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Rubble Garden

24th December 2017


Several years ago on one of our remodels, we had to replace the concrete driveway. We broke into large but manageable chunks to haul off. Instead of hauling it off to a dump, I put an add in Craigslist ‘Free Concrete.’ I had 2 people come buy and load up the back of their pickups with a couple of loads. One said he wanted it to stop the erosion on his dirt drive. The other said he wanted it for stepping stones to one of his out buildings. I also got a few very strange calls checking to see if the craigslist ad was legit. A couple thought it was joke so I explained the possible uses. It turned out we had made an afternoon feature on a local radio show contest for funny and unbelievable craigslist add people post. The joke was we were just trying to get someone to haul off our debris for free. We were winning for most of the afternoon until someone submitted a post for free ‘Maple leaves, Baggged or Free Range’. In the end, I hauled off most of the drive to a house that was asking for free dirt and fill materials.

Once again, I had to break up a large concrete slab in the back yard of one or our renos. Rather than haul it to the off I decided to use it for edging along the back yard for a garden.







I used as much of the concrete as possible for the garden edging, and a bit more for a path along the back of the house leading to the deck. Even then 8 trailer loads were hauled  to the concrete recycler.  Not sure I would do this again but it was an interesting project


The drywall dust has finally cleared it’s time to stir it up again. This time it will be with sawdust though. Since the linoleum stripped did such a good job removing the floor finish I thought I could save time and do a better finish by stripping the rest of the floors. In my mind I figured I just sand lightly with a pad sander and not risk the gouges I’ve experienced with the drum sander. After spending another 2 evenings stripping the floors, I was ready to sand. I rented a vibrating pad sander from Home depot and began to sand. In short it did not work; AT ALL! It simply was not aggressive enough sand even the bare wood floors. I quickly loaded everything back up in the truck and exchanged it for a drum sander. I made the first pass getting as close as possible to wall then Carri took over with the drum sander and continued with the edging sander.davesandcarrisand Before Carri made the final pass with 250 grit I took some of the sawdust, mixed with untinted wood filler and filled all of the crack in the floor. Fortunately, there weren’t to may sport that required filler. Even with the wasted time I spent with the pad sander I still was able to get the sander back to Home Depot within the 24 hours, but just barely. We decide to wait a couple days before we spread the polyurethane.  That would give time for the dust to settle again and we could rest up for a couple of days.

I started about 5:00 AM on Sunday morning while Cari was still sleeping. Worst case she may have been stuck in the back for 2 hours since waterbourne poly dries within that time. We had vacuumed and swept the night before so just ran over the floor with tack cloth and put on the first coat.  By 5:00 PM Sunday evening the floor was done. I considered scuffing the floor one last time and putting a fourth coat but Carri was happy with the way it looked and we called it done.

floordoneAll of the baseboards had been stripped of the paint and varnish and sanded. While waiting for the floor to cure completely we finished trim with 3 coats of poly. I used one of the door jambs to make rails and stile for the hall cabinet doors and re-purposed the wainscot for the panels. The door have a few defects but they look great.
cabs trim

Painting and replacing the trim, and moving the furniture back quickly brought everything together. We started in mid January and had everything moved back in by mid March. Three months and 3 thousand dollars in materials and it is time to close the wallet until the next project. Unfortunately the next project will be putting another rental back together often the tenant moves out next week. diningview2



Kitchen Demo Part 3

07th October 2015


The soffit was just a hollow shell faced with 1/4 inch parquet panels, but the post and trim once again was solid mahogany. The bar will stay for the time being but Carri wanted me to extend the opening in the kitchen. I removed the soffit, door and frame and re-framed the wall 12 inches smaller than it had been.


To get the refrigerator flush with the cabinet we would have to create an 8 inch bump out into the garage. Before I could start I would have to remove the concrete steps in the garage

While I had the equipment I decided to create a new crawl space. The original access is under the deck on the side of the house. It is accessible but just barely. the space under the door was the perfect spot for a new craws space access due to the door framed right above it.

I left the door jamb and header intact. I cantilevered the floor joist 8 inches and famed in the and exterior bump out. I relocated the electrical outlet, ice maker water line, insulated and sheet rocked.

I had forgot how difficult it was living in a construction zone while finishing sheet rock. The last step was a nightmare but we made it through it. Before painting and finishing the floor I removed all of the popcorn ceiling. in the kitchen den and hallways. I also took the time to remove the attic fan in the hall and cover the hole. Finally I sprayed the ceiling white and was ready for the floor


Open Wallet Part 2 Den Wall

07th October 2015


With the den floor stripped I was ready to remove the wall between the den and formal living room. I carefully laid out on the wall what I wanted to remove and started the demo.

I was extra careful removing the mahogany wainscot, crown molding  The 1/4 inch and 3/4 inch plywood from the wainscot were furniture grade. The 1/2 inch quarter round, crown molding and base board was solid mahogany. All of the material will be reused in this renovation along with the rest of the mahogany trim throughout the house. Much of the trim had been painted but it will all be stripped.

Once I had the sheet rock removed I was able to fin tune the actual opening.  I made minor adjustment to make sure the load on each end transferred below the floor to an original foundation pier on one side. the other side I will poor a concrete pad and use a floor jack to support it.

I reused the removed stud for the jack studs and to frame the old doorway to the hall. A couple sheets of sheet rock later I was ready to tackle the kitchen wall.

The outlook for 2015 looked bright at the beginning of the year. All of our rental were occupied with stable renters; the past reno’s had been paid for, and it looked like the local housing market was starting to turn to the positive. I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and began to plan the remodel of of personal residence. Normally, our reno’s involve take the worst house on the block and turn it into the best, but this time we are starting with what i consider the best house on the block and making it better, or at least our own. In theory the plan was simple: Remove carpet, restore the oak floors, and open up the wall between the den and formal living room. The carpet will be recycled in one of our rent houses. It is over 25 years old, but except for the heavy traffic area through the den, it still in very good shape.

The floors had not seen the light of day for over 25 years so we were not sure what to expect. Unfortunately the den floor was covered in linoleum.  There was also a patch in the middle of the floor that would have to dealt with, and we also planned on moving the air duct so that hole would need to be patched also.

Stripping the linoleum was time consuming but not too difficult. I started by pulling and scrapping off the top coat, then wetted the backing with Henry Easy Release. It took several applications, the first application easily removed the backing, but the adhesive would take several more applications. Henry Easy Release also turned out to be a very effective solvent for the floor varnish also. I was pleasantly surprised that this solvent did no have strong odors and didn’t appear to be an irritant to my lungs either.

Patching the floor was pretty straight forward. I removed the oak flooring from a back bedroom closet and replaced it with plywood.  The bedrooms will probably always remain carpeted so no one will notice.  Even if the carpet is removed, replacing the plywood with new oak flooring should not pose a problem.

The den floor is ready to sand but I will remove the wall between the den and living room and patch the floor were the existing wall was first.


Phase One – Patio

23rd May 2012


Our first project is to rehab the existing deck originally built about 25 years ago. The structure was sound but it did need a little TLC to bring back to peak condition. I decided to cut back on the size a bit and reclaim the wood to rebuild the pergola. Cutting back 6 feet along the entire length of the deck would give me enough lumber to extend the deck at the back and redesign the pergola into a cabana. The new footprint also provided a much wider path to the back yard.

The lumber I needed to buy were 4 x 4 posts for the railings, 4 x 6 posts for the cabana and just a few 2 x 4’s for the railings and cedar fencing for the skirt and 1 x 6 decking for the bench seat and railing cap. Lumber and hardware the total was less than $500.00 which was very close to what I expected, however the orignal budget would not survive much more into the reno.

For the most part the cabana was my design. Carri had the idea to extend the roof over the back of the deck so that she would have shade and shelter from rain when using the grill, so that was incorporated into the design. The hipped roof design was basically a remake of a sunroom I built for my brother many years ago. That design used plexi glass panels for the roof decking but the cost of doing this would have been out of line. I still had almost 5 gallons of oil based deck sealer that i used for the decking, but I sprung for a good quality acrylic for the cabana and railings so I could spray it on.

We considered a thatched roof, architectural shingles and cedar shake roofing; all of which were far outside budget considerations. I finally settled on remnant awning canvass which I got for under $70.00. It may not last more than 3 or 4 years but it is a very nice interim solution. We considered many options for the railing also. Originally, I thought I would rip the reclaimed decking into balusters. By the time I finished the cabana, there wasn’t much decking left. the next consideration was pvc lattice\, but that would have been too much like the old design. We tried reed fencing, but could find the right dimensions, so in the Carri won out and we we went with carbonized bamboo roll fencing. It was a budget buster but all in all the best choice. For skirting the deck I used cedar fencing of different widths. I created several removable panels so that we can store things under the deck.

As soon as I finished the bench and table, I turned the project over to Carri complete the design and decorating. We painted the old patio furniture and Carri bought a few plants and tables for a start. We will see where it goes from here.

We are just about ready to start our 2012 home renovation projects, but before we can begin we have a few projects to complete. We moved into our 2012 renovation the first part of October. The move was lengthy due to the fact we also had to re-establish a shop in the new place, but that is a story for a later date. Once we had moved out of our old home, we had a lot of work to do to get the place ready to rent.

The first task was to redo the cracks in the sheet rock and repaint. Once this was done it was time to redo the floor. We went with an inexpensive laminate floating floor from Lumber Liquidators. I’ve always said I would never use a fake wood flooring product, but in this case I couldn’t resist the low cost. We will see how it wears in a rental unit but I will have to say I am impressed with the ease of installation. It doesn’t look too bad either.

The field of floor took an afternoon to install. The snap and lock system is very easy to install. Trimming out the baseboards and transitions between the laminate and carpet or tile took another afternoon. I made the the transitions out of 1×4 oak flooring ripped into 3/8 x 4″ strips. I beveled the edges and finished with polyurethane. Using finish screw with plastic anchors installed into the concrete slab. Once again I made my own quarter round from flat stock poplar.

I used the sprayer to paint the ceiling so there was a lot of over spray on the soffit above the kitchen cabinets. Instead of repainting, I decided to cover them using 12×12 inch vinyl tiles. Another inexpensive easy way to dress up the place.

The final task was to install the closet doors. That was one project that we had intended to do for the last 4 years. We considered several different styles of doors but in the end we decided went with a sliding track and slab doors that match the rest of the doors in the house.


Except for some miscellaneous minor repairs the place was ready to put on the market right before Christmas. We put an ad in Craigslist to sell or rent the property but the only inquiries we had where from real estate agents. That wasn’t a surprise but we were disappointed with the few rental inquiries we got. The last 2 times we put a house on the rental market, they were rented the same day we made them available. The good news was that right after January first we began to get quite a few inquiries about renting the property.

Once again we opted to go with a Tulsa Housing Authority (THA) Section 8 Program. We will get about $125.00 a month less each month than a normal lease, but the peace of mind that we get the rent on time each month is priceless. Unfortunately getting a property to pass the THA inspection process can have a price. Once we had a rental prospect I went through the property carefully looking for anything that might cause the inspection to fail. I made sure I had the proper ventilation in the hot water furnace closet. I added ground fault interupts (GFI) near all sources of water, and tested each recepticle around the house for proper ground. I was confident the place would pass easily, but I was wrong.

The inspector arrive right on time and met me in the garage while I was sweeping the floor. She immediately stopped at the garage door and pulled out her note pade and began to make notes. She let me know that the garage door opener must have a dedicated outlet near the motor. The extension cord I was using would not be allowed, even though it was a 12 gauge cord. She then went to the utility closet. Once again she began to make notes. I assumed that she would tell me that I would have to raise the hot water heater an other inch off the floor, but instead she said that the PVC relief drain I was using needed to be changes to brass, copper or CPVC. It had something to do with the fire rating of schedule 10 PVC. I was a little disappointed at this stage but at least both of the were very simple fixes.

By this time the prospective renter had arrived and I left the inspector while she was checking outlets for ground, to greet the renter. I took here around the garage and explained the issues the inspector brought up. By the time I caught up with the inspector, she was once again making notes. She was standing by the master bedroom windows. She mentioned that the small window size bothered her. Even though these windows were the same size as the original windows, they were too small for todays code. Bedroom windows must be large enough that a typical adult can crawl out of them in case of a fire. She told me that it would have to be replaced. Now this was a huge surprise, but I immediately agreed to replace the window. I even told her that ti would be done the same day. Although I don’t think she believed my, nor did the tenant, the inspector agreed to come back the next morning to reinspect. I was on my way to Lowes while the inspector and tenant were still in the driveway.

I picked up a single stock sliding window that would closely match the opening of the two small windows I would be replacing. The sliding window was the same height but about 8 inches narrower that the existing opening. I stopped by our new house to get as many tools as I thought I would need and returned to the rental property. With in an hour I had the old window removed and the rough opening reframed with new window installed with 2 screws just too keep it from being blow out by the wind. I took inventory of any additional supplies and tools I would need and went back to Lowes and home to restock. Carri came by after work about 4 and helped clean up while worked on the hot water drain and outlet for the garage opener. By 8:00 that night I had the window intalled and trimmed and ready for paint the next morning. The inspector arrive just as I was cleaning the paint brushes the next morning. She compliment me on the job, and signed off on the inspection.

Looking at the picture it doesn’t really look like ther is much difference between the window sizes. However, there is a significant difference between the size of the opening when the window is open. It would have been very difficult for a normal adult to crawl though the original window in an emergency. In the end it was time and money well spent.

Well, the tenant has moved in, and I finally get a break. Or at least I can begin working on our new house. I can’t wait to start on it and begin the blogging process on the experience. This next project is going to be fun!

Wrap it Up … It’s taken

21st November 2011


We actually finished this project in May of this year, but due to an abrupt job/career change and life in general, I haven’t had much time to complete this project blogging. Since I have a little time during the Thanksgiving Holiday, I will bring this story to a close. WE ended up renting this house for several reasons. Firstly, the short term capital gains on selling this property would eat up too great a percentage of the profits. Secondly, we erroneously thought that the market would not support a sale at this time. I say erroneously since the property just down the street, that we had passed on, sold for a very handsome profit. Anyway the renter has already expressed the desire to buy the property so in the end we will come out of this in great shape.

