'This Old Crack House' #38: This Old Crack House...The house had all the curb appeal of a tent city

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Blog entry by Dusty posted 05-03-2007 06:18 PM 2472 reads 0 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 37: This was no stairway to heaven…. Part 38 of 'This Old Crack House' series Part 39: Gentleman start your skill saws...Let the remodeling begin.... »

The curb appearance of the house was terrible.

The yard had never really been taken care of and was overrun with weeds. In areas where the dog, old cars and other junk sat for long periods of time, the grass had died and large brown spots were left behind.

The stucco was cracked, pieces broken out and long rust streaks ran down the side of the house. Most of the lower windows were no longer functional and all needed new caulking and glazing. Most had various pieces of the window missing and were beyond repair. Almost all had signs of serious rot. None of the screens were intact and several were missing.

One of the hallmarks of a house built in the early 1920’s is the piano windows that take center stage in the formal living room. These windows didn’t open and were in terrible condition. It was sad to see how far the previous owners had let everything deteriorate to a condition almost beyond repair.

The upper windows had been broken out and the screens were missing. The front deck was in disrepair and had started sinking on one side. It was in dire need of a new stain job.

The chimney needed tuck pointing, and several bricks were missing.

All the fascia and soffit needed major attention besides just paint.

The fence between the yards was broken and crooked.

Neither garage door worked or could be repaired.

All the external doors of the house had to be replaced or repaired.

In the front porch, the north windows were missing. This allowed the rain to come inside, which caused major black staining and damage to the Oak floors and woodwork.

The downspouts were missing, or had long ago been taken down and not replaced. This caused water to gather and seep down into the basement. This resulted in mold and premature deterioration to the cement block. The basement windows were all broken, missing or patched together with whatever was available at the time to make repairs.

All the sidewalks had either sunk or were cracked. They had heaved which made for uncomfortable walking, not to mention the safety hazard.

The only thing that really didn’t need immediate attention was the roof it had been replaced three years earlier because of a storm and an insurance claim.

Other than these things listed and a few I have omitted, the house seemed in good condition.

I had to to keep telling myself this to avoid being overwhelmed; regardless, I was still overwhelmed. However, being numb helped.

Now that I had completed the demolition of the majority of the house and conducted a fine-tooth inspection, I was beginning to get a better picture.

It was grim.

I clearly new that all the things I had hoped to do was merely a wild dream. I knew at best after making all of the “must-do” repairs and bringing everything up to code, that there would only be a limited number of things I could do to make the house more appealing.

I already had entered into a pre-sale intent to purchase agreement with a friend; a person with whom I had previously done business.

The goal at this time was just to make the house habitable and get all the repairs done to code so I could sell it. The guy interested in buying the house had indicated that he might be interested in selling the house in which he was living and moving into this one, renting out the basement for additional income. The house was zoned R-2 and could easily be converted into a duplex because of the separate basement entry. It was exactly for this reason that I had planned to replace all the plumbing, rough in a new bathroom and install an egress window.

I confess at this point that, for all I cared, he could have raised sheep in this house. All I wanted was to finish it and sell it. I was so ready to be rid of this headache I had purchased.

Considering all the work that needed to be done, the challenge was going to be to set a selling price that would be acceptable to the purchaser. To state the obvious, my budget was tight. Although I had calculated for some wages to be paid for my labor, there was a very distinct possibility that I would not receive any wages. I was prepared for this.

It is hard to get motivated about a difficult long hard project for which you receive no return or even wages. I felt that I was up against a wall. The worst part was, on this house, there was no alternative but to roll up my sleeves and take my lumps. I had to get on with it, because the sooner that I did, the sooner it would be completed and off my hands. I was well aware of the financial hemorrhaging that was occurring every minute that the house wasn’t sold. This was not only discouraging but had the very real potential of financially devastating me and my business partner.

This could have been disastrous.

The bottom line was, I need to get busy and not become overwhelmed with the “what-ifs”. This was easier said than done. Talk is cheap – building material is not.

