Archive for category Homeownership

Many Changes

It’s been over two and a half years since the last post to this blog, and there have been several reasons why.

First, we were going to sell the house, and while we were working like crazy to get it fixed up I didn’t want to be posting about all the stupid things I discovered along the way, in case any potential buyers stumbled across this blog and were put off by all the fixer-upper issues.

Then, we decided not to sell the house and stay in it for at least another year, but I got busy with work, and Thekla was in kindergarten, and Jen and I were having problems with our marriage and we “internally separated” while we continued with counseling.

To no avail, sadly. In mid-2015, Jen decided that she wanted a divorce, and she moved out in August of that year (back to the house we rented before we bought this one). We quite amicably decided all of our issues with the assistance of an arbitrator, and quickly worked out a 50-50 custody plan for Thekla, but nevertheless it was not what I wanted, and I was quite depressed for a long time.

I knew I wanted to keep the house, though, and before the divorce was final I refinanced in my name only with a large cash-out, which I gave to Jen as part of the divorce settlement, to compensate her for spending all of her stock options trying to fix the place up.

I’ve had a roommate since Jen moved out, and although the income bump was nice we never really became friends since basically we had nothing at all in common. He’s moving out at the end of the month, and I’m going to see if I can make a go of it without a roommate/rent check. (This will un-fill one of the bedrooms, which will let me live in one while working on the other.)

I didn’t do much work on the house last summer, although I bought a pressure washer and cleaned virtually every square inch of concrete on the property. I’ve started working on the house again in earnest since the first of the year, though, and posting on Facebook about it, since this WordPress instance has had some issues that I only just got around to fixing.

I’ll be posting here again shortly as I bring this blog up to speed with what’s been going on. I’m back to being excited about the renovations, and I’ve been formulating lots of plans, as well as putting together lists on and the like. A measuring tape is never far from my hand.


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Casa de ‘Not lovin’

So for those that follow this blog, you will all notice that there has been a long break in updates. Sometime last year I fell out of love with our old house. Enough so that I convinced my husband that we should sell it. It had felt too hard trying to make friends in our area. I was tired of the constant work needed to make this old house somewhere I wanted to be. We literally almost killed ourselves trying to get our house on the market this summer. Summer came and the work wasn’t done. Our daughter enters kindergarten this fall and we were starting to hit the point of knowing that we would be starting her in school down here and then moving her to a new school a month or two into the year. This started feel like a really bad idea and wasn’t something I wanted to put her through.

We made the decision to hold off till next summer and re-access at that point. Then we settled in for a little bit. I noticed how much nicer everything was. How much more it felt like a home. Then we hosted for the 4th of July, and everyone came. All the friends that we have made in the last 6 years. All of our friends from our neighborhood that we wanted to move back to. Then I realized that we could combine the two. That we would actually be losing something if we did move away.

I got a little bit of the love back. I don’t know if we are going to stay after next summer. But what I will say I like our house more than I have in a long time. I am enjoying the improvements that we have made and I am having fun doing new ones. So look forward to more posts, and seeing the improvements we have made and are making.

Our past

And now to our future.

Yardwork continued with a side of navel gazing free of charge.

I sit here at work typing with a swollen hand. I feel like a wimp, while my mom and sister were here I watched my mom work tirelessly on my yard. She works harder than I can.. I had to stop last night when I started hurting. I see compulsion in the way that she works that I have alway tried to emulate to a destructive degree in the past. I don’t think it’s been entirely healthy for her either though. Anyhow, even with all the work done now I still spend my time kicking myself for the work not done, and being a homeowner the work is never be completely done, that’s the kicker.

So before I lament what’s not done, here is what is..



I still need to finish the edging on this part..

I think in a small way I have come to grips with what my limitations are with what I can accompish day to day. I had started to accept that, then when I became a mother.. and it was hammered home. You can’t parent properly and do a 76 hour remodel deathmarch, or packing or unpacking-fest, or anything where I would work from dawn till the middle of the night stopping for no one.

Acceptance is one thing, not still beating myself up for it is another.