Let’s start with the finished project and back-track to where I left off.

The last three interior finish projects where the den, laundry/pantry, and bath. Finishing the den simply involved laying carpet. Carri found another great deal at the Mill Creek bone yard on a remnant of industrial carpet. It was the perfect choice for this application.

The pantry required a great deal of time and effort. I made a few initial executive decisions with Carri’s input. First, I decide that the wall where too far gone to try and repair the plaster, so the plaster had to go. A secondary benefit was that the open wall cavities would allow me to re-frame the existing large drafty window with a smaller double pane energy efficient model, and the open wall cavities would make it easy insulate and re-plumb the laundry. It was a long dirty job, but in the long run, the right decision.

Carri overruled me on the pantry floor. I originally thought that vinyl sheet flooring would be the way to go, but Carri disagreed and rightfully so. The cost between vinyl and big box store ceramic tile, on a per square foot basis is negligible. Vinyl would install a little more quickly, but the durability and look of tile made this an easy about face.

The final results where worth the effort. In the end we had a spacious laundry/pantry area that included a re-purposed kitchen cabinet. I took the pantry unit and added a couple of pieces of hardboard that I painted with blackboard paint. The cost difference between masonite hardboard and a quart of chalkboard paint compared to cabinet grade oak veneer plywood was substantial. It looked great and was definitely functional.

The bath had been redone already but we were unhappy with the quality of the work done on the tile. We stripped the tile to the accent strip and re-tile from there on up including the ceiling. We also replaced the two porcelain soap dishes with a niche built into the front of the shower. This gave the bath surrround a much more finsihed look.

The final touch for this project was to insulate the attic. In the past I have always used blown cellulose in the attic. This time I decided to try blown fiberglass. I was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to install. Cellulose tend to clog easily in the blower. A great deal of time is lost unclogging the machine. There was no problem with the fiberglass. We installed 30 bags in about 90 minutes. Even though it is slightly more expensive, I will definitely continue to use this in the future.

That wraps up the Denver Street project. It was a lot of work but a lot of fun. Now that we have had a few months rest we are already preparing for our 2012 project. We will be renting out our current residence, the 2007 project, but first we will install a floating floor in the living room and add sliding doors to the closets. Once rented, we will begin on our “Dream House”. Looking forward to blog on this new project.

The new den originally was a covered porch on the back of the house. The previous owner had closed it in, framed in a raised floor on top of the concrete slab but never completed the renovation. Raising the floor made the existing concrete steps too low and unusable. We decided to add a small deck on the back rather than just rebuild the steps from the door. I had a good idea of what I wanted to do with the deck, but as I began to dig the post holes, my plan began to change. The first two attempts at digging holes uncovered buried obstacles so I adjusted my plan at each obstacle. Before long I decided to just let the ground conditions, materials on hand, and my imagination dictate the shape of the deck.

Once I had the post set, I laid out a line on all post level with the top of the ledger board bolted onto the house. Using this line a a guide I notched out each post to accept the 2×6 joists around the perimeter.

Once the shell was built the decking went on quickly. The basic deck took less than an afteernoon to build. The steps and railing would take a little bit longer to complete.

The stairs consisted of a small deck landing one step down from the main deck. The stringer cut from 2 x 10’s were attached to the landing ti create the rest of the stair. The rail is constructed with 3/4 inch PVC and Pressure treated pine 2×4, with a cap made from the standard 1×4 decking. I extended the posts and wrapped them in decking to hid the joints. The entire project cost about $200.00. In the future I would like to add another level or 2 to the deck. But for now it is functional and useful.

On one of trips to the Mill Creek Lumber “bone yard” (overstock/returns store) Carri spotted a gas log fireplace insert at a very low price. Before I knew it, I was helping the store manager load the item into the back of Carri’s SUV. I didn’t want to spend any time or money working on the chimney, so it looked like the perfect solution for upgrading the fireplace. The insert was a direct vent unit so any chimney structural problems would not be a factor. I could simply knock out a hole on the back of the firebox and add a flue and cap on the back of the insert. In theory that was correct… in practice … well not so fast.

The insert turned out to be a little too big to simply slide into the existing firebox. It was about 2 inches too high and wide. The original tile hearth was poorly installed so I began by pulling it up. Before I was done the tile, subfloor, and first layer of firebrick on the base of the firebox was gone.after a few dry fits and grinding away the edges of the firebox opening, the fireplace was ready to rebuild.

After much consideration and debate “Carri” decided we would use travertine tiles for the hearth and surround with a to be decided accent. I began by framing the hearth opening, adding insulation, and new subfloor, and dry fit the travertine for the hearth. . My job was done. Time for Carri to do her decorating thing.

Carri took over tiling the surround and refurbishing the mantel. She started by finishing the surround with travertine and a decorative twist.

She compete the project by spending two weekend stripping the pealing paint from the mantel and repainting it with black enamel paint. The refurbished fireplace is the focal point of the living room.

Now for the rest of the story. The insert cost $150.00 which is a great deal. Unfortunately, the 18 inch length flue and termination cap to make it a functional fireplace would have cost another $600.00. Adding a blower would have been another $250.00. Once realized, that recurring voice in my head screamed out: “I can’t afford that.” To make a long story short. The fireplace at the moment is simply decorative. The rest can always be added later if I can ever get rid of that darn voice in my head.

Upgrading the HVAC

20th May 2011


We were almost starting from scratch with the heat and air system. The AC compressor was gone (stolen), the furnace and AC coil housed in the crawlspace were antiquated, and the ducts were missing much of their insulation. The good news was that we could simply retrofit and new HVAC to the existing ducts with minimal changes. We also discovered that the Gas Meter had been recently relocated from the front of the house to the side. All new stainless steel flex gas lines were installed to the furnace and hot water heater. The old gas lines running to each room were left intact, although not hooked up to anything. I started by removing as much of these old lines as I could get to easily.

We decided to go with a packaged heat and air unit. The entire system would be located outside the crawlspace. The existing crawlspace access and concrete pad needed to be enlarged but that was an easy fix.
I used the existing concrete pad and poured and L-shaped extension to form the new pad. I extended the opening through the foundation 20 inches and framed the opening with 2×6 headers and filled the opening above the header with salvaged brick. The electric was already available so all that was required was a short extension to the gas line. There was enough salvaged gas line to accomplish this.

The real work involved supplying the air to the ducts. With the help of a friend who does AC work we came up with a great solution. The plan was to build a plenum out of duct board. From there we would use flexible ducts of various sizes to connect to the existing ducts. This would allow us to build everything out side the crawlspace. Duct board is a great product. You can use special tools to cut perfect miters and lap joints, but I used a regular box knife with great results. Using metal tape and duct starters, I had the plenum built in matter of an hour or two.

Hooking up the system was tedious and time consuming but it all went together just fine. One by one we ran flexible line from the plenum to each trunk line using flex duct.

10 inch line going to upstairs registers

12 inch lines connecting to HVAC unit outside

The final task was to rebuild the air return. Originally the air return was the entire space under the stairs. The previous installer simply cut a hole in the floor to accept the duct line and a filter cover on the wall in the living room. The problem was that the space under the stairs was not sealed very well. Not only would air be pulled through the filter, it would alos be pulled from countless other holes and leaks in this space. To solve the problem i created a box out of duct board and created a tightly sealed air return.

We finished off the HVAC installation by replacing and missing insulation on the old ducts and hooked up the gas electric and new thermostat. The new system worked perfectly first time. I was finally done working under the house. As long as i can keep rodents out and water line from freezing I shouldn’t have to return to the crawlspace for a long time.

I felt like a contortionist mole working under the house in the crawlspace. It is not a very hospitable place to work. Rats and squirrels seemed to like the place though. One or both had stripped the insulation of the duct work and created several nests. I removed several rat carcasses and squirrel tails and other debris from the crawlspace and got to work. The work list included, fix 4 leaks in water pipes , insulate the floor, add vapor barrier, remove antiquated heat and air (HVAC), install and connect new HVAC.

Once the debris was removed I laid down a heavy sheet of plastic for a vapor barrier and added craft faced R13 fiberglass batts between the floor joists. Ideally I would have added another 6 inches of insulation and added foam board to the knee wall to fully insulate the crawlspace,but all of this can be added any time.

Next I started on the plumbing. While at Home Depot picking up plumbing supplies, a knowledgeable clerk suggested I try repairing the leaks with Pex tubing and Shark Bite connectors. The advantage of these product is that you don’t need glue or solder to install. You simply cut out the leaking areas and snap in the Shark Bite fix. This first fix replaced a cracked galvanized elbow. I had to replace this repair with a copper line due to a small leak. The short run of PEX between the 2 Shark Bite connectors was in s slight bind and would not allow the O-rings to seal properly. I used the Shark Bite to run a water supply to the refrigerator but that was the only place I ended up keeping this product. The rest of the leaks i repia4red by sweating in new copper tubing. Once the leaks were repaired I insulated the entire water line to try and keep the pipes from freezing in the future.

I think I’ll wait a few years to see how the Shark Bite water line to the refrigerator performs before I use the product again. In the short run water line repairs are a snap with this product. If the repairs are permanent it would be worth the added expense of this product. If the repairs don’t last it is a waste of time and money. I’ll hold judgment for the time being.

Color me Happy!

03rd April 2011


Things are starting to come together.  Dave has been working like a Tasmanian Devil.  I helped a little bit with the paint, but he pretty much painted the whole house by himself.  I love how much brighter it is.  The existing color was neutral, but a bit gloomy.  It needed some cheering up!

The dining room really shows the compliments of the two new colors.

We still have ideas for finishing the fire place that are subject to change. The large travertine tiles are going to be the hearth.

The stair case has shown the most benefit from the lighter colors.  Even with the treads still needing work it looks so much better.

The den is still functioning as a work shop, but we should be getting it started soon.

Dave has been doing double duty.  Look for his reports on the removing the existing heat and air and repairing the plumbing, and duct work.

FloorEd 101

21st March 2011


The first and and only time I have refinished a wood floor was over 10 years ago.  My memory was a little fuzzy on everything involved, but I at least had some idea of what to expect.  The first floor wasn’t perfect, but it looked OK. I hoped that the little bit of previous experience, better tools, and newer materials would lead to a more professional looking job.

I started by removing quarter round from the baseboard and sanded the entire perimeter of the house with 60 grit sand paper. This removed the old finish and minor imperfections easily.

Once this was done I rented a drum sander from Home Depot and sanded the field with 60 grit to remove the old finish and level the cupped boards and the floor furnace patches. Once this was accomplished I went over the entire floor again with 80 grit and returned the sander. I would rent it again a couple days later to do the final 100 grit sanding. The next step was to go back around the perimeter with 80 grit to blend in where the drum sander wouldn’t reach. It turned out that the drum sander wouldn’t reach in quite a few places. It was to big and bulky to do most of the closets, most of the upstairs hallway and the small area in front of the downstairs bath. The closets didn’t matter much since the doors are closed most of the time, but the hallways were some of the worst areas. I did the best I could with the large orbital sander, a small belt sander and a palm sander. The final results would turn out a little disappointing, but I just didn’t have the experience or tools required.

Once the entire floor was sanded, some major problems began to showing up. Where ever any tack strip nails came into contact with moisture it reacts with the high tannin content in oak and created dark black stains. These stains were especially bad around the baths and under windows. With a little research, I discovered that oxalic acid would remove some of this defect. Oxalic acid crystals are mixed with distilled water and brushed or mopped onto the floor. I applied six or seven coats to some of the worst areas. It didn’t remove all of the stains but it removed a lot.

It may be possible to completely remove the black stains, but I stopped after one afternoon of trying. One thing I discovered is you can’t spot clean a stain. It will leave a blotchy appearance if you do. The best way to avoid this is to mop the entire floor to even out the bleaching process.

Once satisfied the floor was as good as it was going to get,  I neutralized the oxalic wash with borax and water. This stops the bleaching process. If time and money weren’t a consideration I would have removed the entire floor in the upstairs hallway and replaced it with new oak. I could then recycle the best of those slats and patch all of the areas with the black marks in the rest of the house. The patches I made where the floor furnaces where turned out very nice, so it could have been done,

The next step was to fill all of the voids in the floor. Since this floor had so many, I used a trowelable red oak filler. Using a masonry trowel I spread the thinnest possible coat over the entire floor. I let it dry overnight and sanded it with 100 grit using the rented drum and orbital sanders. The filler seemed to work great.  It filled in all of the cracks, nail holes and dings in the floor. Time will tell how well it stays. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it work itself out as time goes by, but we will see. I’ll revisit this post next year some time and report how it is holding up.

Once the sanding was done, I swept, vacuumed, then wiped the entire surface with a damp rag. The sanding filler left a dust almost as fine as talc. It was quite a job to remove all the dust I had generated over the past week or two.

We decided to go with high gloss waterborne polyurethane. It is almost twice as expensive as the oil base, but it dries fast and you can do next coat in an hour or two, where oil base takes up to 24 hours between coats. I made a slight mistake with the type of applicator I used for the first coat. I used a natural lambs wool pad where I should have used a synthetic. The natural lambs wool holds much more finish than the synthetic so it goes on much thicker. Even using the correct technique to apply the finish, the finish was not 100% smooth. I let the first coat dry overnight and came back the next morning to sand the surface with a 220 grit screen. Using several scrap blocks of wood, I made a sanding pad with handle and stuck a small piece of carpet pad to it with double sided tape. The carpet pad held the screen nicely and I was able to screen the entire floor effectively in about an hour.

I don’t think I would do it this way again, but the thick first coat worked out very well. For the second and third coats I used the appropriate synthetic applicator. I actually used less poly on these two coats than I did on the first coat using the lambs wool. The second and third coats went on much thinner and much smoother also. A lot of the experts recommend sanding between the last two coats, but I didn’t have to. The first sanding was enough.

