Home Improvements

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Okay, so I’ve been living in shambles for quite some time. I’m not proud of it. It’s embarrassing.

It was way back in October of 2008 that I offered a glimpse of the inside of my house.

That’s how bad it was nearly two years ago.

Crazily, it had already looked like that for at least a year.


A month later, I “touched” it up with a new carpet in some sort of sad attempt to hide something that could not be hidden.

…and so I “pretended” that it didn’t exist.

From there, I invited everyone in to see my son’s bedroom a few weeks before he was born. I think it made my house look pretty top notch.

Did anyone even remember “that” scary room downstairs?

I was hoping not.

And then last summer, I took it outside and ran some interference by making that cool timelapse video of the trees coming down.

I should have been working on the room, though.

Bringing it up to the present — we’ve signed off on a $33k renovation. The work, err, demolition started this week so we’re off and running. Woo-hoo!

“That” room won’t look like that for much longer so now I’m going to invite everyone in to see what the 600+ square feet we’re having completely re-done looked like, well, just a couple of weeks ago.

Okay, we’ll start with “the” room. This is the first thing you see when you walk in my house. Sure, the arcade game in the corner is cool (it works too!) but Jim Henson covering a wide open heating duct, a creepy painting my father painted 40 years ago, a photo backdrop clamped to the, um, ceiling joists, and, well, a complete lack of walls or ceiling, yeah, that’s not cool at all.

To the room’s credit — this is actually an improvement over the wood paneling and “earthy” shag carpet it sported when I purchased the house in 2002.

Up next is the parlor that we’ve used as a living room. When I bought the house, it had the most awful wallpaper. We tried in vain to remove it and then just ended up painting over it.

The yellow actually looks pretty good in person. Outside of the Cozy Coupe, the miniature chair, and the cool smiley face volleyball — we threw out everything in this room.

The couches were salvageable but were just a tiny bit too big for the room. The big shelf on the left came from IKEA. It was nice too but we couldn’t get it out of the room — it wouldn’t fit through the doorway — so I took a circular saw to it.

You can’t see the television either but we brought that upstairs to the bedroom. When it’s all said and done, we’ll buy new furniture and a new flatscreen tv too. It’s time to start over.

The next room is the dining room. We threw out the table a couple of years ago — we never used it since we have an eat-in kitchen — so the entire room sorta turned into a very disfunctional storage room.

Diapers were stacked in here. We parked the stroller in here. My awesome vacuum cleaner lived in here. My hockey equipment used to reside here. Our recycle bin was in here too. Yeah, it wasn’t very nice.

The piano came with the house and, like the couches, it’s just too big for the room. While I like having a piano, none of us know how to play it. It’s gone now. (We kept the bench, though!)

See that horrible-horrible-horrible carpet? Yeah, I didn’t pick it. I just couldn’t get it out of there so I just dealt with it. Seriously, though, who would have chosen that carpet? Ugh…

And those corner cabinets that don’t match anything? Well, those came from my parents. We didn’t throw them out — they’re actually kinda nice — but I have a feeling that their new home will be in the garage once we take them out of the POD.

The last area is the stairway. It’s an old house where the stairs are steep and narrow. Structurally, there isn’t much we can do about that but at least here you can see the remaining paneling and shag carpet since I know you’re interested.

Wow — that was embarrassing.

I hope you enjoyed it though! I mean, it’s always kinda neat to see how other people live — especially when it’s this, um, rough.

Later this week I’ll start posting updated photos…

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Wow… What a week…

I’d meant to post something each and every night regarding all of the happenings but sometimes you just can’t find the time. In that respect — this week totally sucked…

On Monday night, we scheduled that appraisal that we’ve been avoiding since we initiated the mortgage re-fi exactly one month ago.

As a result, I hastily mowed the lawn and filled the POD in the driveway pretty much up to the limit to eliminate additional clutter. Somehow I managed to do this all of this prior to the finale of 24.

On Tuesday evening, the appraiser came over and asked about all of the updates (roof, siding, furnace, etc…) we’d made and then he ventured through the house taking pictures.

