Monday, August 27, 2007

Building time is here!

Hooray! we have turned a corner and have started to add things rather than remove - The rest of the rotted bathroom floor came up and I spent the evening in the basement sistering the joists so I can install the new sub floor.
We also got a nice visit from my Realtor who stopped by to check on our progress and drop off some very nice gifts - a bottle of Champagne, some lovely glasses, a Lowes Gift card and a very nice card. She is a gem and I would recommend her a million times over.
After a nice visit, we got back to work and Steve attached the remnants of the rat droppings with the shop vac, and did a ton of scrubbing on some of the nastiest areas. We have almost gotten rid of the smell completely, and I think after tonight we should be in really good shape. He also found a very old circa 1910 label nailed on the top shelf of the front bedroom closet. It looks like a railroad shipping label.
Well, its back to my hardware chemistry tonight before bed- I brought a set of hinges and a door plate to do my backing soda paint removal trick.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bathroom Demo & More Cleaning

So last week was scrub yank scrub... I took Tuesday and Friday afternoon off and we got some hardcore stuff done, like ripping out the top four layers of flooring in the dining room and hallway. And mind you, for all the half assed stuff they did to the house, they wanted to make sure that the #%&*@ floor was going to stay in place, under the linoleum glue was the first layer of 1/8"plywood, glued and stapled every 2", under that was 1/4" plywood screwed with 2" drywall screws AND staples, of which half the screws were either stripped out or rusted, and under that another 1/2 layer of plywood with its very own set of 2" screws set every 2". We resorted to cutting the layers with the circular saw into 2' squares, and yanking them up with a crow bar and getting it up in chunks .... lather, rinse repeat for a 11'X18' room and a 7'X5' hallway. under this lovely concoction are three layers of asphalt tiles - first peacock blue pebble pattern, over a fire engine red pebble pattern, over a cream and brown with gold speckled pebble pattern, over a very sorry, tired and rotted oak floor. Th immediate plan is to put wall to wall carpet over the tile and later we will replace the oak floor with the salvaged planks we got from our Long Beach Neighbor.
After all that entertainment, we dug into the bathroom, discovering that 3/4 of the floor is rotted, along with the lower portions of the wall - We also found two more rats nests and the remains of one occupant, so Steve had to do the rodent disposal detail while I went elsewhere.
Over the weekend, we made a trip up to Long Beach to exchange the commode base, to the great amusement of the service desk of Orchard Supply - "You mean to tell me you drove ALL the way from San Diego for THIS....?" We also went to the Long Beach house to get all my power tools for this weeks bathroom floor replacement and rewiring project. The bathroom light has never worked for some reason, and since it is part of the original 1910 wiring, I am going to bypass it an hook into the new outlet wiring an add an overhead exhaust fan in the process. When the house was rewired, they only redid the outlets, running metal conduits through the floors, but left all the overheads on the original wiring. So the plan is room by room to replace the overhead wiring and at the same time put the outlets inside the wall instead of mounted on the walls. Since we have the bathroom walls open, I am going to also redo the outlets in the bedrooms and hallway walls adjoining it.
I also had my first paint removal sucess with the hardware, I had read that if you boiled water with baking soda, and dropped the painted hardware, the paint comes right off. So I tried it and wow, does it work well! It also made it easier to polish it afterwards. So, the goal by the end of this week is to have the new bathroom floor done and the new wiring done... Lets see how we do!!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Rats Part II...