The final results were OK once again. Nowhere near perfect, but then this is DIY. I would expect a professional to do a much better job, however the cost saving was substantial (not including my labor). A pro would have charged me anywhere between $2100 and $3300. My costs were $300 for the rental equipment and sand paper, $200 for the poly urethane and another $50 or so for miscellaneous supplies. Add a week of hard labor and those savings disappear but considering actual cash spent only, the savings were substantial. Even cheap carpet and pad would have cost double what I spent, however the whole project would have been completed in a day. That is something to consider next time. At least I have the satisfaction of doing the floor refinishing myself. As far as the flaws and mistakes go, Carri says they give the floor character. I’ll leave it there, the floor has character.

Just a funny!

07th March 2011


When we were working on the “L street house” a  neighbor lady came over.  She introduced herself to me and I introduced myself and Dave as my fiancee.  She says, “Really? Even after all this? You still want to Marry him?”  LOL Still working on it!


07th March 2011


We are to the final stages of demolition on the interior of the house. The final demolition is on the the wood floor. Originally, the house had two floor furnaces on the first floor. When they added forced heat and air they simply framed the large opening for the smaller ducts and covered the holes with plywood and either carpeted or tiled over the the entire floor. Although the floor is not in good shape cosmetically, the good news is that the carpet and tile protected the wood from further wear. It appears that the floor had only been sanded one time after installation so there is plenty of wood left to refinish. The only two places were the wood floor is suspect is at the front door entry near the threshold, which is rotting, and at the top of the stairs in the hallway. The hallway between the bedrooms and bath is stained, cupped and uneven.  Hopefully with sanding and filling it will look fine, but that remains to be seen. We will deal with this if needed.

Since we needed to find some wood to patch the holes left by the furnaces and the entry was in bad shape near the frond door we decided to remove the flooring, cut out the rotted wood and use the slats to repair the holes. Removing the flooring is not difficult. I started by sawing down the center. This made it possible to pry up the mortised side of the slat, which in turn gave me enough room to separate the tenon side. This was the only slat that was completely wasted, but since all of the slats are interlocked I had no choice.

Once the first piece was out the process gets much easier. You want to pull from the nailed tenon end pry directly under the nails. this will minimize splintering and splitting of the slats. If there is a join you want pry on both sides of the joint. the joint will seperate cleanly and you can easily remove the slats.

One all of the slats were removed, I put down tar paper and 1/2 inch plywood subfloor and glued some walnut parquet flooring we had left over from a previous project.

The patching process is much more tedious. It’s not difficult just time consuming.To help hide the patch the joints need to be staggered. Typically the stagger should be random at least 12 inches. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough wood to go tho this extreme so i decided to stagger the joints much closer. We will see how it looks when finished. The first step is to mark a line perpendicular to the slat. I used a vibrating saw to make a plunge cut tilting the blade slightly forward. this slight angle will make it easier for the new piece to butt cleanly to the cut. Using a small chisel and hammer, I slid the cut piece out.

Installing the patch is pretty straight forward. Starting at the side with the tenon, I simply cut and blind nailed several places along the tenon on of each slat. The last slat I removed the bottom lip of the tenon and planed the width to fit the last slot. I then inserted the tenon side  and using a thin scraper on the mortise side to pry and help slide  the final piece into place. It’s ready fro sanding and finishing which we hope to get to next weekend.


Splashing back

06th March 2011


I have designed 4 tile jobs in the past two years and helped with 2 others.  So, I think I’m getting some decent experience with tile and I love it.

Tile can change a look so dramatically and so fast!

This back splash was driving Dave crazy.  He just could not see my vision and how it would blend into this kitchen.

As you can see it turned out well.

Again it all goes back to planning, measuring, planning, mock ups and planning.

I think it all paid off.

Here is how the prep work goes.

I pre-cut as much as I can.  There are always special cuts you cannot make until you get there.

Spacers are so important.  Have plenty.

Grout and caulk come in so many colors now! You can use them as compliments to your design or to contrast.  I just love playing with the color options.

This is the last of the kitchen tile work.  We will move the air vent that is in the spot where the stove should be.

Here is the next project!  Can’t wait to get there!!!!!

Laminates  are one of the quickest, easiest, and most economical ways to upgrade counter tops. With a little planning, basic DIY skills, and the right tools a first timer can get excellent results. The basic tools required are a circular saw with fine tooth blade, router/trimmer with carbide trim bit, a couple of hand  files, large framing square,  fine tooth hack saw blade. The materials required are the laminate sheets, contact cement, brush, and masking tape.

Once you have selected the style of laminate you want, the next step is lay out. Laminate sheets are available in a variety of lengths and widths. Common sizes are:

4’ x 8’     3’ x 6’     3’ x 8’        3’ x 10’    3’ x 12’    4’ x 8’        4’ x 10’    4’ x 12’    5’ x 12’

However you should check to see what sizes are available before you finalize the layout. Measure the length,width, and depth of the counter top using a large square.  Make sure to measure for the longest distance of any dimension and add an inch or more for overhang and scribing for out of square walls.  If possible I try to cover the entire counter without joints, unfortunately this is rarely possible for a variety of reasons.  When a  joint is needed, I attempt to align the seam in a manner that it will show the least.  One way would be to locate the seam in the middle of a sink or stove cut out.  The advantage here is that the seams will be much smaller than if it spanned the entire depth of the cabinet. The disadvantage is that the seam could fail if not sealed properly. Another method is to locate the seam longitudinally to your main source of light or vision. This would be either inline with a window (source of light) or in line with the longest dimension of your room. You could also do a diagonal joint in corners, however they would be longer and more difficult to accomplish. With all this said I usually layout my sheet to minimize waste. Here is the layout I used for this project.
Cutting the large unwieldy sheets is the most difficult part of installing a laminate counter top. I have learned a few techniques that help a great deal though. I start with a piece of oriented strand board for my cutting top. Since I used this for the counter top substrate, I  had several scrap pieces laying around already, but if not, I would have gone o the local lumber yard and get one. For under $5.00 you can insure straight accurate cuts, have a clean level cutting surface, and minimize errors and waste in cutting the laminate sheet. Another technique I have learned is to turn the saw blade backwards in the saw. Extreme caution is advised here, but it can work quite well. Cutting with the back of the blade minimizes chipping. In some ways it is more of a melting process than a cutting process, however I have managed much cleaner cuts this way.

I begin by cutting the end strips from both sides of the large sheet. The reason for this is that by using a factory edge, an accurate square cut is ensured and this edge can be used as a finished edge. I use the factory edge as the underside of the cabinet edge. as long as you place it accurately, you will not have to trim the underside. It is much easier to trim the top edge than it is to trim the bottom edge near corners and walls. I simply lay the laminate sheet on the plywood, line up the edges and use the saws built in rip fence to cut the strips. The blade depth is set just deep enough to the laminate. As long as I cut carefully the weight of the laminate sheet is enough to keep it from moving. I have always got very accurate cuts using this method


At any joint a completely straight and clean cut is required. I use a couple of c-clamps, and a level as a straight edge to cut my seams. One added precaution is to place tape on both sides of the cut. This will protect the surface from scratches caused by the heal of the saw and reduce chipping

Once all of the pieces are cut dry fitting the cut pieces will show if further trimming is required. On this project the wall on the right of the cabinets was so far out of square there was about a 3/4 inch gap in the middle. I began by placing both top pieces on the counter, butting the two together, then running a small 3/4 block of wood with a pencil in front scribed the contour of the back wall. Since we will be putting up a tile back splash, this cut did not have to be extremely accurate or clean so I cut at the pencil line free hand with the circular saw.

The gluing process is fairly straight forward. Starting with the sides, I brush an even coat of contact cement on the counter top and laminate strips. Once the contact cement has dried to the touch on both, I carefully position the factory edge of the strip along the bottom of the cabinet face. The good news is that once the strip is applied, you can immediately trim the top flush with the router. I use a fine tooth hack saw blade to trim the last couple of inches close to walls where the router stops.  Then I run a file flat across the top to make sure the strip is perfectly flush.

The top is applied almost in the same way. I’ve found the quickest way to glue the top pieces is to pour the contact cement directly from the can, and spread a thin  even coat with a pieces of scrap laminate, somewhat like a squeegee. Not only is this method quicker, it also can produce a much more even coat. Brushing large areas with contact cement can get a little tricky since it starts to dry immediately and begins to gum up on the surface. Once both surfaces are dry I place scrap strips of quarter round on the surface of the counter top before I place the laminate on top. This allow me to control how and when the two glued pieces make contact. Once the laminate is exactly where I want it I begin removing the quarter round strips one at a time and press the pieces together. Extra special care is required to butt the seam together.

Trimming the top is a little more difficult. One trick i have learned is to stick masking tape along the side of the cabinet where the trim bit roller bearing makes contact. This will prevent scarring by the bearing and also move the cutting blade a few millimeters away from the edge. It is possible that the trimmer blade will scar and remove potions of the laminate face if not very careful.

The final edge detail is done with a mill file. I prefer to use a course file to quickly take of the bulk of the remaining edge and finish with a finer mill file to create a smooth edge. I leave the tape on the edges until after filing the edges to help protect them. Careful attention must be take to exactly how much edge you are taking off and at what angle. You can easily remove the face of the laminate if not careful. Once the filing is done, remove the residual glue and tap with acetone and a soft cloth. I also like to use a counter top cleaner/polish to finish the job, however it is not requires

Kitchen Lights

20th February 2011


The kitchen came with a “boob light” and a bar of tract lights.

It looked awful and just didn’t go well.  Then boob light is OK, but just too plain.  The tract lighting looked like something out of an 80’s disco!  Not appropriate at all.

We lucked into the upgrades for the first floor lighting fixtures at Sutherland’s but the kitchen needing more illumination than the upgraded light would provide.

Dave came up with the idea for some recessed lighting.  It’s economical and very effective.

We should be replacing the boob light soon, but just the recessed light made such a huge difference!

These photos show the new kitchen light, the newly stained cabinets, the new recessed lights, and the new counter tops!

Lot’s of work is starting to come together!

Tile Mania

20th February 2011


I’ve been going crazy trying to keep the cost of the kitchen back splash down, and still have a classy, appealing and complimentary tile job.

It has to match and be just busy enough to catch your eye, but not so noisy that it yells “LOOK AT ME!!!”.

With the rich golden brown of the oak cabinets and the very dark rich brown counter tops, of course my back splash was going to have to lighten up the show for some contrast.

I have planned, measured, planned, measured, did mock ups with paper cut outs, and planned and measure again.  Laying out tile plans with an Excel spread sheet helps me get started.  Then I actually cut out paper and do a tape up my pattern.  After I work out a fit that I like, I go shopping for what is available at a reasonable price.

I found these at Home Depot.  The 6″ square are very reasonably priced and I find them so interesting when put in the diamond pattern.  I owe my friend Erin a big thank you for introducing me to using tiles in this configuration.  It’s a lot of work, but very appealing.

The 2″ square come in sheets of 24 pieces (12″ square).  They were the one’s that ran my budget up.

The 6″ cost under $.72 per tile, the 2″ cost right at $3 per square foot.  However, that is a bargain for 2″.  The others cost about $5 per square foot and on up to much more.

Not including thin set and grout my back splash will cost about $130 for the hole kitchen.

I can’t wait to start!

He always forgets the details

12th February 2011


The yard was a complete disaster.  The house was so cute, but it was covered up with the horrid lawn.  There was a dead tree front and center…diseased, overgrown shrubs covered the front windows, and the box elders were in such a bad position that they were more box than elder.

Everything that was dead or diseased was removed.  The rest was moved into bordered garden spots, and a front patio was added to cure a bad drainage area!

When the Dust Settles!

12th February 2011


Saw dust was flying everywhere! We just about have all of the wainscoting in the dining room and all of the trim set up in the kitchen.

We have to wait until our custom windows get at Home Depot to finish up the trim in the dining room.  Even with the old window in place it’s beginning to take shape.

The bar / hutch is fixed and ready for laminate.  Dave said tonight that he is planning on recycling some of the windows we are removing and putting glass doors on the front of the hutch.  That should dress things up nicely!

The trim Dave made is fitting in wonderfully.  It’s just a double bull nose with the top being wider but it looks like a very unique one piece chair rail when installed.

We tossed and turned about how to trim out the kitchen window.  At first I thought sheet rock and a narrow window trim.  There is so little room between the window and the oak cabinets that we opted to try a wide oak trim that spans the total area.  As you can see, it is working wonderfully and adds a continuity to transition from cabinet to window and back to cabinet.

The previous owner left the cabinets going nowhere on the wall for the stove and refrigerator.  They just didn’t leave anything to anchor  the vent or to add to the symmetry.  We knew it looked unbalanced and tossed out many thoughts.  There are 2 doorways in the area and it is a bit crowded.  Dave came up with the solution to round the corners on the the cabinets and it works so well.

We started to try to cut back the cheesy looking counter tops to prep them for new laminate, but found out quickly we will be replacing it.  It was cut badly to begin with and we just don’t have enough area at the sink to make it work.

Before he left tonight Dave put a coat of primer on all of the wainscoting to get it closer to ready to paint!

I have created my back splash pattern and have made a template to see how it will work……………..OMG.  I love it………I will show you more on this topic next time!

Let there be lights!

07th February 2011


Sutherland’s was having a clearance.  And what a great clearance.  I was so excited, just like a little kid turned loose with $20 dollars in a dime store!  I found matching lighting for all of the first floor rooms, including the bathroom!

I saved about 75% and found lighting that exceeded my expectations.


07th February 2011


This weekend we busted our bottoms on the ice (Blizzard 2011) and on the dining room.  I had some good ideas to use poplar and a router bit  and mdf to keep the cost down,  but add some authentic trim to walls in the formal dining area.

Of course, I have the good ideas and Dave is the genius that makes it work!  He did a whole lot of cutting, planing, routing and sanding.  I did a little bit of measuring, nailing and gluing.

We should get it knocked out next weekend and we will post the pictures!

Finding good deals on building supplies is exciting. A recent trip to a local lumber store “bone yard” netted us a brand new direct vent fireplace insert for $150.00 and a decent deal on the exact cabinet hardware Carri was looking for. We jumped on these deals immediately, however there were some hidden costs. First of all, the insert was slightly larger than the existing  opening, so modifications to the fireplace are needed.  Secondly, the cost of the flue and cap will be more than the cost of the insert.  Along with adding a blower and redoing the hearth the final cost will more than triple, but the finished product will be a great addition.

