A Tale of Two Houses, Part 2

Last week, I blogged about part of my seemingly-uneventful, but actually eventful 2017. Much of what went on was house-related, although not about the new house we hope to begin building this year. Rather, much of our focus was on the rental house we bought in March.

Buying another rental property in this area, when we’re planning to move within the next two years, was not part of our plan. But when my husband’s cousin’s widow posted on Facebook that she wanted to sell her house, my husband was intrigued. His cousin had passed away in 2011, and she was engaged, and ready to move on. He asked how much she wanted for her house, and the figure she named was too good to pass up.

We took a look through the house, a little Cape Cod built in 1945. Luckily it had a mostly-unfinished basement, so it was easy to see electrical, plumbing, and HVAC, all of which had been recently updated. The foundation, basement, floor joists, and so on were really solid and in great shape. The roof was also fairly new, and she’d had the place painted a couple years before. It needed work, but it was all cosmetic–paint, new flooring, new kitchen and bath. We’ve done that sort of work before, so no problem.

The only problem was we didn’t want to take out a loan, and we’d spent most of our ready cash on our land in Tennessee. That turned out not to be too much of a problem, since my brother was looking for a good investment opportunity. So we partnered with him, the deal being that he paid for the house, and we paid for the rehab, with my husband doing most of the work. Our cousins’ new house wasn’t quite done, so we rented the place back to her for a couple months.

My husband did a fantastic job on the hardwood floors

When they moved out in May, the work began. My husband tiled the screen porch, with tile the seller had left just sitting in boxes. He pulled up the carpet–and found lovely, original hardwood floors beneath it. They did need some patching (from registers that were larger than the ones now in the house), and refinishing. YouTube, Pinterest, and blogs are a great resource, and in about three weeks, he learned how to do it all, and did a fantastic job! He also installed new light fixtures, and a ceiling fan that looked great.

I spent most of my summer weekends there, helping with the flooring–wiping, staining, wiping some more, and applying polyurethane. I also helped paint, and finished out the walk-in pantry by building custom shelves and painting the whole thing. It was originally a coat closet, as it had a single, high shelf and a bar, but the former owner had used it as a pantry, with shelf units sitting on the floor. Much more useful, and an unusual feature in a house this age/size.

Our daughter helped in the kitchen – not in the way she usually does

We put new cabinets in the kitchen, granite countertops, and added a subway tile backsplash. Through it all, we had help from our daughter and several friends (of ours, and hers). My brother worked on a few electrical upgrades, such as adding light switches in the basement, rather than pull chains. He’s an electrical engineer and has done commercial wiring before, so he knows what he’s doing.

We took an afternoon off to move our daughter to Columbus, where she got a job. After we got home and had dinner, my husband and brother met up back at the house. We still needed to figure out what we were doing with the upstairs, which was two small bedrooms, so they went up there to talk about it. It was hot (this was the end of July) so they turned on the whole house fan, then went back downstairs to finish installing light fixtures in the kitchen.

A couple minutes later, my husband smelled smoke. My brother went upstairs to check it out. He made it halfway up before he ran back down. “FIRE!”

The whole back part of the attic was ablaze. My husband says he could’ve beat any Olympic runner getting out of that house!

Kitchen, two days after the photo above

Luckily, the fire department was literally around the corner, and they arrived quickly. My husband came home at 4 AM to get our insurance information. The best thing was, no one was hurt, and the fire didn’t spread to any neighbors’ houses (which were only 15-20 feet away).

The fire was pretty much confined to the second floor, and the ceiling in the kitchen and one bedroom. But the whole place was pretty much trashed from the smoke and water damage. In short, a whole summer up in smoke.

Kitchen, two days after the photo above

Fortunately, we have very good insurance. They quickly determined that the fire was definitely accidental–after all, who’d set a house on fire after doing all that work on it–and leaving $4000 worth of tools inside? It was clearly some bad wiring–and investigators found tons of just that in the upstairs walls, and around the whole house fan, where the fire started–places no one could see with the walls and ceiling intact. They referred us to a restoration contractor, who got to work on it the following week. My husband’s tools were replaced. Insurance paid for three months of lost rent. Even better–these old houses were built to last. The roof wasn’t OSB or even plywood, it was made of 1 x 6’s –and our insurance paid for it to be rebuilt that way, and with plaster walls. We had it rebuilt with OSB, and with drywall, and saved enough money to make the upstairs into a wonderful master suite with a fantastic bathroom. Since there was no one living there, we told them to take their time. We’re expecting it to be done by March–a year after we bought the place.

Since the contractor took over, there hasn’t been much to do other than provide them with details about what we want for the renovation. But it was still discouraging after all the work we’d put into it, especially for my husband. It’s in the contractor’s hands now (and so far, looks great!). But at this point, we just don’t have the heart to rent it, so we’re planning to sell. Hopefully, the second bathroom and the walk-in pantry (that they’re rebuilding just like I’d done) will be big draws to buyers.

