Greenhorn Farmhouse Interior Part 1: 7 repairs and changes to create a better framework

With much of the exterior work at Greenhorn Farmhouse completed, it was time to tackle the interior. Sometimes a house has a great layout, and in those cases, I can jump right in with cabinets, paint, tile, and flooring, etc. But sometimes, there are repairs that need to made and a house might even benefit from some reconfiguration. Addressing these types of issues creates a good framework for adding all of the finishing touches.

This old farmhouse would undergo 7 such foundational changes and repairs.

1. Sub-floors

During demo, the house had been emptied of debris and personal items. Then kitchen cabinets, a couple of old brick chimneys, the bathtub, bathroom vanity and toilet were all removed.

In the now vacant rooms, it became readily apparent that the living room floor sloped drastically in the corner, as did one of the bedroom floors. The kitchen floor had a pretty severe sag as well. I decided that the best thing to do would be to pull up the subfloor and have a look.

I found that the existing joists were not attached to the exterior foundation at all. While they were attached in the center of the room, on the exterior side they were free floating. No wonder the floor was un-level. This was not something I’d anticipated and I was glad I’d built a buffer into my budget.

Eventually, my crew would need to install new joists, joist hangers and subfloor to insure the floor was level and structurally sound. But before we did that, I’d need to address the wall dividing the living and dining rooms.

New sub-floor

2. Living Room Wall

I’ve never completely bought into the open plan concept. Years ago, I was actually opposed to it. I liked having separate living spaces. I think this preference was heavily influenced by the presence of five small children in the home. Having separate spaces allowed me to contain the inevitable mess and chaos more effectively. In recent years the open concept has grown on me, though I’m still not that girl who is always in favor of taking down walls.

None-the-less, in this house, it was the right decision. The living area immediately felt twice as large.

Living room/dining room wall before removal

Living room/dining room wall removed

3. Bedroom wall

Sometimes, a space can benefit from simply moving a wall. Remember, this is an old farmhouse, and as is often the case, the bedrooms were all small. There wasn’t a lot I could do about this, short of building an addition. However, there was something I could do.

The master bedroom had a small jog in the wall it shared with the living room. By pushing that wall out, I was able to gain a few feet in the master bedroom. The actual area gained was relatively small, but the impact was huge. This had the added benefit of eliminating a strange and unnecessary jog in the living room.

Living room wall jog into bedroom

Bedroom wall pushed back

4. Laundry Room

The next task was to build a new laundry room closet. The existing laundry room was too narrow to really function well. There just wasn’t enough room between the front of the appliances and the opposing wall.

If the room were just a little bit wider, the appliances could have been placed on the adjacent wall. As this was not a viable option, I decided to convert the former laundry room into a spacious pantry, and create a new laundry room closet.

I incorporated a pocket door system into the new framing to provide a way to close the pantry without sacrificing floor space. Later, I would build a barn-style door for this purpose.

Framing new laundry room

5. Relocate bathroom door

Before we put away the framing nailer, there was one more issue to address. In old homes, it’s very common to find bathroom access directly off of the kitchen. In an era where adding plumbing was expensive and even considered a luxury, it made sense to locate all the plumbing as close together as possible. As a result, bathrooms were often located right next to kitchens and this house was no exception.

The bathroom door was right in the middle of the kitchen wall. While this could function perfectly well, I really disliked it. So I closed up the door between the kitchen and bathroom then relocated it to the end of the bathroom, near the new laundry room.

Eventually, the stove would sit just about where that door had been.

The stove sits where the bathroom door used to be.

6. Bathroom layout

This was the first step in reconfiguring the bathroom layout. The tub and vanity remained in the same locations, but the toilet was relocated to the area where there door had been previously.

7. Kitchen Layout

Finally, I needed to create a new kitchen layout. When working with floor plans, I still like to start with good old-fashioned pencil and graph paper. Eventually, the design makes it’s way into Home Designer, the 3D design program I use.

Creating a design in 3 dimensions is not only a lot of fun, but it helps highlight any design elements that might not work well. My clients love it too. It helps them see what I see in my mind’s eye.

This design morphed several times before I settled on a layout that I loved. Unfortunately, it involved closing up another window.

This particular window was really more of a pass through between the kitchen and the front entry area and didn’t make much sense anyway. Closing it also provided some wall space in the entry where one could hang coat hooks or place a bench.

Floor plan before

Floor plan after

With the new framework in place, it was finally time to focus on the finishes. Next week I’ll talk about finishes, paint color, tile, cabinetry, flooring, and more.

