The Great Flooring Saga – Part 4

A screeching halt. (Briefly.)

Asbestos.  It’s the word every renovator fears, conjuring up scenarios of budgets spiraling out of control, delays plaguing your project, bystanders breathing in fibers…..

And I just found it in my house.

First of all, a brief word about asbestos, from Asbestos.com:

Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring minerals which were frequently used in multiple applications in home construction in houses built before 1980, when its use was widely banned. Certain types of roofing, insulation, pipe coverings, and linoleum in particular, are known for having asbestos in them.

It is known to be dangerous to inhale, and can cause several lung conditions, including mesothelioma cancer.  Its use in new home construction was widely banned in the 1980s, but in the US the rules can be confusing.  However, all types of asbestos are considered dangerous and if you discover it in your home, you should consider getting it removed.

Asbestos isn’t dangerous unless it’s disturbed – breathing in the fibers is what causes lung problems.  So if you know you have asbestos in your house, don’t panic!  The first thing to do is make sure you aren’t doing anything to disturb it, and then you can consider professional abatement.

How to test your house for asbestos:

Fortunately, asbestos testing is very affordable these days.  You can have your home inspector test suspicious areas for you when you purchase your house, and many kits are available for the DIYer.

The area in question my house was the kitchen. Removing the existing hardwoods revealed a long diagonal transition across the kitchen/hallway opening, with two layers of linoleum present.

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I purchased this kit from Amazon.

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It came with sample bags, gloves, a mask, a mailer to send it back to the lab, and directions for safely cutting samples.

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Being sure to wear the gloves and mask, wet down the area you are sampling, as water helps keep the asbestos fibers from getting into the air. Then cut a sample at least 1 inch by 1 inch and put it in the sample bag provided.

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The kit comes with a mailer, and directions for setting up an online account with a PIN, so that your kit can be identified when it arrives at the lab, and you receive your results by email. My kit was $25, and for an extra sample fee of $15 they tested both existing layers of linoleum.

The top white layer of linoleum was attached to a thin sheet of 1/4 inch luan, and when we lifted that up, we found additional linoleum underneath.

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This is the layer that contained the asbestos.  Five days after I sent my kit off, I got my results back via email.

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Positive for asbestos.  The green linoleum contained 20% chrysotile asbestos.  Remember that asbestos is a category of six types of minerals, and chrysotile is one of those types.   Some people argue that chrysotile asbestos isn’t as dangerous as other types of asbestos, but all types are known to cause damage to your health upon exposure.

So after I stopped panicking, I started considering options.  Removal was obviously the best choice, but I had no idea how expensive it would be, and was afraid it would be completely budget busting.  Another option would have been to remove the 1/4 luan with the old white linoleum, and cover the green asbestos linoleum with another layer of luan and a more modern pattern linoleum.

The problem with this is that now that I know asbestos was present in the house, I’d be legally obligated to disclose that asbestos was present.  Not great for resale value. Plus, I’d have to purchase the new linoleum and had already purchased enough hardwood to include covering the kitchen in my total hardwood order.

The third option would be to nail the hardwood directly over top of the asbestos linoleum.  Some hardwoods can be nailed down over linoleum, you just need to check with the manufacturer.  The downsides would be that the asbestos would still be in the house, so bad for resale, it would add an awkward diagonal transition and height difference into the kitchen, and the nails might push some minute amounts of asbestos into my crawlspace when they penetrated the subfloor. I’d save the cost of removal or of purchasing new linoleum, but that’s about it.

So I started looking around for asbestos abatement companies.  Some states in the US maintain their own lists of certified asbestos abatement contractors; mine is located on the state Division of Air Quality’s website. I picked out two local contractors in my city to come and give me a quote, and finally got some good news!

My first contractor gave me a quote for complete removal for $900, and said he could start within a week. SOLD!  I was fearing the cost would be in the multiple thousands.  I didn’t even wait to get a competing quote, and scheduled him to come out immediately. It took him only one day to remove the asbestos, and his workers used proper containment methods.  When he was done, I got a formal certificate of disposal I can present to any future buyers of my house to show that the asbestos was properly removed and disposed of.