The previous owner had already started redoing the fireplace. They added some tile on the mantel and  hearth, but it was poorly  done so I didn’t hesitate pulling it up. To make the insert fit I had to remove  the entire hearth which consisted of the top layer of tile, a layer of 2 inch slate and a mud bed. In addition, I removed the first layer of fire brick from the floor of the the fireplace which gave me enough clearance to slide in the insert. I still need to relieve the edges on the sides so that it will slide back a inch or two further, but it will work. The only problem is that I will need to construct the hearth so that it can removed easily in case the insert ever needs to be removed for service. I’ll work out all of the details after the flue pipe and blower are delivered. Once installed, Carri will dress up the exterior with marble tile or something to finish it off.

I had gone as far as possible on the fireplace so I went on to other projects.  One evening earlier in the week, I had mudded the sheet rock  so  it was ready to be sanded. There was just the  edge bead around the dining room, a ceiling patch in the kitchen, a patched hole from moving  a light switch box, and a skim coat over the dings created while removing the wall paper. Compared to the amount of sheet rock work on our past reno’s it was nothing. I’ll still need to do some work on the laundry/pantry, but that will wait until the end of this project.  Once the dust cleared Carri stopped her work on the removing staples from the floor and we finalized our plans for finishing the dining room.  We  set up the hutch/bar base and began adding the base of the wainscot. Once the base was installed we were able to dry fit the rails and styles to get an idea of where we we going with it. We held off on permanently installing them  until we are ready to trim them out.

We got a lot done on Saturday. It couldn’t have been a nicer day.  A sunny 70 plus  degrees in January was a pleasant surprise but unfortunately it wouldn’t last. The next morning was overcast, windy, and cold. Not the best conditions for replacing the last three windows we had on hand, but then I was getting used to it. The good news was that the process went from three hours for the first window to under 40 minutes for the last.  Once the last window was in, I began to do the final caulking on all of the windows. The first two windows went quickly, but half way through the third the caulk had begun to thicken due to the cold and the cardboard tube split open. I changed tubes and it split open almost immediately.  That was enough for the day. The windows would have to wait another week. If everything goes well the final eight windows will be delivered this week and I can continue next weekend, weather permitting. The weather forecast for the week doesn’t look good though. I plan on spending my free time in the evenings in the garage working on the millwork for the wainscot and cabinets. I’ll have plenty of options on projects I can work on next weekend. It will be nice to actually finish a project. I’ve started about a dozen and finished none, but at least things are getting done.

Getting Started. Weekend One.

24th January 2011


Starting a renovation during the holidays, not to mention winter in general isn’t easy. We have had the house for almost a month and haven’t done much physical labor on the place. We’ve done a lot of cleaning, measuring, planning, and buying materials, but little renovation work. That changed this weekend!

I got an early start on Saturday. It was too cold to do mud drywall or paint anything so I started looking for other things to do. I decided to finish the crown molding above the kitchen cabinets.  The cabinets were already there when we bought the house. They were basic off-the-shelf unfinished oak cabinets from Lowes. We decided to give them a customized look with some oak crown molding. This part of the morning went smoothly. I’m adding a few custom cabinets to the bank of cabinets where the range, vent hood and refrigerator go so I wasn’t able to finish the entire kitchen, but I really like how everything was beginning to look.

Carri wanted to add a sit in eating area to the kitchen. We decided to remove a section of dividing wall between the kitchen and dining room and add a bar. I pulled off some the sheet rock to see how it could be done. We really got lucky here. There was a laminated header header spanning the full length of the divide. All I had to do was remove the sheet rock and a couple of  studs and finish off the opening. This went very quickly. There was no framing required. I simply sheet rocked the opening and added metal corner bead. It was too cold to mud the opening so I went on to another project.

We already had purchased some of the replacement windows. Lowes had a sale  on some of their stock windows so I got what I could there. They stock very few sizes so my options were limited. I was able to buy 6 3×4.5 Energy Star rated replacement windows for the  living room and back bedroom and one 3×3 for the kitchen. Even though these were replacement windows I would still need to re-frame the opening since they were not an exact fit. It would be a little bit more work, but the 20% plus savings made it worthwhile. I finished off the day by starting to replace the kitchen window. I was short a  few tools so I tacked it in temporarily and called it a day.

Sunday started off with finishing  the kitchen window and starting on the living room windows.  Each window went a little quicker, but getting started was slow. The brutal cold didn’t help much either. I was finishing up the second living room windows when Carri stopped by to make the final decisions on the kitchen layout. We didn’t finalize the plan but we got a little closer. I’ll spend the rest of the week working on the custom cabinets at home and have them ready next weekend. All in all it was a productive weekend. Nothing is finished but a lot of projects are underway. Everything will fall together before I know it.




20th January 2011


The past 2 weeks we have been measuring, planning and buying the materials for the renovation.

We decided to go ahead and replace the windows.  We found 7 that are stock and had to order 9 more custom.

The house has one full bath upstairs and the tub is place under a slope due to the pitch of the roof.  The former owner had tiled the walls, but only up to the slope. I want to finish tiling the roof area because it is very likely to get wet when the shower is used.  Matching tile can be near impossible, but I came up with a solution.  I’ll replace the accent tiles with a more neutral accent tile and replace the tiles above that with tiles that compliment the lower walls.  I’m going to use the same accent tiles for the edge trim it ought to look great!

We are going to stain the oak cabinets in the kitchen with a “pecan” colored stain. They’ll be a light golden brown when finished.  I chose a dark brown laminate for the counter tops that has a random gold pattern and I’ll be using cream colored subway tiles for the back splash.  We have found almond colored ceramic knobs for the cabinets.  It should look very inviting!

The realty market conditions in Tulsa where a a low point when we put the last property up for sale. The government rebate had expired, people were still cautious about the economy, and houses were just not selling. We only had the house on a market for a month when we decided to rent it out. The good news was that we rented it the first day we advertised on Craigs List. It turned out to be a great decision. In the six months since we rented it, none of the comparables in the area have sold. All of them  are still sitting with for sale signs, even with reduced prices. We found good renters and are very happy with the decision.

The bad news is our capital was tied up in the rental property.  We were somewhat limited to how we could finance a next project. Under the current banking market, loans on rental properties are quite tight. Since this is our first rental property we don’t  have enough track record for a banks to loan us the full value of the rental. A retail loan was possible, but only for half of what we originally paid for the house, since we had it less than a year. We finally went with a small commercial loan with a 3 year balloon to finance the next project. The rental income will easily service the loan and allow us to continue. This will give us three years to sell one of our properties. I’m confident this will happen, although we could easily pay off all borrowed funds in the next 10 years with rental income from the next project house.

Since our funds were limited we looked in a new direction. We ended up purchasing a Fannie Mae property at national auction. This property had been on the market for close to 6 months before they put it up for auction. This isn’t a typical auction though. Before the auction begins,  Pre-Sale bids are accepted a week before the auction, then they take actual auction bids for about 12 days. However it is nowhere close to over after the auction ends. Once it ends, post auction bids are accepted. If you are the high bid then you begin negotiations with Fannie Mae until an a preliminary agreement  is made. Once you get to this point you need to prove to Fannie Mae that you have the funds available to purchase the property and you have to give them other information about who you are and what you plan to do with the property. Only then will they actually look at your bid. That’s the government way.

In our case we placed a bid on the property. We were outbid in the last hour of the auction. We made a post auction bid which the previous high bidder did not counter. This bidder also had bids on other properties at the time. We had to wait 10 days for the post auction bids to end. No other bids were offered, so a preliminary acceptance was given. We submitted a buyers contract, proof of funds, personal information; and then waited. At this point we were confident that we had won the property, but this wasn’t the case. Since there was a Pre-Sale offer and other criteria was or wasn’t met, our bid was rejected. Fannie Mae requested a “Best and Final” offer which we submitted and it was eventually accepted. The whole nail biting process took about a month. Once the offer was accepted we closed three days later. This was very much a “wait to hurry up situation.”

Not sure exactly what we plan to do with the exterior. It has nice curb appeal as is, but improvement will happen. We will need to add a deck to the french doors on the back and do some minor repairs.

This is what the living room looked like when we got it. The floors and windows need to be redone but it is in pretty good shape. Carri would like to put stained glass in the upper window pain on the front window and maybe in other places around the house.

The tile is peel and stick on top of oak. We will refinish the oak floors and add wainscot around the walls.

The previous owner had started on the kitchen. We will finish it by adding crown molding, stain and finish the cabinets, and open the doorway to the right. We plan to add a bar in its place.

The stairs have oak treads but they have been painted. We will sand and finish the treads and add an oak handrail.

The bedroom floors and woodwork, and windows will be redone.

The main tasks will be renovating the windows. At the moment we plan on removing all of the sashes, restore them to original condition and re-install, but that could change. We already have the pier company scheduled to stabilize the chimney. We are really excited about this project. We plan to do a track the development here on the blog as well as add a few Hot-to videos. Sign up for the live feed or track us on Facebook. Hope we can make the experience interesting to others.

Interior Renovation

12th January 2010


Prepping the interior was pretty straight forward. We removed all of the existing carpet. The carpet in the living room was glued to the slab so that was a bit of a chore but manageable. The kitchen had been tiled fairly recently but there were severe stress cracks so we decided to pull it up also. The good news was we were able to recycle the tiles and redo the master bath floor, repair the entry tile , and continue the entry tile into the closet. I also removed about 8 feet of wall between the kitchen and living area. All in all everything went without a hitch.

With the entire house gutted, I was able to spray paint almost the entire interior in two days. I had to paint the two baths by brush and roller, but everything went quickly. We replaced the master bath vanity with a small pedestal sink and added an oak medicine cabinet, and repaired the pocket door which had . With the new tile (recycled from the kitchen) the half bath looked very nice.

The full bath need a little renovation also. We removed the bullnose from the top of the tile and extended the tile the rest of the way up to the ceiling with an accent in between. We also replaced the tile on the wall with the faucet and shower due to deteriorating backing. We resurfaced the vanity and added an oak frame around the plate glass mirror and added new cabinet doors.

The kitchen was the biggest renovation on this entire project. We started by laying a Ditra clone decoupler before setting the tile. According to the manufacturer this will put a stop to future stress cracking. Carri did some a detailed tile  backsplash and we finished the kitchen with new laminate counter top and new cabinet doors and drawer faces.

The final steps were to lay new carpet and pad throughout the house. We also painted the brick firplace and added a built in oak book case and an oak mantle.

From start to finish it took a little over 12 weeks, approximately $12,000 in materials with no great surprises. The place looked great and was ready for market.

One More Time

11th January 2010


After the nightmare we experienced with the last Sheriff’s auction we decided to go a different route. Since we had established a relationship with a real estate agent we decided to see what she could do for us. We began looking at HUD and Fannie Mae properties for our next deal. Our agent placed bids on a half dozen promising properties for us. Unfortunately for us as investors, our bids we were always placed behind owner occupant bids; even though we had high bid several times. We learned a lot about bidding on HUD and Fannie Mae properties. I could do an article on each property we bid on, but that will have to wait for now. We eventually went with  a bank owned (REO) just a few block away from one of the HUD house we were bidding on.

The house had been on the market for a little over 6 months. The interior was in bad shape, a new roof would be required, and once again there were noticeable foundation settling problems. In spite of the defects there was a lot going for this place.  For a small house (1050 square feet) it was laid out very nicely. It had 3 decent size  bedrooms with a half bath in the master. The kitchen was small, but by removing the wall between the kitchen and living room, we could create a nice open layout. The exterior was full brick with some interesting architectural details not found in other houses in the neighborhood. We later discovered that the home was the neighborhood builder’s showcase model.

Originally, the bank was asking $74,000, but by the time we placed our offer the asking price was reduced were at 57k. We began with an offer of 50,000; they countered at 55. We countered their offer at 53, they came back at 54.5. We held firm and a day later they accepted our 53,000. We took possession the end of May.

Within two weeks after we had possession we had seven foundation piers installed and had started on the roof.  The roof was a little worse off than expected. About half of the  decking needed to be replaced, and the style of roof required a lot more materials than anticipated, but. We had the entire exterior of the place finished in less than a month. The foundation and roof were sound, decayed wood around the fascia and sofit were replaced and the entire exterior was painted.  The interior was next.

Renovation at Last

11th January 2009


It took much longer than we ever could have imagined, but we had utilities, foundation piers installed, new roof, new garage door and the exterior was painted, we were ready to start on the interior. The interior was a good new / bad news situation. The good news, crown molding throughout the house, uncompleted custom cabinetry in the kitchen, bath and den, 12 x 12 floor tile in 3/4 of the house, and an uncompleted utility room. The bad news included, the bath with one entire wall would need to be gutted, wall paper several layers thick needed to be removed from most of the house, a lot of sheet rock repair was required also.

We started with the bath. The wall between the master bedroom and bath had extensive wood rot and need to be replaced. Since we would start from scratch we decided to leave out the door to the master bedroom, and create another closet out of the alcove in the master. The renovation was pretty straight forward other than replacing the wall. We tiled the batch surround, added a new vanity with solid surface sink. The tub and toilet where left but we upgraded the faucets and shutoffs.


There wasn’t anything out of ordinary for the bedrooms other than sheet rock repairs. It was a simple matter of repair and paint and carpet.



The living and dining area renovation weren’t difficult either. There was a lot of sheet rock damage but nothing out of the ordinary.

The kitchen was a lot of work. all of the cabinet doors need to be replaced. Fortunately we were able to reuse the raised panes and with new rails ans stile. It save a lot of time in the lay out and construction. The previous owner had started a new section of cabinet but they were far from complete. They were constructed with cabinet grade pine and raised panel rail and style doors. The profile was a little different than the original cabinets but by painting all of the cabinets and replacing the laminate counter top and tile back splash they looked like a good match. We made some modifications to the layout of the new cabinets. We extended the counter top out about 5 feet to make a bar area. The cabinet was very functional with a large amount of cabinet and drawer space along with a large counter area. We were very happy with the final results.



