Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Our Contractor Is In Jail - Now What

We've run into a serious problem with our concrete contractor...he's in jail.

I won't go into specifics except to say that he is looking at a long prison term.  So far we've paid him for work completed, but we still don't have a driveway or sidewalk.  Instead we have a massive hole that is both an insurance liability and a massive inconvenience for me to navigate around on my crutches.  The worst part is that he has not paid for the concrete he used to pour our garage foundation and floor.  If he does not pay his bill the concrete company will put a lien on our home even though we already paid the contractor.

So I'm looking for advice.  Has anyone been in a similar situation?  Any experience with these situations?

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Removing The Stump - Because The Tree Guy Is Too Lazy To Show Up

It's been another week of laying around for me, waiting for bones to knit.  But while I've been working on the basics, like learning to cook from a rolling stool, Luke has been making progress on the garage and our stump problem.

You might need a little backstory for this to all make sense.  When we bought the house we had this ugly clump of trees growing in front of the house (far right)
When we were ready to start work on the garage we cut them down, leaving the stump where the driveway needed to be.
This was once a massive system of cottonwood trees, with a stump four feet in diameter.  Our concrete contractor tried to remove it with a mini-excavator and a bobcat with no luck.  Our driveway cannot be poured because the stump is in the way.
  So three and a half weeks ago I hired a tree service to remove it.  Apparently the tree guy was not motivated by his $500 bid, because we've had nothing but ignored calls and excuses ever since then.  Two weeks after the concrete guy poured the garage slab Luke got fed up and rented a mini-excavator.
He dug a deep trench all the way around the stump until he could finally rock it loose like a baby tooth.
Getting it out of the hole was no easy matter.  The stump was too heavy and bulky for the mini-excavator to pull out of the hole so he had to clean the loose dirt away with the pressure washer and cut off chunks with his chainsaw.
Eventually he was able to haul the monstrous stump out of the hole and load it onto the tilt bed trailer for the excavator.
So instead of paying the tree company $500 we spent $140 on the mini-excavator.  Now we just have to get the concrete guy out here to pour the driveway and we will be done with contractors.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Getting Started

As you may have noticed in my last post, our progress on the garage is not longer "our" progress.  It's Luke's progress.  I am on crutches for the next three months so my duties have been reduced to resting and keeping my foot elevated; all the garage construction is now Luke's responsibility.  Fortunately my husband happens to be a norwegian giant, former construction foreman and a very hard worker.  While I was laying on the couch all day he was framing walls
Our pastor came over to help put up the wall with the garage door header.  Our church really does have wonderful people!
As you may have noticed from the photos the sidewalk is poured but we still do not have our driveway or sidewalk.  This massive stump is holding everything up while we wait for the very unreliable tree company to actually remove it as promised.  Every time we work with a contractor Luke and I are reminded why we prefer to do as much of our own work as possible.  
But finding out how massive this stump is has made us more aware of a potential problem with the back yard.  We have this weirdly placed clump of trees growing in the middle of the back yard.  We decided to take them down this year so we can drill out the stumps and get some nitrogen to rot them before we start landscape work next summer.
The yard looks even more flat and bare than before but hopefully our next stump removal will be easier and less expensive than the front yard.
Despite the many delays it is nice to see progress, even if I'm no longer involved.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Well, That Changes Plans

It looks like my plans for the summer have changed
Instead of building a garage and putting new siding and windows on the house, I will be spending the next three months on crutches.  Which means Luke is going to be stuck doing all the work to get the garage dried in by himself.  I can't express how wonderful he has been through this whole ordeal but here are a few of the highlights:
  • He sets his alarm to wake me up during the night when it's time for pain pills
  • He rearranged the furniture in our room so I could get around easier and moved into the guest room so I could sleep more comfortably
  • He will not let me go down the basement stairs and has been doing all the laundry himself
  • Despite being exhausted by caring for me and working full time time he has never complained.  I know I was not so gracious when he had his ankle surgery four years ago.
So Luke will be busy the summer with garage construction, but despite my non-weight-bearing ankle I've decided not to let the summer be a complete waste.  I'm going to figure out how to cook and clean the house despite the cast.  If I can't work on the garage I should at least be able to take some other burdens off of Luke.
I have a lot of time on my hands. My brain needs a distraction or I'll go crazy thinking about all the things I need to do on the house.  So I signed up for an epidemiology course (online) and ordered a french language software program.  I haven't made much progress on my french yet, but who knows where I might be in three month.  


