Going down and taking everyone with it

A neighbor on my block must really love this neighborhood. Mainly because his (and his wife’s) house is under construction for the 2nd… 3rd time? I lost count, but they’ve must have put in more money than the house is worth. The previous fixes have been mainly minor and one major thing. There was something dealing with poor drainage that plagued them for the longest. Well the current venture has them gutting the house. They didn’t intend to gut the house, but when you start to pull up floors and knock away old plaster you discover fresh heart sinking, bank busting horrors, like I did when I had my house renovated.
One of the horrors discovered was a combo pack of a poor electrical, mixed with bad brick, which under the right conditions could take out 1/3 of the block in a house fire collapse situation. Okay maybe 1/8th of the block trusting that at least one connecting house was renovated well enough to block disaster. Yes. There are supposed to be fire blocks between these old row houses, but ‘supposed to be’ and ‘actually is’ aren’t the same thing. Pulling away the drywall and plaster revealed failing brick load bearing walls, party and exterior walls with failed (questionable if brick was there in the 1st place) portions. Add these failed portions to an electrical system that came in contact with a leak and lint filled jerry rigged dryer vent, and we have the higher risk for fire. If the fire didn’t come then the failing brick wall, if it fell, would definitely have taken the neighboring house with it.
A former TC resident once told me that you never really know what you have until you get down to the brick and the joists.

Chef, Church, Contractor, Coffee

This posting is for stuff on the backburner I’d been meaning to post. So, going in alphabetical order

Chef Jean Claude LeLan that is. About a week ago I took my 3rd or 4th class with him and they are always wonderful learning and eating experiences. His classes tend to be on Sunday mornings at 10 at his home in Mt. Vernon Sq., so even after having a rich meal and a good deal of wine, I can toddle or waddle back home for a good nap. The next class he’s having is the sauce class January 11th. I’ve taken it and it is well worth it because Chef Jean-Claude is a hoot, you get to take some sauces home and the after class meal is brunch. I also recommend that you take good notes and ask questions because the handouts are general and some steps are not mentioned or can be adjusted or are estimates or there are ideas that come out of the class.
Chef Jean Claude also offers catering and cooking classes in your home. I am tempted to have him cater, but a cooking class would not work. My kitchen is tiny.

Church of the Immaculate Conception at 8th and N NW is one of two Roman Catholic Churches in Shaw, the other is St. Augustine. The pastor of Immaculate Conception, Rev. Msgr. James Watkins resides in Shaw, so he is a part of the community. Mass is as follows- Saturday 5:30 (29 minutes or less or your next mass is free); Sunday 9AM (1 hour), 11AM (about 1.5 hours), 6PM (Latin. Fr. Watkins’ Latin is lovely, everybody else….eh). And don’t bother with the website, it is stuck in Dec 2006.

Not exactly in Shaw, but close, and they asked nice, and I needed another ‘C’…

I’m Ongisa and we just opened up CocoLibre at 786 Harvard St. NW. It’s a Fair Trade Cafe’ that specializes in certified tea, coffee, and chocolate- plus your typical coffee shop fare like paninis and pastries. I know we aren’t exactly in Shaw, but we’re close. If you could give us a shout-out or something, that would be great. Check us out on the web- www.cocolibre.com. Feel free to hype us up and stop in for some great organic (and ethical) tea! Thanks.

Some of y’all wanted my contractor’s contact info. Well my 2007 big renovation job and my 2002-2003 kitchen job were done by David of Something Different Contracting, 2/321-6416. I do recommend him for your big house projects (things that may require permits). David is very communicative, and lives close, in Frozen Tropic land (Old City 1). He has worked with older homes and will work with you to salvage any old beauty that may still exist in your home. You can email me at mari at inshaw daht com if you have questions you want to ask.

Money and renovation

I feel a need to talk numbers. However, finances are a very personal topic, it’s sort of like talking about the details of your last doctor’s appointment. Yet, without numbers the topic remains vague.
In 2007 I documented the renovation of my house. Prior to that in 2003 the kitchen was done. Both jobs were done by David of Something Different, and I’m quite happy with David’s work and his work ethic. The kitchen cost about $17,000 and the main renovation was around $100K (hello big fat 2nd mortgage), counting the work done before and after with heating and cooling. The house is a little over 1,000 sq feet, not counting the cellar. So those are the numbers.
So when I hear others say that a renovation for a certain house of roughly the same size would be $200K to $300K to renovate, I’m not totally convinced. Not that you can’t spend that much, but it seems you can spend less. People with more building daring have spent less, being their own general contractor, saving $40K, working with the same sq. footage as my house. From my own experience, I know I could have saved some money by cutting out some luxuries. Such as the heated floor in the kitchen, the tile from Expo, the fancy bathroom with the claw foot tub, the separate heating and cooling systems. Of course there are some things I did and didn’t do that would have bumped the price up. I didn’t replace the section 8 windows, they work, the eco-building guy said they were acceptable, I’ll replace them later. I used low VOC paint, which costs more than regular Home Depot paint. On the other hand, some wonderful volunteer helpers and I painted the house, saving on labor.
Labor, that was a majority of my expenses. David bills by labor and materials. If I wanted we could have come up with a single bid price for the whole job but it would have been more. But with David’s way I saw what I was paying for, and man are men expensive, even the unskilled ones.
Lastly, a thing that I think really helped in price was I was renovating the house for me, not some unknown buyer whose tastes and preferences are unknown. I don’t need stainless steel anythings, so I won’t pay top dollar. I prefer Corian to granite, Formica would have been acceptable too. I am okay with used items, like the tub and the radiators. Also okay with the low end barber carpet. I like IKEA, and we hacked them a bit and gave them a non-IKEA look. My tastes were not an unknown factor, so then money could be targeted towards things I actually cared about or whatever David convincingly talked me into, like the heart pine floors.

