Saving Etta - One Woman's Journey to Save a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy GirlSaving Etta: Chapter 7: The Chandelier

This is the true story about a house built in 1900 that is in serious disrepair. It’s also the story about my journey toward becoming a general contractor and my attempt to save a home from being bulldozed. I hope you’ll follow along as I embark on a journey into the unknown perils and rewards of flipping a home in downtown Raleigh, NC.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram as I share live updates about this project I’m calling Saving Etta.

Before I left the house, I had one more thing I wanted to do.

I entered the front door and boldly walked toward the freezer chest in the back utility room. My stepmom’s words lingering in my head, “You better check that freezer for dead bodies.” I laughed because I was used to the overactive imagination of Diane Chamberlain’s brain. She is a famous fiction author for good reason, her mind can run away with an idea.

I adjusted my mask and slowly lifted the freezer lid. Immediately I dropped the lid back down, nearly gagging.

The odor of rotting meats and food hit me full force despite the mask I was wearing. I looked behind the freezer. It wasn’t plugged in! No wonder the food had spoiled. That was going to be a doozy of a job cleaning it out. 

Looking around the house, I focused on the linoleum floor. It looked like a 1980’s pattern, but I knew from experience that asbestos can hide beneath the flooring in older layers. I made a note to get asbestos samples as soon as I could.

Back at home, I took Bandit for a walk in the neighborhood. As I turned a corner, a glint of light from atop a trash can caught my eye. I walked closer and saw the unmistakable shape of a chandelier. The light fixture looked to be in perfect condition. “Who would throw away a perfectly good light fixture?” I thought to myself.

I was about to pick it up when the homeowner walked out his front door. I retracted my hand quickly, but then gathered my nerve.

“Are you throwing this away?” I yelled toward the neighbor.

He looked toward me and replied, “Yes, it still works. We replaced it with a different style light.”

“So you don’t mind if I take it.” I asked.

“Not at all, you’re welcome to it.” he answered.

I lifted the chandelier and headed back home. Poor Bandit looked at me quizzically as we weren’t completing our usual walk. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Once again I found something for the house that was being thrown away. The finish on the chandelier wasn’t an offending shiny brass, but a flat black (which made it much easier to transform.) I knew the frosted shades with scalloped edges could easily be swapped out with clear seedy glass. All I had to do was add Edison bulbs for a more vintage look. Score!

Free Black Chandeliera similar looking Chandelier available at Lowe’s for $249

After dropping off the chandelier at home, I took Bandit for his full walk. As he laid at my feet, tired from the long walk, I googled: “Where to find asbestos in old houses.” From my research, I discovered that asbestos can be hiding in many places: old floor tiles, linoleum, roof shingles, siding, joint compound, insulation (around ducts, pipes, sheeting, fireplaces and boilers), pipe cement and attic insulation in the form of vermiculite.

Next I googled: “How to Take Asbestos Samples” and armed myself with the safest practices for collecting the samples. The experts suggest suiting up in a disposable suit and wearing an approved respirator. It is recommended to use gloves and a spray bottle with soap and water to prevent the fibers from becoming airborne. Then you can safely chisel or cut out your sample and drop it into a Ziploc bag. Finally it is recommended to wipe off the edges of the bag and place in a second bag.

Armed with this new information I called Lori to schedule another appointment at the house to take asbestos samples. Luckily, she was able to set up a time for Bryan to meet me the next day. 

In the morning, I struggled to wake my oldest son. He finally shuffled out of bed, popped two slices of bacon and a waffle into his mouth. After I got the kids on the school bus I headed to Lowe’s to purchase a respirator, a painter’s suit, and some rubber gloves.

Once again Bryan met me at the house. This time he quickly let me in the house and retreated to his car. Grateful to have some quiet time in the house, I took my time suiting up and planning where I’d cut samples from the floor and pondered where to get the insulation sample from.

As I walked down the hallway, I noticed a few family photos on the wall. Smiling faces from years past greeted me. I’m sure this home had some amazing memories for the family. I spoke out loud to the pictures as if the people were standing before me. “I promise to respect your home and take good care of it.”

First I walked into the bathroom and found a patched spot on the floor. Wetting the area with the spray bottle, I carefully cut into the linoleum with a sharp utility knife. The vinyl came up easily and revealed a damp subfloor beneath. I gingerly dropped the 2” square piece into a ziplock labeled “BATHROOM”. Then I moved into the kitchen. I noticed the same floral printed vinyl in the kitchen all the way back to the utility room. “Ah good, this makes it easier. I only need one sample from the kitchen then. This will save me some on the lab fees.” I thought. This would be my first of many mistakes.

I carefully cut a patch from the kitchen floor and for good measure, put a small piece from the utility room into the bag labeled “KITCHEN”. Both pieces were cut down to the plywood subfloor in case there were any layers beneath the top vinyl layer. 

I slowly sealed up the bags, being careful to wipe the bags with a damp paper towel to remove any fibers. Then the bags were both deposited into a larger gallon size bag. Next I took samples from the corners of the two parlors and the other rooms in the house. I was careful to dig into the areas that might have joint compound material as that is where asbestos might be hiding.