What the @#$%ing Underwriters Want, the @#$%ing Underwriters Get

Don’t get me started.

Our agent called last Wednesday to tell us that she had forwarded the last set of photos to the underwriters, and they wanted two things: a photo of the area where the rubbish pile was from the same vantage point so they could see it was the same area; and a coat of protective sealant on the garage door. When I asked what the hell “a coat of protective sealant” meant, she said “a coat of paint.”

That is to say, just to repeat myself: the garage is rotting and will be racing us to see whether it can fall over before we can get around to demolishing it, and they’re worried about a freaking coat of paint on the cheap-ass door.

So fine, I used up the remnants of three bottles of Rustoleum white spray paint and put a @#$%ing coat of paint on the garage door, and took another photo of where the rubbish pile was, which I forwarded on.

The kicker is that on Saturday we got a letter postmarked last Wednesday (the same time our agent was forwarding their new requirements) saying that for failure to fix their conditions they were canceling our policy as of December, and a refund check for the rest of the premium.

Yesterday I called our agent, saying, basically, “WTF? I mean, WTFingF?” She was very apologetic, she had no idea the cancellation letter had gone out, and she would immediately get on the phone with them and make sure our policy was going to continue, and that we could shred the check.

Hopefully, that’s the last we have to worry about this, but I’m not holding my breath.

I guess the moral of the story is don’t buy a fixer-upper. Sheesh.

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What The (Insurance) Underwriters Want, The (Insurance) Underwriters Get

At the same time as the work in the bathroom, I’ve also had another project foisted on me by our home insurance policy carrier. Apparently the insurance inspector took a little tour around the grounds and had some issues he wanted fixed or they would CANCEL OUR POLICY!!

  1. Remove the rubbish pile.
  2. Cover the basement stairs or put in a handrail.
  3. Put a door on the garage.
  4. Scrape the moss off the garage roof.

To which my responses were:

  1. Um, we’re remodeling. Do you really think (a) there would be no rubbish pile, or (b) that we weren’t already planning on getting rid of it?
  2. You’ve got to be kidding, right? Fine, I’ll put the damn cover back on.
  3. You just want to block access? Will an OSB slab do?
  4. The garage is about two years from falling over by itself. And you’re worried about … moss. O-kayyy.

I think most of the concerns were of the “attractive nuisance” variety. Like kids are going to wander into our fully-fenced property and play around in the backyard. What. Ever.

A couple weeks ago we had a company come and get the rubbish ($cha-ching). Last weekend I powered through the rest (half the time in the pouring rain). Here’s the evidence:

No moss on the left

No moss on the left


No moss on the right

Look, Ma, no more rubbish!

Look, Ma, no more rubbish!

It's a big piece of wood with hinges -- that must mean it's a door

It's a big piece of wood with hinges -- that must mean it's a door!

The stairs covered back up -- attached with screws this time

The stairs covered back up -- attached with screws this time

(Getting that door on single-handed was a bitch and a half, I tell you.)

I’ve sent these photos on to our agent, who says the inspector never comes back to check in person. She’s forwarded them on, so we’ll see if they’re satisfied or if there’ll be more work to do, um, tomorrow night.

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Been A Long Time

… Since the last post. And the bathroom’s still not done, dammitall.

I kinda ran out of PTO (well, not really, but I ran out of time I could stay away from work without making my boss mad), and then we moved in. You’d think that moving in would mean I’d be able to get more work done, but actually living here means I’m not alone when I’m here and thus liable to being called away to look after the baby, lift heavy things for Jen, install shelves in closets, fix the internet connection, and all the other obligations of daily married-with-children home life. Plus it’s very difficult to work in the evenings as either we’re eating dinner, I’m giving Jen a break from the baby, or they’ve gone to bed and the noise would wake either or both.

We moved in on September 25 pretty much without a hitch. We used Mountain Movers, who I have to recommend, as they were tireless, efficient, and professional. I managed to severely roll my ankle going down our porch stairs, and it still hurts two weeks later. If I hadn’t been wearing my combat boots I’d probably have sprained it.