The utility was the last interior room we did. This was another room the previous owner had started but failed to finish. There was a lot of sheet rock work to do. We put a new1/4 skin over the entire ceiling and completed and patched the rest of the walls. We added a new water cut off and drain for the washer, and added an exterior vent for the dryer. There were some very nice corner cabinets above the washer and dryer area which we reused, and a long shelf with coat rack on another wall. All we had to do was repaint them. The only minor problem in the room was finding a door to fit the hot water heater. Orignally it had a plywood door when it was in the garage. It wasn’t a standard size door. I ended up cutting down a 24 inch hollow core door and re built the interior support.


With the interior 90 plus percent done we would start on the workshop. We were beginning to see a light at the end of the renovation tunnel.

Cleaning Up

11th January 2009


Once we had right to enter the property, we thought we could get started. WRONG! On first inspection we noticed about a dozen or so syringes and other suspicious finds. We called the police. An officer arrived and went through the house removing dozens of used syringes, and various stashes of what he believed to be illicit narcotics. He was interested in looking through the workshop in the back but there were still 3 dogs fenced in the back yard. We were to call him back if we found other suspicious activity in the back building.

At this point I decided the best thing for me to do was to hire a company to remove everything in the house to storage and have the previous owner pay for the clean up and storage, or sell the contents at auction to pay for it. Great idea, but due to the enormity of the trash, the danger of being stuck by a contaminated needle, it would have simply cost much more than I could ever get for the property. The cost of the eviction, and the delay in gaining access to the property was already costing us more than we had counted on so we went another route. We made arrangements with family members of the previous owner for them to remove his personal property. The agreement was that they would pick up the dogs immediately, and remove everything from the house within a week. We would allow them to use the workshop in the back as storage for 30 days. In return they would pay for a 30 cubic yard dumpster and clean up the trash. They were not to just take the things of value and leave the trash. The previous owner, himself, was not to return to the property personally. It seemed like a fair agreement. That wasn’t how it turned out though.

It would take another month for the the Dad and brother of the previous owner to move out everything they wanted to get. The first day, they brought a U-Haul and took the most valuable thing from the house. At the end of the long first day the father told me that they had everything out of the house they wanted except for stuff in the garage. They would come back the next day and finish the garage and then over the next few weeks clean out the workshop. It was more than a week before I heard from them again. Over the next few weeks they made several trips back to the house to pick up the motorcycles and power tools left in the garage and shop. They made no attempt to pick up any more of the trash. To add insult to this situation, about 3 weeks into this ordeal, the house was broken into and some of the things left behind were taken along with many of my tools and supplies. I called the dad to let him know of the break in and let him know the police were investigating. That was the last I heard from any of the family, although the previous owners escapades would continue to haunt this renovation.

The dumpster was filled to the brim the first 2 days of the clean up and it hardly looked like we had made a dent in the mountain for garbage. After we had the dumpster picked up, we began to fill my little 4 x 8 trailer. Over the next several months we would fill that trailer 21 times and take it to the dump. Some of this was construction debris, but for the most part it was trash left in and around the house. During the first week of clean up we discovered the city Nuisance Abatement office was in the process of filing a claim against the previous owner. I contacted the city inspector and told them I was now the owner and would clean up the mess. Since ownership had changed hands, he said he would have to start over with the notices so I would have a little more time to comply. It was close but we got everything cleaned before the final inspection.

It had been more than 2 months since we got deed to the property and we still hadn’t started on the renovation. The legal and clean up cost were also a surprise. Initially we intend to have the property back on the market within 3-4 months. After getting to the point where we could actually begin to plan out the renovation. From what we could determine, we would need to replace the carpeting in the 3 bedrooms, gut and redo the bath, install 7 foundation piers, replace the roof, repair driveway, finish updating the HVAC that had been removed for some reason, rework the kitchen cabinets, and paint the entire house inside and out along with the exterior of the workshop. This was a lot more than we expected, but there were other surprises awaiting us also.


Can’t really tell how bad it is from this photo but the bath will need to be redone
CrackThis was the only sign on the exterior of foundation problems. It will take 7 piers to correct

shed porch

Nightmare on L-Street

11th January 2009


Over the last year or so, we’ve heard countless horror stories of families losing their homes in foreclosure due to unscrupulous lending practices, losing jobs to the poor economy, or catastrophic illness causing financial hardship. This is NOT one of those stories.

The confirmation hearing was set for 3 weeks after the auction. During this time it became apparent that someone was still living in the house. On several drive by’s we noticed cars, motorcycles, and a flatbed trailer come and gone. On one occasion, we noticed a faint light shining through the front window. At this point we weren’t too worried, we assumed the previous owners were in the process of moving out. We did some more research and discovered the owners had divorced within the previous 2 years so we assumed the wife and kids had custody of the house. We began to worry that we would be part of one of those stories where a single mom and her 3 kids were kicked to the street. Once again this is NOT one of those stories, however it is equally as sad.

The confirmation hearing went without a hitch on Tuesday morning. Wednesday afternoon, I went to the Sheriffs Office to pick up the deed just as I did the year before. It turned out that they had made some procedural changes, and I would have to wait a couple of days. We decided to wait until we had the deed before we attempted to enter the property, but we kept a very close watch on the property in the mean time.

I finally got the deed recorded that Thursday and immediately went to the property. I had written up a letter introducing myself and partner to the current resident. I explained that we now owned the property and would be happy to assist them in the transition. The letter requested that whoever was living there call us to let us know how we could help. While placing the letter in the door, a neighbor happened to be leaving her house. I went over and introduce myself and handed her a business card. She informed me that a single man lived in the house. She let me know how unhappy her family was with the previous owner. It would take me another couple of weeks to find out the scope of the neighbors complaints.

On Sunday I received a call from the previous owner. He gave me a hard luck story, which I knew to be untrue, and asked for a few weeks to move out. I told him that I would give him a week, as long as he kept me informed on his progress. Over the next few days it became apparent he was making no attempt to move out so I began to research the eviction process. I decided I would need the assistance of an attorney. I’ll skip the details on the eviction process, but hiring an attorney was definitely the way to go. I had an judgment several weeks later and finally had access to the property. Entering the property for the first time was a complete shock. I leave it with that said and just show a few picks. The picts really don’t give a clue to the enormity of the trash and filth but it is a start.


This was actually one of the better rooms.


This was another room I could get to. There were other areas of the house that it would take over a week to move enough trash where I could inspect the room.



Neighbors told me that they had not been able to use there back yards for 2 years due to the stinch and mosquitoes. The city had started proceedings to get the place cleaned up but the process was slow. We would get the yard cleaned up as soon as possible to avoid paying the impending fines as well as to please the neighbors.

It’s been almost a year since I completed my last home renovation. Overall I’ve been very happy with the results. It was a lot of work, but I learned a lot and in the end I’ll be able to sell the property for much more than I’ve put into it. It is time to do another. However, this time I decide to bring in some help. My girlfriend, Carri, and I formed a company Cord Renovation to continue with renovating foreclosures.

The process for finding a property went just about the same as the last. The Sheriff’s sales are posted a month in advance so there is plenty of time to research a property. Once I had a copy of the list, I could do drive by inspections for the next 4 weeks of sales in an afternoon. Once prospective properties were identified, I would look at the recent comparable sales come up with a figure I would bid up to. From that point, it was just a matter of waiting. Waiting for the weekly auction, and then the for the buying opportunity. One big change this go around involved using cell phones to participate in the auction. The Tulsa auctions allow proxies to bid, so it is possible to sit at home or in the office and follow each auction on an assistants cell phone. I could hear everything and give instructions if necessary, but mainly I just listened. This method worked fine, but I happened to attend the auction for the property I ended up with.

Out of the hundreds of listing over a 10 to 12 week period, a mere dozen or so looked promising. Out of those few, about half of them were recalled the morning of the auction. The few that I was able to bid on went far past my bidding target, usually by the mortgage company. However, during one auction a property I had overlooked came up NO/Bid No/Sale, which meant it would come back up again in six weeks or so. I would be ready when it did.

I went the the No Bid property immediately after the action. It looked very promising. It was a 3 bedroom, 2 car garage, brick house in a nice neighborhood in East Tulsa. It was definitely the worst house on the block but it had potential. I could easily see that it needed a new roof, new driveway, paint and massive clean up, but the structure appeared to be in good shape, with the added bonus of a large two story barn shaped out building. I took a few pictures and went back to my office to gather more information.

A property that no one would bid on should have raised some major red flags, but the more data I gathered the better and better it looked. On paper it looked like the deal of the century. The foreclosure appraisal was $75,000, with an opening bid of $50,000. A comparable sale just 4 doors down recently sold for $92,000 and another a half block away was on the market for $102,000. My preliminary cost analysis for what it would take to renovate seemed a bit high but I believed I could do well with this project if I could get it near 52K.

The bidding was uneventful. The mortgage company opened at 50k, I countered with 50,100 and got the property. No one else bid. At this point I would normally leave but there happened to be another property later in the auction that I would have bid on if I was unsuccessful on the first. It was an equally promising opportunity. It was a nice small house in an older but trendy neighborhood. Only one person bid on it and got it for 47k. It is my guess that they would have continued to bid if I had countered so no telling what it would have gone for, but I may have let a very nice prospect slip away from me. I will never know.

Any way, We had our next property barring the chance that the current owner would get his account up to date or some other unforeseen complication

Another fixer upper, but all-in-all a nice starter home for some young coupleAnother fixer upper, but all-in-all a nice starter home for some young couple

Looking past the rubbish I saw great potential for a very nice shop.

Final Chapter: Book 1

11th January 2007


Once the place was nearing completion it was time to think about how to sell the place. After sitting down and figuring the total cost of the renovation and recent comparable sales in the are, I had a good idea on how much I would net on the sale. I soon discovered that that short term capital gains on the sale would eat into my profits significantly. It occurred to me that that I would be far better off selling the place I was currently living in. Basically, if you have lived in you main residence for at least 2 of five years, you are able to sell the property and exclude the gains up to $250,000. Of course their is much more to it than that but I definitely qualified for the exclusion. I decided to sell my existing home and move into the one just renovated.

I could start a whole new blog on my experiences with real estate agents, showing homes, home offers, staging home decor, closings and such but I will save it for a different time. I’ll keep it short and just say that it took me right at 3 months to close the deal, but considering the housing mortgage crisis we were in at the time, I did quite well. I sold for less than I had planned and there were a few minor setbacks but overall I’m satisfied with the outcome.

One drawback was that once I closed on the sale, I had to close the line of credit. One of the stipulations on the contract was that I had to live in the property as a primary residence. It is possible that I could have got a release on that term of the loan, but I decided to close it out. It would have been nice to keep the loan active and draw on it as soon as I found a new project , but instead I’ll start over scratch. I’ll most likely incorporate before I start the next.

I’m in the new place full time now. I’ll spend the next 2 years upgrading and finishing the home decor and such. I’ll have a much better idea of what to expect next time. I’m looking forward to the next project, but I’ll take a break for a bit.

Kitchen Reno

11th January 2007


The first thing I did was remove the old gas cook top (an uncommonly large 70’s model) and the built in oven. I replaced them both with a professional series gas range and a built in microwave cabinet. This would save me quite a bit of room. I lost the drawers under the oven, but gained several feet of counter top. At the same time I increased the size of the adjacent den/living room by 10-20 square feet. I moved the refrigerator surround over about 2 feet to gain this space in the living room. I had hoped to keep the original walnut stained plywood cabinets doors. I planned to sand and paint them. It probably would have worked out OK but I made so many changes to cabinet layout several of them no longer fit. The decorative routing would not allow me to resize them. I could have tried to duplicate them, but if I was going to all that trouble, I decided to go ahead and redo them all.


Once I decided to replace all of the cabinet doors I also decided to move the dishwasher. Moving it to the other side of the kitchen placed it closer to the sink as well as making it a bit more inconspicuous. I also gained a large drawer in that space so it was worth the effort. I then sanded and painted the face frames and shelves. I got stock sheet vinyl from Lowe’s for the counter top. I was able to get 2 sheets of 4×8 which was way too much material for less than what the right amount would have cost me to special order. I plan on using the excess to cover the under-sink shelves and will have some left over to cover work benches in the garage. The back splash design came directly from a home depot tile display. I chose it because I already had the white tiles left over from a previous bath remodel. All I needed were the colored tiles and the white trim pieces. The entire back splash cost less than $50.00.

The doors went together very quickly. I already had all of the tools needed from a previous kitchen remodel. All I had to buy was the wood. I had hoped to use the glass I saved from the sliding glass doors, to make the top row of doors, but the glass was tempered and could not be cut. I ended up using plywood for all of the doors. I went with poplar for the rails and styles and cabinet grade birch plywood for the panels Normally I would have used rock maple but I thought poplar would be easier to work with. It may have worked out that way, but I will most likely go back to maple the next time. The benefit of the small saving of time sanding the joints was lost on quality. maple machines much nicer than poplar. On the other hand poplar was less expensive so its a 6 of one type deal.


Once the kitchen was to this stage (first of May 2008) I started planning on selling the property. Technically I still had about 5-10% of the work left to do but the place looked completely habitable. In fact it was. Much of the remaining work involved decorating which I wouldn’t even attempt. Up to this point I kept everything rather simple. White walls and woodwork, safe colored tile etc. The kitchen back splash was the only decorating I had attempted and I kept it fairly simple. I would get help from others later who would supply some very interesting decorating ideas.


If I learned one thing since starting this project it that you need to be flexible in dealing with problems and situations as they arise. You need some basic knowledge and a plan but you need to adapt as you go along. I’ll explain more as I bring this adventure to an end in the remaining blog posts. Yes it will eventually end.


11th January 2007


Tiling the kitchen went quickly without incident. The tiles were uniform in size and cut easily. I used a good quality thin set (Versabond) to set the tiles and 5/16 inch spacers. I would make a couple of changes later though. I increased the path from the french doors and also added tile to the kick space. Once I had the tile grouted I was ready to lay carpet.