The last sample I needed was from the attic. I pulled down the attic stairs. As the steps creaked under my weight, I wondered how many more climbs the ladder had left in its life. I turned a Ziploc sandwich bag inside out and carefully grabbed some insulation fibers.

“Shoot! I forgot to wet the sample before disturbing the fibers.” I said aloud.

Immediately I remembered crawling into the attic during the inspection. If there were asbestos fibers in the insulation I was already screwed. At least today I had on a mask. I carefully labeled the bag and put it into the gallon Ziploc. By now I was sweating inside the suit and anxious for some fresh air.

Stepping outside on the porch, I stripped the tyvek suit and gloves off, depositing them into a trash bag. Next I dropped the spray bottle and flashlight into another trash bag. If the results came back positive, I’d either throw it away or clean the contents thoroughly. 

As I drove to EMSL Laboratories, my phone rang. It was the mold remediation expert. “Hi Brittany, I have your quote for you. To clean, remove and treat all the mold we found it will cost $12,000.” he spoke very matter of factly on the phone while delivering a hefty blow to my budget.

I nearly choked at the cost, but thanked him for his time and hung up as I pulled into the parking lot at the lab.

The receptionist recognized me right away. (I suspect she doesn’t see too many female contractors. Or maybe I just look that different.)

“How were the mold test results?” she asked.

“Positive for toxic mold.” I answered.

“Oh no, I’m sorry to hear that.” she replied

“It’s okay, it was important that I found that out. I’m going to ask the sellers for a price change to reflect the additional cost.” I explained.

“How quickly can I get these results for asbestos?” I asked her.

“For $54 per sample we can have those to you by the end of the day.” she assured me.

I agreed, knowing I needed to understand the full scope of what I was dealing with before the closing day. Honestly if the samples came back positive, I’d probably have to walk away from this house. The expenses were adding up and abating the house was going to be too expensive and dangerous to try to contain all the fibers.

I paid for the testing and left for home. It was only 2pm, but I was exhausted. The events of the past few weeks had finally caught up to me. Buying a house had proven to be an emotional roller coaster! I was destined for a nap and fell asleep easily as I began to dream about working my magic on Etta.

The alarm woke me up from an hour long nap and I quickly checked my emails. I saw one from Lori checking in on the mold estimates and another email from EMSL. I quickly opened the email from the lab and exhaled as I read “negative” for all the samples on page one of the report. As I scrolled to the second page, I saw the joint compound in the front two parlors tested positive for asbestos, but everything else was negative. Well, at least that cleared the flooring and the insulation for asbestos. I had previously added a line item in my budget for asbestos abatement and felt certain the joint compound abatement would fall within my estimate.

Then I read Lori’s email questioning if I had received the mold estimate yet. I quickly called Lori and told her the news about the $12,000 price tag for mold remediation. We discussed it and agreed to approach the sellers about splitting the cost of the mold remediation. Lori drew up a new offer of $177,600. (See what I did there? 1776 is a historic date. I thought it might ring positively with the sellers of a historic house.)

Within an hour they countered with $180,000. I guess the historic figure was lost on them. But Lori urged me to “Counter back! I think your original offer to split was very fair. Let’s counter with $178,800.” I thought that seemed fair and told her to go for it.

Then I anxiously waited for Lori’s phone call, nervous that I might have pushed the sellers into rejecting my offer altogether.

. . . continued in Chapter 8.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Are you enjoying the Saving Etta chapters? I’d love to hear if you want me to continue.

Saving Etta - One Woman's Journey to Save a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

This is the true story about a house built in 1900 that is in serious disrepair. It’s also the story about my journey toward becoming a general contractor and my attempt to save a home from being bulldozed. I hope you’ll follow along as I embark on a journey into the unknown perils and rewards of flipping a home in downtown Raleigh, NC.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram as I share live updates about this project I’m calling Saving Etta.

“Hello.” My husband Mike answered.

“So, what did you think of the house?” I quickly asked.

“It looks horrible. . .” he paused.

“. . .but, I know you’ll turn it into something amazing.” he finished.

I laughed knowing his pause was timed to make me squirm.

“So you’re behind me 100 percent?” I asked.

“Yes, as long as you don’t swing that sledge hammer too far behind you.” Mike joked.

“Don’t worry, I’ll let you take a swing when it’s time for demolition.” I said.

The next morning, I woke up and quickly scanned my emails as I usually do in the morning. “UPDATE” jumped out at me as I saw the email subject line from Lori, my realtor. I quickly opened the email, fearing the worst but soon relaxed. The sellers were asking for another week to close. At first my knee jerk reaction was to say, “Hell no.” But, I knew that reaction was the planner in me feeling thrown off schedule. After a minute I realized this delay would be to my advantage. Having an extra week before closing would allow me time to finish up the pantry (and a few sponsored posts.) I quickly replied that I’d prefer to close on Thursday instead of Friday, figuring this would give me extra time over the holiday weekend to use Mike and the boys for cleaning out the house. My sons had already shown huge enthusiasm for helping and asked me daily when they could see the inside of the house (we had only shown them the outside at this point.)