All I can say tonight is ick!!! My brave husband decided tonight was the night to explore the attic... The first warning was the rat poop showering out of the the hatch, then starting him in the face was corpse #1, which he removed while I went to the car to uh..get stuff..yeah... thats it. After that was dumped in the garbage can outside, he started removing items stored up there - old clothes, books and a walker covered in rat droppings. No original light fixtures, old photos, or anything fun, just junk. As he was reaching to grab some more stuff, he picked up corpse #2. That was followed a few minutes later by #3. At least we got rid of more of the filth, and te house is staring to smell better, although we have been having a humid heat wave in San Diego and its still pretty stinky in there.
I also started the brave task of cleaning the kitchen cabinets. From the pictures you can see it does not look too bad, as it was redone sometime in the early 1990's. However, there are no words for what I found in the first cabinet I cleaned. What I thought was dirt and grime was actually a 1/8 thick pile of dead bugs of all sorts, and I had to use a putty knife to scrape them off. I went through 3 green scrubbies on two cabinets, having also used a scrub brush to get the initial stuff removed. I cannot image how anyone could live in such conditions and not be deathly sick... Amazingly, with lots of scrubbing, hot water and bleach they came out really clean, and even the counter top and walls look decent. This will be an ongoing saga all week.. I can't wait to start on the drawers...<>.
After Steve was done with the rat removal, he ripped up the electric blue carpet and pad. parts of the wood floor are really nice, and then there are the rest... Sadly,we have now confirmed that all the wood floor in the house are trashed. . The good news is that our neighbor in Long Beach, who is a contractor, just renovated a mid 1930's home and got us several rooms worth of pristine condition quarter sawn oak floors that happen to be the same dimensions as the ones in the house. I spent two full weekends pulling nails and bundling it up, so its all ready for its new home. Unfortunately, its new home is not ready for it. We are going to carpet the house for now until we can get the center beam replaced an correct the sag. Oh well, at least we have it.
With that done, the mini blinds hung at the windows, it it starting to kinda resemble a real house.
I am hoping to take some time off later this week to get a head start on the bathroom. I went to Long Beach over the weekend and picked up the commode at Orchard Supply Hardware, but unfortunately, the Long Beach Store only had the tank in stock (when I had called earlier in the week, they had both). So I drove all the way to the Torrance store 20 miles away to get the bowl. I picked it up, brought it all the way back to SD, unloaded it from the car, opened it up to find it was broken. Needless to say, I was NOT a happy camper. Luckily for me, Steve and David are going up to LA tomorrow to look at a used car for David, and have graciously agreed to exchange it for me. Yay!
I also got a better picture of the front porch. Here is a before and after, and its really a huge difference!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Tearing through the checklist...

Today I worked half day so we could get a head start on the house. We were VERY productive, me getting all of the five boarded up windows replaced, and Steve demolishing the hideous enclosed porch...Wow, the house looks so different! Here is a before and after with Steve and his best friend David. Please note the Photos were taken before I finished the front window, and it was too dark to take and after, but believe me it looks like somebody actually lives there now. I also discovered the original window sash color - dark forest green. I was planning for black sashes, but the green would also work for the color scheme I was planning - Dark Brown siding and white trim.
We also discovered more rats nests around the built in in the dinning room - they have chewed though the back and sides, and at various times throughout the house's history, it has been patched with tin, plywood, cardboard. Steve thinks there are more nests behind the wall, so we are thinking we should pull out the built in and clean it all up. We have taken out three trash bags worth of rats nests and garbage that was stuffed in the flimsy wall and china cabinet, and the stench as lessened considerably. but there is still an odor coming from the wall behind and next to the china closet. Now with the wall out and the debris swept up, the dining room is really starting to look good- I just Love Love Love that room - its what sold me on the house in the first place.
Here are a few before and during picture to show the dramatic changes already:

We will be taking a break for the weekend, as I have some stuff I have to get done on the Long Beach house - I have some restored windows to install and the last three security bars to remove from the front windows. It took me five years, but I restored all eleven windows back to pristine 1923 condition. At some point, I will need to do the same on the new houses windows, but I will settle for just having glass an being able to open them for now!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

We closed...let the cleaning begin

So we closed today finally an we got the keys at 4:00...them promptly changed the locks. Then it was off to Home Depot for a few items - trash bags, another dust mask (the one we got was too small) a prybar and a few hammers. Since so much happened, here is a breakdown of the good we discovered:

The built in china cabinet still has one on upper and one lower door, and it has the neatest cupbord latch I have ever seen, it matches the doorknob plates. The bad news is that there is only one remaining - the other three are long gone.