HUGE RELIEF.

Onward to final subfloor preparations and actually laying my hardwood!!

The Great Flooring Saga – Part 3

Repairing the subfloor.

With the old flooring removed, and the new flooring acclimating to the space, it was time to prep the subfloor for the new hardwood.  The first step was to get a moisture meter, and I got this one at Lowes:

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The reason for this is that your hardwood floor can absorb moisture from a subfloor that is too wet, and this can lead to your brand new (expensive) hardwood boards warping or cupping once they’ve been nailed to the floor.

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Most hardwood manufacturers state that 12%-13% is the maximum acceptable moisture level in the subfloor boards, and you should check throughout your house and keep a log of your readings. The moisture meter has two small pins that you push gently into the plywood and the reading is almost instantaneous.

Most of my house was fine.

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This area in the master bedroom, however, was problematic:

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The moisture meter read as much as 15.2 or even 16 in some places!

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The first thing to do is address what might be causing a moisture problem and make sure that’s stopped before you proceed.  I knew my house had some roof problems in the past, but a new roof was installed three years before I purchased it.  So perhaps the problem originated there.  The other potential culprit was the windows or the crawlspace. I’ve been in the house several times during rain, and the windows don’t leak, plus my inspector was confident they were weather tight.  However, what my inspector DID point out to me was my crawlspace.  It’s bare dirt and gravel under there, and in this room some of the insulation under the joists was sagging and had absorbed moisture.

All crawlspaces should have thick plastic sheeting (at least 6 mil) installed on the flooring and partially up the foundation walls.  Also, your floor insulation needs to be dry, adequately rated, and properly installed. (Mine wasn’t, and that’s a whole other post, coming soon.)  I knew this was an issue when I purchased the house but didn’t initially connect it to my floor issue.  However, I quickly realized the issue and my favorite handyman Dennis is remedying the situation. The only thing that remained was addressing the plywood in the subfloor itself.

I decided to remove the wet plywood and replace it with new. I started by cutting a small hole with my Dremel velocity, in order to give me a starting place to pry with my crowbar.

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Then I cut along the edge of the wall with my Dremel, so I could cut the large sheets of plywood into manageable pieces and remove them.

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I got much closer to the wall with the Dremel, though I did use a circular saw set to the depth of the plywood for speed on some of the larger, more open cuts.

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I had a friend come help me do some of the prying and cutting.  (Hey, fun excuse to learn new skills and play with power tools!)

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And I couldn’t resist the opportunity to pose while standing in my crawlspace, through my floor.

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But I discovered something problematic when looking at a scrap piece of plywood that we pried out of the subfloor.  Standard subfloor underneath hardwoods is 3/4 inch.  This was distinctly NOT.

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The discovery so shook me that I called it a night early and went home with my brain spinning in circles.  Would the floor be strong enough?  Would I deal with never-ending squeaks?  Could I lay more plywood over top?  (Spoiler alert: enough plywood to cover the entire house with an extra layer would be over $1000.)  An overnight spent obsessively reading flooring and woodworking forums assured me that while I might risk some squeakiness, it would be strong enough to hold and that it isn’t uncommon to find hardwood installed over 1/2 inch plywood in 40 year old houses still going strong.

The same reading convinced me that I probably wanted to use roofing felt instead of rosin paper for extra moisture retarding factor and also for a thicker surface to help ward off squeaks.

What I decided to do in the end what cut out the plywood that was too moist, and reinforce the spans across joist with 2×4 boxes to make it a bit stronger.

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The reason for the boxes is this: the horizontal spans in between joists where one piece of plywood joins another tend to flex, and offer no place to screw in a new board.  With these boxes, I could screw in new plywood around all four edges.

With only a few hours each evening available to work, since I still have a full-time day job, it took multiple days to get this done.  And in one corner of the room, I encountered something very interesting.

What’s wrong with this picture?