Sunday, June 08, 2014

As Good As It Gets - For Now

After weeks of work the porch is a finished as it's going to get for now.  We cannot completely finish the project because of the siding.  We hope to replace all the windows and siding on the house this fall.  Until then we're going to have to look at our unfinished gable.
And some very ugly siding with cracking paint
And our hideous front door (I've already picked out our new door, but after eight months is has yet to go on sale.  I may have to pay retail...oh the horror.)
But I am pleased with how the porch turned out.  The bulky 4x6 posts provide a visual balance for the 2x6 rafters.
And the tongue and groove ceiling was well worth the expense and trouble.
Even without replacing the siding or installing a new exterior light fixture the porch has made a huge difference in how the house looks from the street.  
Before

After
Unfortunately the new siding and windows for the house are still a long way off.  We are starting work on building the garage and we'll be busy with that project until it is at least dried in.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Porch Roof

Porch construction has been a slow process.  Between work, weather and some work we are doing at church there just has not been much time for improving our own house.  But over the Memorial Day weekend we were able to make some serious progress.  With the help of Luke's brother we finished framing the porch roof
And installed the sheathing and synfelt
We found some tongue and groove aspen on sale several weeks ago and decided it would be perfect with our open rafter ceiling.
I'm not done with the painting yet, but I think the rafters have a nice contrast against the aspen.
Our other projects have included removing the fence and siding in anticipation of the still-to-be-built garage.
 Luke also remove some of the branches on the tree/shrub in the front yard.  We are hoping to have the stump removed when we have equipment here to excavate the driveway.  The yard is so much more open without it.

I'm hoping to finish the porch painting this week and excavation for the driveway and garage should start on Thursday.  After all these months we are finally doing something with this house!

Friday, May 09, 2014

The Porch Gets A Floor

We started on the porch last weekend but most of our time was spent on boring projects that don't do much for the aesthetics of the house.  But now the concrete is hauled away to the dump and the footings for the porch have been poured.  We're ready to start building.
The first step was to get the framing in place.  Fortunately my brother and his fiancee had a lot of free time during these last few days until graduation and helped us get the posts up and the floor framing in.
We had family coming into town before my brother's graduation so we were in a rush to get the porch floor installed before they arrive. After doing a little research we decided on ChoiceDek composite.  I preferred the look of some Trex on clearance but it had terrible reviews because of mold problems.  The ChoiceDek had much better reviews and was slightly cheaper so I think we'll be happy with it.  We installed it using a the Camo system jig so the screw holes are not visible..
View from the street
Now that we have a good surface for the ladders it's time to start working on the porch roof.  We've got family coming for graduation and mother's day but we're going to buy our materials and see how much we can get accomplished over the weekend.
 


Sunday, May 04, 2014

Back to Work

After a few months away from blogging I'm back and ready for a fresh challenge.  We've been in the house since Labor Day but we haven't tackled any real projects until now.  We plan to make up for that time off in the next few months. Our big project will be building a garage, but there are countless small projects that go along with the garage.  First up is our front entry situation.  Here is what we've been looking at for the last eight months.
 
So far the only improvement I have made was planting these maple trees a few weeks ago.
In an effort to dress up the front of this bland little ranch and tie in with our future garage we decided to replace the concrete steps with a covered porch.  Our first step was to get rid of the precast steps using craigslist. I was surprised at how many people were interested in our free steps and how few of them had any plan for how to move 800 lbs of concrete.  But eventually we found the right person to haul them away.  My brother built us a temporary set of steps to use until we build the porch.
We still did not have a clean slate to work with.  Since our new porch will have steps on the side instead of the front we decided that we really did not need the front walk.  At some point we will fill the hole and plant grass to combine two small yards into one larger yard.  For now we have this:
The walk from the driveway was great for shedding water but miserable to shovel.  Whoever poured the concrete did nothing to prepare the soil underneath which is why it buckled.
When we pour the driveway and garage slab we will also pour a sidewalk leading to the new porch.
I don't usually appear in the blog but Luke snapped a few pictures while I was working on the front walk.
Our last little preparatory task was to dig the holes for the porch footings.  We were concerned this would be miserable work because our soil is so rocky but at 18" we hit good, alluvial dirt and it was easy digging for the rest of the holes.
Since the digging went faster than planned we had time to mix up some concrete and pour the footings for the porch posts.  Now that the prep work is done we're ready to start building a porch.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

FSBO - How to Sell by Owner

I apologize for the tardiness of this post.  With the move, starting a new job and the untimely death of my hard drive I've been neglecting the blog.  I'll try to change that.


