I expected to have a little rest after I got through the open house March 16.

Instead, I had the first offer delivered FOUR HOURS after the open house.

I have a new respect for real estate agents after as I juggled offers, people and appointments for the next week. I have no idea how they do this for more than one house at a time.

I ended up with three offers at full list price of $118,000.

The accepted offer: $120,000, with me covering $2,000 of her closing expenses.

The sales process was another endorsement of the flipping software I used, Flipper's & Rehabber's Cash Flow Analyzer.

I was able to plug in numbers for each offer to calculate the overall financial impact, including taxes.

The buyer's offer put her $110 more than the competition.

So what about that sour housing market you keep hearing about?

1) Omaha's market is not nearly as rough as the national pictures.

2) All of the serious buyers were renters who had no home to sell.

3) The house was priced right.

How I priced it:

Know your neighborhood. I keep my eye on house prices and sales through the Omaha World-Herald's Friday and Sunday home sections and go to open houses. Nothing came on the market in this neighborhood in this price range since I started renovating last summer.

Get the comps. Real estate agents will do a free market analysis and give you the comparable home sales.

Visit the competition. I hit a few open houses and began scouring listings for homes $100,000 to $120,000 in other old neighborhoods at the beginning of the year. After seeing what was on the market, I knew my well-finished interior and new kitchen would stand out.

Splurge carefully. I decided to go overbudget and buy stainless steel appliances for $500 more than I had planned. It seemed to be a huge hit with buyers.

Price it a little low. I got this advice from some flipper book along the way. The carrying costs on the house are about $750-$900 a month depending on the utilities. Why price it higher and have it sit?


SOLD! Only six days on the market

Historic charmer with hilltop view
and updates in the right places

1315 S. 8th St.


View Map

  • Incredible hilltop view in Little Italy neighborhood south of Old Market
  • Gorgeous new kitchen with maple cabinets, tile backsplash and stainless-steel appliances
  • Charming new bath that looks original
  • Freshly refinished wood floors throughout house
  • Original woodwork and restored copper doorknobs
  • Walk-in closets in both upstairs bedrooms
  • Interior renovation featured on 2008 Restore Omaha historic home tour

Convenient location

Room to add more value

  • Walkout basement with 8-foot ceilings perfect for future finishing
  • Expand back deck to highlight incredible view
  • New $200,000+ townhomes down the hill make this a hot neighborhood with rising values (The Towns, Giovanna Rows)

The basics

  • 1,386 square feet
  • Three-plus bedrooms, one bath
  • New furnace
  • Central air
  • New plumbing
  • Roof replaced 2002
  • Built in 1903

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Open house results

Sunday's open house was a raging success -- such a success I'm just finding time to write about it now.

I didn't keep track of the number of people who came through -- maybe 20 or 30 potential buyers, sometimes flanked with a pod of friend or relative advisers.

At least three couples called from the open house to summon parents to come look. Three generations of women came from one family -- grandmother, mother, daughter.

A friend who got my e-mail ad called his wife, who called her sister, who called her son and fiancee, who called her parents -- and the two families met for the first time at my flip.

Curious neighbors and former residents wanted a peek after seeing the newspaper ad.

A man who used to live up the street said his family referred to Grace University next door as the babysitters' castle because babysitters magically appeared from the stately brick building. I thought, that's funny, I've heard that before -- then I realized I used to work with his son, who told me the same story several years ago.

Several potential buyers had looked at downtown or Little Italy condos but were hesitant of them because of the limited square footage for the price. I targeted this crowd with an ad in the condo/townhome section of the Omaha World-Herald, saying "Restored 3bed 1bath house in Little Italy, way less than new townhome price."

Four potential buyers already have been back for second visits.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Advertising results

I did a new advertising attempt each day Wed-Sun before the open house and included the blog address in each one.

I then tracked blog hits from Nebraska computers using Google Analytics, a surprisingly simple process that provides detailed daily reports on site usage, to get a sense of what advertising worked.

Before this, daily blog visits ranged from 18-35 a day.

Wednesday: E-mail to about 100 co-workers in Omaha and Lincoln
80 visits, 78% newcomers, 4:10 average time on site

Thursday: E-mail to about 40 friends, neighbors and acquaintances, e-mail to about 180 people from a Young Professionals Summit I attended
242 visits, 87% newcomers, 1:36 average time on site

Friday: Ad in Home section of Omaha World-Herald and on newspaper web site, omaha.com
73 visits, 72% newcomers, 2:45 average time on site

Saturday: Ad on Craig's List
76 visits, 77% newcomers, 3: 54 average time on site

Sunday: Ad in Sunday real estate section of Omaha World-Herald, open house
70 visits, 60% newcomers, 4:17 average time on site

Monday, post-open house
96 visits, 60% new visits, 3:58 average time on site

I had at least one person at the open house through each advertising method. Not bad for the minor expense: $60 on ads and $60 on fliers and signs.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Money shot

View from back porch at 7:40 a.m. March 16,

day of first open house

Saturday, March 15, 2008

History of the 'hood

The flip Little Italy was settled by Italian immigrants who worked for the railroad. (See Neighborhood history) Hints of the ethnic past continue.