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If you said that the joist pictured has been cut and doesn’t appear to be properly supported or sistered, you’d be right.  Whoever said old houses are constructed better than their newer counterparts hasn’t seen my house.  In the end, I decided to make another framework of 2x4s to join the cut joist to its surrounding joists and help share the weight.

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Finally, after days of nervously leaving my subfloor open to the crawlspace, I had enough of the supporting work done so that I could cut replacement plywood to size to put back in place.  View the glory of my chicken scratch handwriting as I drafted measurements to minimize wastage of each sheet of plywood:

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The beauty of this being the subfloor meant that I could label each piece with my pencil to help me put it in place later, as it will never show underneath my hardwoods. I ripped the boards to size with a circular saw, and used the scrap blocks from the skids my flooring was delivered on as a makeshift saw horse.  Yay for reusing things!

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Boards cut, I glued them down along the seams with subfloor glue and screwed them down with 2 1/2 inch #10 screws.

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I didn’t know there was such a thing as subfloor glue even a few weeks ago, but I’m hopeful it will help reduce squeaks.

Next time, leveling the floor, laying down the felt paper and starting to lay the hardwoods!

The Great Flooring Saga – Part 2

Everything in DIY always, always takes longer than you expect and turns up complications on the way.

So, last time I posted, I had ordered this Saddle Oak hardwood from Floor and Decor, the nearest of which is an hour and a half drive away from me.

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Shipping directly to my house would have been almost $300 due to the weight, so I decided to order it to be shipped to store, and figured that I’d just rent a cargo van and drive up to get it.  It’s normally available in store, but the quantity (1100 sqft) I needed to order had to be shipped from another store.  I also read that shipping store to store would be faster than shipping it to my house, which was advertised to take 7-10 days. Critical difference when you’re working on a time crunch. Also, shipping store to store was not free – they charged me about $120 in freight charges to ship it from their larger Cleveland store.

Unfortunately, shipping store to store took far longer than 7 days, and at day 7, I spent an irritated hour on the phone with customer service, and in the end had them reroute my hardwood and ship them directly to my house to save me the drive.  They did refund the shipping costs, though, so I must thank them for that.  Three days later, this big truck pulled up in front of my little house:

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Bonus cute delivery guy:

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In the end, I had two full skids of hardwood flooring boxes stacked up in my driveway on a Wednesday afternoon.  Given that the weather at this time of year can be unpredictable, and that’s a $3,200 investment just sitting out exposed, I panicked and called several good friends to come help me bring them into my house.  Each box weighed about 55 pounds, and there were 50 of them.

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To my wonderful friends credit, they showed up with only a few hours noticed and proceeded to haul ass bringing all the boxes inside my house.  One of the true blessings of my divorce is how many good friends I have made during this whole process, and I’m so grateful for them.  Some good-natured fooling around also occurred; there may have been a joke made about ‘stroking someone’s wood’:

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The total number of boxes caused a bit of a storage problem in the house, as I had to have enough floor space to open them.  This isn’t even half of them:

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I finished off the night opening up as many boxes of flooring as possible.  It’s important to let the wood flooring acclimate to the heat and humidity inside your house for at least 3 days before you start nailing it down.

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It’s as simple as taking it out of the boxes and stacking it on your floor, no more than 4-5 rows high.  It’s also important to mix boxes of flooring when you nail down the flooring, in case there are variations in color from box to box.  Early planning for this when you open your boxes can make it easier later on when you are ready to nail it down.

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While I was waiting for the flooring to acclimate, I moved on to prepping the subfloor.  This, true to form, became its own saga that consumed far more than 3 days…….

 

 

The Great Floor Saga, Part 1

Subtitle: I am exhausted and I’m not even really underway yet.

Those who follow me on Instagram or Twitter have already seen that I discovered oak hardwoods underneath all that gross old carpet in the living room and hallway.

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Initially, I was thrilled.  Existing hardwoods!  Money saved! Original character preserved!  It has turned out to be far more of a headache than it was worth.