The carpet wasn’t as easy as the tile. It seems counter intuitive that the the carpet would be harder than tile but it was in my case. The first problem came from trying to nail down new tack strip. Most of the nails blew out the surrounding concrete. It didn’t matter what size the nails were small or large or how I hammered them down they all failed. Several internet sites had different ideas on how to do it but none of them worked for me. One idea was to drill and use plastic anchors. I found a better solution though. I drilled pilot holes and then used a slightly larger masonry nail and it worked perfectly every time. I did discover that a hammer-drill is actually much easier on carbide drills than high speed drills are. I went through my fist bit half-way through the first room. After switching to a small hammer drill I was able to complete the installation with just 2 more bits. At first I glued the strips before drilling, but quickly gave up that step. It just wasn’t necessary.


Installing the padding wasn’t any problem. I miscalculated on how much was required but that was easily solved by an extra trip the home center. Laying the carpet had it’s share of surprises though. When I walked into the garage for the first time I was surprised to see several huge rolls of carpet left by the previous owner. Two of the rooms had the same carpet already installed. There were some serious stains on the carpet in the bed rooms but I assumed it was from the kids that had been using the place as their club house. Other than the stains the carpet looked almost new. Not only that but it was a very high quality carpet. I rolled it up and stored it on top of the other rolls in the garage before I started the demolition work. I planned on cleaning it after re-installing it. I assumed the rest of the rolls were of equal quality. Boy was I wrong.

Reinstalling the cut pieces actually went pretty well. I would have to add pieces to do the closets but that was no problem. Once I had the two previously cut pieces laid I began to roll out the carpet that had been stored in the garage for the past few months. It turned out that the carpet was used. I’m guessing it came from some sort of show room because the pieces were enormous. Some of the carpet looked brand new while other parts were heavily worn. The previous owner must have selected a part of the carpet that had little wear for the 2 bedrooms. I still had to carpet one bedroom, the hall and the living room. The bed room wasn’t a problem. I was able to find a piece large enough out of the wear pattern. It was like new. The living room was a little more difficult. I cut out the largest piece I could of good carpet to fit most of the room. I would have to seam a strip on the side but at least it was all nice carpet. Doing it this way didn’t give me a low traffic piece big enough for the hall so I would have to splice a couple of pieces together. Once it was down it looked Ok but I will have to make some changes. I’ve decided to remove the carpet in the living room and re-use it in the hall. It will be plenty big enough to do the hall in one piece. I’ll lay hardwood or bamboo floor in the living room. Beside that a light tan carpet in the living area isn’t a good idea for me. It would be far too difficult to keep clean. The new floor will have to wait until the end though. It looks OK for the moment. I ended up taking a large trailer full of carpet scraps to the dump. I ended up using less than a third of the total carpet. Most of waht went to the landfill was the heavily worn areas though. At least part of it got recycled.


The place was finally beginning to look habitable. Still a lot to do but a lot had been done.

Coping with Carpentry

11th January 2007


The 70’s weren’t exactly the golden era of home building. From aluminum wiring to faux woodgrain vinyl on particle board woodwork to popcorn ceilings and swirling gold glitter faux marble, this place screamed 70’s. Except for some of the aluminum wiring all of that would soon be gone from this emerging new house. Just to emphasize the point, I offered some of the removed materials (interior doors, vanity top) that were still in good shape to the Habitat for Humanity Restore. All were refused except for the medicine cabinet and a set of drawer pulls. Everything else went to the landfill. I was afraid the landfill might even reject the stuff, but they took it all anyway.

I bought several contractor bundles of pre-primed baseboard and casement from Home Depot. It was very reasonably priced I thought. It is some of the softest wood I’ve ever come across. I’m not sure how well it will hold up over time, but it will look good for a while at least.

I began trimming the windows first. All of the windows were replaced and needed to be trimmed out. The original windows were trimmed with sheet rock. I don’t mind the way it looks, but I dont’ believe sheet rock is durable enough for window surrounds. I would trim them in plywood and wood molding. The fastest way for me to do it was to build the shells off the window and install as a single unit. It is much easier to get tight and square joints this way, or at least for me it is. After they are built it is a simple matter of sliding them in and shimming the sides and finish nailing the casement to the wall. There were 2 shells that I had to score the sheet rock and trim a bit to make fit, but it worked fine.


The windows trimmed out pretty quickly. The doors would take much longer. I replaced all of the interior doors with pre-hung 6 panel molded doors. 20 years from now, these may turn out to be the equivalent of the vinyl coated doors I replaced, but any way you look it they look much nicer than what was up before. I put together the mitered pieces of the casing and then tacked the assembled pieces to the jambs and walls. I trimmed the closet openings the same way. This helped keep the mitered corners good and tight and square. It worked well for me at least.

Finally it was time for the baseboards. I cheated here a bit. I recycled the vinyl coated simulated wood grain pieces in the closets. I painted them but I know good and well that paint will not stick. Who looks in the closets that closely anyway, I told myself. I replaced the rest of the baseboards though. The first couple of coped inside corners weren’t the best you will see, but with a little caulk to fill the gap and no one will ever know. By the time I got to the last coped corner it fit very snugly without the need for any caulk.

coping baseboards

I was finally ready for paint. Painting is not my favorite thing to do, but it was nice to begin to see a finished product. It was on to the floor next. I rather enjoy laying tile so I was looking forward to the next projects

Sheet Rockin’ Good Times

11th January 2007


For the most part the bath and entry were new construction as far as sheet rock goes. The real fun would start with the patching. I don’t think there was a wall in the entire place that didn’t need at least one patch. Not only were there a lot of patches to be done, there were countless previous patches that didn’t exactly blend in with their surroundings.

The ceiling had the typical 70’s popcorn texture. That was the first to go. Fortunately it’s a snap to remove. I used a garden sprayer to wet the popcorn and it slid right off the ceiling with a 12 inch taping knife. The next time I will go ahead and round off the knife corners. There were a few gouges that could have been avoided. The entire ceiling took less than 2 hours to clean. I just wish it went back up as easy.

The walls had a thick texture knockdown finish. I don’t like the look but it is there to stay. The real problem was that any place that was patched in thee last 25 years showed. Each patch had it’s own version of the knockdown texture. My solution was to make all of the repairs and then re-texture the entire house. I started with the ceiling. I knew I didn’t want to put the popcorn stuff back up but on the other hand I didn’t want to spend the time to completely rework the ceiling. I compromised by putting a thin knockdown (basically an orange peel) texture. I thinned regular joint compound to a consistency of thick soup and sprayed it on with a hopper sprayer. I tried several tools to knockdown the spray , but what I finally settled upon was a spray shield. It was a 2 x 3 piece of flexible plastic on a 2 foot wood pole. After letting the texture set on the ceiling for 5-15 minutes I would wipe the face of the shield over the semi-wet mud. I would make one short sweep and wipe off the excess and take another swipe. I used the same technique on the walls but varied the consistency of the mud. On new sheet rock or patches I used a heavier consistency to try and make it match the surroundings. I then went over the entire house with a thinner consistency. It really helped hide all of the patches. I basically had a top coat of the same texture throughout the house. I’m not going to tell you you can’t find the patches if you really tty, but looking over the wall casually you can’t tell new sheet rock and patches from the old.

I ended up spraying six gallon buckets of thinned mud on the walls. I finished them off with a light sanding and a coat of PDA primer. The top coat of paint would have to wait until all of the trim was up. Sheet rocking is hard messy work. Toting hoppers of mud isn’t much fun either. The worst was over. It was time for trim carpentry. I always enjoy that part of a renovation.

The Entry

11th January 2007


The previous owner had begun to do something in the front entry. I’m not sure exactly what they planned, but I knew it wasn’t what I wanted.

I decided to split the space near the front door for a closet in the bedroom and a coat closet for the entry.

At one time the door to the bedroom had been in the hall right next to the adjacent bedroom. I decide to move it closer to the front of the hall. I left the original door as is and would use it for the for the bedroom closet. I framed for a pocket door for the entry coat closet.

I had replaced the front door when I was doing the exterior so this project went pretty quick. On the other hand this was just the beginning of the sheet rock work. I finished the new sheet rock, tiled the floor, and installed a light and door bell. The painting would wait until I was ready to do the entire house though.

Best Laid Plans

10th January 2007


I would start with a blank slate in the bathroom. The vanity was made out of particle board with a man made marble top. The particle board had gotten wet many times and crumbled in my hands while removing it. The sink basin and top was Very 70’s yellow with swirls of gold glitter. Both had to go. The tub and shower surround where a green one piece molded fiberglass unit. While cleaning the tub I noticed a large crack in the floor of the tub. It turned out that the tub had not been leaking but it had to be replaced regardless. Once I had the tub surround out I discovered that over half of the wall behind the surround had not been insulated. I was glad I removed it. I would end up removing the small medicine cabinet and mirror also. It would be cleaned up and donated to the Habitat for Humanity Restore.

Once the bath was gutted, I was ready to go. I started by insulating the outside wall, dropped the ceiling 18 inches and insulated that also. I installed a steel tub and insulated around it too. I finished the rough in with hardibacker around the tub and fiberglass backed sheet rock around the rest of the bath. I recylcled the oak plywood recovered from the exterior and built that vanity shell. I took special care reworking the sheetrock around the plumbing. Over the years it had gotten pretty bad.

Installing the tile turned out to be a real adventure. I found a set of tile 6 inch, 12 inch, bull nose at Lowe’ that went with the accent tiles I bought tat the Habitat Restore. It was also the least expensive matched set that I could find there. It wasn’t exactly cheap but the price was in my budget. The plan was to do the ceiling in 6 inch, the surround in 12 inch with the accent strip and finished with the bull nose. The ceiling went up just fine, but after setting the third or fourth field tiles the trouble began.

It turned out that there were very large variations in the sizes of the 12 inch tile; as much as 3/16 inch difference between the smallest and largest. I had planned on a laying the tiles in a typical grid pattern with a 1/8 inch grout line. The 3/16 inch difference killed that idea. I switched to a running bond pattern so that the difference in grout line wouldn’t be quite as noticeable. Since I had already started I kept on going. I did my best to match the sizes by rows and more or less eyeballed the grout line. After setting the entire surround I decide there were about 5 or 6 tiles that were just too big. I went back to Lowe’s and found 6 more tiles that were close to the smaller sizes; chipped out the larger tiles and replaced them with the new ones. I compensated for the irregular tiles by filling the grout into the distressed edges. It made for a much larger grout line, but it also almost completely disguised the irregularities. It may not be everybody’s choice, but it looked OK to me. I believe I had bought tiles from several different runs from the manufacturer. Several of them were obviously returns, because they had what I thought was grout haze, but turned out to be thinset. It was very difficult to get them clean. I’ll know better next time. I should have had Lowe’s pull down a new pallet rather than take what they had on the shelf. Fortunately, the floor went down without problem and I was very happy with the overall final results.

Commercial Break

10th January 2007


Before recounting my adventures in renovating the interior, I thought I would take a short break and talk about buying materials. My goal has always been to make this house look as good as possible for the least amount of money possible. That meant I have had to become a comparison shopper to say the least. I’ll search the internet for deal s when possible but most of the supplies would need to be found locally. I would usually start with Lowe’s, Home Depot, Sutherland’s, and of course the Garbe website when warranted, then check the prices in person. For the most part Lowe’s and Home Depot sell comparable products for about the same price. In store sales could make a big difference when you could find them though.

I went with Lowe’s for doors (interior and exterior), windows, casement, baseboards, tub, and sheet rock. I purchased all of this with there 12 months no interest plan. I had to buy everything at once and have it delivered but it was definitely the way to go. I paid cash for all other purchases at Lowe’s so I haven’t paid any interest at all. Some of those monthly bills got pretty steep though.

I also re-discovered the local lumber yard. They have a much larger stock of lumber and plywood than the home centers. To my surprise I also found that their prices were actually equal and sometimes even lower. I purchased all of the siding, and cedar lumber to do the exterior at Millcreek Lumber.

One of the nicest surprises I found was at the local Habitat for Humanity Restore.
This is a store operated by the local Habitat for Humanity. They take donations of just about any construction materials you can think of and re-sell to the public. I bought all or most of the door knobs, light fixtures, faucets, tile accents, and vanity counter top there. The savings were overall pretty good. I replaced all of the interior knobs in the house with new satin nickel knobs for $3.00 a piece. I got several light fixtures for $5.00 a piece on their monthly special. These were lights that had been in their stock for a long time. All of the light fixtures were solid brass and very good quality, although a bit outdated. The vanity counter top was another steal at $20.00. The plumbing looked like a good deal on the surface but after rebuilding them they turned out to be not quite as good of a deal. The Moen kitchen and bath faucet I bought for $5.00 each actually cost me about $60.00 and $40.00 after replacing the cartridges, wand, and other missing components. A little high for a used faucet. They work well and look OK but I will probably go new next time. I also donated some of the materials worth recycling back to them. Any way you look at it, it is a win win situation.

Here are a few of the items I found at the Restore. Will keep going back looking for more bargains.

Now back to our regularly scheduled blog. Next up is renovating the bathroom.

Pink Houses

10th January 2007


All right, John Mellencamp thinks pink houses are “for you and me”, but really would you want to live in one. I didn’t. Pink siding and trim with orange brick may have worked in the 70’s but it was time for a change. Driving by you really couldn’t see the full scope of the deterioration of the place but you couldn’t help notice the pink pealing paint. Several of my neighbors stopped by to tell me how glad they were to see the place painted, and a different color.

The next few weeks were quite busy. I had to be able to work during daylight hours. Fortunately, I am self-employed was able to juggle my hours. I began to get up between 5:00 and 6:00 A.M each morning, walked across the hall to my home office and worked at my “day job.” I would stop between 12:00 and 1:00 to go over to the new house. Once it got dark I would go back to the office and finish my day. I only had about 3-4 hours of good sunlight each day on the best of days. January turned out to be a fairly mild month for Oklahoma so it wasn’t too bad. While the sun was shining I didn’t really care how cold it was. I kept so busy I didn’t really notice. On the overcast windy days, it was a different story though.

