Selling our existing house was the only major hurtle that had to be overcome before building an addition onto “This Old Crack House”.
Coincidently, I’ve held a tool-sale every January in the stain shop. I would sell excess tools. These were refurnished tools that had been replaced with a newer model. Often various manufactures would ask me to test new models and give them feedback. For the most part, they would not expect the tool back at the end of the test and the tool was ours to do as we wanted.
I would advise my neighbors and friends to have a look at the tools in advance of opening the tool sale up to the general public. Many of my neighbors and buddies waited all year for this sale, because there were not only a lot of good tools to choose from, but they were priced very modestly.
It wasn’t uncommon to sell three to five thousand dollars worth of tools in two days.
While giving an advance showing to one of my neighbors who lived three doors down from me, I mention that we were going to be putting up our house for sale and had planed to put a new addition on “This Old Crack House” and move into it sometime during late spring or early summer.
The guy I mentioned this to told me that his wife had always loved the house and that they had been talking about getting a bigger one. He said he would talk to his wife and he would let me know if she was interested in the house. He was already sold on the idea because of all the work I did on the shop.
Two years earlier I had build him a new double stall garage but he hadn’t finished out the interior nor had any heat installed.
He left and said he would call me as soon as he talked to his wife.
Within the hour, he called me and said his wife was very interested in the house. He had called here at work to tell her that the house would be coming up for sale. She wanted to come and look at the house when she got off work. Less than two hours after I had mentioned to my neighbor, he and his wife were going through the house. They were both very interested in it.
We sat at the dinner table and talked about what it would take for them to buy the house.
One of their requirements was that they would have to first sell their house. One big advantage I offered was my background as a Para-legal I could do all the purchase agreements and save several thousand dollars in selling commissions.
I was also very familiar with the real estate market having both remodeled and sold several houses in the past. I also had a number of clients and friends who were very interested in moving up to our neighborhood. We established a very friendly close-knit neighborhood. It offered affordable housing, that when remodeled, would really increase the value in a very short period of time. In our immediate neighborhood, we had bought nine houses, which we remodeled and sold.
I already had a prospect in mind for their house. We had agreed on a purchase price of two hundred four thousand dollars for our house and one hundred fifty thousand for their house.
Their house was in need of substantial updating and remodeling. They new this and were worried that this would be a problem. I assured them it would not because I was capable of remodeling the house to the buyer’s choices and specifications. They accepted this because of the garage I had built them and the several tours they had undertaken of our remodeling projects.
This fact brought a huge sense of relief to them. They had their heart set and in their minds, were already moving into our house.
I placed a call to my buddy whom I knew was looking at buying his first house. He had been looking at condos and townhouses. I suggested he come and see their house before he made a final decision on any others. If he didn’t like what he saw, or it didn’t fit his needs, there would be no pressure. He could move on.
He knew me well and was very familiar with my work. He jumped at the chance to look at the house. After touring the house he fell in love with it. Not as it was but what it could become. We talked about several scenarios and options. All of them were very realistic and doable.
I introduced him to the sellers and we discussed what had to happen in order for the houses to be sold. All the parties were willing to be flexible. For all of the obvious reasons, it was a great advantage to have the houses pre-sold.
It was the middle of a Minnesota winter. The ground was frozen and the frost was about two feet deep. Considering our tight budget, the cost of digging the basement, and heating the water and sand for the blocks, would be too costly.
This was simply the matter of timing. The solution was to sign purchase agreements, close on all the proprieties and each of us rent back until our new house was built. This would work out fine because my buddy, who was buying our neighbor’s house, lived in an apartment with three months left on his lease. The rent that he received would more than cover his mortgage payments.
We signed the purchase agreements in January and closed on the properties in early March. We started with my buddy’s house first because my neighbor would need the equity from that sale to fund the purchase of our house which was about fifty-five thousand dollars more.
In turn we would close on ours and rent back. We needed the equity to fund the construction of the new addition to “This Old Crack House”. One of the agreements I had with my business partner was that we wouldn’t take on any more debt but would fund the construction from equity earned from the appreciation and sale of our exiting house.
After living in that house for 5 years and deducting the cost of remodeling of the house and shop we would net over eighty grand which would be used to fund the construction of the new addition.
The first plans I had called for a two story twenty-eight hundred square foot addition. That was clearly a pipe dream and after I did the first take off and cost estimate, I scaled that back to a twelve hundred square foot addition with a thirty by twenty six foot shop attached to the house. This was far more realistic but would still take some real work and ingenuity to make these numbers work. However, I had been in this position before and was confident that I could bring the basic house in on budget.
Due to a potential union strike, the one big looming trouble-spot on the horizon was the indication that my employment was in jeopardy. It was my only real source of income and health insurance. I had known this for months because we had been working without a contract for over a year and things was coming to a head. I had saved every spare penny I could and had taken on extra commissions in woodworking to try to cushion the loss of income.
Although I could do more of my own work faster, I also feared that if I went on strike it would take away from my commission work and affect that income. I still had Sid, TJ and an intern on the payroll. I was just feeling uncomfortable with all the uncertainties but somehow felt they would work out in the end.
To fulfill my dream to live in “This Old Crack House”, I was simply operating on blind faith. Once the decision was made, I never looked back.