Obviously, the entry room was a topic of discussion. Further, since we’d filled the POD already, the parlor and the dining room were also topics of discussion…

Seemed like a nice enough guy but if I’ve learned one thing from all of the BMW and Cessna tucked away in the garage or an arcade game in the kitchen but he clearly mentioned repeatedly that “all things have value”…

Even still, I’m not a big fan of such subjective things. The success of our loan hangs in the balance of what one guy “thinks”.

I mean, it’s either worth it or it isn’t. It should be concrete. We’re either a risk to the lender or we’re not. It shouldn’t matter what color our walls are painted or how cluttered a one year old’s room is. It isn’t a cash out re-fi either so we’re not flight risks in the sense that we’re trying to squeeze money out and run. Our credit scores speak for themselves. This big gray area of unicorns and rainbows, err, subjectivity seems, I dunno, unfair, I guess…

Pimped out CayenneAnd, really, this is a *tiny* loan in the grand scheme of things. I could go out to our local Porsche dealership tonight and get an auto loan (at a comparable rate, even) for a new Cayenne without a problem — but for this I need to jump through hoops. It’s just a little frustrating…

So, back on topic… No word on the results of the appraisal yet — though my credit card was dinged for $445 for good measure. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be $445 spent for nothing.

Wednesday was Duncan‘s first birthday and we spent the day at the Bronx Zoo. The picture at the top of this post was taken on Wednesday.

It was a nice change of pace, taking a Wednesday off from work, but somewhere along the way (I wrestled a hippo) I messed up one of my wrists pretty badly. I mean, it hurts…

A few years ago I jammed my other wrist playing hockey (and stupidly continued to play for months on end) and it took nearly a year before it felt 100%. This time, well, it’s *way* worse — one of those things where it’d probably have been a better outcome if I had just broken it…

Thank goodness I’m right-handed *and* we’ve already moved 99% of the heavy stuff out to the POD already.

Thursday night we had the contractor that gave us the $33487.70 quote come back to go over his crazily over detailed quote for our first floor renovation in more general terms and to ask a few more questions.

After a couple of hours — mostly spent shooting the breeze — we signed off on it and even wrote the first check.

Today, Friday, we wrote that $17000 credit card check to ourselves to get all of the money needed in place for the renovation.

So, yeah, it’s been a pretty busy week and, hopefully, next week we’ll find out how the apprasial went and if the re-fi is going to go through, and if we’re really lucky, demolition might even begin on the house.

Magical UnicornAnd, if everything goes right, maybe my wrist will magically heal too…

Don’t unicorns have healing powers?

I can’t believe that I just mentioned unicorns twice in one post.

The Worst of RoomsSo you might be wondering, “Brainy, how on earth are you going to pay for a $33,487.70 renovation when the last time I checked, you only had $16k saved up?”

Well, we’re going to split it — half from savings and, since it worked out so well on the siding project, half on a credit card… my wife’s credit card.

You know, with her superior credit score and all, the single credit card she carries has a better offer on the table right now than any in my arsenal.

We’re going to go with $17k at zero percent for 12 months with a 2% ($340) transaction fee.

Here’s my super conservative plan on how we’ll wipe that one out with $750 monthly payments:
Proposed Payment Plan

Using this super conservative payment plan, we’ll pay over $1k in interest (which doesn’t exactly make me all warm and fuzzy) but the pace is so conservative that I’ll be able to rebuild my savings rapidly at the same time.

If it gets to the point where I can’t handle the idea of paying the interest, well, my savings will have grown enough so that I’ll be able to pay it off in full — if I want to.

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It was pretty neat how they dropped it in the driveway with the detachable hydraulic lift that came off of the delivery truck…

Best of all, it was in place before 7:30 am leaving us a full day (unexpected) to start filling it up!

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PODS LogoSo the ball is rolling…

Actually, saying “the ‘wrecking’ ball is looming” would be a more accurate statement…

The quote for our first floor renovation is in and we’re scheduled to have one of those PODS self storage unit things delivered tomorrow morning.

The POD is only setting me back around $300 for delivery and the first month and then about $160 per month after that.