I had originally budgeted $3,600 total for new, prefinished hardwoods throughout the living room, hallway and three bedrooms.  This was based on an estimated cost of $3.75 per square foot for the wood, over 900 square feet of area, and an extra $200 or so for the rosin paper or roofing paper to lay underneath.  I thought surely I could undercut that number significantly if there was so much wood remaining, plus I could save myself the time and labor of installing the whole mess if I hired the entire job out to a pro.

WRONG.  First, calling around to local top-rated flooring companies revealed that many flooring companies now only install pre-finished – they no longer sand, stain and refinish existing floors.  It’s emblematic of our disposable culture, I suppose.

Finally, I got a pro who still refinishes existing floor to come and look at my house.  Just finding him, scheduling an appointment, and then waiting for him to write up the quote delayed me by about a week, which was frustrating.  His quote:

$7,053.  That’s right, over SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS.  His quote broke down as follows: $1,000 in labor for subfloor preparation, $3,120 to purchase new, raw oak flooring for the bedrooms and install it, and $2,933 to sand the entire body of hardwood and stain it all to match. And he wouldn’t even be able to start the job for another two weeks.

After I started breathing again, I thanked him politely, assured him I’d call him back, and hung up the phone to start panicking.  Ok, what if I sourced raw oak myself, installed it myself in the bedrooms, and then just hired a pro for sanding and staining?  I know the son of a friend who spent his gap year between college and high school working for an excellent hardwood refinisher.  He just took a weekend job working for Home Depot, and had the experience to do the job more affordably.

The issue there was cost, too.  The best price I could find for raw oak was $3 per square foot through a local hardwood supply company, with limited hours of availability for pickup.  Still, that made the cost of the bedrooms alone $1,600, and the hardwood finishing product my college student was most familiar with cost $160 per gallon, with at least 5 gallons needed to do the whole house. That’s another $800 to the project.  Add $200 at least in tool rental, and that leaves me with only $1000 to pay in labor costs before I hit what I had originally budgeted for pre-finished hardwood.  Plus, there would be the mess and fumes of sanding and staining, the additional time to wait while the finish coat cured….I decided it just wasn’t worth it.

I decided to go with my original preference, Saddle Oak from Floor and Decor.

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At the time I purchased it, the price was $2.49 per square foot, which is a dollar lower than its normal price of $3.49 per square foot.  Floor and Decor doesn’t advertise sales, but their prices do fluctuate, so the best thing to do is bookmark the product you have picked out, and watch it like a hawk for any price drops.

The good thing about this?  The price drop means I can afford to put hardwood in my kitchen as well, and still be cheaper than my original estimate of $3,600 for the hardwood in the living room, hallway and bedrooms and $1,200 for cheap ceramic tile in the kitchen. This way, my purchase of enough hardwood to do all of these areas only came up to about $3,300!  Plus, I’ll get the lovely cohesive look of the same flooring throughout my main living areas:

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Like many things in DIY, though, things didn’t turn out QUITE so easily.

Next up, the Great Flooring Saga, Part 2.

 

I Used A Reciprocating Saw!

The saga with my flooring has dragged on and has prevented me from writing a concise post summing it all up, because it’s still.not.done.  But, before I can get to the floor and its drama, I do need to fill you in on the prep work for the floor.

One of the reasons I wanted to purchase a fixer, and also why I wanted to blog about it, was to learn how to do things myself without a “handyman” in the picture. A certain stereotype still exists that certain skillsets are men, and pardon my French, but that’s bullshit.  This is the modern era, and I’m challenging myself to learn to do things that used to intimidate me.  Using power tools was one of them.  It’s not anymore.

My first foray into power tool skills?  A reciprocating saw.  It was a $14 rental from Home Depot for 4 hours, plus $20 for the saw blades, which you have to buy yourself, but the amount of time it saved us was well worth the rental.

I used it to take out these shelves in the living room:

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They sat on top of the hardwood in the living area, and once we started pulling back the carpet, it was clear the shelves had to go.

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I had a friend who had experience with using a reciprocating saw help me.  It’s important to note, beloved readers, that do-it-yourself doesn’t have to mean doing it entirely alone.  When using power tools, it can be a smart idea to have someone with experience along just to show you how to do it safely.  It can also give you the confidence that you’re doing it right, and also said friend can help you take photos for your blog. 🙂

We started by taking down the central overhead supports.