I started immediately with a detailed list of the scope of work that needed to be done. I listed everything that had to be done to meet code, along with everything that needed to be done just to make the house saleable regardless whether it was covered by a code issue or not. Everything had to be on the table and very thorough. There was no place for denial, wishful thinking, personal choices or tastes. I had to be completely neutral in my assessment. I couldn’t allow any emotional attachment or feelings cloud my judgment.

At this point I had no emotional attachment to the house at all. In fact, it had the beginning of, not only a bad taste, but a feeling of resentment towards it and the previous owners for not taking better care of the home. Of course, this was pointless; I had what I bought – junk.

No one was to blame for this mess, but me.

I just had to bite my lip and get the job done.

With so many things that I had found wrong with the house, my poor lip was already raw, black and blue from biting it.

The maximum amount of money I had available to me for remodeling was forty-grand. That sounds like a lot of money until you start construction or making repairs. It’s amazing how quickly that amount is spent.

Even though doing my own labor gave me a considerable advantage and would stretch my budget it wasn’t pleasant to think of the several months more work that lay ahead of me without getting paid.

In fact, to be honest, it was downright discouraging. But that was the situation. All the bitching, groaning and complaining in the world wasn’t going to change it. I had to just get over it and get going.

In the back of my mind, the best I had could hope for was to spend no more than forty-grand, bringing my investment up to about one hundred and eighty thousand dollars without accounting for the carrying costs and some other miscellaneous costs. I had hoped that, when all was said and done, I could take out five grand for my labor. The good faith pre-sale purchase agreement would yield me $187,500. This left a $2500 cushion for unexpected cost overruns. This amounted to about 6 percent of the remodeling budget; at best, a very minimum amount.

That is a kind way of saying, “I’m so screwed if something goes wrong”.

Not a fun position to find yourself in at the beginning of the largest remodeling project that I have ever undertaken.

The stakes were high.

One other potential hurdle with the pre-sell purchase agreement was that, at the end of the project, either party was free to amend or cancel the intent to sell or buy. For the most part, the agreement was done to secure the money to remodel the project.

When I thought about it, my headache returned; it was a good thing I was mostly numb, or perhaps, simply dumb. Regardless I had to move forward.

I returned to the basement because it was the most logical place to continue the remodeling. I had already replaced all the plumbing and significant portions of the concrete floor. All the previous walls and the temporary ceiling had been removed. Everything else had been stripped to the bare walls.

I replaced all the basement windows with glass block. This would allow in much needed light while securing the basement. Because, in all likelihood the next owner would want to have rental income, it had to have an egress window installed to conform to code. I felt this gave some much needed flexibility for future expansion. I needed to increase the value of the house. One of the few ways I could do this, without adding an addition to the house, was to utilize all the existing space in the wisest way possible. The basement exit, which was separate from the rest of the house, enabled an easy future conversion to a duplex if necessary. The immediate plan was to simply make this a “mother in law’s apartment”. Postponing the conversion to a full duplex saved a lot of work and a lot of money.

Money was tight and had to be well spent.

I was taking a large risk but felt I had no other choice.

Only time would tell.

For now, this was only one of many worries, and surprises yet to be uncovered.

Copyright… all rights reserved D.Jerzak 05/10/07

-- Dusty

19 comments so far

View Diane's profile


546 posts in 4145 days

#1 posted 05-03-2007 06:39 PM

Thanks for more of the story. I hope you got some good surprises and not just bad ones.

The house has a nice style can’t wait to see what it looks like when you get ready to sell it.


View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4183 days

#2 posted 05-03-2007 07:09 PM

I really like how we get to share the internal thought process, how you kept yourself moving forward rather than giving up at each step along the way.

Question: you say, “other than those things [uh huh.. few] the house seemed in good condition”. Where did the positive perspective come from? ‘Cause I’m not seeing anything that WASN”T on the list!!! Just in case I find myself intrigued by an old house it would be nice to know what to look for re:” good condition”

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View oscorner's profile


4563 posts in 4333 days

#3 posted 05-03-2007 07:52 PM

Dusty, I would have run and been uncatchable after seeing all that you listed as needing repair, but after seeing the house after you fixed it up, it’s amazing. Your story is like a lot of those on people on T.V. trying to flip a house for profit. The work is overwelming and there is always that fear or reality that one could possibly not make any money at all.