My original budget didn’t allow for much in the way of materials. At first glance it looked like all that was needed was a couple sheets of siding and a coat of paint. Not even close! It appears that when they did the roof in 2004, they replaced quite a bit of the fascia. The only problem was that they used untreated/unpainted pine boards. The untreated pine weathered to make it look like cedar, which through me off. After removing a couple of pieces I found a lot of rot. It turned out that I would end up replacing virtually all the fascia, about 50% of the soffet and about about a dozen sheets of 4×8 siding. I scrimped a bit by recycling some of the siding. I was able to cut out the rot on some of the large pieces and use it to patch the eaves and fill in the gap on top of the new garage doors. I could have replaced another 20 or so sheets but decide that could come later of necessary.

One nice surprise was a piece of plywood I removed from the roof of the porch. The previous owner had tacked it up to make a repair, but I wasn’t happy with it. To my surprise it turned out to be a 4×5 piece of cabinet grade oak veneer 1/2 inch unfinished plywood. Since it was protected under the porch, the weather didn’t hurt it much at all. I would eventually use this to replace the vanity cabinet in the bath.

I spent all January redoing the exterior. One of the biggest struggles I had was finding warm enough weather to paint. Exterior latex should not be applied in temperature under 50 degrees. Technically, the applied paint shouldn’t be subjected to temperature under 50 degrees for at least 24 hours, but I cheated there. I was able to paint one side immediately after replacing the siding fascia and soffet, but had to wait another 10 days to paint the next section. Anyway by the end of January I had the outside looking pretty good. All of the rotten wood was replaced, painted, guttered, and all new doors and windows were in. The inside was still a disaster but at least It looked good to the public.

Setting up shop.

10th January 2007


Most of the heavy demolition and cleaning had been done by the time the foundation was repaired. I had three to four weeks to kill before I could begin full scale renovation so I decided to begin to organize the garage. I built a long work bench from the plywood and 2×4 used to board up the doors and windows. After taking another load of junk to the dump it was time to assess the situation in the garage.

It was obvious that some repairs were required on the garage door. All of the windows were gone and several of the wood panels needed replacing. I had hoped to get a sheet of plywood and repair the existing doors but it would not work out that way. The doors were 9 feet wide x 8 feet high. I may have been able to find sheets of 4 x 9 x 1/4 inch plywood, but I began to think that it would be much more work than I wanted to do. New doors were the way to go this time. Lowes and Home Depot had 9 x 7 garage doors in stock but the 9 x 8 would have to be be special ordered. I had time to wait for delivery but there was a catch. The special order doors were almost twice as much as the stocked models. It appears that the in stock sizes are bought with quantity discounts that the price is kept very low. I decided to go with the smaller door and re-frame the door opening. The only extra materials required would be four nine foot 2×4’s to frame in the 1 foot gap on the top. I planned on using a section of the existing door as siding but that plan would change later. This way would save almost $400.00 so it was a no-brainer.

I decided to go ahead and install the garage doors. The tracks could always be adjusted if any settling did occur. Besides that it would let the neighbors know that the neighborhood eyesore was going away. I had replaced several garage doors before, but it had been so long it didn’t help much. Even though the instructions that came with the doors are geared towards the novice and do-it-yourselfer, it still took me the entire weekend to install the doors. The main stumbling block involved installing the brackets on the center steel post. It was much more difficult positioning and aligning the brackets on a curved surface, not to mention drilling through steel rather than wood. I also discovered another minor problem. Both sides of the garage were about 3/4 inch lower than the center post. The sides rested on foundation while the center post was mounted directly on top of the floating slab. The difference only showed up when the gap on top was framed in. A 3/4 inch drop over 9 feet is pretty noticeable. It wasn’t a big deal though I simply shimmed the 2×4 frame to compensate. Once covered with siding it looked fine.

There were a couple of old 1970’s Genie screw type garage door openers in the garage. I could only find a single transmitter and receiver, but I decided if I could get one working opener out of the 2 it would be all I needed. I spent several hours over the next few days installing, cleaning, adjusting, removing and repeating. I finally got an opener to work for the most part but
the operation was a little erratic. The bottom line was that these openers were just too old. The receiver comminication with the transmitter was fine, but the operation seemed to have a mind of it own. It was time to update to a newer model.

The new door helped a little on look of the exterior. The largest part of the eyesore was gone, but the new door also accentuated the deterioration in the rest of the exterior. Even though it was January, I decided to concentrate on the exterior. Partly to make the neighbors happy, but I was really anxious to see how it would look once renovated. At least the garage was secure, and I would have a place to work and store tools and materials.

A-Pier-ant Structural Damage

10th January 2007


This property would be my first experience with slab foundations. I had jacked up a house setting with a crawl space to replace rotting sills, aprons, and joists, but this was a whole new ballgame. My search for foundation repair experts began on the internet. I Googled various search terms to get a general understanding of what was involved. I learned that a great deal of the settling problem were due to trees close to the foundation. The way I understand it, tree roots travel under the house looking for water. By removing the water in the soil under the house the soil shrinks and the foundation settles. No matter how it happened the foundation had some serious settling problems.

Here are a few pictures that give some idea of the settling problem. I could show damage just about anywhere around the perimeter of the house though.

I sent out 4 emails to local foundation repair companies, explaining the damage, and asked for estimates. I recognized several names from the TV commercials. You know the ones with the Coaches and Baseball Hero. I figure these companies must have been busy recruiting and scouting foundation repair rookies because they never answered my emails. I did get an reply form a company that happened to be less than a half mile from the place. We made an appointment to meet the next day at 1:00.

A truck pulled up just a little before 1:00 the next day. A man with a clip-board got out scanned the front of the house and said walking towards me “Son, you need a Bunch of Piers.” I replied “it a-piers that way to me too.” He must not get my sense of humor (or lack thereof) since he just began to take notes without even a smile. He spent the next 20-30 minutes or so taking measurements and making notes. He must have got my little joke just as he totaled up the estimate because a broad smile came to his face. We sat down and he began to explain my options. To sum them up, I could go with 20 concrete and steel piers every 8 feet around the perimeter for about $7,000, or I could go with the same number of all steel piers for around $12,000. However due to the fact that it was December, their slowest time of the year, they would give me a 10% discount if I had the work done in immediately. I decided to go with them on the spot. They would start a couple of days before Christmas and finish just before New Years. That was the plan at least. It turns out that we would experience the mother of all ice storms a couple of days later. They had so many cancellations I was bumped up a couple of weeks. I was one of the few place in town with electricity. I had no gas, heat or water but I had electricity.

Just 3 days into the ice storm a large truck pulled up into my my driveway. More trucks began to show up right after. The foreman came over, introduced himself. He gave me a quick explanation of what was going to be done that day and asked for my check for half of the repair cost. Within minutes a six man crew was moving equipment, cutting large holes in the sidewalks and back porch, digging holes and in general working a lot harder that I would want to. Once they were well established, I decided to leave them alone and get back to work. I told the foreman I would be back around 3:00.

To my surprise, at 3:00 when I got back the crew was gone. All of the concrete had been cut, holes dug and the piers filled with cement.

They came back about a week later to finish the repair. A little larger crew showed up this time. Within minutes of arriving, the crew was placing large bottle jacks on each pier, dropping off concrete blocks and steel plates around each hole. Once again I told the foreman I had to get back to work and left around nine. By noon when I came back on my lunch break, the house had been raised, several holes already filled and the place was buzzing with activity. Cracks were being mortared, joints caulked, dirt compacted, concrete patches poured in the sidewalk and porch. I was impressed! The foreman told me that they would haul off all of the extra dirt, but I asked him to move to the back yard. I would eventually use it to regrade the soil surrounding the foundation. He would haul off the broken concrete and other debris though.

As the crew continued to work, the foreman took me around the house pointing out all of the improvements. The floating corner was now meeting the slab. The separating sheet rock had moved closer but not quite back to the original spot. He explained that it was not always possible to raise the foundation all the way. There were many factor involved in how much they could safely raise the foundation. The cracks in the brick were being re-pointed and missing brick replaced. Overall I was very pleased with what I saw. I told him that I was ready to get started replacing doors and windows. He warned me to wait a minimum of 4 weeks, to allow any settling that may occur. I gave him the final payment for the work and and went back to work. Several hours later when I returned the crew was gone.

Neighbors continued to come by while the work was being done. I learned that piers around the neighborhood were a source of great pride. The number and style of piers, the guaranty, the company name, and total cost were all factors in what made their foundation repair special. I lost on all count other than number of piers, but I’d use this company again.

I also began to get other visitors that had seen my property listed on the internet under foreclosures. It appears that the place was listed as sold for the judgment ($24,000). That was not the case at all. With the auction price, back taxes, legal, and now foundation repair, I was at $42,000. This was actually what the original auction had brought in, the one where both bidders backed out. Still a good price but no where close to what was listed on the net. Anyway I was on my way finally. I would have 3-4 weeks to plan, clean, buying materials, and make minor repairs, but I was now on my way. It felt good.

I finally had deed and full access to the property. The inside was nothing like I expected. The place had been boarded up so I could not see much of the interior prior. There were surprises around every corner. Some good, some not so. Neighbors began to stop by and see what was happening with the place. I let them know what I was planning and got a lot of information in return. Each neighbor had a different take on what happened with the property so I will probably never know the full details. One thing I can say for sure is that the place had been completely abandoned for close to 2 years. Neighbors had actually attempted to have the place condemned. The exterior had been neglected and was deteriorating badly. Kids had broken in and had been using the place as a club house. One neighbor even suspected the homeless had been living there. I’m guessing the lien holder finally took charge and winterized and boarded the place up. There were stickers on each plumbing appliance and most of the windows and doors were covered with plywood.

The interior was a mess. It appeared the previous owner had simply walked away from the place, leaving clothing, furniture, and personal papers, and much more. I spent a full day taking documenting conditions of the place, then the next few days cleaning the place up. Kids had knocked holes in most of the walls, or sprayed them with graffiti. Clothes, 45 RPM records, and papers were strewn all around the place. The garage was packed with so much junk, it would take 4 trailer loads to the land fill to clean up. I would have to clean up the place before I could start cleaning up the place. That was how bad it was. I also decided to clean up around the yard so the neighbors would know that the place would be fixed up.

Once the place was cleaned up a bit I began to realize exactly what I had bought. I’ll start with the bad news. I could tell from the exterior that there was some major foundation problems. Once inside though, it became more clear just how bad they were. There were cracks in almost all of the walls (besides the ones created by the kids). One interior wall, perpendicular to the back exterior wall, had a 3/4 inch gap halfway up the wall. The force had actually pulled (or sheared) a piece of the baseboard apart. The front right corner of the house was floating about 1/2 inch on top of the floor. It was evident that I would have to have the foundation repaired before I could do much else.

The kitchen and bath weren’t in very good shape. The bath vanity was made out of particle board that had gotten wet and was badly deteriorated. The green fiberglass one piece tub and surround had a large crack in the bottom of the tub.
The kitchen cabinets, counter top and appliances were still usable but outdated. The floors were carpeted over 12 inch vinyl tiles, but the carpet was in bad shape (except for one room). The garage overhead doors, front door, sliding glass door, all needed replacing. All of the woodwork (doors, trim, and baseboards) was vinyl coated particle board. The place would basically need to be gutted. There wre also a few surprises with the plumbing and electrical but I’ll go into that later.

Now for the good news. The roof had been replaced in 2004. I discovered some photos in a box in the garage that showed the condition of the place before the roof was repaired. There were some serious leaks in the front of the house and garage. The sheet rock on the ceiling had also been replaced where the roof leaked. I’m guessing about the same time the previous owner replaced the 4 bedroom windows in the front of the house. They weren’t exact matches to the original, and they would have to be re-hung when the foundation was repaired, but they would do. The heat and air had been updated about the same time, so that was an avoided (expected) expense. The dishwasher was fairly new. I would have to replace one valve but again another avoided expense. Finally, there were several huge rolls of carpeting in the garage. I could tell that it wasn’t new, but it appeared to be in near perfect condition.

I finally had a good idea of exactly what I had bought. Overall, I felt good about the situation. I immediately began to look for foundation repair estimates. In the meantime I decided to begin the demolition. I would remove all of the vinyl woodwork and doors, take the floors down to the cement slab, gut the bath completely and remove the built in kitchen electric oven and gas cook top. I was on my way finally!

Deja Vu Again Again

10th January 2007


I received a refund for my 10% deposit from the county clerk within 2 weeks. I fully intended to bid again on the same house when it came back to auction, but in the mean time I kept looking for other “deals.” I found several possibilities, but one looked especially intriguing. The opening bid was set at $0.00. I discovered that the property was being sold “without appraisal.” In many mortgage contracts there is a clause that allows the lien holder to do this in foreclosure. I can’t say why they might invoke this clause but in this case I have some idea. It could be due to the fact that the judgment was well below the appraised value, or that the place had serious structural problems (settling slab foundation), or due to the fact that the house did not sell in the first auction several months earlier. It may have been all of these factors working together.

My initial research determined that the property had an assessed value of $71,000, an appraised value of $60,000 (matching recent comparable sales), and a judgment of $25,000. I also discovered that there was $3,000.00 in current and back taxes. The property went though an auction about 2 months earlier in which the high bid was $40,000.00. The highest bidder and the second highest bidder both back out of the sale (neither placed the 10% deposit.) so it was back again in auction. I expected to bid up to $42,000. Depending on whether the HVAC required updating, I figure materials to renovate the place would be in the 7-12,000 range. This was actually a wild guess because I had no idea of what the interior would look like and a complete miscalculation of the cost to repair the foundation.

To my surprise I was the only person bidding on this property besides the bank. The banks attorney opened at $30,500, I countered with $32,00, and it was over. Here is where the fun begins. I went immediately to the bank for the $3,200 cashiers check and take it back to the Sheriffs office. The deputy looks at the check and tells me it is mode out wrong. It is made out to the Tulsa Count Clerk rather than the Tulsa County Court Clerk. I go back and get a new check. Later that afternoon I call the attorney’s office to see about getting the abstract updated. The assistant congratulates me and tells me that the rest of the process should go smoothly. Now where did I hear that before?

