Three weeks today and we’re seeing progress inch by inch. Actually, I think it's getting worse, but that's just part of the process.
Michael spent a lot of time last week pulling up the remainder of the carpet and it was amazing the difference it made with the smell in the house. Then, one day during work he texted me this picture.
It took me a solid 5 minutes to figure out what in the world it was, but then I realized – the wall between the “formal sitting room” and the “living room” is gone! Admittedly, I am obsessed with Fixer Upper (because, let’s be real, who’s not?) so in true Joanna fashion, the first thing I said when we went to the house was, “These walls have got to go.” Michael took some convincing, but he (like Chip) loves a good demo day so it really wasn’t that hard. We are super happy with the result and actually being able to SEE the French doors and natural light when you walk in the front door makes all the difference in the world.
In the process, we also found more friends who had been inhabiting the house apart from spiders, mice and squirrels. Termites. A fair bit of termites. Who joined us through the fireplace and some of those pesky rotten windows and have really done a nice job eating their way through our house. FORTUNATELY, it’s brick so they could only get so far. We talked to a pest-control expert and he says it’s really not that bad and a pretty easy fix. Well good, but it’s still one more unexpected surprise. He’s going to get rid of the termites and we'll get a bond so hopefully we won’t run into anything down the road...I mean, I’m all about nature, but let’s keep it outside y'all.
One of the parts of the original house we were really hoping to keep were the hardwood floors in the foyer. But, as luck would have it, the threshold has been missing from the front door for Lord knows how long and we discovered significant water damage in the foyer. See ya later only original hardwood. You know it's getting good when there's caution tape inside your front door like a crime scene.
We got some good news about the ceilings! The popcorn came off really easily so there's no more talk of replacing all the ceilings - just the parts that have suffered any water damage. We also met with the builders to talk about adding recessed lighting downstairs and have decided to go ahead with that. Good lighting is something that's important to us and also something that would be difficult and messy to go back and add later on.
We've also decided to go with wood replacement windows just on those that are beyond repair. I'm really happy with that decision. I think the final product will maintain the integrity of the house and look great, even if the windows aren't brand new.
Over the next few days Michael kept ripping down walls and tearing out cabinets – we want to shorten the wall between the dining room and kitchen as much as possible and we’re totally gutting the kitchen and master bath, because, um, did you see the before pictures?
One night I arrived to find Michael drenched in sweat, karate kicking those walls like it was his job. He literally said, “I’d pay admission to do this.” He is such a keeper.
That keeper left for a mission trip to Mexico last Friday, so y'all keep him in your prayers. While he's gone I'm going to try to keep it between the lines. We'll see!!
Well, we've officially "had" the house for two weeks today. Of course, Mr. E just moved his last load and dropped off his keys a few hours ago. I really feel for him in all this. I can't imagine leaving somewhere you've lived for 30 years and deal with sorting through all that stuff. But, I am convinced that this is a good move for him because we've found some...very interesting living conditions during the demo phase.
On June 7 we did a walk through with our contractors. Turns out we're all a little more overwhelmed than originally anticipated. Partly because there was still so much freaking stuff, but also because as the piles started being moved we uncovered some of those "interesting living conditions" I was referring to. Nobody will say it out loud, but it's straight up scary to be in the house right now.
To stay within budget, the plan is to salvage as much as possible on the exterior and interior of the house. However, most things like cabinets, carpet, wallpaper, etc. have to go (for sanitary reasons in my book more than anything) so we're looking around for places we can save.
Unfortunately, there aren't many.
First of all, we may have to replace all the sub-flooring if we want hardwood throughout the house because some of it is rotten and it's only rated for laying carpet. And with a toddler, two dogs, a cat, a husband who works at a tire store and a baby on the way, I'm going to be stubborn about this and say absolutely NO CARPET will come back into that house. Diva moment.
The ceilings are a toss up because they're popcorn and may or may not be able to be scraped. Add a few spots of water damage here and there and we started talking about all new flooring and all new ceilings downstairs. Ouch.