Here is a view of the full room now minus that nasty wall, and of my handsome husband swinging a crowbar.

Here is a shot of the pocket door we muscled out of the wall in all its yellow glory. The living room side is a delightful shade of baby blue.

Now here is the not so nice things we discovered ( I will spare you the nasty images).
The crappy wall that we tore down had not one, but at least THREE rats nests, along with discarded boxes of TV Dinners, Mac and Cheese. Paper Plates, and to wash it all down a Shasta Cola Box stuffed in the wall - No wonder there are rats in the attic! We also discovered that the bathroom floor is worse than we thought, as it has rotted all the way through. someone had asked me if you could get to the basement from the house and well, I guess you can if your not careful.
Next on the agenda is to pull up the floor in the dinning room, hallway, and bathroom, and start scrubbing the kitchen, which has awesome water pressure (new copper plumbing) and very hot water - The water heater shed just needs a door... Details right? Also I hope to get glass cut for the windows so it actually looks like somone could live there.
On another note, Velma has let me down - I never heard from her so I made a few phone calls and found the commode of my dreams at Orchard Supply Hardware, for $140 no less... The only catch is that the closest Orchard is 90 miles away, BUT there is one in Long Beach near our house there. So, for some reason yet another bath fixture is being imported. Got to keep up with the neigbors don't ya know....

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Walkthrough Today

Well, today was the final walk through with the Realtor, and everything is set to close tomorrow. We also discovered we have some sort of critters in the attic ... yuck. Time to call the exterminator. I will also want them to remove the bodies. I have dealt with corpses before and its beyond disgusting.
I started the phone calls today to track down the new commode for the bathroom. Strange as it sounds, there is a specific model I want from Crane Plumbing - I bought the one for our Long Beach house at Lowes five years ago, and just love the vintage look. Unfortunately, Lowes no longer carries the the thing, so I have to track it down elsewhere. I ended up calling a place in El Cajon and was transfered to a women named Velma, who bless her heart is going to get me a price later this week. And yes, she sounded like a Velma.
I also discovered that the neighborhood has a very well organized community development organization that is working to attract more business to the little business district and to spruce up Golden Hill Park. In the past few years, they have worked with the San Diego Police department to address crime, an have help orchestrate the addition on new street trees and putting power lines underground. They have also added these really cool signs as you enter the area. The more I learn about the area, the more I love my new neighborhood.
We made a trip to Lowes to get a few more preparation supplies, and I found some perfect house numbers for 2.50 each. Its so exciting to actually buy the numbers for the new house - it makes it feel more real. Lowes was also having a amazing sale on light fixtures, an we ended up with five for $5 each. These were originally $48 - $90 so we stocked up.
Well, my next update will be as a Homeowner.....

Monday, August 13, 2007

Meet the Neighbors...