The other house

We went back to Tennessee in November, mainly to look at some apartments. We want to sell the ones we own here, and buy one there by the time we move. If we find a good deal, we can do this sooner rather than later. We connected with a great broker, and when she found out we were building, referred us to a couple of builders.

My husband called them to set up appointments in advance of our trip.ย  The conversation with one was pretty amusing:

DH: I know I’m from Ohio, and I’m 300 miles away. I know about how much this house should cost to build, and I know a lot of you guys are busy doing insurance work in Gatlinburg. So let’s just cut to the chase, and you tell me, how bad are you going to screw me?

(I am not making this up, that’s really what he said!)

The builder’s response: “Can I at least see how cute you are first?”

They both met us out at the property. The other guy was okay, but this one really had some good ideas about the placement of the house, and had even taken the time to come out on his birthday.

We got the other guy’s estimate a couple weeks later. It was still over our budget, but by much less than the three builders we’d talked to earlier in the year.

Then the joker’s bid came back… less than 10% over our budget, and totally workable!

So now all we have to do is sell a couple of apartment buildings for our down payment (of the three we own). We have a broker ready to list them, so now we’re in wait and see mode…

ย What I’ve Been Reading

The past couple of weeks on the treadmill (too cold to walk outside, that’s for sure) has been The Millionaire Next Door, by Thomas J. Stanley, part of my ongoing effort to read more nonfiction. This is one of the classics of personal finance books, and people rave about it. Honestly, I’m not sure why, as the principles are really simple: most millionaires live a simple life, in modest homes, and driving modest cars. Spending less than they make and investing is how most of them became millionaires. It’s also very outdated–it was published in 1996, and this is very clear in the salaries and home prices quoted, as well as things like the lack of references to smartphones, the Internet, etc. (For example, travel agent is a good job??? How many are still in business with the Internet?) Still, it’s not a bad book, and if one adjusts the monetary amounts and a few details to take technology into account, the principals are still valid.

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What I’ve Been Writing

This week, NOTHING! But that was the plan–In an effort to get back into my book, I wanted to go back and read what I have so far. I got about halfway through–that book is long. Too long! I am seeing lots of places I can cut, though it will still end up being a pretty long book (as most of mine are). So this week’s goal is simple: finish reading the book. Any writing will be a bonus.

So, did our rental house saga turn out how you expected? What do you think of it? Have you read (or heard of) The Millionaire Next Door? How are you doing with whatever goals you may have so far, whether writing-related or not? Please share–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

19 Responses to \

  1. Man oh man, Jennette, I was so happy all was going so well with that house you guys bought to rent. I’m so impressed that you built the shelves for the pantry. And good deal there were hard wood floors under the carpet and your hubby was able to fix the parts around the registers. It all sounded wonderful, everything falling into place. Then the fire! Whoa, how awful. Thank God you have good insurance and they’re covering it. $4,000 worth of your husband’s tools? Ouch! Yay that the insurance covered them.

    Funny funny conversation between your husband and the contractor. Haha! I love it! Woo hoo that this guy, the joker, turned out to be a good guy with an estimate below your budget. I’m excited for you guys. I’m glad you blogged about it. It’s like one of those house flipping shows. I love those.

    I’m busting my buns getting into the habit of blogging 3 to 5 times a week. I took Kristen Lamb’s newest blogging class and that’s what she recommends in order to build my platform and get some kind of notice in the SEOs. Good thing I have a lot of interests and strange and funny things going on in my life. And some not so funny things, but that’s life. So I’m focusing on that right now. If I get three posts ready to publish for this week by tonight, I’ll spend tomorrow working on the next book in our Monster Moon series by BBH McChiller (for kids 8 to 12). I’m going to visit my parents this week and go watch my dad play tennis and get some video clips of him so I can do a blog post for his 85th birthday in Feb. He’s physically fit but has Alzheimer’s. Life is wacky. Middle daughter is coming to stay one night with two-year-old Chatty Girl (my nickname for her) so George and I are looking forward to lots of laughs while they’re here. Hope your week rocks!

  2. Oh, man. I’m sorry about the fire, Jennette. But, it sounds like everything is working out. Your new home and property sound exciting. Congrats on getting back to your writing!

    I’m finished with a polish of my novel and ready to send it out to some beta readers. This took a month longer than I’d hoped, but that seems to be my life. Everything is in slow motion from my blog, to my job search, to puppy training. It’s all good, just slow. Perhaps I try to bite off more than I can chew.

    Good luck with all your goals, you’ve got some big ones!

  3. I hope the house remodel gets finished, for good this time. I enjoy reading your saga. I can so relate – doesn’t it always seem like things can only go smoothly for so long and then things blow up (sometimes literally!)

    I’m anxious to hear the next chapter of this – hopefully the building of the new home!

  4. Lynn, I noticed you’d been blogging a lot – good for you! Once a week is all I can manage, but I’m doing my best to make them good posts, and keep it real. Yeah, even the fire, and even my husband’s crass jokes. Thanks for coming around, and I look forward to reading more of your posts!