Greenhorn Farmhouse – Next Steps

With demo day at the Greenhorn Farmhouse completed, I decided to turn our attention to the outside of the house. This was February, in the Colorado Rocky Mountains and we were experiencing weather in the 60’s. This was a gift horse I wasn’t about to look in the mouth.

I set the crew to work replacing damaged siding, and damaged exterior trim. They prepared the gables for painting and I had them enclosed two windows. I can hear you gasp! I know … close in windows! That’s almost sacrilegious, right up there with removing a tree. It just shouldn’t be done. But the existing laundry room did not function well and in order to relocate it, those windows needed to go. You’ll understand why when I show the before and after floor plans in a future post.  For now, just try to trust me.

The siding was cedar, batten board stained a dark brown. As we removed damaged sections, we discovered old clapboards underneath the cedar. I debated long and hard about removing the cedar and restoring the old clapboard. In the end I decided to keep the cedar. Lead-based paint remediation can be expensive and I was pretty sure the paint would contain lead. That wouldn’t be a huge problem if the paint was sound. I could seal and paint over it, a process referred to as encapsulation. It’s an acceptable method for dealing with lead-based paint.

However, if the paint were in poor condition and peeling or chipping it would have to be scraped and sanded and that’s the part that gets expensive. There are environmental regulations that govern this process.

Additionally, I had no way of knowing if all the clapboards were sound. Somebody, sometime, had chosen to cover them. I had to assume the odds were good that at least some of the clapboards were damaged and would require repair or replacement. In the end I decided to stay with the devil I knew.

After the siding and trim repairs were made, we focused on replacing the windows. 22 windows in all! That is a lot of windows for a 1500 square foot house! I think that’s one of the things I loved about this house. It was filled with natural light inside and breathtaking views outside.

I chose a window manufactured in the Chicago area by a company named Lang. They were a double paned, double hung vinyl window and I was extremely happy with the windows and the with price. I was however, less than thrilled with the company itself. As a result, I no longer use Lang windows. If you’re looking for replacement windows, I recommend Simonton and I’ll explain why in a future post.

Many of the window sills were rotted and had to be replaced before new windows could be installed, and again, I was thankful for the mild weather.

Rotted sills

Front windows before replacement

Front windows replaced

While one crew worked on siding, paint prep, including prepping the garage, and window replacement, a roofing crew tackled the roof. The existing roof consisted of old shake shingles, and two layers of asphalt shingles. Based on their appearance, I could not believe the house did not leak. However, the only evidence of water damage was around the skylights in the front porch. I would be removing those and closing up those opening. That porch has 6 large windows and the door has glass as well. It did not need the extra light, the skylights were unsightly and they can be prone to leaking.

Roof when I purchased the house.

Skylight

Because the roof still had the original wood shingles (sometimes called shake shingles), we would have to install new roof decking. Wood shingles are applied over spaced planks. This allows the wood to dry properly and helps avoid rot. Asphalt shingles are applied over solid decking material.

Inside of the attic, looking up as the roof was being replaced.

Roof in process

New roof and window replacement in process

New Roof

With these tasks completed, we were ready for paint. That meant I had to choose a paint color. I looked at several. Did I want something light? Did I want something trendy, maybe a gray or greige? Something that looked farmhouse or something that looked mountain? In the end I went with dark brown.

That might seem like an unlikely choice and I admit, it’s not my go-to favorite. But, I believe in function, not just form. Someone was going to have to maintain this house. That meant time and money. Because the original cedar siding was dark brown, I knew that going back with a dark brown stain/sealer would be the easiest to maintain. It could be reapplied when needed but would not need to be scraped or sanded. And, in the end, with white trim I thought it looked great.

Before the exterior work was finished, we’d also replace the garage doors and the front deck, reglaze broken windows in the garage, and paint a shed.

One more thing before I go …. in the interest of transparency. The whole process wasn’t nearly as smooth and organized as I laid it out here. We’d start something, realize we didn’t have what we needed and focus on something else until the materials could be purchased and delivered. Or weather would change our plans for a couple of days. Or the roofers didn’t arrive when I’d hoped. Or the gutter guys finally arrived and had to temporarily abandon the project due to a tornado warning.

Sometimes this work can make me want to pull my hair out or hide out at home with a fire in the wood stove, a good book and a cup of tea. But these things are all part of the process.

