Darkest before the dawn

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I seem to reach a point in all of my projects where I feel I’m working and working and working but no progress is being made.  Wiring, plumbing, hell even framing, take time and must be done but I always feel there is no progress.  I come home tired.  Hands bleeding, back strained, and dog tired (there is something good about that kind of tired, you know?).

What keeps me moving through the mire is the knowledge (and it is becoming knowledge at this point) that there exists an inflection point when the project starts to gel.  Not dissimilar to the point where, after a seemingly interminable amount of kneading, flour, water, salt and yeast become bread dough.  My inflection point is when my vision for the project starts to take hold, asserting the vision’s dominance over the mess I began with.

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Yet, I still feel I am slogging through the work.  Most rough framing completed – check; most wiring done – check; most plumbing completed – check; oops, head back for more rough framing, touch up the piping.  Almost done? Nope, forgot to do some structural work.  Then finish the rough framing before I can finish the wiring.  Great!  Now it’s all ready for drywall (except the ONE DAMN OUTLET that I forgot…ARUGHHH!).

(my wife accuses me of opening too many projects before I finish one…I’ve never argued that point)

Anyway, I continue pushing through the frustration, knowing I’ll turn the corner soon.

Soon.

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Let there be Light

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I’m tired, my hands ache, and the raw skin on my knuckles screams at me each and every time I bump my hands (which is a lot).  There were two overhead lights  when I started working on this house.  I have been adding recessed lights to add some light to the house but to also help keep all available head room – the walls are only seven feet tall.  Reaching into walls to pull wires causes me to bump my hands and fingers in many painful ways.

Don’t trust an electrician with soft hands and not a little dirt under his nails!

As I improve this house, I am able to celebrate small victories.  Today’s was the (almost) completion of all electrical work in the first phase of this project.  The work is complete enough to celebrate, even if it is a little premature.  However, these small victories dull my sense of accomplishment on this project, almost like trying to watch a river cut a new channel.

As I pulled the above photo off my phone, I had the opportunity to review the work to date and, admittedly, smiled to myself as I look at all that has been accomplished in 39 days (yes, the house used to be pink):

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I probably won’t be ready for guests for the Temple game, but progress is happening.

The right stuff

Not The Right Stuff (for this job, usually)

Not The Right Stuff (for this job, usually)

Real estate investing is all about The Right Stuff, as defined by you, the investor.  For some, The Right Stuff is a mobile home park, for others, a Unique-Fixer-Upper-Opportunity.  The Right Stuff goes deeper than the purchase though – it goes all the way to the rock bottom of your business.

Flooring sander

Flooring sander

The right tools, materials, clothing and software are all part of The Right Stuff.  The suited picture (who some have accused of being my identical twin) is Not The Right Stuff for working in a basement, but is The Right Stuff for asking for a sizable loan.

My dad is a scientist at heart (geology) and I spent a good portion of my childhood competing in science fairs (ice crystals are anisotropic crystalline solids…for those who may remember).  This love for experimentation extends to my adult life.  Never put in a hardwood floor?  A few YouTube videos and some trial and error and I’m off to the races.  Rewiring an entire house?  No problem (zapped a few times, but I’m still typing).

The right stuff for drywall on a Friday night.

The right stuff for drywall on a Friday night.

My love for experimentation previously allowed me to believe that if anyone could do it, I could do it.  Hence the floors, wiring, plumbing, drywall, plaster, etc.  This belief has probably held me back, but not necessarily in a bad way, as I have been forced to build systems to manage both a day job as well as the rental business.

The past two years studying for my MBA have taught me many things but one of the best is: the ‘rules’ of life are there for a reason, play by the ethical rules and you’ll probably get to where you want to go much faster and with less angst than by trying to create new rules.  For me, this has meant the abandonment of the ‘I’ for the development of a team.

My company has worked with five contractors with mixed results (remember this one?).  Through all of the previous contractors, I’ve fallen back to “if anyone can do it, I can do it”, which has really stifled my business’s growth, but I am still convinced has probably helped me more than it has hurt.

But I’ve continued to try.

Which gets me to the most recent contractor I have used.

The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff (finally)

Last February, I needed a contractor to help with a downed electrical service wire (the wire going from the pole to your house).  An ice storm had pulled the wire off one of my units and I needed someone THAT DAY to assess the situation and come up with a solution.  I called around and received a recommendation to hire Chris.

On that icy day in February, Chris finished his normal day’s work, then went to my apartment, secured the wire and made arrangements to fix the service wire the next day.  Since that day, Chris has been my go-to guy for plumbing and electrical work.  When the original contractor walked off my most recent project (again, should have followed my gut), I called Chris.

A sailor would blush at Chris’s command of the artsy words in the English language and his diet may be sub-par, but his work ethic and skills are far superior to all other contractors I’ve found (and his prices are exceedingly low for the quality of his work).  Chris is The Right Stuff for my business.