So first off we have an "official" closing date of Wednesday, and I went over to the Loan office today to sign all of the myriad of paperwork. Being as California is so sue happy, there are a lot of disclosures and acknowledgments that make your head spin. One of my past jobs was at a mortgage company, so I actually was familiar with most of the stuff.
After we finished up there, we went up to the house to check out a few things I had forgotten to look at prior. The electrical service was upgraded at some point recently, so I wanted to see if it is big enough to handle a 220 circuit for our dryer, or if I was going to need to buy a gas one. Luckily, its fine. We also did a little digging in the back yard and found what appears to be the remains of a detached wash house. there is a bent water pipe sticking out of the ground and a sewer line, and some bricks an concrete chunks. I will have to go down to the Historical Society an see if there are any insurance maps from the teen and twenties to determine what was where, as those maps would show the locations of outbuildings. it will also answer the question of when the original garage was built - it is now a crumbling foundation thats ready to fall over.
As we were finishing up, we ran into the neighbors in the house behind, and they were so nice and welcoming, and thrilled to hear we were going to be fixing up the house. We chatted for almost and hour, and I am really looking forward to having them next door. It makes me want to get the exterior fixed up quickly, as there house is so nicely kept. They also gave us the background of the previous occupants, who in their words, were a little odd - an older couple who had been there for many years who towards the end had their adult children move in with them, and the house was filled to the rafters with papers and trash. It also turns out the broken windows had been missing for quite some time. After the bank took over, they had to clear out the house with shovels - and I thought it was bad empty! After we talked to them, we snagged a piece of glass putty to take to Home Depot to get a paint match. I am pre-painting all of the replacement window trim ahead of time, so the glass replacement will go faster.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Wow, its the little things that make it feel like its really happening. I called to arrange for Hazard Insurance and after the phone call, It hit me that I am actually going be in the house soon. This has been a crazy roller coaster that started back in March when I first saw the house. I can't wait to get over there with my tools and get to work. The word now is Wednesday or Thursday, so we are keeping our fingers crossed. I brought all of my Window Glazing tools and pneumatic nailer's to get the windows fixed right away, an several weeks ago I had bought some new deadbolt locks for the doors. Why a nail gun for window repair? It will use it to nail the wood glazing strips, which are used in place of #$%@ glass putty. In my past lives I worked as a carpenter and have repaired lots of wood windows and have come to despise glass putty. Its a royal pain to both install and remove, and I think the wood looks much nicer. I will replace any of the broken sash cords at the same time so the windows will open and close properly. Wednesday, here we come!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Why do I answer my Phone?

Today I get out of a meeting at work and there is a message on my desk phone, cell phone, and an email from my loan guy... Not good considering Escrow is supposed to close shortly. I call him and find out that the bank will not count my Escrow deposit towards the amount of available cash reserves needed to approve the loan. So I need to come up with some mega cash quickly... Fun Fun Fun...
Today was also supposed to be the walk through of the house to make sure that everything was still in the mouldering disorder it was when I fell in love with the place... I don't want to be shortchanged any filth I agreed too. We get there an my agent gets the key out of the lock box, an low and low and behold, the key does not work. The lock has been changed, and the new key was not put into the lock box. We tried the back door, the key worked but their is a security chain across it, so needless to say, no walk though today. The other little gift was nice gang graffiti on the front porch to welcome me.. My agent was very nice and took me to a nice dinner and drinks, I had a couple of Gin martinis an suddenly, things don't seem so bad, there are also a little wobbly, but thats a different story.
In any case, I know everything will work out and I am working with my Loan Guy and Agent to get past this hurdle. I have been waiting since March, what is a few more days in the grand scheme of things? The other reminder of today was that being at the house and in the neighborhood makes me so happy. I just Love Love Love that house and neighborhood, and soon, I will call it HOME.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

We have errrr progress...

Well, here it is Sunday night and we did a drive by of the new house. (Fortunately, since we no longer live in LA we left our guns at home.) Low and behold, they FINALLY boarded up the shattered front picture window that was broken out in mid April. I had asked them repeatedly to secure the property, and they had continually refused. maybe the city finally got after them or it is a nice open of escrow gift. (in any case, I will take it) I also did some shopping in my bargain dives in LA, and found a perfect bathroom faucet for $90.00. I so thrilled because after exhaustive research online, Ebay, Home Depot and Lowes, I had not found anything forless than 150.00 plus shipping. I also did some shopping in my junk boxes in the attic of the LB house, and dug out some light fixtures and an Entry Door set that matches the ones in the new house. I picked it up over four years ago and put it away for a later project. I posted some pictures of my attic finds. See, it does pay to keep certain things around. My agent also called me today to let me know that the escrow company has all my paperwork ready to go and they will overnight it so we get it on Tuesday. Onward and Upward!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Are we having fun yet?