Then we got to the windows. Originally they didn't look so bad and we talked about replacing just a few that were beyond repair. After further inspection, we realized there's a lot of moisture in between the glass on most every window...and that can't really be fixed. So, we started talking about what kind of replacement windows to get. Because the house has such historical charm, I really want to stay with real wood, but vinyl is more practical and cheaper. With 25 windows this is definitely going to be a budget buster no matter which route we go. Decisions, decisions.
A few more things here and there and we realized the house is just going to take a lot more TLC than we might've thought. It has to be done. I get that. But flooring and sheet rock are not nearly as fun to pay for as new built ins or fancy back-splashes. Square one people, we're just trying to get back to square one.
So where do we save? We work.
Michael's grandad brought a ton of farm equipment to the house to start clearing the lot. It was so overgrown you could hardly see the house, and you certainly couldn't walk through the backyard without getting that Heart of Darkness vibe. Michael kept saying the house needs "a good shedding" and boy, that's what it got! They cut limbs, sawed bushes, massacred trees - anything to make the lot navigable so people could actually get to the house to work on it.
To illustrate my point, they pulled a BOAT and a 1965 Studebaker CAR out of the backyard that I didn't even realize was there. Michael's grandad is the proud new recipient of the Studebaker (he loves antique cars!) and we're just happy to see it go since it doesn't actually have a motor.
They pulled vine and vine of poison ivy off the sides of the house. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about ivy growing on the side of a brick house, but not the poison kind. Plus, Michael is terribly allergic. One morning I referred to him as "poor Daddy" and Alice repeated it for the rest of the week. Haha!
It was honestly like an exhibition for a few days. Every time I dropped by to check on progress there were at least 3 other people just there to gawk. I don't blame them. Gawk away. This house is about to win the Most Improved of the Century award.
Michael's grandad and grandmother came every day for almost a week and put in a full day's work while Michael and his dad would join them around 5:00. It took several days, but the improvement was really impressive. I felt pretty lousy that I couldn't do much to help, but heavy loads and machinery are not really my forte. Plus...pregnant. Thank goodness for a strong husband and a willing family!
The last week was mainly focused on trash disposal. We're on massive red dumpster #3 at this point with no slowing down in sight. There are trailer loads of scrap metal in our driveway that we plan to take to see if we can get anything for them (every little bit helps!) and the inside of the house is just so dirty. It's probably not super safe for me to be in the house because of all the rat/squirrel/dog feces and the state of the carpets.
A portion of the carpentry crew came and pulled off all the rotten siding from the house. We're replacing it with Hardie siding which will require minimal upkeep going forward - which is one thing you'll learn we are ALL about. They also cut new cornices and installed those. It's funny - both Michael and I said we would never pick something like that out, but for some reason the little ornate details just fit this place and we love them.
While we've all been waiting on the last load of Mr. E's stuff to disappear so we can get inside for real, more family and friends have come to help do what they can to get us started. I'm so appreciative to them for volunteering and saving us some money because I'm practically zero help in making this house our home right now. Maybe now we can afford to replace all the windows. :)
I don’t blog. I’m not a blogger. Sometimes I read blogs, for like 5 seconds before someone is calling my name or demanding my attention. So – this is more of a journal for personal reasons so we can remember just how young and crazy we were during this time!
We bought a house! FINALLY.
It’s February 2015. My husband, Michael, and I have an 8 month old daughter named Alice who has become the center of our world. For the past 6 ½ years we’ve lived in a lovely little house in the best neighborhood in town (in our humble opinions), but it’s just a tad too small for a growing family, has no garage and a yard that’s a little lacking.
It was time to consider moving on.
So, we drive around our small town where both my husband and I are “from” and where our families still live. We’re just looking – not really sure for what – when we drive by a house that looks…abandoned. It’s one we’ve never really noticed, and one with no FOR SALE sign. But we say, “Hm. We like that house. I bet we could buy it since surely nobody lives there.” Wonder what it’s story is?