I am trying to purchase a duplex in need of significant rehab (if any friends have a spare $44k, I can put it to good use and give you a good return).  I decided to ask Chris if he wanted the work, and asked him to do some of the work I had intended to do.  Chris’s conservative proposal (ie: assumed high costs, actual costs should go lower), came in at a lower cost and faster turn around than if I did the work myself.

Definitely The Right Stuff for my team.

 

Not as tough as it looks

Road-rash from some seriously aggressive sandpaper!

Road-rash from some seriously aggressive sandpaper!

 

PrePreScript: This was going to be an entirely different post, which you’ll be able to find at www.dadsreading.com later this week, but I figured this is more real estate related.

PreScript: My entire philosophy on life is simple but I’m not a good enough to contain it in 500 words.  Maybe one day I will spend the 10k words to flesh out my philosophy.

I’ve been pondering my future: what to do with my MBA?  Today, I listened to a podcast where the host interviewed Ben Hewitt, a Vermont homesteader and philosopher/thinker (the podcast is long, but worth the 1.5 hours, IMO).  I was struck by the choice Ben made to live a deliberate life, on his terms, which has allowed him to thoroughly enjoy life.  While Ben has enjoyed his life, he admits there are difficult times.

Yet he enjoys life.

This brings me to real estate.  Many people actively avoid hard work but there is enjoyment in physical work as mentioned on Invisible Office Hour’s first podcast.  On Invisible Office Hour’s cast, one of the hosts discusses building a wall at his house and how pleasurable the project was.

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Flooring edger

I find similar satisfaction in the physical labor I conduct on my rental properties.  Today was no different.  Eighteen hours of work punctuated by one hour for breakfast and an hour and a half for dinner/hanging with my daughter.  Yes, some of the time was spent writing, but at least ten of those hours were spent doing physical labor.

Looks like a droid to me.

Looks like a droid to me.

 

Flooring sander

Flooring sander

There is comfort knowing who will be putting money into your IRA/401k, etc, but there is real satisfaction watching progress – the transformation of an ugly caterpillar into the monarch.

Before and After (from right to left)

Before and After (from right to left)

I don’t know where I will end up, where I will be working or who I will become.  I want to continue being satisfied.  Do I have to sacrifice comfort?  I don’t know.

It may be difficult, but it’s not as tough as it looks.

 

More pictures from today (the power was off…)

How you know you’ve hit rock bottom

Rock bottom

Rock bottom

I’ve been (slowly) pouring a cement floor into the house with a dirt basement (Basement post, Flooring install).  I’ve now literally hit rock bottom.  You see, the basement in the house is typical of old homes – damp, musty and wet when it rains, so I wanted to add a sump pump.  I knew the basement was rocky as I had tried to dig out some flooring supports and kept hitting rock.

My plan was to remove the old, now abandoned sewer lines and put the sump pump in a hole dug under the old pipe.  First I removed the pipe – Grind through it with my grinder (noisy and dusty), remove the pipe and dig the hole.

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Next, I dug and dug and dug and cleaned the hole out.

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Tried as I might, I realized I had hit rock bottom.

Rock bottom

Rock bottom

So I enlarged the hole and test fit the sump basin.  The basin is sitting a little high, but I’ll drill holes in the walls to allow water in which the pump can then push out.

The sump basin fits

The sump basin fits

I then had to place a $25 test plug in the old sewer line just in case there was a sewer backup, I didn’t want the basement flooding.  Nothing like spending $25 so I can bury it under cement.

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I then drilled a hole into the side of the basin and placed a 2″ PVC pipe to allow for sub-slab water to find it’s way to the basin.  I placed stones, sand and gravel around the sump pit to allow water to flow into the basin.

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I jury rigged some forms around the slab to hold the concrete in place and filled the massive hole with gravel and large stones.

Next I mixed concrete (this is from a previous pad in the same basement):

My back is screaming at me again, but here’s the finished product:

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Pouring a concrete floor in a dirt basement

Waste lines

The most recent house I’ve been working on has dirt basement.  I was excavating a portion of the basement to install a wall between the two units and had to cut out a tree root.  The long term plans for the house are to install a cement floor in the basement and convert the basement to a tall crawlspace.  My plumber still thinks the space would be great for a work space – I’m skeptical.

Anyway, I’m slowly adding portions to the floor (currently about 15SF installed…it’s a slow process).  There is no window into the basement, so I have to hand mix each of the 80lb bags of cement.  It’s heavy, slow work.  Here’s a quick set of pics of my work yesterday.

The plumber will be installing the new water lines this week so he needs a spot for the water heater.  The pile of junk on the dirt floor is exactly where the water heater will go.  Time to move the pile and prep the floor.

