The challenges of home improvementI love watching those real estate shows, like “Get it Sold,” “Flip This House” and “House Hunters,” that chronicle people’s journeys as they buy, flip, or sell their houses. I’m always fascinated, though, by how shallow people can be when looking at houses.
By: Valerie Clark, Blueprint
I love watching those real estate shows, like “Get it Sold,” “Flip This House” and “House Hunters,” that chronicle people’s journeys as they buy, flip, or sell their houses. I’m always fascinated, though, by how shallow people can be when looking at houses.
“Get it Sold” in particular is interesting because a hidden camera captures the comments potential buyers make as they look at houses. Invariably, they mention how dark, cramped or crowded the space is. After a home makeover expert swoops in for 20 minutes with a couple of buckets of paint, a vase of fresh flowers and some white sheets, the space is “transformed” and the same people who were full of criticism come back and make offers on the spot.
The most annoying thing is when people turn paint colors into a deal breaker. “Ewwww, an orange bedroom? Forget it,” they say. People seem to have no imagination when it comes to seeing the potential of a house. Granted, it can be difficult to see past the outdated wallpaper, the lime-green shag carpeting or other people’s ugly furniture and clutter, but if you can, you’ll be rewarded with a great fixer-upper house of your very own!
With low interest rates and a great home inventory, my husband and I quickly put this idea to work in Duluth when we moved here about a year ago. We found a cute little fixer-upper on the west side that had lots of potential.
The first piece of advice that I would give to any homebuyer is to get an inspection. Your lender will likely require this anyway, and it’s well worth the investment of a few hundred dollars to make sure that there are no major structural flaws in the house that will come back to bite your wallet down the road. Make sure the plumbing, sewer, electrical and HVAC systems work well, and check that there aren’t any huge impending problems with the roof, foundation, or other major structures. A structurally sound house is a great investment, even if it needs a bit of elbow grease.
Our house needed slightly more than that…we had to call in the pros and get a special type of loan. The roof on the garage needed to be replaced, and the floors had all been ripped up so that there was nothing but plywood subfloor. The bank required a special 203k loan, which is a funding program offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to rehabilitate and repair single-family houses. HUD administers the program with the goal of revitalizing communities while expanding homeownership opportunities. Home buying is a huge economic generator. Some estimates say that each house sold injects up to $60,000 into the economy through factors like real estate fees and remodeling or decorating costs.
Locally, only Wells Fargo offers the 203k loan. The bank had to review all of our remodeling plans and the quotes we received from licensed contractors. There was a lot of paperwork involved, and a lot of back-and-forth with the bank.
Once our financing was in place, it was time to get to work. The upstairs flooring had been home to a puppy who had taken certain liberties on the subfloor, so we began the process of cleaning and sanitizing. Several methods were employed: a mixture of white vinegar only created an olfactory nightmare; a mixture of bleach helped somewhat; and Nature’s Miracle Urine Destroyer seemed to yield good results. But the best effects of all came from primer. After debating whether to rip up the subfloor and start over, we painted it in three coats of Kilz oil-based primer, at which point the floor gave off only that fresh-paint smell. Success!
Now we were ready to turn our attention from priming the floor to priming the ceilings and walls, and after several frenzied days of painting, our house was ready for new flooring to be installed. We would let the professionals handle that part, installing new carpet in the bedrooms and hallway and on the staircase; new porcelain tile in the kitchen; and hickory hardwood floors in the living room and dining room. The bright colors of the flooring nicely complement the warm neutral colors we chose for our walls, and everything was looking great. Finally it was time to move in!
There was one last major thing to be done, however, as we were concerned about the energy efficiency of our ancient furnace. We took advantage of the Duluth Energy Efficiency Program (DEEP) and got an energy audit to figure out how efficient the house was. According to the DEEP website, “20-30 percent energy savings can be achieved through building envelope and mechanical system improvements, thus reducing carbon emissions. DEEP will assist the City of Duluth in reaching its 20 percent carbon reduction by 2020 and the local utilities in meeting the required Conservation Improvement Program (CIP) 1.5 percent annual energy use reduction.”
The audit examined our major appliances, insulation and more. It was no surprise to find out that our old oil furnace, retrofit for gas, wasn’t too efficient, nor was our 30-year old water heater. We decided to replace them, and financed the project through Comfort Systems.
Now summer has arrived, and I’m sure it will bring a long list of further home improvement projects. But that’s OK...who likes having free time, anyway?
Valerie Clark is the public relations specialist at Goodwill Duluth. She has worked as a writer, copy editor and graphic designer at newspapers and specialty publications across the Southeast and in the Pacific Northwest, and relocated to Duluth in February 2011.