It gets better with age

Kitchen (Before)

Kitchen (Before)

I do feel that my projects are moving slowly but at least they are moving.  These pictures show the (slow) transformation of the kitchen at the most recent project to be flipped.  I’m not done, but I am hanging drywall.

Cabinets removed.

Cabinets removed.

I work seven days per week.  That is not a brag, it simply is.  Working seven days per week tricks the brain into forgetting exactly which day is today.  Maybe that is why so many religions have a Sabbath – one day to reset and let everyone know which day is which.

Cabinets and horse hair plaster removed.

Cabinets and horse hair plaster removed.

As I was working the ceiling collapsed on me (yes, fell onto me).  It didn’t feel great.  Falling ceilings are always a concern in old homes (who knew?).

Insulated and wall board going up.

Insulated and wall board going up.

A friend is helping me so that he can gain some experience working on homes.  He is a fellow MBA.  Interestingly enough, every day he tells me that he enjoys the satisfaction gained from this ‘man’s work’.  I too experience significant satisfaction from the work I complete.

Walls partially finished.

Walls partially finished.

One of the great satisfactions of this work is the ability to see my own abilities improving.  I would not consider my abilities ‘expert’ but the more projects I complete, the more I see my work transforming from “WTF dude” to “Hey, that actually looks kinda nice”.

Newest UFUO – Duplex

The past two months have been the first time that I’ve had two large projects running concurrently.  One is a single family home.  The other project is a duplex that I bought for $6,000.  The duplex has a few issues: the two second floor bathrooms were pulling away from the house because there was no beam to support the load; there are two sizable leaks into the house – one in the kitchen, one in the entry; most of the pipes were broken; many of the radiators froze and burst; a new roof and new gutters are needed; the damaged carpeting and flooring needs to be replaced; one rotten exterior wall needed to be replaced.  The ugly web of wires, fuses, and circuit breakers would have scared the spiders of Mirkwood.  Oh, and there’s a boat to be disposed of.

In other words, a perfect project for me.

This is the first time that I’ve used subcontractors to handle a large portion of the labor.  The roofing, structural replacements, electrical work, rough plumbing, and HVAC work are all subcontracted.  The structural and roofing crew are Amish, so they do not appear in any of the pictures of the work being completed.  The two bathrooms had sunk nearly 4″.

(Hover your mouse over the photos for captions)


The first day I stopped by the job site, the entire wall, from the bump out on the left third of the first photo to the lower roof in the second third of the first photo was gone.  People were walking in and out of the house via this wide opening.  I was unable to get a photo of the entire wall removed, but a section of wall approximately 12′ long was removed, repaired, and rebuilt.  Gutters will protect this section of wall in the future.

Both the interior and exterior electrical service entrances were improved.  One of the old meters hung off the wall – as in – dangling free of the wall, held in place by the service wire!

New service entrance.

New service entrance.

We’ll see how this all plays out – part of me feels really good about this project…and part of me is a little nervous.  It’s super easy to handle most of the work yourself – especially when you don’t pay yourself.  Having other crews on site means the burn rate of cash is drastically increased.

Thank you to all involved in this project – from the sellers and financier to the contractors and (probably most importantly) my wife (for putting up with this madness).  Thank you all.

It all adds up

I chatted with a friend of mine earlier today.  He remarked “It seems you’re really starting to find your feet with [the rentals]”.  It hit me that yes, I am starting to find my stride.

A lot to clean up.

A lot to clean up.

Today I really dug into a new project.  I’ve been picking around the edges for the past week or so – removing bits here and pieces there; moving materials to the job site; shoveling snow; purchasing unique items to make the house pop.  The plan is to flip the house.  I still own my last attempt to flip a house.  This project is less ambitious and I have better systems in place than I did two years ago.


The kitchen before I started….

The kitchen after five minutes, a saw zall, and a wrecking bar.

The kitchen after five minutes, a saw zall, and a wrecking bar.

As I tore into the kitchen, I realized: I’ve been here before.

The AirBnB

The AirBnB

Rather than that Ground Hog Day queasy feeling of “I’ve been here before and I’m repeating myself again and again and again and again,” I realized that the isolated motions of horse hair lath-and-plaster removal was old hat, but my ability to remove this lath and plaster in this particular 2,500 sf house is due to the accretion of skills and knowledge over a period of ten years.

If my 35-year old self traveled back to tell my 25-year old self what I would be doing ten years hence, the 25-year old would not believe the 35-year old.  But the 25-year old had a dream (not even to the point of being a goal).  The 25-year old also picked up a book on real estate investing and began adding knowledge and skills.  3652 days later I’m here, finding my stride.

Darkest before the dawn


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.


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.



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.



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.


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:


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.


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.

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.

New Beginnings



Excitement is brewing here at HBS.  Over the past two weeks, some investments have been made which will allow us to continue HBS’s expansion.  I will continue to explore possible future employment with “the man”, but I would rather be “the man”.

So, with part of that investment, I closed on another UFUO on Friday.  I didn’t take any interior pictures, but will do so and will post them shortly.  This property needs a new kitchen, bathroom, carpeting, front & back doors, and paint.  Once the property is rehabbed and rented, I will refinance the loan to pull out my equity to redeploy on additional properties.

Also, check out our new Facebook page:


Reappearing Act

My very first foray into house flipping was a little tough.  My original contractor decided to remove the entire bathroom before asking me.  Needless to say, I was horrified.  Not-too-soon afterward, the original contractor was fired and a new contractor was hired.

Sometimes I wonder how I manage to get myself into the situations in which I end up.  It helps to have a sense of humor to laugh off these ‘small’ speed bumps.

When I met with my new contractor, I basically shrugged off the missing bathroom, trying to put on an air of control about the entire project.  I did let my new contractor know that I fired the other contractor for not discussing the removal of the bathroom prior to the demolition.  My new contractor has called me to discuss every decision on the project (quite a relief).

I visited the site on Sunday, approximately 3 weeks after the original bathroom disappeared and found the following:

The walls are back in place, the drywall is up, the shower is installed and the plumbing is roughed in for the vanity and toilet.  (The toilet is sitting in my driveway)  The bathroom should be painted in a few days with the vanity and toilet installed, hopefully before April 5, when the investors come to inspect the site.

It’s nice to be working with an entirely competent contractor on this flip.  It has really settled my nerves.