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Duluth couple shares renovation tips earned through years of house-flipping

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Tim Allen of Duluth looks over the kitchen area of the a home at 5804 Tioga St. in Lakeside that he is remodeling. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com2 / 11
Mark Smith of Duluth with Omega6 Contracting uses a ladder to climb into the attic area while remodeling a home in Duluth's Lakeside neighborhood. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com3 / 11
Austin Hanson of Duluth removes roof nails while remodeling a home at 5804 Tioga St. in Duluth. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com4 / 11
Austin Hanson (left) and Mark Smith with Omega6 Contracting uses a tarp to move construction waste at 5804 Tioga St. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com5 / 11
Mark Smith of Duluth with Omega6 Contracting removes roof boards at 5804 Tioga St. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com6 / 11
Workers uncovered old newspapers and an antique fireplace while remodeling 5804 Tioga St. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com7 / 11
Mark Smith of Duluth with Omega6 Contracting removes roof boards while remodeling a home at 5804 Tioga St. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com8 / 11
Mark Smith of Duluth with Omega6 Contracting uses a reciprocating saw to remove roof boards while remodeling the a home in Lakeside. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com9 / 11
Austin Hanson of Duluth scoops old insulation out of an attic space in Lakeside. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com10 / 11
Mark Smith of Duluth with Omega6 Contracting removes nails from roof rafters while remodeling a home at 5804 Tioga St. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com11 / 11

Debris fell out of the third floor window and slid down a chute outside 5804 Tioga Street.

Tim Allen stood in the attic as contractor Mark Smith chiseled away large chunks of roof with a hammer and reciprocating saw.

"This area was actually full of bats," Tim said as a wintry breeze swarmed in.

Allen and his wife, Angie, are remodeling the space with the help of electricians, plumbers and Smith, of Omega6 Contracting.

The Allens have flipped a dozen over 30 years, and many have been their own homes. They own bed and breakfast A.G. Thomson House, and they launched Zenith City Design and Renovation more than a year ago.

As a cost-effective measure, they do their own demolition and finishing work — drywall, tiling, painting, flooring, landscaping, Angie said.

Her first impression of the house on Tioga Street: "It was an ugly brown blob on the corner."

But the space had potential with the neighborhood, the kitchen and the attic, which they're turning into a master suite. That's why the roof's coming off.

We're not changing the height of it, he said, but there will be a new ridge beam and a section will be raised as a living space.

He called the remodel "a huge flip" because there were foundation problems. There were just "cinder blocks on the dirt" below a home addition, and in one area, the space had sunk 4 inches.

"Part of me thinks we should've torn the whole thing off," he said.

To fix it, they jacked up the corner of the space and dug down to lay a new concrete foundation below the frost line. The former deck will be sectioned off for a mudroom, laundry room and half bathroom.

The Allens paid $105,000 and plan to invest that much in materials and labor, and to increase the space from 1,800 to 2,200 square feet, with three bedrooms, 2½ bathrooms. "Whoever buys it, it's a 100-year-old, brand-new house," he said.

During demolition, the couple filled five 20-yard Dumpsters. "Demo day's fun for, like, a half hour. Then, it's just miserable and dust," he said. Though, they always find things: China, embossed Swedish papers, dated signatures on a wall.

They've seen coats used for insulation. He found an elixir behind the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. "I looked it up online, and it used to have cocaine and morphine in it," he said.

On the flip side, they stumbled upon a cost-saving surprise here.

"We were demo-ing and all of a sudden, I saw this green paint and then I saw this spindle. ... I started pulling away this sheetrock, and there was this staircase," she said.

They thought they'd have to rebuild the staircase from the first floor, but they won't have to now.

The Allens will bring contractor Mark Smith in before they decide to buy a house that needs work. Smith said they haven't had any big surprises yet, but they're going to keep cutting away. There's "sagging and 100 years of settling," so it's always troubleshooting with houses like this.

"There's no plumb or square wall or floor. None. So, you're always having to meet and marry the new with the old, and that's the biggest challenge," Smith said.

A big part of remodeling is living, learning and making mistakes, Angie said. There are days when things go wrong, and it can be frustrating.

This year, the weather was a big factor in delaying the roof project, but it was unavoidable with the Allens' B&B that is busiest during warmer climes.

House flipping is "kind of like childbirth. You forget the pain after awhile," she said.

But the Allens said their dream houses to flip call for more than just cosmetic updates. They like old architecture and seeing those larger transformations. It's rewarding to take something nobody wants and bring it back.

"If you do it right, the right house, right neighborhood and you do the right things to it, it's an opportunity to make a little money, too," Tim said.

Patience is the key to remodeling, and working with your partner. After almost 36 years of marriage, they're in tune with each other, and they're both very determined, she said.

They hope to have the house on the market near the end of May, though she said June is more realistic. Once they have the sheetrock and the primer in, she has blacks, whites and deep blues in mind for the interiors. That could change once the dormer's up.

His tips for remodeling are research, get the right people, do it correctly.

And: "You have to be a glutton for punishment," he said with a laugh.

Melinda Lavine

Lavine is a features and health reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

(218) 723-5346