We ask around. It, in fact, is not abandoned. It’s lived in (for the past 25 years) by an older single gentleman who has just sort of…lost the ability to do much upkeep. And by not do much upkeep, I mean – it looks like a haunted house.
But it’s right in town! With an Old English charm. Close to the schools, close to our beloved walking rail, just a mirror neighborhood on the other side of the highway from our own. We both feel it. It’s something we both know in our hearts – this is where we will raise our family.
We have a name, but strangely not a lot of people know much about the owner (which is odd for a small town). We hear some crazy stories, and decide to take our quest to the Internets!! Google! (Stalk.)
Michael comes up with a treasure trove of information on the current owner. Or maybe it’s just useless tidbits. Whatever. We find land maps, tax documents, deeds, evidence of a membership to a HAM radio forum, family information (we learned the gentleman’s mother’s name was Alice. Yep. Meant to be.) A phone number and an email address.
We call. No answer.
We call again. Nothing.
We drive by. Every day. 10 times.
We consider knocking.
We drive by some more.
We knock. No answer.
Now what? It’s not like the house is actually for sale. And we’re being a little crazy, right? Yes. We are. Let’s give it a rest.
But there’s an email address…
And so that night during a 3 hour drive to Nashville to visit friends, we craft an email. Who knows if he’ll get it, but it’s worth a shot.
We decide it’s best coming from me – the girl – who is perhaps a little less threatening and “innocent.” (Haha!!)
It goes something (or exactly) like this:
Dear Mr. E---,
I hope this message finds you well! I'm writing to inquire about your home at 123 Perfect Street. My husband and I are both from here and currently live on Near Perfect Drive. We have an 8 month old daughter, Alice, and are considering expanding our family again in the near future. Although we love our current home, it is too small for our growing family and we noticed your house and fell in love. We love its location (my dad actually grew up right next door) and character. We think it would be the perfect "forever home" for our family!
Would you be interested in selling your home? If so, we are extremely interested in buying it and would like to talk further. My husband and I stopped by today and knocked to try to speak with you personally - I hope we did not disturb you!
If you are not interested in selling now, we would like to stay in touch in case anything changes in the future. Although we would prefer to make a move now, we want to be sure it is to the right place.
Please let us know either way as we are anxious to hear! You can reach me via this email address, or at (phone number). My husband, Michael, works at his family’s tire shop so if it is more convenient for you, you can stop by and talk to him at any time.
All the best!
SEND. Ahh!! Check email immediately. Check email 75 times a day. A few days go by. Checking email 275 times a day. No answer.
BUT THERE IS HOPE…!
In the middle of the week, though, an older gentleman walks in our tire shop and asks to speak with Michael. He says, “I think your wife wants to buy my house.” HAHA! Yes, why yes she does.
The conversation is a win. He’s getting older, down in his back, can’t keep up the property and would like a little place out in the country. So he’s interested. YESSSSSS! He’s going to “clean it up a little” so we can come see it. We’re going to put our house on the market and keep in touch. As soon as we sell, we can buy!
Late February 2015. Our house goes on the market. Geez people! Why didn’t someone tell me what a painful process that was?! I’m not a clutter-keeper type person, but getting our house “show ready” with a baby, two dogs and cat and a grown child/husband is not an easy feat! Plus keeping it clean for the showings with a full time job – dude, it’s not cool.
A few months go by. We’ve shown the house several times, but no offers. Mr. E hasn’t invited us to come see the inside of the house. He’s still cleaning…
We’re interested to a fault, but can we really put all our eggs in this basket without having seen the inside? Probably not the best idea. So we’re looking at other houses in town that might just work. I’m being picky though and there’s something wrong with all of them. It’s because my heart is set and Michael’s too and we both know it. We’re just trying not to get our hopes up.