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I moved the junk pile and spread some gravel then a 6mil vapor barrier.  The plastic is a little thin for my liking, but it’ll do.  The gravel is there to allow any water that gets into the basement to flow to a future sump pump.

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I cut and built some concrete forms for the 3’x3′ pad.  I cut the 2×4’s in half so I could insert the steel remesh for strength in the concrete.

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I then used some scrap to hold the top and bottom of the form together:

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Next the form was checked and leveled with small stones in the low corners:

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Then the mixing began.

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Bag by bag, the forms filled up.

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While it felt like a long day, the actual mixing only took about 30 minutes.  Setting and leveling the forms took almost an equal amount of time.

I need an official HBS shirt!

I need an official HBS shirt!

Finished concrete - a little soupy.

Finished concrete – a little soupy.

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Just something fun

I’ve been installing hardwood floors for the past week or so at the most recent UFUO.  I’ve now got all the hardwood installed and ready to be finished.  Then the trim (and painting and carpeting and toilet/bathroom and kitchen and…)  But I’m really nearly finished.

Anyway, I splurged and spent $1.99 to purchase a time lapse app for my phone and recorded the following:

I was feeling pretty great for myself.  I felt I set a good pace, was quick on the install, etc.  Then I found this video:

I got put in my place.

A Haunting

We’re working on our new townhouse.  It’s an old house that was let go into disrepair some years ago.  The adjacent townhouse has fallen into foreclosure and is now being prepared for sale by the bank.  A few tools have gone missing, which we attributed to some ‘handy’ subs that were working on the adjacent townhouse and got into ours. However, just this week, weird things began happening:

1) We left a bucket of slop water on the 2nd floor after finishing our tile work. The next morning, I got a call from my contractor to ask if I had returned the previous evening and knocked the bucket over because the tile slop and water were all over the 2nd floor.

2) Two days later, I was working on the 1st floor and heard something moving in the basement. I announced my presence (not that it wouldn’t have been known with all the noise I was making), and promptly left the house, settling where I could see the two exits from the house to see if anyone would leave. No one did and the noises stopped for the remainder of the time I worked there.

3) Yesterday, my brother and I were hanging sheetrock and we heard a crash, like scaffolding had fallen over; again, nothing and no one. My brother left for lunch and I was precutting sheets for when he returned. After he had been gone a reasonable length of time, I was upstairs and heard a crash from the room in which we were hanging drywall. I figured he had returned and had tripped over something – except his car wasn’t back. I went downstairs and nothing had fallen or was out of place.

4) I was completing the hanging of drywall and as I walked into the room to be hung, a cold wind hit me in the face and I felt like I was walking underwater. No windows were open, no vents were open, and it’s a boiler system.

My wife tells me I need to let the occupant of the house know all we are doing is trying to restore it to it’s former beauty.

Project updates

An angel investor gave me a sizable chunk of change to take to the upcoming tax sale; I decided to celebrate by stopping in to Starbucks for a grande chai.  My angel investor not only gave me money to invest, but he also offered to help in any way in the future.

I misunderstood the definition of ‘busy as a bee’, until this past month.  Because a family unexpectedly moved out, my time has been spent either working on HBS (usually during daylight hours), 2-hrs of family life daily (usually dinner and after dinner story time – Wilson Podpie the Pileated Woodpecker anyone?), and 3+ hours of school work between the hours of 8.30pm and 11pm and again from 5am until 8am.  The beautiful weekends have helped keep everything perspective.

In addition to the kitchen renovation, our recent purchase is being reconstructed.  The demolition is mostly complete and new parts are being added.

Kitchen pictures:

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Contractor Rehab (footer for the new wall):

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Update from the trenches

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I had a family move out in relatively quick fashion last week.  I was informed (via phone call) of a musty smell in the house.  That day (a Saturday), I installed a dehumidifier in the basement.  Two days later, I received another call to inform me that a much more significant problem must be present.  I called a local mold mitigation contractor (who immediately informed me they would simply bill my insurance company…scam much?)

The local contractor did actually visit the house, but refused to provide a fixed quote.  They simply said “we’ll let you know how much it will be when we’re finished”.  Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to accept a contract on those terms, so I decided to handle the kitchen remodel myself.

I have a list of ‘must be remodeled at some point’ projects and this kitchen is a part of that list.  The kitchen will be finished by Thanksgiving, hopefully before.  While tearing into the walls, I found original newspaper articles the construction of the house.  Most dated from 1890 and 1891!  Philipsburg had great sarsaparilla, some sort of ‘Indian loans'(?) and an active corset market.

Needless to say, I found very little mold, except a little under the kitchen sink.  I will be fixing the sources of water (leaky pipes) and reinstalling a kitchen.  I’ve decided to go for some San Francisco charm and rather than install $600+ upper cabinets, I will use some black iron pipe:

Black Iron Pipe shelving

Let’s hope the final product looks half as awesome.