DI4Y (Do It For Yourself)

I can’t say this weekend was quiet. The folks across the alley and over a few doors are putting a deck up. So this was a weekend of hammering and guys yelling at each other.
They sort of had a small deck-like thing, a legacy from before they bought the house. It was grey warped wood with splotches of moss and mold. It was also small, just big enough for 2 guys to sit out on it to smoke. The deck they are getting would allow for a table, where two-four-six guys can sit, smoke and maybe have a few beers. Considering how much use the old deck got, new one will get used often.
I’m thinking of some home improvements as well for 2009. The 1st floor was to have a shower, but I didn’t have the money for it in the renovation. I’m thinking I’ll save up some money, talk to David my contractor, get a figure from him, and add 30% on top of that. Also scheduled for 2009 is repainting the house. With the colors B &IT have for their house and the color of the house next to me, the color I’m choosing will make the three houses my alma mater’s school colors. Though the neighboring house’s color is a little on the pastel side to truly be a fighting school colors. Eh, close enough.
I think there is something special about home improvements people do for themselves, and not to just try to sell the house. Considering the cost, the hassle of dust and discomfort of strangers tromping through your house (if paying someone else to do it), it pretty much keeps improvements down to things that are needed. Also the improvements are truly ‘custom’ to the way the residents live.

Renovation 2007: Air Conditioning

If I haven’t mentioned it, Phase II of my house renovations is 99.99 complete. Phase I was the kitchen, Phase II was the big monster budget killing renovation, Phase III will be the cellar. But Phase II is 99.99% complete, the .01% is some touch up painting I need to get around to doing with the doors and where the wall meets the ceiling.
Anyway, I have AC, and the system that I have is the Space Pak. We’ve had a few warm days, and so far my feelings are mixed. First off, where I work there are spots where it is 60F and I have to bundle up, so I don’t want to freeze at home. And so I’ve had the AC on and turned it off because I thought it was too chilly. The 1st floor does get nice and cool and the 2nd floor, where the heat rises, is iffy. It isn’t hot, just noticeably warmer. This can be dealt with the ceiling fans.
I do like the look of it. No boxy ducts.
When Summer comes I’ll give another review.

Foreclosure, probably not that great of a deal

I live next door to a foreclosed house.
The story, from what I can piece together is that long time ago, say 15-20 years ago, some Ethiopian guy bought the house as an investment property. According to a neighbor on the block, he did rent it out but left it vacant for about 7 years. Then for about a year or two he rented to some Ethiopian sisters, one of whom got married and they all moved away. Then the Ethiopian owner sold it to another Ethiopian for way too much at the top of the market. This new Ethiopian owner rented to an Ethiopian family who stayed for a few months, and then the house sat empty. And then it went into foreclosure and the bank owns it. The bank tried to sell it for close to what the guy paid for it, and it sat. Then about every 1.5 months they would decrease the price. It remains unsold.
A friendly Vietnamese couple looked at the house and were very interested. So much so that one day they brought an inspector with them. I’d like the house to sell, but I also want any future owners to be aware that there are some busted pipes in the house, as the pipes failed last winter sending water into my basement. So the couple took in that information and went around with the inspector. They spent an awful lot of time looking at the rear kitchen portion of the house, which if anything like mine, is structurally crappy. The stucco is cracked and red brick dust seeps through. The layout of the 2nd floor is, challenging. Anyway, they didn’t buy it. I’m sure the numbers just didn’t work out. The amount the house was selling for, plus the amount to fix the busted piping (which would mean taking up portions of the floor and possibly finding mold) just to make it suitable for human habitation, was more than likely far above it’s market value. That’s not even addressing the structural and mechanical issues, nor is the price of making it ‘nice’ as opposed to ‘not condemned’.
Let me throw in some numbers. The house at the time the couple looked at it was $310,000. This is for a townhouse of about 1,000-1,200 sf. nothing fancy, aged AC unit, blown in heat, busted pipes, electrical systems a big unknown, weedy front and back yards, and appliances over 10 years old. Plumbers cost money. So say there isn’t any mold under the house and you just need to fix/ replace the pipes, and it can be done from a crawlspace hatch, so there is no replacing the floor? Well that’s over $3K, based on how much I’ve paid to have a ‘simple’ plumbing job done in an easy to access area. But there could be mold, and the floor might need to be taken up. And while you’re doing that you might as well gut the whole thing. When I asked how much someone, doing it all themselves spent to gut and fix their own house, which is similar in size to mine, the amount was about $60K. I paid well over that, let’s just say my contract had a $80K limit, we hit the limit and there was still stuff (like installing heat and AC) that needed to be done when I ran out of money. That amount doesn’t include the paint, the tub, and other materials I bought myself.
The houses on the block, sans basements, are assessed for around $350K. I’m somewhat doubting that whoever buys the house is willing to put into it more than its market worth. The bank may have to knock the price down to the high to mid $200K range before anyone bites.

