The Pool House

We decided to move again when our children were in elementary school. The decision was made when we all needed a little more room to grow.  We wanted a garage and larger space for the kids as they were too tall by then for their “play” spaces.

We realized within a short time of searching that we would get more square footage if we purchased an older home.  A fixer upper or house in need of some “tlc” would give us the most house for the money.

We looked at our next house once and ruled it out because it was very outdated and unappealing. When we couldn’t find anything we liked that we could afford, we decided to look at it again with a more open mind. Yes, it needed updating. The rose-pink carpeting throughout was in bad shape. The paneled walls made the space very dark and unwelcoming. The current owners’ dark and drab decor did not help us get a positive vibe .  They had a brown sofa in the already brown paneled den and a grey sofa in the living room where all the drapes were drawn over big picture windows so that it looked even more cave-like. The wallpaper throughout had been put up in the 70’s or 80’s. It was floral everywhere but looked more like grandma’s tiny prints than Waverly’s more bold up-to-date style. The kitchen cabinetry matched the ugly dark paneling in the den. It would all have to go.  On the plus side, there was a welcoming pool in the backyard of the drab cave house. Once my husband saw it, his perspective changed and his quest was to sell me on the house and convince me on the vision he saw for it. Even though he was optimistic, I did not share his enthusiasm about such a large home renovation project. It was not a good sign, he much later confessed to me, that I cried after our closing.

My ambitious husband told me he would have the whole house painted like new in three months time. Nine months later, it seemed like we had not even made a dent in our growing list of projects. In fact, it seemed as though we were taking one step forward and two steps backward on our Reno timeline for quite some time.

We started in the kitchen. My husband was able to demo the cabinetry himself, saving some of the upper cabinets for the garage for more storage space.  We hired Home Depot to design and install new bleached cabinets that were popular at the time.  That project went fairly well although the island sat in our kitchen on blocks for about three months until we could get the cabinet installer to come back to complete the unfinished job.  We had a tile man install a white ceramic tile backsplash. At the same time we remodeled our master bath which contained only one sink and a shower.  A garden tub was installed where a closet had been and the tile man put up white ceramic tile around it. Since there was no room for a double sink, we replaced the small cabinet with a larger one and a wall-sized mirror above it to make the space seem bigger. We also added cabinets above the toilets in all three bathrooms for extra storage. We installed new light fixtures in the baths and throughout the whole house to make the house appear much brighter.

We added new carpeting after some of our painting projects began so that we didn’t have to worry about paint on the floors. We had a carpenter build a new laundry room space where a pantry had been next to the half bath behind the garage. When it was time to turn on the heat as the winter began to set in, we discovered that we needed to replace one of our heating systems.  Also around this time, we had some leaks in the basement ceiling and had to have some old copper plumbing pipes replaced with pvc piping. These unforeseen expenses hit us pretty hard at the onset.  At times, we felt like we had bought a money pit. We prayed hard for the burdens to begin to lift and slowly, the first wave of repairs began to subside.

By the time we had lived in our house five or six years, we had remodeled the basement, adding French doors, a gas heater and walls to make one large room into three rooms so that my husband could have an office and I could have a craft room. In the larger area we added a pool table and seating with a tv  for the “guys” to have a place to hang out.  We finished the upstairs attic space. It became a bedroom for our son as he became a teen.  He appreciated the private space even though the ceilings were pitched. We had to situate his bed at the best angle for added head room. The last project we took on was tiling over terrazzo floors and enclosing the screened sun porch off of the den.

Things went well for several years. Around 2007, the real estate market fell into a steep decline which adversely affected my husband’s real estate appraisal business.  We started to feel the pinch in our income. After a very slow year, we fell behind on our taxes. We started thinking about selling the house. We put it on the market for 6 months to try to sell  it ourselves but got no offers for what we thought was a low listing price. On the up side, we found a house in foreclosure for a very reasonable price that we thought would meet our needs. We decided to make an offer or risk losing the chance to buy it. We thought surely our house would sell within the year and lowered our price several times. When we still did not sell it, we decided to rent the house.