Jen’s been getting lots of unpacking and organizing done. The house looks almost entirely like a home and not a storage facility, although we don’t have the books out yet — mostly because the parlor, where the bookshelves will go, is being used for temporary drywall storage.

Speaking of drywall, our friend Chris has been coming over on weekends to help out. Together we got all the necessary blocking (for nailing/screwing edges) installed, the outside wall insulated, the ceiling drywall hung (not that well, sadly), and about half the wall drywall and cement board hung.

Yeah. So, I’m never drywalling a ceiling again without a drywall lift. That shit is heavy. And next time, I’m cutting the drywall from the back side, because I guess thirty years of playing D&D and other tabletop RPGs has left me able to precisely conceive and measure a top-down plan but nearly incapable of measuring, drawing and executing a bottom-up view. Suffice to say that one piece of the ceiling went up fairly well with a minimum of fitting, but the second, more complicated piece ended up with either half-inch-plus gaps or overly-tight, creaking, breaking spots around the edges. There’ll be a lot of filling with joint compound in my future when I get to the taping stage.

Also, when I say we got about half the drywall and cement board up, I kinda mean the middle half, vertically. The plan is for 42″ tile wainscoting with drywall above. The walls are 95″-96″ high. Cement boards are 36″ wide, leaving a ~6″ gap at the bottom to be filled with a strip of cement board. Drywall is 48″ wide, leaving a ~4″-5″ gap at the top. I still have to fill in those gaps. (Oh, and I discovered that there’s a 1/2″ difference in the floor from one corner of the bathroom to the other. Luckily, the two walls on which I’ll have to cut base tiles at an angle will be mostly concealed by the toilet, sink, and dresser, so I hope it won’t be all that obvious.)

I’m pretty sure I can get the rest of the drywall and cement board up this weekend (Chris is busy). The only pieces larger than 36″x60″ are the closet drywall walls, which are standing on end and thus will be easy to maneuver and install. I need to install the floor cement boards, but for some reason I’m very nervous about mixing the thinset, even though it looks dead easy on TV. This is probably the same nervousness that makes me a lousy cook — when they say “mix until it’s the consistency of peanut butter” I get all anxious; do they mean creamy Jif, or do they mean that oily runny organic stuff? So I’ll be reading the directions very carefully and as much as possible mixing precise weights and volumes together.

I’ve already figured out how to cut all the remaining necessary pieces out of my three and a half remaining sheets of drywall and my nine remaining sheets of cement board, and then I’m going to have to figure out exactly where my tiles will have to sit vertically to

  1. make an entirely seamless pattern extending from wainscoting to shower surround,
  2. end up with my top row of 2×6 black bullnose tiles overlapping the cement board/drywall joints in both areas, and
  3. not end up with slivers of tile either at the floor or at the tub/wall joint.

I was going to take precise measurements and create a scale drawing in Adobe Illustrator, but it occurs to me that just attaching a bunch of tiles together with masking tape and holding them against the wall will probably be easiest.

We just found the camera cable today, so I finally got all the progress pictures loaded onto the laptop. I’ll see about posting those tomorrow while Jen is off getting her hair done and leaving me with the baby (can’t drywall with a baby, y’know, so I might as well blog).

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An update when she doesn’t complain about the previous owners??

Woop woop! We hit the neighborhood JACKPOT, or better stated ‘clangclangclangclangclangclangclangclangclang.’

So we put a lot of thought into our house purchase. It’s a fixer, it’s that worst house on the block that has the flexibility to be improved A LOT without over-remodeling out of the neighborhood. I specifically noted that all of the houses on our block seemed to be really well kept and to put in a way that really means something to me.. They all seemed loved, they all seemed like homes. So in the original drive by, I honestly bought the neighborhood, before we bought the house.