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But then it was my turn to take over the saw and dismantle the shelves themselves.  One note about this type of reciprocating saw (it’s a Makita Sawszall) — it doesn’t kick back into your hand as you would expect, it pulls forward into the wood it’s cutting.  So you don’t have to use a ton of strength to keep it from coming towards you, but you do have to exert some downward pressure as you cut to keep it in line.

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Once the fronts of the horizontal shelves were cut, I stepped around to the back to complete the cut through the backing plywood. Check out my hard at work face!

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Finally, we cut each side away from the wall. This left only the board attached to the wall, which we were able to carefully pry away from the drywall without any major drywall damage.

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The base of support was built out of simple 2x4s, which we simply pried off with a crowbar.  We did find one surprise: a vintage Hot Wheels car had been lost (hidden?) inside the support on one side. I’m going to try to contact the previous homeowner and see if he wants it back. A memento of his childhood, maybe?

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Floor Plan and Flooring Plans

So far, the biggest eyesore in my house and the genesis of the biggest project to date has been the floors.  There were 5(!!!) different carpets in the house, with a dated, wrinkled beige in the living room and hallway, each bedroom having a different color of super worn carpet, and especially horrid carpet in the family room.

View the 70’s-vomited-on-it family room carpet in all its awfulness.

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My daughter’s bedroom was also particularly bad, with electric blue long shag carpet so worn it was down to the threads in the doorways.

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Besides simple wear, the other major issue with the many different carpets was how much it chopped up the layout of the house.  This is a small house – only 1620 square feet in total, with the main portion of the house (minus the family room addition) being only 1200 square feet, including the kitchen.  Here’s a rough floor plan to help you picture it.

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You can see how choppy it feels. Everywhere you see white above is old, dated linoleum in about three different patterns, including little patches right in front of both exterior doors, glued down straight over the hardwood by the front door.  I planned to put hardwood throughout the main living areas, like this:

Floor plan

Much better, right?

I was thinking of nail down oak flooring for affordability, in something in a medium tone like this Saddle Oak from Floor and Decor:

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I planned on putting ceramic tile in the kitchen (generally more affordable per square foot) and a nice neutral carpet in the family room:

Floor plan

I’d also put the same tile in the laundry, the storage room and the area in front of the family room exterior doors.  I knew I wanted a 12 x 24 inch large format ceramic tile, perhaps in a neutral like this Prisma Beige from Floor and Decor:

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It’s neutral, light, very affordable, and would go with basically any color of cabinets in my eventual kitchen renovation.  Tile has the benefit of being cheaper per square foot than hardwood, although that is somewhat offset by the cost of backerboard, thinset and grout.

I also gave some thought to running the hardwood throughout the kitchen as well.  It has the benefit of being elegant, and expanding the flow of the house as it negates that awkward diagonal hall transition.

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The main drawbacks are durability, and cost per square foot.  On the other hand, it looks great visually, and is less hassle to install.  With tile, I’d need to install backerboard down over the subfloor, apply thinset and lay the tile, then wait 24 hours and grout, then wipe down the grout and wait another 24 hours before I could use the floor.  With prefinished hardwood, once it was nailed to the subfloor, it would be done and ready to walk on right away.

What do you think?  I’ve already finished ripping up the carpet and the prep of the rooms for hardwood has been its own saga.  Blog post on that coming up!

 

Exterior Damage Drama

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The purchase of my house was a bit more excitement than I had initially been looking for, and came with its own set of setbacks.  The market in our area is currently very much a seller’s market, with houses frequently changing hands behind closed doors without ever hitting a real estate listing website.

I’d been looking for a fixer with character in my price range for weeks, watching the clock tick down until I had to be out of my marital house when it closed, and seeing house after house sell in only one day, or have other features that knocked it out of consideration.  Finally the listing for what eventually became my house showed up in my inbox.  I made an appointment to see it with my realtor that day, and by the evening I had made an offer, only to find out that I was competing against two other bidders – all for a house in poor condition, after ONE DAY on the market.