Orsi's Italian Bakery still cooks up killer pizza, garlic bread and cannoli. The Santa Lucia Hall (festival video) and Sons of Italy still stand.

At the last neighborhood association meeting, two guys at my table whipped through a list of all the Italian cobblers and shoe-repairmen and where their shops used to be. At least one remains -- Louie at Philips Shoe Repair, 1234 S. 13th St., will make your shoes look brand-new and you get to enjoy the thwap-thwap-thwap sounds of an old-fashioned shoe shop.

Neighbors tell you, well, they've lived in this house for 20 years, then they'll point down the street at the one they lived in the previous 20. Here on Eighth Street, three houses have adult children who lived at home to take care of their parents.

The family who owned the flip, the Ucens, had the house for 90 years. "Aunt June" lived there for something like 55 years. Her husband worked at the Bohemian Cafe and the old Glass Front bar.

The man who owned my house, Mr. Becic, lived here for 40-plus years. At Olsen Bake Shop (which makes perfect, old-school bakery cookies), owner Mel said Mr. Becic came in every Saturday for a dozen doughnuts and sometimes brought her a jar of garlic from his garden.

More on the 'hood:

Before/after slideshow

For newcomers, here's the story behind Little Italy gem:

I live next door. My neighbor, a charming little old lady who was in her 90s, passed away.

The house was decent in the areas she used. All the main floor walls were mint green, indicated a 1950s or 1960s-era paint job. The kitchen and bath were updated in the 1980s in a golden yellow and brown scheme (although the kitchen sink remained in a 1950s metal cabinet).

The upstairs had serious plaster damage and hadn't been frequented by humans for years.

The house had been in the Ucen family for 90 years, so each batch of relatives left behind a pile of possessions until the house was entirely full.

I bought the house with the agreement that I finish packing and donate the remaining household goods you see in the pictures. 80 boxes worth plus furniture -- that's after the family filled a dumpster and had sales for four days.

I handled the demo, landscaping, plaster repair and painting myself. See Contractors I like for who I used for the rest.

Six months later, I'm nearly ready to sell -- a little more detail work and basement painting and I'm done! Whew!

More before and afters:

This Old House before and after photo galleries

Friday, March 14, 2008

Preserving the past

I've saved little vintage pieces from the renovation for the new homeowner.

Framed vintage linoleum from master closet

Fruit crate segment with handwritten name of family who owned the house for 90 years

It had been nailed to the old coal room walls.

Framed wallpaper remnants from stairway

1966 Chianti in a bottle shaped like a cat's body

Unfortunately, the creepy glass cat's head stopper was missing.

Someone is drinking a slug of this after the house sells.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Even better basement

The basement looks a little more livable every day ...

I found a new friend when I went to buy another gallon of Drylok:

A masonry brush.

It's the size of a handbroom with soft bristles to get in bumpy concrete.

Too bad I didn't find it before last weekend.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Vertical painting

I got to paint while standing up today, which is far more comfortable, and finished the basement stairwell and staircase.

This khaki color on the stairs also will be on the basement floor. I thought it was a little more cozy than the traditional battleship gray you see on basement floors.

Although this shade is called "Rattler's Den." Why would I want to imagine a snake when color-coordinating a room?

Basement paint job

Sunday was another day of painting, this time alone.

I thought, pfft, it's just the floor in a wide open space, this'll go fast. HA HA HA

I was using Drylok, a waterproofing paint, to seal out occasional dampness.

This stuff is thick, reminding me of beaten egg whites.

Drylok at the soft peak stage

I marked off the areas with fresh concrete patches, which need to cure before being painted.

It looked like the crime scene from a midget massacre, little chalk outlines scattered about.

The floor ripples like Nebraska's rolling hillside. The concrete consistency varies from place to place.

Tony from Thrasher Basement inspected the place when I bought it and said that's normal for a 100-year-old basement. Homeowners poured concrete themselves one wheelbarrow at a time. I'm going to call it an "authentic rustic basement."

But the rough floor made painting a pain. The Drylok overwhelmed the paint roller, making it so swollen it became pointless.

I spent all afternoon on my hands and knees, painting about a third of the floor with a brush.

I actually have blisters on my hands from painting. My knees are pink from being pressed against the concrete floor.

And I have another coat before I'm done ... sigh ...

The weekend tally:
  • 170 pounds of concrete
  • 14 gallons of paint
  • 1 injured back (Brit -- who learned he is not capable of carrying two 60-pound bags of concrete on his shoulders)
  • 1 tired girl