Kinda pricey, I think…

A bit more expensive than that storage unit we had years ago but when it’s right in front of your house, well, it’s a lot more convenient for something that I expect to be short term…

Besides it’s pocket change when compared to what the renovation is going to set us back.

Ready for it?

   » $33,487.70

We haven’t signed the dotted line yet… but we’re going to…

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Home sweet home.
So it’s been over two weeks now since we initiated the re-fi and everything is set and ready to go except for one thing…

The appraisal.

We’re dragging our feet on this because of the entry room of our house. It’ll kill an appraisal on it’s own.

The picture above is actually a glimpse of the room I’m referring to in all of its glory — not something stolen from some random person’s flickr gallery. That’s my actual house. It’s bad. Seriously.

Now for most people, the appraisal is little more than a formality but for us, well, we could have a diamond encrusted bathtub in the bathroom and it wouldn’t matter… The entry room is a deal breaker.

The original plan — two weeks ago — was to get some shady drywall contractor to come out to do a quick and dirty cover-up just to get through it…

The more we thought about it, though, the more we thought that might not be the right move.

Let’s do this right.

On Wednesday night we had an extreme makeover type of contractor come over. We told him that this entry room was the primary focus right now but that we’d actually like to have the entire first floor renovated but due to budget concerns, for now, everything on the first floor except for the kitchen.

I’m not saying that the kitchen doesn’t need to be renovated — it certainly does — but, for now, well, we can live with it.

Though we only wanted 3 rooms renovated and a new staircase (maybe 650 square feet total) he went through our entire house from top to bottom. Yep, he went up to the attic. Scoped out the entire upstairs, the rooms we actually want gutted, and the basement too.

He was basically picturing it all in his head — you could see it in his eyes — and looking for potential stumbling blocks. Oddly enough, I think it worked in our favor that we’d already destroyed one room so that he could see exactly what he’d be working with behind all of the plaster

He flat out said, “You should start by replacing all of the wiring…”

It’s not that I didn’t know that — it’s just that I’ve never been sure what order to do things in.

I mean, do you replace a floor before or after you put up drywall?

It was only after the fact that we learned that you should replace siding before a roof — I don’t want to make that mistake again and I wish one of the contractors we’d had over back then would have mentioned it.

On that note, I also don’t ever want to deal with terrible contractors ever again…

This guy, who didn’t seem like a seedy scumbag for even a second, didn’t seem phased or unsure about anything our 125+ year old house threw at him.

If anything, I think he was shocked at the quality and condition of the workmanship within which, yeah, made me feel pretty good about my currently crappy house.

When he asked what our budget was for the three rooms I lowballed a $15-$20k number (which we’ve already saved up).

He mulled it over — likely scaling back what he’d imagined in his head considerably — and finally said it’d probably cost a bit more than that but we’d be shoring up some support columns in the basement and re-wiring the entire house as well… two things that I’d wanted done anyway but wasn’t sure how to work it in to the equation.

If he comes in at $30k, this is a done deal.

Even $35k, it’s a done deal.


Well, let me get back to you on that…but still, pretty likely something we’ll move forward with…

So now the plan for the appraisal depends on what this specific contractor comes back with.

If it’s a number that works for us, we’re going to get one of the PODs delivered ASAP and we’re going to completely empty the entire first floor of our house in anticipation of the demolition phase for the remodel and then schedule the appraisal.

With a completely bare (and possibly even already gutted) first floor, my hope is that it will appear to the appraiser that we’re in the midst of an extreme renovation and that’s why our home looks incomplete.

Sure, it could backfire but the way things are now, it’d backfire anyway.

A re-fi isn’t a “this must happen” thing for us. We’re doing alright as it is — I just wanted to finally skirt PMI and lower my payment at the same time.

Basically, if it doesn’t go through, we’re out around $400 for the appraisal and life goes on. We’ll be fine and I’ll still plan on paying off the mortgage before Duncan is even out of elementary school and before I turn 40.

The best news, though, is that we’re *finally* moving on this renovation.