Gooooooo, Dusty! ;^)

-- Jesus is Lord!

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4179 days

#4 posted 05-03-2007 10:34 PM


Certainly there is some sarcasm in that statement, however the irony is it also it the truth.

What I meant by that statement is even though all those things I listed and more were wrong, they could be repaired, fixed or replaced. The house was fundamentally sound. The foundation, major structural components were in good shape. It is those things that I look for before I purchase a house to rehab or remodel.

Any thing else can be fixed with enough time and money. The deciding factor on many projects between demo and rehab is simply the difference between the structure and foundation conditions and what needs to be or has to be replaced for habitability or code reasons.

In other words, if the basic foundation and structure is defective more than likely it will have to be demoed. This is the criteria that is used by city officials and code inspectors.

It then becomes a personal choice or decision if you will, absent a defective basic structure as to what or how much you choose to do make it habitable or restored to what ever level you choose.

In many projects like this one the cost out weights the ability to recover your investment.
It is not uncommon for a project to exceed its recoverable costs for years. This often in lay terms becomes what is known as ” a labor of love”.

Often in historical structures or neighbor hoods you see this happen. It is not uncommon for grants, special loans , tax credits, or other funds to be made available to the owner to restore the project. You see this most often when a house has been put on a preservation list or is listed on either a state or federal historical preservation designation or registry.

I am over simplifying this, it tends to be come very detailed and complicated. Very often very expensive.

I have gained a lot of experience in doing historical restoration because of my stain glass back ground and experience in rehabbing historical homes. Even after several projects I still remain overwhelmed and find my self when I am not totally lost constantly learning new things.

I will spare all all the boring details and perhaps some day if anyone is interested do some blogging about my experiences iwith these projects. One such project I have been involved in was a large historical church restoration that was just completed after years of work and millions of dollars in costs. Preparations were being made for the “grand re-opening celebration when a fire destroyed all the work just before the celebration day.

I hope this helped you with your question.

It’s as clear as mud right?

If you still have questions feel free to ask me what ever your question is and I will try answer it the best I can.

I’m hesitant to say much more at this point simply because I am saving it for the “this old crack house” series. There is a lot more chapters to follow and I don’t want to give away the twists and turns that are to come.

Just remember this is only phase one so far of “this old crack house”.

The real changes come in “this old crack house the addition” part of the story. I am still a ways away from getting to this part of the story.

This is why if you recall I asked a while back if I should just jump to the end of the story.

I didn’t want to bore every one with my long winded dribble and experiences so I offered that option.

The response I got was overwhelming in favor of telling the whole story.

I have been doing this, one chapter at a time.

-- Dusty

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4183 days

#5 posted 05-04-2007 12:19 AM

still in favour of one chapter at a time!!! :)

and the “good foundation” is indeed clear as mud hahah no. I get it. The core structure looked good… Main framework, foundation.. everything else is “cosmetic” in a sense.

Thanks… I just knew that there was something there that was calling to you to save it.

Ok, I’m ready for the next chapter!

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4116 days

#6 posted 05-04-2007 01:16 AM

Thanks for the installment, Dusty. I’m soaking up every experience as I may potentially look for a fixer-upper in the not to distant future.

What Church were you involved with regarding the restoration?

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4179 days

#7 posted 05-04-2007 02:08 AM


Your welcome.

It was St Marks Catholic Church….

Of special note are the 13 main stained glass windows in the body of the church. These originally were made by Emperor Franz Joseph for a family chapel in Vienna, Austria which was never built because of World War I, so the windows were buried for safety and later bought and brought to St. Mark’s by Rev. Matthias Savs. One of these windows was destroyed in the fire, but it has been completely restored by Gaytee Stained Glass of Minneapolis, who repaired and replaced all of the other damaged windows in the church to their original glory.

( more info here

At the time I was an apprentice under a Master Stain Glass Restorer and Artisan who was house staff at Gaytee Stained Glass here In Minneapolis.