Sure enough we went on strike and to keep my union status in good standing, I had to do strike duty on the picket-line. On one hand, it was a blessing because now I was free to prepare to break ground for the new addition as soon as the frost thawed. Before any actual work could be commenced, I had a lot of planning, material purchasing, and building permits to obtain.
I chose the midnight shift to do my required picketing. This would allow me to work on the house during the days. I was only required to do three shifts in a two week period but it was the middle of a cold winter, so they were very difficult shifts.
I couldn’t do it again. It’s just too hard and in the end, wasn’t worth it for me or our Union. Things had changed but our union hadn’t.
This is the reality of the times. Enough said.
The upside of this was having the time to work on the house.
I called in several favors and contacted other subs and various people for help. These were people from all trades that I had worked with during my remodeling days. When and where possible, I would exchange labor or goods for a few days help. For example, I had a buddy who did block work. Although I could lay block, I was slow at it and didn’t have all the forms and equipment to do the job right. Framing was my expertise, but until I got the basement in and the blocks laid, I couldn’t start framing.
We worked out a cash and labor exchange deal. He needed new kitchen cabinets and some furniture so it worked out well. He had a Bob Cat and trailer along with the portable cement mixer and access to a track back hoe to dig the basement. He rented this back hoe and I agreed to pay the daily rental and hauling charges.
On the last Friday in March, he agreed to come over to stake out the addition and strip the black dirt in the yard. We did this and found that there was very little frost present. This was good news and we agreed to start digging the basement early Monday morning.
Monday morning was April 1st, or good old April Fool’s Day. It sure made me think about what I was getting into.
I did my strike duty on Saturday night so I could be fresh when he arrived Monday morning. He arrived bright and early and shortly after that, the track back hoe arrived. He got up on the semi trailer and started to unload the hoe, but seemed to struggle to get it off the trailer.
After several attempts and a rough trip off the trailer he got out of the hoe and walked over to me and said, “I can’t run that damn thing, it’s got John Deere controls and I am used to Cat controls. I told them to send cat controls”.
I responded, “Hey I understand; I have run heavy equipment a number of years and know what it’s like to get used to one type of control.” I asked him if he minded if I ran the hoe. I was used to cat also but had run both a lot in my career in heavy equipment operating.
He said “have at it”.
I got in the hoe and dug the basement as he kept the dirt away with the Bob Cat where it couldn’t be cast and had to be hauled away. He also built forms while I got the areas of the basement and garage dug.
All in all, doing it this way, it went quickly and well.
I had the city come out and mark the inlet stub for the sewer because I was going to install my own sanity sewer to the house. After I finished digging the basement, I would dig in and install the sewer to the house. We had only rented the back hoe for two days and had planed on digging the basement one day and the sewer the next.
The soil here is all sand with about a foot of top soil. Because sand collapses so easily, you have to over-dig any hole or trench about three-to-one. This makes for some large piles of sand and not a lot of room on the lot to work or store material.
In order to make it safe for us to install the sanitary sewer line, I had a trench about forty feet long, ten foot deep and eight foot at the bottom tapering to twenty feet at the top.
The city wasn’t able to tell me the elevation of the stub going into the manhole at the curb. Their explanation was that when they came through and put in a new sewer and storm sewer, they didn’t record the depths. They also were over-budget so wouldn’t run a camera down to located the inlets.
I had installed water and sewer for years when I worked as a forty-niner and heavy equipment operator, so I knew what I was in for. It would be a lot of guessing and extra work.
There was no point in chewing out the building inspector. He didn’t install the sewer and didn’t set budget policy.
I just started digging.
Darkness had arrived and still no sign of the inlet pipe. The city had already informed me where they thought it could be.
This was the third try.
I was getting close to where I thought the inlet might be regardless of what the city said, but just as it was getting dark, the brand new back-hoe ran a track off.
I had no choice but to send the back-hoe back and rent another one for a day. I had a huge open trench that required temporary fencing around it to prevent anyone falling in.
This I did and went home to bed.
I had been working for twenty hours; I slept well.
Tomorrow would be a new day.
It was a lesson that I had well learned with all the troubles I had with remodeling “This Old Crack House”.
I got up early the next morning and went out to the street. I pulled the manhole cover off and climbed down locating the inlet pipe myself. I then guessed the best I could using my experience where the stub would be on the curb side of my property. The new back-hoe arrived and two hours later I located the inlet pipe. It was within 6 inches of where I guessed it would be.
The city’s location-stakes were ten feet from where I found it.
I was just grateful that I had found it. I called for an inspection of the trench. The city inspector came out and felt bad for me because of all the trouble I had in locating the sewer stub. He was concerned that I wouldn’t make the grade that the building code required because he felt that the city had installed the inlet stub too high.
If this was the case it would require several thousand dollars of extra lift pumps and work that I never estimated nor planed.
I told the inspector that I thought it would make grade based on my “grade eye” and have an inch or so to spare. He didn’t think so. I was basing my prediction on several years of experience of installing sewer and water systems. We bet coffee. He left and said call me when you make the inlet connection before you back fill. As a result, he caused me to doubt my own judgment and I was concerned it might not work out ending up costing me a lot of money and down-time.
I have been fooled and wrong before and this was no time to let my ego get in the way.
I sent my business partner up to rent a laser transit and tri-pod.
Grade and slope can be very deceiving. After all the elevations were shot we had an inch and half to spare to make the building code requirements.
I was relived. I also collected on my cup of coffee from the inspector.