MONTHS AND MONTHS GO BY. More showings, no offers, no invitation to come see the house. UGH. Limbo is a hard place to live. But we keep in touch with Mr. E. We’re still on the same page and he’s in no hurry – good.
Christmas comes and goes. We have a showing every week, but no stinking offers. I’m starting to get a complex, but I know the timing is all in God’s hands. (Sometimes it’s hard to remember that.) While everyone is home and hanging around during the holidays, my dad mentions something about a statue of Saint Joseph. My family is Catholic, although since Michael and I married we began worshipping at his home church. Apparently it’s a well-known fact that if you bury a statue of Saint Joseph upside-down in your yard your house will sell. I’m sorry, Dad…WHAT?! Our house has been on the market for almost 11 months and you’re just now telling me about this?! Where do I get one? He has one. DAD!
So we take it home and it’s cold and been raining and I just fail to bury the little guy immediately. But January comes around and I remember him and think, it’s your time Saint Joseph. He comes with a little prayer which is the heart of the matter and I bury him while offering what I felt like were very meaningful words. (I can’t find the card now, but it wasn’t the self-centered “sell my house” prayer I’m finding online. It was more about helping us to do God’s will and blessing us with our wants and desires so we can further His Kingdom. Or that’s what I remember, anyway. When I find the card I’ll share the prayer).
TWO WEEKS LATER WE GOT THREE OFFERS ON OUR HOUSE IN THE SAME DAY!! I am not kidding. I think the Lord was being funny, because there’s no way I believe a plastic statue held any sway over the situation, but hey…thanks Saint Joseph. And thanks be to God for his infinite wisdom for our lives, where he continues to deliver the desires of my heart, but always on his time table instead of mine.
We accept an offer and are officially going to be homeless in about 30 days, so really have GOT TO KNOW about the potential of this house we’ve been fawning over without ever setting foot inside. It could be so bad that we’d never have the money to sink into the project. We just don’t know.
We call Mr. E, explain the gravity of the situation and set up a time to see the house. He warns us, “I didn’t have time to really clean it out like I wanted.” It’s been a year. Oh my.
Michael and I take time off work one afternoon and meet Mr. E at the house. This is the first time I’ve met him and he is a super nice man with a big smile and strong laugh. We walk in and the situation is better and worse than we expected. The structure and integrity of the house is in great shape. The layout is perfect. There’s 10 inch crown molding that looks brand new, high ceilings, big rooms and beautiful staircase leading upstairs. A huge backyard with pecan, fig and cherry trees and a two car garage. It was really something – 25 years ago.
The state of the house is really another story. Having been a bachelor living alone for that amount of time, you can imagine the stuff that accumulated. Actually, you probably can’t. It was wall to wall stuff. Barely a pig trail to walk around. Not a square inch of space on the counter tops to put one more thing. I joked with Michael when we left that I could see that being him in 30 years if he didn’t have me. ;) If I didn’t feel called before, I felt called now. We have to save this house, and we have to help Mr. E move on. I think at that point I didn’t realize exactly what that meant and how much work I was signing on for.
We sell our house, negotiate without a realtor to purchase Mr. E’s and set a closing date. There’s a lot of back and forth with the bank, the appraiser, the builder and all parties involved. Thank GOD for my brilliant husband who graduated in finance and runs a business. He patiently walked me through all the ins and outs that my tiny brain just refused to grasp. And I thought that was the hard part!
Y’ALL. MOVING WAS THE HARD PART.
Moving is a freaking chore. It’s not fun, it’s miserable and painful and every bad word you can come up with. And unfortunately, we were stuck in a situation where we were having to half-way move in with my parents for a “few weeks” until our rental became available. Ironically, the rental is the house I grew up in! My parents still own it and their renters had let them know they were moving out in February…which became March, which became April. But I digress.
So we have to move all our Earthly possessions – of which we have FAR TOO MANY – to an outdoor garage at the new rental while trying to decide what we’ll need for the next two weeks. Boxes multiply in front of my eyes. We move and move and move and move…where is all this crap coming from?! We are literally still moving out as the new owners move in. I’m having hot flashes, am incredibly tired and feeling sort of sick. I tell Michael that I think I’m really quite stressed and he just looks at me like, “I’m not taking that bait.” Good man.