Our home in Butte was the third home we've sold, but the first one we've sold without a realtor.  Our decision was financially motivated.  Our first house sold in 1 day, the second in 2 days but in both cases the realtors walked away with thousands of dollars for almost no work.  Why not keep that money for ourselves?

We listed our home on July 11th.  Because the local MLS blacklists FSBO homes we did not bother using a listing service.  Instead we advertised on Craigslist and Zillow as well as at our respective employers. I also ordered banners for the front of the house and a realtor-style box to hold flyers for the house.  Although were selling by owner, we wanted a professional look instead of the standard red and white yard signs.

Our marketing expenses added up as follows:
 Craigslist, Zillow and Website - Free
Newspaper (Open House Announcement) - $32.50
Banners - $36
Realtor's Display Box - $15
Flyers - $5

 Marketing Recommendations:

Online Marketing - Yes.
Most of our showing came through Craigslist.  We only received a few showings through Zillow, but it's a free service and provides lots of information to potential buyers.  I set up a website through Blogger than provided a flyer for the house and a photo tour.  It wasn't elaborate but we received several showings from people who viewed the photo tour and wanted to see it in person.

Newspaper - No.
The newspaper was a complete waste of money.  Not a single person who attended the open house saw our ad in the paper.  Plus they were a day late in posting the ad and never put in a picture even though it was part of the ad package. 

Banners - Yes.
I ordered large, professionally printed banners for our front fence.  Although they did not contribute directly to the sale we had quite a few people stop to take a flyer when they saw the banners.  Also, the couple who bought our house were from out of town and the banners made it easier for them to find the house.

Display Box - Yes.
Again, the presence of a display box did not directly contribute to the sale of the house.  There are three other homes for sale within a few blocks but ours was the only home with flyers readily available.  The other homes just had signs and contact information for their realtors. I don't know about you, but I want the information readily available without having to call a realtor.

Flyers - Yes.
We are in the digital age but every single person who looked at the house took a paper flyer.  This is not the time to cut corners.  Use a quality paper so the color photos don't bleed through.  Take the time to do a nice layout with quality photos and useful information.  I designed our flyers in Publisher using a pre-loaded template but we still received numerous compliments on how professional they looked.  If you cannot do this for yourself, find someone to make the flyers for you.  It's well worth the expense.

My Tips (learned mostly from trial-and-error)


  • Set up an e-mail account just for selling the house.  I used this account on all our advertising and shut it down after we closed.  This will protect your regular email address from spammers.
  • Keep a calendar and list the showings.  It helps you keep tracking of scheduled showings and prevents those awkward moments when you get a call from someone who says they saw the house last Thursday and you have no idea who they are.
  • Have your answers ready.  Potential buyers will want to know about taxes, utilities and even insurance.  Are you willing to work with a realtor?  How soon can you be out of the house?  What is the lowest price you will accept?  Even though you are selling be prepared for calls about rentals.  People will want to rent the house or rent to own.  I had one woman call me repeatedly and get upset that I wouldn't consider a lease. 
  • Have the documents ready.  Our title company provided the buy/sell agreement and I downloaded a disclosure form.  I also had copies of our property taxes and utility bills. 
  • Google the people who will be looking at your house.  Luke lived out of town during the week so I tried to weed out serial killers and people in foreclosure.  I carry a knife whether or not I'm showing the house but you may want to consider mace or a taser.
  • Be careful.  Showing your home exposes all your belongings and personal information to the world.  Keep personal papers in a locked file cabinet to prevent ID theft.  Keep your electronics, jewelry, medications and guns out of sight.  Because our tools are more valuable than anything in the house, Luke and I emptied the garage and put all our tools in a storage unit.
  • Give the potential buyers some space.  I would typically take the interested parties through a guided tour of the house so I could point out features but after they saw the whole house I would step into the back yard and let them poke around the house without me looking over their shoulder.  You can also use this time to note their license plate number.
  • Be hospitable.  The above list makes it look like everyone is out to kill or rob you, but somewhere in the crowd of maniacs is a buyer and you want them to be comfortable and to linger.  Have chilled water and beverages ready on hot days.  Keep your pets out of the way during showings.  If they want to meet the pets, they will ask (and several people did ask to meet Atlas).
  • Be genuine.  Many people don't like dealing with realtors because of their reputation as weasels who will say anything to get the sale.  This is your chance to connect with the people on a personal level and allay their concerns by being honest.  I told every person how the house had frozen and flooded the basement.  I also got to tell them how we had gutted the basement to the block walls and started fresh.  This formed trust between us and potential buyers and prevented any unpleasant surprises when they viewed the disclosure.
  • Be patient.  It took eighteen showings in sixteen days before we received an offer. Then suddenly we received five offers in 24 hours.  Once the purchase agreement was signed it took another five weeks to complete the sale.