-- Dusty

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4337 days

#8 posted 05-04-2007 05:03 AM

I’m interested in the durability of different structures. Locally they are “having” to rebuild all the old brick schools build 50 to 70 years ago. Last weekend I worked on a 10 year old factory made house that was just falling apart. Two roofs in ten years and I helped put on the third. Half the windows and both exterior doors needed replaced. A ten year old house. Then I’ve been in places in Spain with building still standing and in use that where built before christ. I hope your house gets loved for another 100 years!

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4116 days

#9 posted 05-04-2007 05:07 AM

Thanks, Dusty. I used to live in neighboring Savage. Next time I visit my old roommate, I’ll have to make a special trip to St. Marks.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 4115 days

#10 posted 05-04-2007 05:11 AM

I have to stop reading these before bedtime. I get all upset for Dusty and my blood pressure goes up and then I don’t sleep for hours. I can’t even imagine what your blood pressure must be like Dusty. Actually that brings up an interesting question for you. During this process did you not get much sleep because of nervousness or did you sleep like a baby because you were exhausted? I can only hope you got plenty of sleep but either way, bless you.

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View Jeffrey's profile


15 posts in 4066 days

#11 posted 05-04-2007 06:15 AM

Your stories always make me feel great Dusty! Next to your trials and tribulations my ever constant home remoldeling projects are nothing! Thanks- Man you got heart-

-- Jeff - Bellevue,Ne.

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4179 days

#12 posted 05-04-2007 11:42 AM


quote “During this process did you not get much sleep because of nervousness or did you sleep like a baby because you were exhausted? ”

I slept as sound as a rock. I was totally exhausted. I had to learn how to turn the “mental machine” off ( my pee size brain).

This took some doing.

One of ways I learned how to do this was not paying attention to all the “side walk superintendents” or do good neighbors who keep telling me I was “nuts” or that I couldn’t do this project, or blah bah bah….

Like an annoying passenger on my bus, I learned long ago how to tune them out and keep driving . All the while I just smiling. I don’t engage in conservation I just appear to be listening ,all the while making them think I cared about what it was they were saying.



I have just learned that I have to choose my battles wisely. I can’t fight ever war.

At the end of the day I leave it all behind.

I rise the next day and guess what, its still there. I just treat it like a mean dog laying in the bush. I don’t take it on.

He would win, and I would just end up with a nasty bite.

You might call it avoidance, I choose to call it learned wisdom.

-- Dusty

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4183 days

#13 posted 05-04-2007 12:34 PM

after my husband’s death it didn’t take me long to realize that I couldn’t save someone who was suicidal (as I tried to help people online) but I could hold my hand out to support them. If they chose to accept my helping hand then I’d be there as they walked their path. But their path was their own to walk. Sure made it easier and healthier for me. Empathy and compassion does not mean letting something eat away at your own life.

The other thing that I have learned over the years is that angry people are wrestling their own demons and getting dragged into the drama isn’t helpful to me nor to them. Again, being there to help them on their path is a lot different than getting tangled up in the emotions etc and enabling them to stay trapped in the current emotions. You walk your path and I’ll walk mine. If you want my help I’m here for you.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 4115 days

#14 posted 05-04-2007 05:34 PM

Very glad to hear you slept well Dusty… with all that you went through that is extremely important.

And Deb… couldn’t agree more.

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4350 days

#15 posted 05-05-2007 01:38 AM

at the start of our inspectors walk-though for our house purchase it was pretty grim… (I was hoping for things to turn around, or get so bad we could walk away from our offer) for better or worse, things turned around. We got a thumbs up for the structure, built in 1880, should give us another 100 years. Pretty much boiled down to new doors and windows, fixing the drainage around the foundation. everything else was cosemetic. Of course the roof is coming due for replacement, and the previous owners only rehabbed 1/2 of the front porch. I don’t think the old floorboards will survive another winter :(

Somedays I wish we bought a new house, (but looking at all the construction in recent decades, I’d either build my own (myself and with help I trusted) or buy something pre WW2, with good bones.

I’d have run from your house Dusty,... but with you fixing the one blemish on an otherwise good neighborhood,... its looking like a place worth staying in.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

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