BACA & Paint

There is a BACA meeting tonight but I will not be in attendance as I have some pressing paint duties. I’ve been painting my house for what seems like a month. I have formed these big nasty callouses all on my hands and I want them gone.
I have told myself I need to finish all my paint jobs by the end of this week, or else I’ll go nuts. First thing that needs to be done tonight (thus not going to the BACA meeting) is the bathroom ceiling needs a coat of paint. There are only so many times you can shower without damaging the ceiling. I hope it is not too late as there are some funny looking marks up there already.
After the bathroom everything else is whenever but I got to end this painting. The baseboards on the 1st floor need a coat, because the paint I put on was damaged by the floor guy’s sander. Also on the first floor I need to paint over the ceiling paint that hit the wall and the doorway between the kitchen and dining area. Upstairs I have to decide if I’m painting the bedroom ceilings or just leaving it primer white. Sections of the brick wall need caulking and painting. The top part of the 2nd floor baseboards need a lick of paint. The top of the wall near the ceilings in both bedrooms and the hallway need paint.
Then once I’m done painting, there is the cleaning.

Moving back in

100_0519Well this week I’ve moved back into the house. The upside of giving away most of your earthly possessions prior to renovation is they aren’t covered in several layers of dust. Nor are they water damaged. The downside is the stuff you did keep stored requires cleaning or replacing and you can’t find half of it anyway.
I was crazy mad trying to put together a bookcase with rudimentary hand tools because I cannot find either one of my drills. The cordless I think may have grown legs. The corded one, it’s down in the cellar somewhere. Can’t find any of my pliers. Tools, I learned from Nathan & BL who had work done on their house, can accidentally get picked up during the rush to leave the work site.
Most of the work has been done and there are just a few things that are left to do. Painting the ceilings, getting the tops of the walls near the ceiling, hooking up the cable/phone wires, hooking up the radiators and then hooking up the AC. These things aren’t required for me moving in.
The place looks nice and very sparse. I put out a call to friends to give me (or loan me) furniture to help fill it out. One friend has been trying to pawn off a few wood table pieces on me for years. Another is preparing to move next year to Chicago and is willing to part with things not worth moving. Though I have my limits, I will not take anything the dog has peed on. I do have some of my own furniture that I couldn’t find homes for before the move but I have yet to see if it has survived unprotected storage.
Lastly, I want to thank Scott and Matt for keeping a roof over my head for the past 3 months during the renovations. They were wonderful hosts. Because of them I was able to live a short distance from my house, so I could see the changes and address other issues that came up, quickly. Also since I wasn’t living in the house, the work went faster, and I was saner.

Renovation 2007: Floor value

New-Old Floor 2
Originally uploaded by In Shaw

I’m so easily influenced by other people….
My contractor couldn’t believe my assessment of the floors as being ‘okay’. I pointed out concerns I had with the floor such as the rough hewn boards that already snagged a sock. He told me that wears down after use and it shouldn’t be a problem, but if it continues to be a problem he’d address it.
I was over at my house, painting, as usual, and had some neighbors drop by while my contractor was popping in and out. They loved the floor. Now I don’t want to be one of those people who does things to impress the neighbors, but their opinion began to change my mind about the floor. Or maybe it was the contractor and the neighbors going on about the floor that did it.
Then a carpet salesman showed up to show samples. Maybe he was trying to get a feel for my price range or maybe it was his honest impression, but he said my floors cost a fortune. He basically repeated the same things my contractor had been saying… they don’t make these anymore… can’t get the character anywhere else, etc, etc.
Okay, I get it.
I got the rare thing early, which is why I horded some boards bound for the dump. I figured if something happened to one of the boards I’d have a replacement. I may have horded a few boards too many. Anyone else with a heart pine floor need a board or two?
Lastly, I think this is a point when having my contractor be the guy he is with what he knows being the biggest value. I wouldn’t have recognized these floors as something valuable to keep in their dirtied form. David (the contractor) has worked in a bunch of old houses in DC so he knows about the quirks and was able to recognize what kind of flooring I had.

Renovation 2007: Next station, Broke

I’m now officially broke.
This Summer I get to save up money for the plumber to put the radiators in. I should be able to rustle up the $2000 needed to do so by October. I’m not even going to think about what’s left of the SpacePak till I can stabilize my financial situation. The carpet, I might be able to scrounge up something for that. And I think I will still end up owing my contractor money.
Yup. Broke. Brokie-broke-broke-broke.