In a recent article, Dan Miller of 48days.com talked about the importance of embracing our journey. He said, “What if the journey itself is part of the growth and process leading to ultimate “success?” That’s true with renovation work. Of course I’m pushing for the finished product but I learn a lot from the process and the bumps and surprises, the delays and backorders … all of it is part of the journey too.

The Greenhorn Farmhouse Rehab Begins – Demo Day!

The February morning was clear and crisp and the sun was slowing making it’s climb in the eastern sky, promising another unseasonably warm day. Fiery shades of orange blended with pink hues and cast their colors over the land and the buildings.

A 30 yard rolloff dumpster, what would be the first of many, sat in front of the garage and my 6 man crew would soon arrive to start filling it. I unlocked doors, walked through the house taking inventory and starting to form a mental rehab plan.

It had taken months, but finally, the papers were signed, I held the keys in my hand and the house was mine.

The first thing we needed to do was clear out the debris. There was quite a bit of stuff to remove and because the house had sat vacant for so long, dust had collected on everything. This would be a dirty job.

This is what I found inside the house that day:

While the crew worked on the cleaning and demo, I was checking the lights, water and furnace.  The furnace fired right up. That was good news. All of the lights worked. More good news. Then I discovered the first unexpected issue.

This house sits on 2 acres at the base of a mountain. Because of it’s rural location, it has a well that provides the water and the well pump was bad. It would have to be replaced before we could have water. So now I had a decision to make. Should I put in a cheap pump from Lowes or should I spend the $500 for something that would last.

I decided to install the quality pump. If I ended up keeping the house I’d be glad, and if I sold the house I could take pride in knowing I had not shortcut the new owners.

When you’re rehabbing a flip, it’s tempting to focus on the “bling”, all the stuff people see. Because it’s hard for buyers to get excited about well pumps, furnaces, and roofs, too many rehabbers shortcut these essential systems in favor of pretty tile or granite. And too many buyers make purchase decisions based on paint colors.

This is where a good realtor is invaluable. A good realtor will help buyers see past the relatively inexpensive finishes. They’ll help a buyer consider the less exciting, less visible components of the house. There’s nothing wrong with pretty finishes. I work hard to create a beautiful space but if that’s all you consider, it could cost you a whole lot of money.

In the end, I ordered the better pump. It would mean we wouldn’t have water for a couple of weeks, but regardless of whether I kept the house or sold it, I was committed to quality.

Bedroom after cleaning

Kitchen after cleaning

Bedroom after cleaning

Kitchen after cleaning

After removing the contents of the house, half of the crew worked to remove the multi-colored carpet “wall paper” that covered some of the living room walls. The other half removed some of the exterior overgrowth.

Carpet “wall paper”

Carpet “wall paper” removed

Overgrowth

Overgrowth

Overgrowth and rotting wood box

Overgrowth removed

Overgrowth and wood box removed

Already the house was improving! Still, we had a long way to go! Here’s a sneak preview of the final product!

 

I Bought a New House … Almost

Not long ago, in a blog post I shared about goals and my desire to finally make some progress in renovating my farmhouse. I started making slight progress, but somehow, every time I think I’ll really focus on it, something happens to distract my time, energy and money. This time was no exception. 

First, I was hired to oversee the renovation of another old house in our community. I’m excited about the project and the new friendship being forged in the process.

Then, in a situation very similar to last year, my efforts have been further derailed by another house. 

Yep. I bought another house.

This was the blog post I started writing a couple of days ago. The post went on to tell the story. How I talked with the owner months ago and she wanted too much money. How she called me last week and asked if I still wanted it, for $60,000 less. Yes!!

How the house was going to be auctioned as a foreclosure next week. We would have to move fast if we were going to close before the sale. But, then she was hospitalized and that delayed things and jeopardized the closing.

It told how everything seemed to be coming together finally. I’d delivered the signed contract to the title company and I was planning the rehab. The sellers were relieved to avoid foreclosure.

That was the post I started writing. That was the post I wanted to write. But the thing about real estate investing and foreclosures is that you have to expect the unexpected. It’s unpredictable, and a deal isn’t done until it’s closed.

 

This truth was hammered home again when the title company called. The owners owed back taxes to the IRS and the house had a $350,000 tax lien. They claim they don’t owe it, and honestly, it’s hard for me to imagine these people could possibly owe that much in back taxes.

But regardless, the issue will have to be addressed before I can buy the property. This means the lender will have to agree to postpone the foreclosure sale.

