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STUART STREET

I took this project on in the winter of 2010. Up until this point I had only done small carpentry and renovation jobs that no one else wanted to take. This would be my first whole house remodel for a house flipping developer.

Looking back, this was a great first large project for me. Loaded with curveballs, I walked away without too many permanent scars.

The house was built in the early 80's, and of terrible quality. On top of that, the prior owner did a lot of work himself without permits! I should’ve known what I was getting into, but I was far less seasoned at that time.

We began the job late fall/early winter, deciding to tackle the deck out back. There was on a myriad of different types and depths of footings. Some had cinder blocks, some sono tubes, and most were out of level. The deck was not properly flashed to the house. Actually it wasn't flashed at all.

CURVEBALL #1

Once we got the deck off, we made some interesting discoveries. All framing and sheathing from the deck down to the foundation was completely rotted out. We now had a growing change order on our hands.

Since we were going to be replacing all framing, sheathing, and siding in this area, we got to work stripping back.

It didn’t take long to realize that the former homeowner had done his own plumbing in the second floor bathroom. It had been leaking for some time. This was directly above the area we were already stripping.

Now we had rotted framing and osb sheathing reaching all the way from the basement to the second floor.

With the back of the house completely open, we had growing concerns about the pipes freezing. Mother nature had other plans and now we were in the middle of an early winter blizzard!

In a freezing down pour we finished the sheathing and weatherization of that entire area. This was hours before we got a foot of snow. The excitement of being able to work inside for a few days was about to be extinguished.

CURVEBALL #2

With the rear framing issue resolved, and our jobsite buried in snow, I started to investigate what was going on in the bathroom that had the leaks and rot. As we began to demo, my worst fears were soon realized. The leaks had spread rot throughout the floor framing. It would now need a near full replacement.
 
We decided to cut out all plumbing, replace and sister all joists and start fresh with the plumbing. This didn’t take too long, but we also didn’t plan on this work.
The next project we tackled was something ‘easy’, so we could take a break from the unexpected.
 
Not so fast...

CURVEBALL #3

The first floor bathroom had a bi fold door closet with the laundry machines in it. The plan was to get those out of there, paint, tile, install new laundry machines and call that room complete.
 
I noticed the door to the bathroom seemed extremely narrow, and didn't think much of it until we were sliding the machines out.
 
A typical door opening is 32-inches. This door opening was 27-inches! I’m not sure how that happens but it did.
 
At this point, I've grown frustrated. I am now cursing the former owners shoddy workmanship.
 
We stripped the trim, and while I hoped the rough opening would give us some good news, it did not. We had to remove studs, and as a result of him framing the opening so close to the vanity, we had to uninstall a 48” vanity. And its plumbing.
 
ATTENTION PASSENGERS: WE HAVE REACHED MAXIMUM ANGER.
 
We were able to get the machines out, and get that bathroom buttoned up, now onto the rest of the house!

THE GODS SMILE ON US

With the snow from our blizzard now melted, we found ourselves in the midst of a mid winter heat wave. 50 degree temps meant we could take the opportunity to paint the house. After a decade of running a painting company, I was finding my transition from painter to builder going anything but swimmingly.
 
I needed this comfort zone more than anything. My anxiety was through the roof waiting to discover what else I was going to find inside.
 
The house was painted, structural and rot issues had been fixed, Mass Save insulated the attic, new roof added, and craigslist metal guy cleaned out the house. Onward and upward.
 
Again, I sought a comfort zone with the painting as we had a near entire house of 80's wallpaper to strip. If you know anything about wallpaper stripping, you know that 80's wallpaper was as tough as they come.
 
The older the wallpaper, the easier it is to strip. 80's wallpaper has a backing to it that adheres very well. Unfortunately, this means the facing comes off relatively easy, but the backing comes off in fingernail sized pieces. That is of course unless you steam it endlessly. People talk about strippers, soap, fabric softener, and all kinds of other hacks. They don’t work. At least not any faster than steam.
 
Now that the wallpaper was stripped, the house sprayed throughout, leaving only walls to be rolled, I can start something I’ve been looking forward to.
 
My goal has always been to self perform as many trades as I can. I purchased some used floor sanders and went to town. I was super nervous about this and did as much research as I could on proper techniques and processes. While I took to floor sanding like a fish in water, this house and the former owners handy work couldn’t resist peeking in on us again.
 
As I started sanding a living room area I began to notice that this floor was in fact some type of cheap and extremely thin veneer flooring. It didn’t look like engineered, but it was. We ended up having to lightly plam sand that whole section as not to tear through the veneer.

FROM HERE…

From here, we encountered countless no shows from electric and plumbing subs that I went with on price due to the unanticipated costs on the front end of the job, a carpenter I was subbing the front and rear deck builds out to disappeared, never to return, while I was out renting an auger, and on and on.

FOR SALE

The house is on the market!
 
With us weeks behind schedule, the owner/flipper was eager to get the house on the market. He needed to because he had a hard money lender with large carrying payments.
 
This is where my disdain for home inspectors was born. I recommend people, in addition to a home inspection, pay a reputable contractor to look at a house they are purchasing.
 
The good times were rolling right off the bat!
 
We had a potential buyer almost immediately. I couldn’t have been happier, but the sale eventually fell through because they went with a franchise home inspection company. They provided a 150 page document that listed nearly all boiler plate observations that appeared. The way they presented it there was additional problems with the house.
 
The second buyer had a laundry list of demands for extra work. Exhausted with the project, the owner and myself agreed to several cosmetic changes. It was a small price to pay to have this one behind me.

WHAT DID I LEARN

I took this project to stay busy for the winter and to get the ball rolling while I made the transition from painter to remodeler. My inexperience was the reason I priced it so low to begin with.

This is a constantly evolving process to perfect. I walked away with knowledge that building an accurate budget is the most important thing. Without that, there is no project or your project will go wildly over what you were comfortable spending.

Once you start encountering change orders that obstruct you from proceeding, a begrudging ‘ok’ comes out of your mouth over and over. Before you know it, you’re running out of money and you're only halfway through the project.

Having experienced this, I realize how important having a contingency amount in the budget is . There’s a reason banks make you do this. You can't just take from other line items and expect those other items to magically cost less because you ran into some unexpected problems.

I also took some valuable experience from managing subcontractors. Its easier said than done, but if you build a proper budget, you can hire professional, attentive, and communicative subcontractors.

There is no money saved with cut rate subs. It ALWAYS ends up costing you more time, money, or both. This is because these low price subs don’t care about your project. They care about getting paid for doing their works as fast as possible with the cheapest materials possible. Corners are cut, and they are always supposed to be 5 other places besides your project.

Does that sound that a guy who is fully focused and not likely to miss anything on your project?

There is always new information out there for fixing things you have previously never tackled. You can seldom control the little things that come up.

If you build a subcontractor network of guys that care about their work, create budgets that can pay them, and account for a realistic amount of unexpected, then your only real hurdle is selling the client on it.

If they buy they buy. If not, at least you won't be taking a job for less than you should be.

Trust me, I did this for years thinking I was investing in experience or whatever other justification I gave it.

In the end - If you are supremely confident in your skills and why you are the best choice for the job, then let the potential client know why. I’ve found that price becomes a 1A priority to hiring the right person.

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