I get a frantic call from my Realtor today telling me that the Escrow company has not received by deposit check yet - In most real estate transactions, this is no big deal, because the Escrow company is in the same town, an I can drop off a new check. Well, in THIS transaction the bank that owns the house is in LA, and so is the escrow company. We also find out they won't accept my personal check, but need a cashiers check. Fortunately, I am headed up to LA to work on our Long Beach house, so I will drop off the check in their drop box. Since it is Friday night, its time to go swig few beers and relax, as the excitement will continue next week.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Before Pics .

The living room, complete with the fantastic beamed ceiling and built in bookcases an columns separating the entry. Also note the glamorous 60's ish crystal light fixture and electric blue carpet

Here is a view into the dinning room with a pocket door currently partially stuck into the wall, but with a 1920's curtain rod attached to the trim which indicates someone had portiers draped to separate the rooms. How swanky is that? Also note the elegant plywood and 2X4 screen on the windows, and another view of the carpet and contrasting linoleum in the dinning room.

The soon to be elegant dinning room, looking through the pocket door from the living room. As you can see, the room has a beautiful plate rail, picture molding and matching beam ceiling. It also has a very peculiar partition separating the room in half, built of scraps of wood paneling, 2x4 framing and large amounts of alcohol or controlled substance, as nothing is remotely level or even. It also bisects the original built in buffet which as been covered over. The floor has also been "repaired" in the most liberal sense of the word, as it is made up of different thickness plywood covered in linoleum replacing the original oak flooring. At least the 1X6 sub floor is still there and sound.

Here is the other side of the room, original detail intact with extraneous gas lines for a missing gas heater, and phone cord to nowhere.

The front bedroom, Intact with all the original moldings, floors and doors (not necessarily attached to door frame however). The highlight of this room is the closet door that has a full length bevel glass mirror on the inside of the door ( visible in the hallway picture below)

The back bedroom, with lots of doors. The door to the far right is new, and this wall be reconfigured to a larger double door to access the narrow closet. Already Hunting for a pair of 5 panel doors to match the rest of the house. The rest of the room is the same as the front, with all the original trim and flooring, although there is some termite damage to the maple floor in one corner, luckily, they didn't care for the pine sub floor which is solid.

Looking down the hall from the back bedroom to the front, the dinning room door on the left and the bath on the right. Note the beveled glass closet door mentioned above in the front bedroom an the intact trim and the original wall sconce next to the bathroom door on the right.

The kitchen. Got ya huh? Its actually not too bad, very late 1980's minus the almond appliances, actually minus all appliances, which considering how filthy the rest of the house is, a real blessing. A thorough cleaning, new counter tops and new floor, it will suffice until I can add on to the house and have my dream kitchen..

The bath, redone about the same time as the kitchen with about as much charm. a one piece fiberglass tub enclosure and a mildewed press board vanity complete the picture. There are big long terms plans for this room, subway tile walls, hexagonal tile floor, clawfoot tub and marble vanity. I managed to get my hands on the marble vanity on sale at Home Depot Expo, but the other elements will have to be put on hold for now. As a comparison, check out the picture of the bathroom in our Long Beach house below.

This room was completely redone,we moved the tub across the room and changed the locations of the doors. I did all the tilework, built the medicine cabinet and replicated all the woodwork to match the originals in the rest of the house. The tub enclosure design was copied from a 1928 penthouse apartment of a friend of ours, but we substituted glass block for the original tile mural. The new bath will be more Edwardian, which is more appropriate for the 1910 vintage of the new house. I can't do it the same way, now can I?

Here we go again...