I couldn’t afford to make a full price offer, not if I hoped to build funds for my renovation into my loan, so I wrote this letter to the sellers, hoping it might sway them:

“Dear Seller,

I love your house.  The details are so charming, the yard is gorgeous and I really feel like it’s got so much potential.

Just to tell you a little about myself, I’m a single mom, just finalizing my divorce, and I’m looking for a house that can truly become a new home for my young daughter and I.  She has already picked out her room (it’s the one at the end of the hall on the left, with the blue carpet), the backyard will be a magical place for her to play, the playground is a short walk away and we even have the space to keep the dog she’s been asking for.

This house has the potential to be a haven for us in a time of upheaval in our lives.  I am obviously on a tight budget and planning to renovate the house with love and care, over time.  I’m not a flipper or a professional investor; we’re just a small family looking for a place we can truly call our next home for a long, long time.  We love that your neighborhood is full of children and families that have been there for a long time, and we want to become one of them.

I hope you’ll seriously consider our offer.

Sincerely,

Me”

I waited almost 48 hours to hear word back. I was competing against two other offers – one of which was too low and was discarded by the sellers immediately.  The other offer, however, was coming from an investor, and I waited on pins and needles to see if my letter would make me a contender against an investor with obviously deeper pockets than mine.  Finally, I heard – my offer was accepted!!

However, that was just the start of the drama.  Next step was inspections.  And they didn’t go well.

Fortunately, the structure of my house is sound.  The foundation looks good, the roof is only 3 years old, and the windows, while the paint is peeling, are still water tight and structurally sound, per my inspector.

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The house sat vacant for several months while the children of the seller (who was elderly, and had made her children her power of attorney to handle the sale) readied the house for sale.  A bird made its nest over the front entry light.

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The roof trim was also showing signs of wear, and the gutter guards in the front were improperly installed when the roof was redone.

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And that’s where the trouble begins.  Because the gutters were improperly sloped when the roof was redone, water damage has occurred in multiple spots along the roof soffits.

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In one place, the damage was severe enough to allow a squirrel access to my attic.  My inspector found lovely squirrel droppings in one large section of my attic insulation, which will have to be cleaned and replaced with fresh insulation.

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The side of the house featured a cracked and settled stone patio (cracking is common in our area, due to frost heaves) which had allowed water to sit against the composite siding of the addition and caused substantial rot.

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There was similar water damage along the joint between the composite siding and the brick chimney, caused by improper weather proofing of the joint.

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But the real problem was hidden behind this one innocuous wall.

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Termites.

The bane of every homeowner’s existence.  With no way of telling how extensive the damage to the framing of that wall was without being able to open up the wall, I was in a very difficult spot.  Since it was an estate sale, being sold as-is meant the sellers were obligated to treat the termites but were not obligated to make any repairs.

On the other hand, backing out of the sale meant that I was back to ground zero in my search for a house, and with no guarantees that anything suitable would even come on the market at all before I had to be out of my marital house.  My realtor even suggested that I consider renting.

I finally decided to take a chance and have a contractor write me up a bid for a best and worst case scenario for repairing the termite damage, as well as a bid for repairing the squirrel damage.  I wrote a strongly worded message to the sellers informing them of the cost of repairs and telling them that I could not safely keep my daughter in an environment with pests such as those.  My realtor wasn’t optimistic, but in the end the sellers caved.  They agreed to reduce the price of the house by the amount my contractor figured as his worst case scenario cost for the repairs.  The rest of the updates and fixes will come out of my renovation budget, but the reduction in price on the house meant that I could still fund the renovations I wanted to do to give the house another life, while still having the funds necessary to properly repair all the damage without cutting any corners.

The closing went forward, and I continued getting bids on the updates.  Now, having closed, I’m still waiting on my contractor to come out and assess the full scope of the termite damage.  It’s the middle of his busy season, but he should be coming out next week to start the exterior repairs in earnest, and when he’s done, I’ll be able to sleep in peace in a house that’s once again sound and ready to last through the years.