A couple days after the auction I get a call from a gentleman interested in the property. He tells me that he missed the auction and would I be willing to transfer the property to him for a “small” profit. He emphasized the word small. I told him I may be, but until I get the abstract back and title opinion I couldn’t make a decision. I had no intention of letting him have it but I also knew he could be trouble. If he really wanted the property, all he would have to do is contact the owner and agree to settle the default and give him a small fee for letting him do this. The owner would get little or nothing the way the auction went, so even a few hundred dollars may be all it would take to get the owner to agree. Until the final court confirmation the owner had the legal right to cure the default and retain the property. He would have another 3 1/2 weeks to do this.

It took the title search company 10 days to update the abstract. There was a great deal more work on this one than there was on the first one that I sent them. I take a quick glance at the abstract on the way to my attorney’s office. I notice a red page concerning unpaid taxes. Someone had bought a tax certificate on the property for the past 2 years. I comment on this when I hand it over. He tells me he will read it over and have his opinion by the first of the week. The following Monday I get a call and he tells me what he found. Another error in the legal description on one of the papers filed with the court. This error appeared on a single paper but it could potentially void the entire proceedings. He has a call into the bank’s attorney but hasn’t heard back. It would take another few days to determine if I should continue with the purchase. Finally on Thursday, less than 2 weeks from the confirmation hearing, I get a call that new papers had been filed with the court and that the sale could still go through.

It was finally the time for me to draw on my line of credit. I went to the bank and deposited $20,000 from the line of credit to my personal account. Except for the possibility that someone was trying to cure the default and problems with the foreclosure papers still existed, I felt somewhat relieved to get this out of the way. That relief didn’t last too long. The following Monday I checked my account balances online. Only $5,000 of the $20,000 had been credited to my account. I check with the bank and discover that there is a 10 business day hold on large checks. I would have to get documentation from the lending bank that the funds were available and my bank would release the hold. I go home and call the bank, which is in Rhode Island, and ask them to fax a statement on their letterhead to my banks Risk Management office. They inform me that their policy is to not release any personal information and that they cannot send the Fax but if my bank will call them they can confirm the funds are available. I contact my bank and they inform me that their policy is to get written confirmation. I’ll cut it short her and tell you that this went back and forth for 2 days. As ridiculous as the situation seemed to me I was going to have to wait the 10 business days for the funds to clear. It was now Tuesday, Thanksgiving was on Thursday, and the confirmation hearing was set for the following Tuesday. I had to have a cashiers check into the Court Clerks office by Monday at 4:00. I call my dad to see if he could help me out. He checks with his broker and his brokerage firm will loan him the money and will have a check overnighted. He receives the check late on Wednesday but too late to deposit in his bank. The Friday after Thanksgiving he takes it to his bank and guess what. They have the same hold period.
So now I have 3 days to somehow get the funds. But wait there is something else.

Ever since I get the call from the guy wanting to buy the property from me I check the court records each day to see if any new paper are filed. Sure enough at 7:30 Friday Morning, paper are filed that the confirmation hearing is “stricken.” I call the foreclosure attorney to see what this was about and they know nothing about it but will find out and call em back. Later that afternoon they call too let me know that the Judge was out of town and they could not finds out why the hearing had been canceled. The judge’s clerk agreed to place the hearing back on the docket until the judge could be contacted the next Monday. So here I was no funds (or at least no cashier check), not sure if the sale would be confirmed, not sure that the papers have been filed correctly, and still fearing that an outside source was trying to stop the sale. That weekend of waiting was no fun.

In the meantime, dad had contacted a long time friend who is a bank manager in s small time outside of Tulsa. He will vouch for him and cash the check and issue a cashier check immediately. I tell him about the possibility the confirmation hearing will not go through on Tuesday and that he should wait. We decide to wait until Monday morning before we go any further.

I finally get an answer about 10:30 Monday morning. The hearing is on but I don’t ask why it was temporarily stricken. My dad is in meetings all morning so I leave a message that I’ll need the cashier check. He finally gets free around two, but has to drive 70 miles round trip. We keep in touch by cell on his progress. I get a call about 3:30 that he is back on the road. We decide it would be best for me to meet him downtown. If everything goes perfect we will be cutting it close. There a great deal of street construction downtown and it seems like it takes me forever to find parking. I call dad back and tell him about the roadblocks and a way to avoid them. We decide that I will meet him outside the County Court House. About 5 minutes before 4:00 he arrives, pulls over to the curb, rolls down the window, hands me the check and I immediately start running. I make it just under the wire. The clerk takes my checks and prepares the receipts. The worst was over I think, or is it?

I suit up the next morning and head off to the courthouse about 8:00. The confirmation hearing is set for 10:00. I find the courtroom listed on the court papers, but notice that the judge’s nameplate on the door doesn’t match. I’m a little early and no one is around so I decide to check if I have the right place. It turned out that the courtroom listed in the court papers. I finally find the correct courtroom but it is empty. It’s only 9:30 so I decide to sit and wait. Over the next 30 minutes the halls and surrounding courtrooms filled with people. Around 10:00 the hall began to empty as people moved into the courtrooms. The courtroom the confirmation hearing was to be heard remained empty. By 10:15 the hall was empty except for another couple and me. I heard them talking earlier about real estate and confirmation hearings. Were they the owners ready to contest the auction, were they attorneys, were they associated with the guy who wanted me to turn over the property for the small profit.

The courtroom is still empty at 10:30. Every one in a while the hall fills with people as a court goes into recess. My attorney happens to walk by, asks how everything is going, but can’t stop and chat. The halls soon clear again except for the couple that had been waiting with me. We sit and wait another 20 minutes when an attorney I had seen several times at the auctions walked out of the judge’s office next to the courtroom. The couple walks over and I hear them ask something about confirmation hearings. I can’t hear so I walk over to them to ask my own questions. As I near I hear the attorney explain that there is no actual court hearing in confirmation hearings. The attorneys simply notify the judges that all requirements have been met, the money has been deposited and the judge signs the confirmation. She explains that the so-called confirmation hearing probably was concluded in her office about 10:01, and that we can check with the judges assistant next door to the still empty courtroom. I follow the couple in and hear them ask about another property. The assistant tells them it has been confirmed and they leave. I ask about mine and she tells me that it has been confirmed also. I think to myself that the ordeal is finally over, but then I think to myself “or is it!”

I run into the couple again waiting for the elevator. They tell me that this is the first property they bought at auction. They ask me if I know when the Sheriffs deed is issued. I don’t know so we decide to go downstairs together to the sheriff’s office and find out. The deputy at the desk tells us that the deeds are signed once a week. If the judge sends the paper work by the end of the day the Sheriff will sign the deeds the next morning. If there is a delay then it will be the next Wednesday before it can be issued.

The next morning go back to the country courthouse. I first go to the county assessor’s office to check on the back taxes. I get the amount required to get them up-to-date, but am told that unless I have clear title to the property I shouldn’t pay the back taxes. I go back downstairs to the Sheriff’s office and wait in line to see if the deed has been issued. The deputy shuffles through a pile of papers, and pulls out a couple of pages. I sign one of the copies and ask what next. I’m told that I need to record the deed with county records. I spend the rest of the morning running to county offices to pay the various taxes and fees, but by noon I had finally ought my first investment property. But what exactly had I bought. I’ve done a walk around and looked in windows but I really knew very little about the shape of the property inside.

This is what I end up with. Guess what’s inside.

I win ?

10th January 2007


While I was well into my research, I began looking for ways to finance my first investment. I only had about $10,000 in liquid cash so more financing was required. My primary residence had been paid for several years, so it was the obvious choice to raise additional funds. I used Lending Tree services to set up a line of credit using my home as collateral. My plan was to draw the funds as needed to save on interest. Any principle and profits from the future sale could then be used to pay off the loan or finance the next purchase. The plan changed over the course of the next few months, but overall it was a good plan.

With funding in hand and some vague notion of how the foreclosure process works I was ready to jump in with both feet. I went to my first auction ready to bid on a single house I had researched. I’ll jump ahead here and say that the property was recalled and was removed from that days auction. It took another few weeks before I could find another property but I found a promising one close to where I lived. The 3 bedroom 1 bath house had been abandoned and vandalized unmercifully. That didn’t deter me since I had planned to do a complete renovation anyway. Comparable (un-vandalized) homes in the area went for between 50 – 65,000. The opening bid was a mere 14,000 so there was a lot of room to make some profit. I had already determined that it would take about 7 -10,000 in materials and I would supply all of the labor so it seemed like the perfect candidate.

The property I wanted to bid on was one of the last ones of the day. I sat and watched a couple of spirited bidding wars among public bidders but most where either recalled on kept by the banks and mortgage companies. Once the bidding started, the attorney opened with the expected 14,400 minimum bid. I countered with 15,000..he with 17,000..I with 18,000…he with 19,000…I with 19,400… and that was all of the bidding. I won! I went immediately to the bank for a cashiers check for $1,940.00 and returned to the Sheriffs office. That seemed easy enough.

As I was walking into my home office, the phone rang. It was the attorney representing the bank in the foreclosure. He told me he had the abstract if I wanted to view it and that the sale should go smoothly from here. I had already talked to an attorney about getting a title opinion. He informed me the abstract must be up-to-date before he could render an opinion, so I told the attorney that I would have the title company pick it up the next day.

Fast forward a week and I call the abstract company to check on the progress. They ask for the legal description of the property which I give them as written on the copy of the court papers…”Lot X in subdivision Sun Valley Addition”. For some reason they cannot find the papers and tell me they will call back. They call back an hour later and tell me they have an update ready for “Lot X in subdivision Sun Valley Second Addition”, and that it will be $450.00. I run down and pick it up and take immediately to my attorney office. I point out to the receptionist that the legal description on the court papers do not match the legal description on the abstract. She calls the attorney to the lobby and has me show him what I was talking about. He immediately tells me that I do not want to buy this property and not to bother having him read any further (saving me his $250.00 fee). He tells me that the foreclosure proceedings are not valid and they will have to start over from the beginning. In short I had bid a property that didn’t exist. It depends on how I look at it. I had either paid $450.00 for absolutely nothing or I had paid $450.00 to save myself thousands in future losses. If the sale had gone through, technically I would have been renovating a home that never went through foreclosure. The only consolation I got was the attorney told me he would send me copies of all the new proceedings and let me know when it would be up for auction again.

It’s a true fixer upper. For an initial investment of $20,000, $10,000 maximum in materials, and do-it-yourself labor, a $30,000 net seemed like just the deal I was looking for. I had iuntended to bid on it again when it came back to auction but I found a much better deal while waiting. I’ll tell you all about it next.

The place wasn’t as bad as it looked. As long as I could remove the graffiti from the vinyl siding it was actually quite new and in good shape. The roof had been shingled within the last 5 years. The floors had solid oak under old carpet. There was a lot of sheetrock work and the kitchen and bath would require a complete overhaul but it was a project that should give a good return.

The Journey Begins: Research

10th January 2007


For years I have thought about investing in residential properties. I’ve had some experience in just about all phases of home building, not mention having seen every episode of “This Old House”, so I like to think I’ve earned a “BS” degree in everything housing. You probably notice a lot of that “BS” as I recount my adventures in buying foreclosed properties. My initial research began online looking for general information on foreclosures. From there I concentrated on Oklahoma law and then the individual County procedures. The difference between what you think you understand from research and the way things really are can be quite comical.

In Oklahoma, once a loan is in default, foreclosure papers are filed in the county the property is in. All parties are notified, a judgment, setting the amount of the default, is handed down by the court, an independent appraisal is ordered, fees are assessed, and an Sheriffs auction date is set. The default can be cured anytime up until the confirmation hearing. Each county has their own procedures for listing the properties, but you can get a list from the county Sheriff’s office. Their list usually includes the property address, name of debtor, lien holder and representing attorney, auction date, case number, and appraised value. With that little bit of data, a wealth of information can be researched. With the case number, the public can view the paper filed with the courts and even do a preliminary title search to determine other liens such as tax liens. I’ll go into this in more detail when I go over my first auction win.

Even though the appraisal typically sets the minimum opening bid (2/3 appraised value) I consider it meaningless. As I understand it the appraiser simply drive by the property to make sure it exists and then they do an analysis of recent comparable sales. There is very little physical inspection and an interior inspection is almost never done. The caveat “Buyer Beware” is in full effect here. In some rare cases a property can be sold “without appraisal.” I’ll give a hint an say this was the case in the property I ended up with, but the caveat should be posted in large flashing neon letters with alarms sounding when you see this case come up.

I started going to the Tulsa and Wagner County auctions several months before I was ready to start bidding. The Tulsa auction is quite a bit larger than in Wagner and operates in a slightly more formal manner due to the size, but for the most part they are the same. The lien holder starts the bidding at whatever dollar amount that they decide. Anyone else can make subsequent bids in minimum increments of $100.00 but less than $5,000. The lien holder is not limited to this rule, they can bid in any amount they choose. The lien holder (or their attorney acting in their behalf) will continue to bid until there are no more counter bids or until the bidding exceeds their loss. I was never able to figure out how to predict how the lien holder will bid. They often bid well in excess of the appraised value, and sometimes even open the bidding way over the appraised value. They almost always exceed the judgment and associated cost listed in the court papers also. If anyone has an inside view of how they operate I would love to find out more. I have a good idea they only bid up to their losses but I haven’t been able to determine if the general public can get this information beforehand

If someone from the general public is the high bidder they have 24 hours to put down a 10% deposit in a cashier check made out to the County Court Clerk. If the high bidder fails to put down the 10% the next highest bidder has the opportunity to by at their highest bid. That is if they can be contacted. If neither bidder places the 10% then the property is rescheduled for another auction. Once the deposit is received, a confirmation is set 4 weeks from the auction. In this time the default may still be cured but I understand this almost never happens. There are still a lot of things that can go wrong in the 4 weeks leading up to the confirmation hearing as you will soon see.

Well, that pretty much sums up my research or at least glosses over the high points. Next I’ll recount my adventures in buying properties at auction