Five years ago, My spouse closed on a lovely, but ragged 1923 Beach Bungalow 14 blocks from the beach in Long Beach CA. Always a working class neighborhood, the early residents were oil workers and office clerks, none staying more than 10 years. The back porch was enclosed as a second bedroom in late 1940's, the dinning room Murphy bed an built in buffet were removed, and the dark wood trim was slathered with a coat of beige paint, and the kitchen was painted a painful combination of fire engine red and a Christmas tree green. The area changed like so may urban areas did in the 1950's and 1960's, going from primarily white to African American, then agian in the 1980's to primarily Asian immigrants, who bought the house in 1988 as a rental property. the original narrow wood siding was covering in stucco, the narrow attached garage became two finished bedrooms. However, the original wood sashes, kitchen cabinets, wood floors and mill work survived under rental paint and carpet.
Being a passionate perfectionist, we took the surviving elements and brought the house back to 1923, while adding modern comforts like central AC and Heat, new plumbing and wiring. We also revised the floor plan slightly to accommodate our frequent parties. ( The original layout required walking through the bedroom to access the bathroom). The changes were very carefully planned, and in fact we later visited a house of the same era that had our "new" layout.
After five years of carefully picking out each element with care and devoting every Monday, Wednesday and Friday after work and all day Saturday bringing the house back to life, I received a job offer I could not refuse one hundred miles south in San Diego in February of 2007. We began our search for the perfect house, and thought we found it in a completely intact 1920 craftsman, All the details were there, from the door knobs to the original kitchen cabinets. It also had severe foundation issues, making you seasick looking across the living room. It was also severely neglected, a foreclosure. We made our offer and were outbid by a person who proceeded to to GUT the entire house, and reconfigure it into a completely uninteresting new house and put it on the market for 200K more. Needless to say, the house is still on the market several months later with no takers. ( Please note, I AM NOT GLOATING).
At the end of March, I found a listing for a house that looked interesting - near the park, huge 18 X 12 dinning room, original details... We wne for a look and I fell in love... Beamed ceilings in the dinning room and living room, formal entry with built in bookcases and craftsman columns, pocket doors, and every door with original hardware, and best of all, a partial basement! Basements are very rare in California. It also was a foreclosure, several broken windows, a terrible 3" sag in the center of the house, and filled with rat droppings, roaches and bugs. In other words, a house only a crazy person (or me) would love. I made an offer immediately, taking into account the condition of the house and the housing market in San Diego, and was laughed out of the real estate office. The house stayed on the market for three more months, and I resubmitted my offer again and again, knowing that in the end, I would get the house. Finally, July 2, 2007 the bank accepted my offer, an we began the odyssey of going through the foreclosure process. The previous owners had received mortgage insurance on the property, and so once my offer was accepted, a claim had to be made by the bank to cover the loss - 160K. The insurance company was not so happy about this, and opened an investigation to determine why there was such a huge loss (uh... because the market was insane and it has now entered reality???) So consequently, the Escrow, which was originally scheduled to close July 20th was postponed until the insurance company processed the claim. Mind you, when I signed the sales agreement on July 2nd, it expressly indicated that Escrow must close by July 20th, otherwise I had to pay a $75 fee per day after the 20th. We then had to get a written confirmation that the fee would only be incurred if the delay was because of my financing, which we did and then we waited.
In the meantime, the original loan guy we used got all of our ducks in a row for the loan. Since the house was in "questionable" condition, he had to have a conversation with the appraiser to let him know this was not your average tract home. It was in an older neighborhood where there there are bungalows next to Victorian mansions next to 1960's boomerang apartment complexes. I have learned these are tough houses to finance, as they are unusual. We sent out the appraiser an he took one look at the house and said it was the worst house he had ever seen. Obviously, he could not see past the dirt and grime to see the house had updated plumbing and wiring, and a unusually large lot an fantastic views of the park. I get a call early Monday, and by the en of the day, we find another company who works on unusual properties, and I meet with the loan officer and the appraiser, and I give them a walk though of the house, and point out all of the pluses, and also provide sales history of nearby homes of the same square footage that recently sold for more than my offer. Needless to say, I got then on board and we got a loan.
Finally, we got word yesterday that all the paperwork is in order and we should be set to close next week. ( Whew!!!) In the meantime, I have been trolling Ebay for replacement light fixtures and picking out new bathroom fixtures so I have everything lined up once we get in there, as we will have 30 days from close of escrow to make it livable..... Here we go again....