We found out soon, that this was a huge mistake. Without going into too many details, the year that we had tenants was very stressful. We broke down and listed our house for sale with an agent after we had some major cleaning up to do on the inside of the home. We had two prospects within a couple of months but both fell through. FINALLY, we had a buyer who was genuinely interested in our home, wasn’t playing any games or trying to take advantage of us and gave us a reasonable offer.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Two Story “Play” House: Part Six Of My Own Fixer Uppers

When things started taking off with the business, we decided to build a bigger house for our growing family.  We liked our neighborhood and inquired about purchasing a vacant lot at the end of a quiet street backing up to some woods.  We found out that the owners would sell but that the lot had some drainage challenges. There were some underground springs on the property which would require rebar reinforcements to be put inside the foundation. We would have to find a builder who was experienced with such issues.

Thankfully, with Ken’s business contacts, we were able to find a builder that agreed to work on the project. We decided on a basic two-story plan and had a budget based on the parameters of our building loan that we tried our best to stay within.  We fashioned it after our first new home in Charlotte but without a garage and with a few upgrades.  Some changes were made along the way. We stuck with builder grade cabinetry, flooring, appliances and materials. We upgraded the carpet. We upgraded a few light fixtures such as in the eat-in kitchen area and dining room. We changed the location of a door so that we could have a front hall closet. (This was where my daughter would take all her dolls and stuffed animals during thunderstorms to hide out and stay safe when there was the threat of a tornado.) We fashioned a side porch entrance  because of the grade of the driveway. We decided on wood instead of vinyl siding because it was cheaper. We added a screened porch on the back of the house. My husband wanted a small office upstairs although it was basically an over-sized closet at the end of the hall.

I did not want any country blue in this house. Instead I opted for a hunter green and pink mauve color scheme. After all, it was the 1990’s.  I chose a floral rose wallpaper for the kitchen with a matching border. I found a Waverly fabric to go with it and made some café curtains for the windows. I  also chose floral wallpaper patterns for the dining room and for our master bath. I found neutral patterns for the other bathrooms. With this house, I began to experiment  more with decorating than I had with our previous homes.

I also took on more gardening projects for this house than I had before. To save money, I ordered some bare rooted plants through catalogs. We put in all the landscaping around the house ourselves. This was out of necessity because we had no grass or foundation plants when we moved in.  I had a gardening neighbor who inspired me.  She taught me a lot about the plants she had success growing.

In our backyard,we added a “play” fort with swing and slide for the children. We also put up a tire swing. We hired a retired neighbor to convert an upstairs walk-in storage space into a “play”room for the children. It was great as long as they were under 5 feet tall for the ceilings were very low and fit under the eaves of the house. He also added a deck on the back of the house.

We did what we thought were reasonable projects and upgrades for a house in our neighborhood. We did not want to make over-improvements. A garage would have been one such addition which was out of the question.

 

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The Country Ranch House: Part Five of My Own Fixer Uppers

Our rental house was undesirable plus it was on a busy road. We wanted to  find another house of our own again however, having gone through several job changes and moves, we were hesitant.  My husband lost his father that spring.  Soon after, I discovered that I was pregnant with our second child.  Ken’s job was looking more promising, so we decided to look for a permanent home in the area.

With the help of a realtor, we decided upon a 3 bedroom, 1 and 1/2 bath brick ranch in a moderately priced neighborhood. It was outdated so we knew we  would have to do some work to it. There was no garage or car port but there was a big yard. There was lots of paneling in the house and some hardwood floors. The bedrooms were small but adequate. The house still had the 80’s  feel with country themed wallpaper in the kitchen and cornflower blue trim throughout. The carpeting in the bedrooms was also country blue.

We got to work making changes right away.  We painted the baby’s room first in a neutral yellow.  We put in a new sink and pretty cabbage rose printed wallpaper in the main bath.  We had a shower installed in our bathroom enlarging the space  by taking the closet space and converting it into a full bathroom. We had to build a new closet in the bedroom which made it smaller.  Having a larger master bath took priority, we decided, over the size of the bedroom.

My father helped us by painting the maple cabinets white in the kitchen. We installed a new stove and removed louvered shutters from the windows. We put in new country blue laminate countertops to match the existing color scheme. The linoleum floors still had a “brick-look” pattern and were dark but otherwise the space was quite updated and  much brighter.

We planted some foundation plantings and trees. We built a swing set in the back yard. We attached a child-sized swing for our daughter and a baby swing for our son.

We did all this work over the course of several years.  While in this house, my husband made a career change and trained to become a real estate appraiser. He finally found what he was meant to do and started his own company.