Nothing is signed but the first step has been taken and I’m excited…

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I’m almost ashamed to admit that the last home improvement project that I took on myself was over two years ago…

That time, it was replacing an ancient light fixture — this time I was taking on the kitchen sink.

Leaky faucet.

Look at that thing?! It’s like a combination of a kitchen and bathroom faucet all in one. It’s horrible!?

Now, it’s also dripped since I bought the place back in 2002. I know, I know, I should’ve done something long before this weekend but it never really seemed to be a priority…

A couple of weeks ago, though, the drip turned into a stream. Then it started to whistle. And then I noticed that it was the hot water that was running 24 hours per day.

Hey, this is probably costing me a pretty decent chunk of change…

So off to Lowe’s we went to pick up the cheapest (but better) “kitchen” faucet they had. It was around $39.

The instructions said that the new faucet should take around an hour to install.

No problem, I thought, I can do this…

I turned the water off and proceeded to remove the old faucet.

Hmmmmm… It didn’t take to to realize that this was going to be harder than I’d thought… Nothing was moving. Nothing.

I made a quick trip to Home Depot to buy a monkey wrench and some WD-40 to loosen up the the nuts on the copper pipes.

With-in minutes of being WD-40’d, I had the water pipes disconnected but I still couldn’t get the old faucet off of the sink.

The underside was held down by these big plastic wing nuts that were fastened so tight (courtesy of corrosion) that I couldn’t get them to budge. Really, even if it weren’t such a tight cramped space, I don’t know that it would have been possible loosen them — they were that tight.

Another trip to Home Depot — this time to purchase a mini hack saw. My plan was to hack saw through the plastic wing nuts.

The plan was a total failure though as there wasn’t enough room under (and behind) the sink to get the saw blade up to where the wing nuts were. Argh?!

In the process of attempting the impossible, I’d managed to loosen/mangle things up enough on one side to slip the hack saw between the sink and the faucet so I cut right through the copper pipe (above the countertop). Hack saws are the best.

On to the other side… Crap. It was still flush with the sink so the hack saw wasn’t going to get the job done…

Out came the drill…even though it wasn’t listed a tool “needed” for installation.

From under the sink, I started to drill the plastic wing nut, here, there, from this side, from that side and then, suddenly, it started to give! No, not fall apart, but actually spin!

I unwound it, thinking, sweet, I’m almost there, and then it stopped. It wouldn’t move. Ugh…

So, since it worked on the other side and now that I had a little give, I went back to the hacksaw method.

Five hours later, I’d drilled and hack sawed the old faucet from the sink. Really, the one plumbing tool I’d purchased (the monkey wrench) was of no use. None.

Twenty minutes later, we had a new faucet.

I swear, the home improvement projects that I attempt would be *so* much easier if they were more of the addition kind rather than the renovation sort.

It’s not pretty but at least it doesn’t leak…

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I can't wait for this day...Hey, what happened to paying off the mortgage before your kid is even in school?

Well, I’ve been on pace now for over a year to have my mortgage done and paid for in early 2014 — not that far away — but I’ve decided to take a different route and here’s the reasoning…

The primary reason is that we *need* to renovate the first floor. While I can envision having my main entry way looking as it does for another 40 months or so, I don’t want to.

The other reason is because I’m afraid that if we don’t do the renovation now (or I’m guessing in the next 18 months), we’ll run the risk of never getting it done.

See, I’ve come to the conclusion that in a worst case scenario (a major job loss), we could keep up with the mortgage as it stands now on just my wife’s income.

Now say, for instance, that worst case scenario arrives before we’re able to renovate the first floor…

See where I’m going?

Yeah, we’d be strapped for cash *and* be living in squalid conditions.

Seeing the ends are nearer for a renovation than they are for a mortgage payoff — and the benefits of a renovation far outweigh, well, the alternative (a worst case scenario = nothing), this is the wisest plan that I’ve come up with so far…

Seriously, I thought about this for like 5 minutes straight…

So I’m going to institute my “Mortgage Ladder” plan in November and start saving like a mad man.

Notice, though, that I did *not* say that I’d curb my spending

One thing at a time…

Can You Dig It?


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