We take Alice back by on the last day just so we can explain what’s happening. Bless her little heart. She stood in the middle of the empty living room and hung her sweet little head and said, “Awww.” It broke my heart. I think I had not let the gravity of what was happening hit me because of all the hustle and bustle, but that’s when I got pretty emotional about leaving. It’s the house we came home to after our honeymoon. The one my husband bought for us while I was still unemployed and finishing my degrees. The one we put a heck of a lot of love and work into - as you do any first home. The front porch that Michael built for us to enjoy being outside together. It’s the house where we turned a spare bedroom into a nursery for our first child. A nursery where we were awake nights on end smiling through the tears as we figured out nursing, sleeping (or not sleeping for that matter) and being a family. It was a home lived in every square inch by humans, dogs and (one) cat. A place where we had lovely neighbors and a quiet street. A home that was no longer ours. Oh man, what are we doing?
We get to my parents’ house and settle in – with two adults, a toddler, two dogs and a cat. My parents really are saints. I am so incredibly thankful to them for opening their home for us while we were in a state of vagrancy. But it wasn’t all a cake walk. Poor Alice kept saying, “home” and she had a hard time sleeping and figuring out what our routine was. Once I drove by our neighborhood without really thinking and she really had a meltdown. Dad had also recently had rotator cuff surgery and needed a lot of R&R. Plus, I’m feeling a little more queasy and I’m thinking, wait…when was my last…uh-oh. I’d taken a pregnancy test the week before the move and it was negative, so I’m thinking surely not. But on Easter morning, it’s the first thing and I do and boy does that positive sign show up FAST. I’m PREGNANT? Holy cow. This was not part of the plan, but you know what, I’m thrilled beyond words. As I said before, I realize the Lord has ordained this time for us to have another baby, and I am so thankful!
I tell Michael on the way to church. He’s excited, but in shock and instantly says, “it’s another girl.” And I sort of agree.
It was so different from the first time we found out we were pregnant – we’re a little more calm, a little more serious because we know what this means. We know what the next 9 months hold and we know all the risks, joys, highs and lows. We’re ecstatic, but in a much more measured tone. This means a family of 4!
So now we have that to add to the equation.
Weeks go by and the renters at our next destination just aren’t budging. To their credit, there were building a house and it just kept getting behind. But, the agreement was mid-February and it’s mid-April. We’ve been with my parents 5 weeks longer than anticipated and we need our own space, like now. It got a little hairy there for a minute, but we finally get moved in in the beginning of May. It is SO WEIRD to be back in the house you grew up in, but with your own family and your own things. But it’s a great space and Alice loves having “her room” back! It’s also just minutes from our fixer-upper which is so nice.
At this point we still haven’t closed on Mr. E’s house so we’re at a standstill there. It seems like everything is dragging painfully slowly and now we have a major deadline of being in the house before Baby #2 arrives...
May 24 we paid for our fixer-upper and it is officially ours! Two weeks is the agreement for Mr. E to be out so we can start to work. Michael, being the good man that he is, offers to help him move because we realize how much he has and that he can’t do it alone. He spends the next several weekends helping Mr. E and his family move things around just so the moving company can get in to collect what he wants to take with him.
Two weeks comes and goes and although the house is officially ours and Mr. E is no longer living there, the house is still full of his belongings.
The moving company comes today, tomorrow and Saturday and at that point we hope to be full steam ahead with cleaning and demo days. There’s been a month’s worth of work done in the week the house has been ours, so I’ll catch up on that in the next post. This one’s been a doozie!
About the author:
Andrea is an Alabama girl with a love for travel, tea and books. She is mommy to daughters, Alice and Eleanor, and wife to Michael. Together they are tackling a fixer-upper to make it their home for years to come.