Some years after moving from this house, we learned there was a fire started when a warm grill was stored in the outside hot water heater room beside the back kitchen door.   A large portion of the house on that side  of the house was burned and had to be rebuilt.

 

 

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The Pond House: Part Four of My Own Fixer Uppers

When my husband lost his job for the second time, we were pretty low.  Fortunately, he was able to interview for another job right away. It was another government job in the upstate of South Carolina. He was offered the job so we had to move quickly.  We had to settle for a rental house for a while.  As in Georgia, we learned that the part of town that was more desirable was near medical facilities so we looked for a house near the hospital in town.

When we looked at rental houses, we only found one we could afford on the north end of town. Because we were visiting on a weekend, we were unable to get inside so we parked in the driveway and peaked in the windows. It was a brick ranch with a carport. It was too dark to get much of an idea what the inside looked like. We had to make a quick decision to take it and placed a deposit on it for the rental agency to hold it for us.

The move was set. We moved the week of our daughter’s third birthday which was the third week in December. As with all our previous moves, we packed up a U-Haul it truck and moved ourselves. We were hopeful this time that our relocation was going to stick and that our little family could finally put down some roots.

On moving day, the weather suddenly turned very cold. It was the coldest day on record for the area in a long time. Our family met us at the “new” house to help us move in.  We were surprised once we got in the house and could finally see the interior.  The shag carpeting throughout the living room was ugly and very green. The cabinets in the kitchen were dark as was the matching paneling in the adjoining eat-in area. This made the back part of the house feel very closed in and cave-like.  I was overwhelmed wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.

The house was unheated as we discovered that the gas had not yet been turned on. I tried heating the house by turning on the stove and opening the oven door. After moving most of the essentials into the house, we decided it was too cold for my parents and daughter to stay so we told them to take her home with them while we settled in and tried to make do for the first night. Fortunately, they lived close by.

I tried not to cry and got myself busy trying to set things up in the kitchen so at least we could have a place to eat. I suddenly found the silver lining on what seemed like a very dark cloud. There was a window over the kitchen sink which looked out into a large fenced in backyard. Beyond the back yard I caught a glimpse of a nice sized lake where ducks were peacefully drifting along the surface of the water. I knew that my daughter and I would enjoy taking walks with our dog to the lake to feed the ducks and that she would have fun playing in the backyard which was equipped with a swing set.

 

 

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The Spooky House: Part Three of My Own Fixer Uppers

My husband and I moved to Georgia for a city job with a zoning department. It was a meager salary but was enough to live on. We were thankful for work after a long season without it.  We found a small rental house in a decent neighborhood where we felt our little family would be safe.  It had a circular driveway and a nice front porch. The neighbor’s friendly cats liked to hang out and perch on the front window sills. This  delighted our little daughter who loved animals.  There was a large prickly cactus by the front curb. We remarked that we would have to avoid going near it for it was at eye-level for a small child. The house literally had no yard for our daughter and dog to play in but there was a nice-sized deck overlooking some woods. Our daughter was still small so we felt the deck had adequate room for a sand box or kiddie pool. Since she was still a toddler, that was all she would need.

One negative feature of the house was that the laundry room was outside the kitchen in a covered shed.  I had to take trips back and forth through the back kitchen door to do laundry while trying to keep an eye on my daughter. I learned that to keep her safe, I had to leave her in her gated bedroom playing whenever she was out of my sight.

I began potty training her in this house. It was fairly successful  when using M and M’s, or “MMM’s” as she called them,  as bribery tactics. One time she got hold of a red crayon and began drawing a “picture” on the wallpaper in the bathroom before I could catch her.

We were living in this house when Hurricane Hugo came through the southeast.  We had some rain and fairly strong winds during the storm.  My husband and I were in the living room watching television when we heard a cracking sound then loud thud.  We raced into our daughter’s room where she was sleeping and saw that a tree had fallen in the yard next to our house and had come within inches of her bedroom window.  We were definitely grateful and astonished at God’s protection over us.

During that winter, we had another freak event of nature. It snowed in our area of Georgia which almost never happens. We had no snow shoes or boots for our daughter so we put plastic bags over her tennis shoes so she could walk around outside and enjoy the snow while it lasted.