So for now, we are asking the lender for more time. If the lender is willing we may be able to deal with the lien, either by determining the IRS has the wrong guy (it happens), or petitioning the IRS to lift the lien to allow for the transfer of the property. They have a process for doing this, but it takes time.

One thing is for sure, this is a very good reminder of the importance of doing your due diligence when buying property. Not many people realize that when a property is bought at auction, the buyer may be purchasing more than just the house.

There are certain liens that survive and the buyer becomes responsible for those. In some instances, a junior lien holder such as bank that provided a second mortgage, will initiate foreclosure. If you were to purchase that home at auction, you would also be responsible for the first mortgage. Can you imaging buying a house at auction for $50,000 for instance and then learning you are also responsible for the $100,000 first mortgage?

And the thing is, a lien can be placed the day before a sale, making it very difficult to be 100% sure you’re getting a clean title.

These are the nitty-gritty, messy details that they never really talk about on Flip or Flop or similar shows. It can be risky business. You have to be very careful, very diligent and make no assumptions.

For now, thankful that I dodged that bullet,  I’ll keep working with the seller. I’ll keep trying to help them avoid foreclosure, knowing much of it is out of my control. I’ll work with Susan, my new friend and client, to see that their new home is structurally sound, updated and beautiful. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get a project or two around here completed.

The Greenhorn Farmhouse Discovered

 

An assortment of cars, pick-ups and trailers pulled into the drive across the street. My normally quite road was packed with traffic. Impatiently, I watched and waited for my mom to arrive. As she pulled into my drive I pulled on my boots, met her at the door and we walked across the street to see what treasures the estate sale held.

I’d never been in the house before, or even up the long drive. In fact, I had never been quite sure if it was occupied or vacant. The occasional light would come on, but never very often and never for very long. I’d learn that day that it’s owner had passed away, that for most of the time I’d been living in my house, she’d been sick and staying just down the road with her sister.

I walked around looking at the sale items and creating my mental bid list. We made our way from the garage, past the barn and on to the house. When it comes to buildings, I have a gift of sight. I see past peeling paint and rotting wood and curled flooring. I see what could be. This day was no exception. As we walked through the house that had stood there for well over a century, I said to my mom, “I want to buy this!”

My Mom usually shares my gift of sight. We have a question, kind of a joke between us, “Can you see the potential”? If my dad happens to be in the vicinity, he shakes his head from side to side and rolls his eyes. He does not share our gift. But this day it was my mom shaking her head. On this day, with this house, she was blind.

It would be many months before I would purchase the house. I’d watch and wonder what was happening with it. Because my business had been keeping me busy, I hadn’t purchased any investment property in quite a while and I was missing it. I started contacting owners of houses I thought might meet my criteria. I contacted over 200 owners asking if they would consider selling their home. I also sent a letter to the address across the street. I knew the owner was gone and as far I knew my letter would end up in the basement of some government building in a graveyard for forgotten mail. I sent it anyway.

A week or so later I received a call from the sister. She was willing to sell the house and willing to work with me on the price. I was elated! This was the house I wanted more than any other. But I didn’t want to flip it. I wanted to keep it. To move my parents in and maybe someday have it for one of my kids. Eventually, the papers were signed, the sale complete and the work begun.

It would be months before that happened, however. On this day, the day of the auction, we visited with neighbors. We bid on our items. I bought a watch, and a couple of things for the kitchen. I missed out on an old tractor. I hesitated just a second too long and I still feel the regret. I bought a paint sprayer. Later, while using it to rehab this little house, I would think about this day.

I’d remember seeing the house and property for the first time. I’d think about my neighbor whom I never had the pleasure of meeting. Using the sprayer I’d purchased from her estate to rehab the home she’d loved seemed so right, like coming full circle.

I would think about her and her sister. This wasn’t just a house. It had been someone’s home. Someone had lived a life within it’s walls. Someone else had lost someone they loved. That reality was never far from my mind as I hung drywall, installed cabinets, chose tile and trimmed windows. I wondered if she’d be happy with the results. I hoped that my work honored her and her sister as well. By investing the time and the effort and the money, I hoped that this house would provide warmth and shelter, and that for another 100 years individuals and families would make a home here. I imagined meals being prepared in the kitchen, families gathered around the dining room table, sorrows being comforted and laughter shaking the rafters. I imagined future occupants referring to this house as “this place I belong.”

This project is complete, but you can follow the complete story of this rehab by subscribing below. I’ll cover everything from paint colors, to cabinets, and everything in  between, even  including  the  pantry door.