    Chris, thanks so much! I have actually thought at times, everything’s going so well- when is something going to blow up? LOL and usually it does. Not this much, though! The restoration contractor is wonderful and I do expect it to be done by March, if not sooner. Will post updates here!

  5. Yikes! What a drama! Although, I guess it’s better to find out about the faulty wiring before you try to rent it than have the tenants discover it.

    WHat kind of book are you writing?

  6. What your husband said to the builder sounds like something my husband would do. And I just had to laugh at his response. Glad he seems to turn out to be a good guy to work with.

  7. Writing goals? Yeah, I made some for this month. Nope, haven’t even gotten close to reaching them. Good thing I didn’t set the bar all that high, and the month is long, so there’s still hope for a good ending!

  8. Oh, wow! That was quite the rollercoaster talk of going against the odds, Jennette. I can picture each moment, the hesitation at the offer, the pride of effort, the anger and monetary hopelessness after the fire,…. even the moments of sardonic humor as you and your husband look into your grand plan. Quite the inspirational tale of a year’s effort.

    Getting back into writing would be challenging with all that still hovering over you. sounds like you’re taking the right steps there.

  9. Lynette, I can relate to the slow motion! But better that than nothing, right? Good luck on your upcoming release, and thanks!

    Regi, I thought about that right after I processed “everyone is OK” and it gave me chills. Especially because the cousins used to sleep in those upstairs bedrooms. I am writing a romantic time travel, fifth in my Saturn Society series. Thanks!

    Fallon, when we go to sign a contract with him, I’m totally going to tell him, “you had us at ‘can I at least see if you’re cute?'” LOL!

    Stacy, there’s always time! I didn’t get through as much as I wanted last week, but hoping to do that this week. Good luck!

    Eden, it never occurred to me, but it was a roller coaster, wasn’t it? The rental house is in very good hands with the restoration contractor, and the apartments with the new commercial broker, so fingers crossed. And thanks!

  10. Oh man – I’m almost in tears over all that hard work gone up in smoke – literally. I can feel your heart sinking when you look at the mess. I’m so glad it all worked out with the insurance company though and things are moving along again. You can’t have a rainbow without a little rain right? Let’s hope that was the end of the storms for a while.

    Keep us posted on the move.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  11. Patricia, so true! My husband and one of the friends who helped did tear up a bit. But it will work out for the better. That house had only one bathroom, which might’ve made it hard to sell. Now it will have a second one that will be a major wow-factor, so hopefully we should get more $$ out of it without putting more in!

  12. Wow so much drama in home improvement! My hub’s family has a home improvement business (which I worked at for a couple of years) and there’s always a crazy story to tell. I love how your family and friends came together to get stuff done. That’s pretty great (sucky fire aside). Happy reading–and writing! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  13. First of all, I’m so glad no one was injured in the fire. I hope you’re able to get the house fixed up even better than before, although it’s awful that all of your hard work literally went up in flames. I’m so sorry. I hope the whole situation works out and you can turn a profit on the house.

    I’ve read parts of The Millionaire Next Door, though I haven’t read it in its entirety. Like you, I didn’t find any of what I read to be too shocking. It did bust up some stereotypes about millionaires–that they live in gigantic houses and drive $100,000 cars, that sort of thing. But overall it felt like commonsense. Make a decent salary and save/invest money, and you’ll build wealth. That seems straightforward enough, though I’m often surprised how often so many of us overlook the commonsense aspects of financial management. I’ve been reading more nonfiction lately as well, though mostly books about simple living and decluttering, since that’s my focus right now (aside from writing, of course!).

  14. Coleen, the funny thing is until the fire, everything went so well I was sure some issue had to come up sooner or later! Never expected it to be a fire, though. Thanks!

    Denise, simple living and decluttering also aid in building wealth! I need to do more of those myself. And thanks for your good wishes on the house!

  15. See, I knew you settled your building dilemma! Excellent! Sometimes you have to push through and get more bids. Love his remark. Sounds like something my husband would say. Nice to have a sense of humor when you’re talking about a long term working relationship. Y’all should get along fine. No! Fire? In that cute little house? Ugh. So glad no one was hurt and that you have good insurance. Love that you’re blogging again. I understand. I’ve been on hiatus for the past year too. And very little writing. Too much going on in my life and not enough energy to do it all. ((Hugs)) ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. I had a “fire” of a different sort in my life – yours turned out better, despite all the work done and lost. Still, no one can take the things learned in the process from you both, so hopefully future projects will benefit from your experience.

    I would like your contractor, too. A good sense of humor can make the unexpected setbacks feel less overwhelming. Maybe not fires, though…

    I hope the rereading yields inspiration, and that you’re writing again soon.

  17. Wow, Shan – just hopped over to your blog and… no words. {{hugs}} is all I can offer. You are definitely right, we have learned some new skills with our rental house, fire or no. And humor always helps! Now maybe some words will come when I head over to your place…

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