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.  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…

 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.

A Tale of Two Houses, Part 1

2017 has been a long and busy year. A lot has happened, but not much writing. Probably the biggest event was my daughter’s graduation from college, and subsequent moving out on her own. She has a job she loves in higher education administration, and though we miss having her around (she lives about an hour’s drive away), we couldn’t be happier for her.

I got out of the habit of blogging, and one thing that kept me from getting back to it was feeling like I had to write a long, comprehensive post, and make it good. I realized that yesterday, and it’s kind of silly. Just like housework done incorrectly or incompletely is still better than not done at all, a short blog is better than none. So here goes…

A New House

Our house will be similar to this, only with an attached garage

Some of you might remember that my husband and I are planning a move from Ohio to Tennessee, with building a new house. You might have guessed that I’ve been away because of that. But (sigh), that’s not the case. I’m still in Ohio, and still haven’t started building. And that’s OK.

So to catch up on that, we got a few quotes from builders last spring, around the time I last posted here. Three builders gave us ballpark estimates that were pretty close to our budget, so all looked so far so good. Then they got back to us with detailed estimates. All were 50 -60% higher! We figured out that 1) the economy is good, so there’s plenty of work and 2) many of them are doing insurance rebuilds in Gatlinburg, so they’re extra busy. However, they’re happy to take on another project for the right money. That kind of money is not in our budget. So back to the drawing board there.

We considered downsizing the house by making the garage in the lower level–not really what we wanted. We considered being our own general contractors–we’ve done so on some pretty large remodeling projects, and my parents built two new houses years ago being their own contractors. But they built locally–we’re 300 miles away, so being our own GC would mean having to stay down there during construction. Also not what we wanted.

Our new rental house – isn’t it cute?

An Old House

The new house kind of got put on the back burner when we had an opportunity to buy another house–a rental, here in Ohio. It needed a lot of work, but that was all cosmetic, and the deal was too good to pass up, so we snagged it. (As a side note, we’ve owned rental property for many years, so this is not new to us.) That turned out to be an interesting ride…

Reading

I fell off the wagon keeping track, but I continue to read every day. I’ve been trying to read more nonfiction, too. Most of it is either personal finance or business-related, or is about home building. I finished a novel and a non-fiction book on New Year’s Eve.

For fiction, I read Pure Sacrifice by Jami Gold. I enjoyed her free short story in this paranormal romance series, so I bought book 1 earlier this year. I liked it, and a couple weeks ago I needed something to read and nothing on my Kindle jumped out at me, so I bought book 2. This series (the Mythos Legacy) has all the ingredients to a satisfying paranormal romance, but isn’t the same ol’ same ol’. In book 1, it was the heroine who was the paranormal character (usually, it’s the guy). In this book, it was the guy, but he was a shapeshifting unicorn–pretty different! The worldbuilding was nicely in-depth but not intrusive or info-dumpy, and the characters were engaging. I’ll definitely be picking up the next in the series.

In non-fiction, I read The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines. For those not in the know, they are the hosts of HGTV’s Fixer+Upper, which is probably the most popular reality home show right now. I love their show, and really enjoyed reading about how they got their start in their various businesses to how they wound up with a their own TV show. This book pulled me in right away and kept me interested throughout, and I was sorry to see it end. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys Fixer+Upper!

Writing

While I did make progress on my next Saturn Society time travel novel, writing just wasn’t on my brain for most of the year. I did not complete any projects, and did not have any new releases. I want that to change this year. I figured out what happens next in the novel, and I’m excited to get back to it. Hence, I’m participating in ROW80 to keep accountable.

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ROW80, or A Round of Words in 80 Days, is “the writing challenge that knows you have a life.” We can set whatever goals we want for the challenge. Mine will be a stretch for the first quarter, which will end in late March: I want to finish the novel. It probably needs 20,000 more words. When I take the time and know where I’m going, I can write 1000 words in about an hour or so. The catch here is that I don’t completely know where I’m going with this book, so that’s going to be a stretch. I used to outline, but that grew to be less helpful as I progressed as a writer, as I believe one should always feel free to deviate from the outline when a better idea comes along for a story–and for me, it always does. Also, I need to get a newsletter out this quarter, as it’s been way too long since I’ve done that, too.

This week’s goal: I haven’t written since early November, so I’m going to do a full cycle-back and read the book from the beginning. It’s around 100,000 words at the moment (yes, I write long books). If I do that, hopefully other good ideas to wrap it up will come in the process.

This post is already getting long (so much for keeping it short) and I have a lot to do today, so I’ll continue with the house sagas next week, and post an update on my goals.

How was 2017 for you? It was mostly good for me! If you watch TV, do you like Fixer + Upper? (One thing I found interesting is Chip and Jo have not had a TV since they got married–no wonder they have time to do so much!). If you’re a writer, what kind of goals do you have for this year? How are you doing so far, one week in? 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.