Was it stressful and a lot of work?  Yes.
Was it worth it? Yes.
Even though we paid for marketing costs out of pocket we saved over $11K by not using a realtor.  When it's time to sell our house in Helena I fully intend to try For Sale By Owner again.

I'm sure I've left out many details so if you have any questions about the process please feel free to contact me.





Thursday, September 26, 2013

Making It Tolerable

The bathroom has been driving me crazy.  Since moving in we've had to replace a the running toilet, fix the shower that was leaking into the basement and unclog the tub drain.  I've been really tempted to just rip out the whole bathroom and start over, but currently it's our only bathroom and our plans for an addition make it impossible to build the basement bathroom just yet.
So for now we're stuck with this bathroom but I just couldn't handle the green walls and ceiling any longer.
I had some ceiling paint left over from the last house and I found a half-gallon for antique white paint in the basement for the walls.  I made a curtain out of a spare shower curtain from a previous house.
Luke still doesn't like the color (anything but bright white looks dirty to him) but it's a huge improvement over the green.  Maybe I can live with this for another year if nothing else breaks.
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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mom's Kitchen Makeover Part 2

Now that I've dealt with small problems like stripping wallpaper and light fixtures it's time to tackle the big issue...cabinets.  After reading several reviews we chose Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations.  The cabinet transformation system is not difficult to use, but it requires a lot of work.   All surfaces have to be scrubbed with degreaser followed by multiple coats of paint, glaze and sealer.  But in the end it was worthwhile.  Just take a look.

Kitchen Before
 
 Kitchen After
 
Kitchen Before
 Kitchen After

Kitchen Before

Kitchen After

The total cost of the project was about $400 and between myself and my dad we had about 100 hours of labor.  I would recommend this project to anyone, but would suggest not trying it until you have a week of vacation to use.  Fortunately I have yet to find a job so I've got lots of time for such things.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Mom's Kitchen Makeover - Part 1

Hello All,

I'm back.  The blog is up and running again and we've moved into our "new" house in Helena.  But I won't be posting about the house just yet.  Now that I am jobless I am taking a little time to work on some projects for my family.  First up is a kitchen mini-makeover for my mom.

My parent's home was once owned by a cabinet maker, resulting in a large kitchen with tons of storage that was the height of style in 1990.

The pickled oak finish was not holding up well.  I refinished the matching bathroom vanity several years ago and discovered that it is almost impossible to get rid of the finish in the deeper grains of the wood.
 The wallpaper was peeling at the seams and along the bottoms of the wall.
 And the massive light fixture matched the cabinets, but also made the large kitchen feel small and closed-in.
 

I used my trusty old steamer to strip the wallpaper.  Six hours later the walls were finally clean.
My brother helped me remove the light fixture, leaving us with these lovely fluorescent strip lights.
 The ceiling had two holes for the original light fixtures.
My mom chose some new fluorescent fixtures that aren't so bulky.  The room feels quite a bit taller with the new fixtures but obviously I haven't finished painting the ceiling.
We've hit a little snag as Home Depot is out of the backsplash tile we chose last weekend but I can still work on the cabinets.  I'll post more photos as we make progress.