When our house in North Carolina sold, we felt a financial burden lifted and began looking for another house of our own. We found a house in foreclosure near the affluent section of town.  We got permission from the bank to go in and begin cleaning up the property before the sale went through. We had a strange feeling about this house because we were told someone had died in the house by suicide. It had been for sale for a long time as no one wanted to go near a house that was potentially haunted. We prayed over it as we began to haul away debris outside and clean its very dirty floors and carpets. Perhaps, we were desperate for a home of our own and were willing to overlook our misgivings.  However, God had other plans for us. Before we signed the final papers, my husband found out that his  job was going to be phased out…..again.

 

 

 

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The Hill House In The Cove: Part Two of My Own Fixer Uppers

We moved to the central Carolinas when our daughter was six weeks old. We found a rental house which served little more for us than storage for all of our  belongings.  It was a split-foyer so we used the entire lower level for boxes that we never even bothered to unpack. We began a quest to find a new home right away. After much deliberation, we decided to build a house in a subdivision with a two-story one garage plan. We chose a sloping wooded lot above a creek at the end of a cul-de-sac which offered us more privacy in the backyard.

Being in a builder’s subdivision, there were a lot of things about the home that were predetermined. On the outside we got to choose the color of the siding, shutters and front door. On the inside, we got to choose the carpet, floors and light fixtures.The process was fairly stress-free and time went by quickly as we made one decision after another. By the time our daughter was six months old, our house was finally ready and we got to move in.

To place our personal stamp on the “hill” house, we did some minor things to it. One of these was some landscaping.  We planted shrubs and trees in the front yard. Our decorating budget became drastically reduced, however, during that first year when my husband’s job was phased out. We managed to scrape together enough funds to finish off a small corner of the oversized garage for a home office. This gave my husband a private space to draw maps and sell real estate so that we could pay our bills for a while.

We ended up moving to northern Georgia for another job and sold the house. We did not make a profit on it. In fact, the economy was in a downturn. Though we considered renting it out, we finally  accepted a low offer to keep from having to pay two house payments. We found out later that the people who bought the house after us, fenced in the back yard only to lose the fencing later during floodwaters in a heavy rainstorm.

In this house our daughter celebrated her first birthday. She had her first sugar rush with cake and ice cream. She took her first steps and spoke her first distinguishable word, “fluffla”or flower, in our front yard.  She climbed out of her crib in the middle of the night, frightening us so much that we ended up putting her mattress on the floor.  I locked myself out of the house one day while she was asleep in her crib and had to borrow a neighbor’s phone to call my husband to come home.  She fell down the stairs here learning to climb them and cut her lip.  She got her head stuck in the railings dividing the kitchen from the den. The house was memorable in many ways but mostly for milestones associated with our daughter’s first year of life. 

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My Own Fixer Uppers

After visiting Waco, Texas and the famous Magnolia Market, I have reflected on my own “fixer upper” experiences. Through the years, my husband and I have taken on a few real estate remodeling challenges.

As a child, I remember my parents fixing up two houses. My grandparents did the same.  I guess when you don’t have a lot of money to buy your dream home, you make lemonade out of lemons, so to speak.  It takes a vision for what it can become.  I have learned   that this is the fun of home ownership.

Every home we have ever owned, has been a work in progress. We have scoured, stripped wallpaper, painted, and changed each place to improve it and put our own personal touches on it to make it ours.

In 1983, we owned our first home in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. It was a townhouse.   I will call our first home “the  blue barn house”.  It had all the space that we needed for a starter home. There were three levels. Three tiny bedrooms and a bath were on the top floor. A kitchen, half-bath and living room were on the main floor. There was a walk-out basement on the lowest level. What was interesting and sold us was that the basement walked out to a fenced garden space with raised beds and a small barn-like storage building. We had the end unit next to a playground so had more gardening space along the side of the house. I ended up planting flowers in the back yard and vegetables along the side yard. Our laundry area was downstairs along with another half bath. The area was heated by a wood stove which made the space very cozy.

In the kitchen, the previous owners had put up some nice tile as a back splash along with real barn board along one wall.  The style then  was country so this lended itself well to the decorating trend of the time.  All we needed to do was a little painting and decorating to make the house feel like home. We ended up painting the orange basement walls yellow. We had to live with the brown shag carpeting throughout the house. I made some cute rust colored curtains with ducks in the design in the kitchen to match my duck  theme throughout the house.  I stenciled a flower design along the ceiling of the bedroom walls and a rocking horse border in the baby’s room when I became pregnant with my daughter.

  All our hard work paid off for when we listed our house for sale, after only three years of ownership, our house sold in three days.

 

 

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