While we were doing the fixing up to purchase the house we got to meet one of our neighbors, one of their trees was touching our house and we got permission to trim it back. Last night we rented a truck from Home Depot and brought home a large dresser and changing table that we purchased via craigslist a bit back. We thought that it was basically light Ikea-esque construction.. Oh no.. This thing is sturdy, and weighs a TON. I think we could weather storms in it’s shadow. Bryan and I on each end did the ‘lift’ and I just had to immediately admit defeat. After exhausting some other resources and needing to get it out of the yard and out of the rain finally in desperation we went next door to see if our manly accommodating neighbor was home (my words, not Bryan’s 😉 )and if they could help us. He was not, but another tenant of the house was there with his strapping teen son. The came straight over, made admonishing noises when I spoke of attempting to help earlier and carried that darn thing straight on in.

THEN sat and chatted with us about the neighborhood, about the strength of the neighborhood association, how that if we ever needed anything just to ‘stop on over!’ You get to see this rarely as a renter and in all honesty I have blown off situations as a renter where I could have established it. But owning? Living here for the long haul? I want to know my neighbors, I want them to watch out for me, and my child.. and I them. I am invested. Not just in the house but my community. Now knowing at the very least one of our neighbors seems to feel the same, it makes my day.

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Permit Sticker Shock

In exchange for nearly a thousand dollars in bribes protection money fees, the City of Seattle and King County have graciously permitted me to make improvements on my own damn house. Assuming, of course, that I do every last bit of work myself, because apparently if a contractor even looks at the house, they’re responsible for pulling the permits themselves.

Really, about the only upside here is that I’m covered for all the work I do for a solid year (18 months for the building/framing permit), and as long as I can squeeze everything into that timespan I don’t have to go back and give them more of my money.

I was somewhat nonplussed to find that only the building permit people actually cared about what my plans were. The plumbing and electrical just totted up the number of fixtures or switches/receptacles/lights/dedicated circuits and charged me a fee. I suppose it’s entirely up to the inspectors to certify that I’ve done it all right.

Speaking of plans, a spiffy new PDF showing all the structural changes to be done is here:

House Plans for Permit

This doesn’t show the plumbing or electrical plans graphically, but the scope of work describes what we’ll be doing to those systems as well.

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First Day

And we’re demolishing things already.

Really, we only went over there after we got the final confirmation to look around and poke things and claim the house as ours. Which we did.


Jen, Thekla and I on our front porch

After which I smudged the whole house with white sage, and then — my Wiccan ex-wife would be so proud — walked clockwise around the perimeter of the property, athame* held high, and invoked the protection of the four cardinal directions. Now, I’m not pagan or Wiccan or anything else, but I got used to the ceremonies, and at times like this it seems like an important symbolic and metaphoric thing to do.

* Since I didn’t have an actual athame, I used a utility knife. Which came in handy when I had to cut through some blackberry stems behind the garage.

While we were waiting for our friends who live nearby to show up, Jen started poking at the “decorative” plaster in the dinette where it was flaking off. Underneath it was another of the tongue-and-groove boards that clad the walls almost everywhere, and that particular board was bowed with moisture damage. The previous owner who applied the plaster didn’t bother to repair the board; instead he just skim-coated over it to hide the bulge.


Lousy stupid ugly falling-off plaster

I got out the hammer and the wrecker bar and started scraping away. In about five minutes I took off about three square feet — the stuff just came off in huge flakes, since obviously they didn’t do anything to prepare the surface and just slapped the plaster onto smooth boards. Yeesh.

Then we noticed there were more areas of flaking, and it came off there just as easily.

Jen gets her demo on

Jen gets her demo on

Jen originally sort of liked the Venetian plaster effect, but now she just wants it gone. We hadn’t really intended to do the dinette right away, but it looks like we’ll have to move it up on the schedule.

(I’m hoping that once we get all thousand-plus square feet of original 1930s tongue-and-groove board off the walls and ceilings, it’ll actually be worth something on Craigslist.)

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Oh My God We Own A House

The underwriters signed off.

The loan funded.

The escrow company courier took the papers down to the county courthouse.

Our real estate agent called to meet him so he can give us the keys.

Oh my god we own a house!

We’re about to head down there to take possession — to walk around, poke stuff, smudge the whole place with sage to get the evil/stupid out, etc.

Then tomorrow I roll up my sleeves and get to work.

Renters no more! Woo hoo!