Scrolling further through the emails, I saw the lab results had come back from the mold samples. Opening up the attached PDF file, I struggled to read the results. The words were pure gibberish to me.

“Cladosporium . . . . rare |  Chaetomium . . . . high | Stachybotrys . . . . *high* “

I had no idea what the results meant, but after a quick google search I learned that Stachybotrys is the dreaded toxic black mold and Chaetomium is a close second in severity. Neither were acceptable for “DIY Removal.” This was a far cry from my experience with mold in our kitchen and laundry room three years earlier.

I called Lori immediately and discussed the ramifications of the test results. We agreed to get a quote for professional mold remediation and then approach the sellers about lowering the purchase price.

Two mold remediation companies were lined up to meet me at the house. Lori offered to meet with both of them to save me the drive downtown. But, I knew I wanted to be there to make sure the estimators were aware of the full extent of the mold remediation. Plus, I wanted them to know a full rehab was not necessary. I reasoned with myself that at least some of the demo would be done for me, even if I had to pay for it.

Lori’s voice was loud with a hint of a Southern drawl, “I can’t meet you at 3:30, but Bryan can.”

I’d never met Bryan and wasn’t sure what to expect from the namesake of the realty group Lori worked for.

“He’s a character. You think I’m hyper, wait ‘til you meet Bryan. He’ll be driving a big white SUV.” she said.

I was slightly disappointed Lori wouldn’t be there to walk through with the mold experts. Lori had a way of making even the worst situations feel like they weren’t a big deal. However, I knew I had to start taking control of the process. Once the house keys were in my hands it would be up to me to save Etta.

I grabbed my “picnic basket” and headed downtown. Previously, I timed the drive from my home to Etta’s doorstep and knew it would take 25 minutes on the dot. Thankfully there wasn’t too much commuter traffic mid-day.

As I drove by the entrance of Boylan Heights (another historic neighborhood in downtown Raleigh), I realized the route was becoming second nature to me. The familiar buzz of downtown activity was a welcome sight. People walking dogs, jogging, pushing strollers and riding bikes was a different vibe from our quiet suburban neighborhood. Usually in the ‘burbs the only people outside were the dog walkers and an occasional jogger. Everyone else parked their big family vehicles in an attached garage and quickly closed the door after carting kids around to school, soccer, ballet, and karate. In Etta’s neighborhood, there weren’t garages. Neighbors hung out on their porches and talked to each other or walked a few blocks to the old corner store. The scene was decidedly more relaxed and neighborly.

I pulled up in front of the house and parallel parked my minivan behind a white SUV. I knew I needed to search for a more suitable work vehicle soon, but for now the van would have to do.

Lifting my bag of tools out of the car, I spotted the slightly sunburnt man getting out of the SUV in front of me.

He introduced himself as Bryan Moore. “Hi, I’m Bryan. I think we’re meeting the buyer here in a minute.”

I looked around and looked at him quizzically. “What?” I asked.

We both descended into an awkward silence for a minute and then I understood. “Oh wait, I’m the buyer.” I explained.

He looked at my tool bag and stuttered, “Oh I’m sorry. I saw your tools and thought you were the mold expert.”

We both chuckled and I explained that I always carry a tool bag in case I need to poke into a wall or remove an outlet cover, etc. As a girl scout, I learned to always be prepared.

“Ah, gotcha.” he replied suspiciously.

A big box truck pulled up behind us and a young man dressed in khaki’s and a polo shirt hopped out of the driver seat. Bryan and I introduced ourselves to him. The mold remediator and I walked toward the front door as Bryan climbed back into his SUV to wait for us. Pulling on my dust mask, I looked back at the mold rep who had no mask whatsoever.

“Don’t you want a mask?” I asked shocked.

“No, I’m used to it.” he replied.

Seriously I thought to myself. Why chance it? This young man probably has a young wife and either one child or one on the way. I shook my head and we walked into the house. He tested the walls and floor with his moisture meter. The lights flashed and beeped as he neared the corner of the front parlor.

I could picture the missing fascia board on the outside of the house above this corner. Such a shame, just one minor repair would have saved this room.

Next I lead him toward the back of the house. He took notes and pictures all while poking the meter into various spots in the floor and walls.

“Hmm, mostly dry here.” he said looking up at the big stain on the ceiling.

“That water stain appears to be from the air handler. It seems the condensation overflowed and caused this mess. Obviously the float switch is broken.” I explained.

He nodded and let me lead him around and show him all the damaged areas. He took more notes and pictures. Then said he would need to take some measurements and that I could wait outside if I wanted. I gladly retreated toward the front porch.

Outside I took a big breath of fresh air. Bryan was still in his vehicle deep in conversation. When the mold rep exited the house with clipboard in hand, Bryan continued talking on the phone. We chatted briefly about the mold remediation process and what safety measures their crew would take. He told me I’d have a quote by the end of the week and my stomach sank.

“Is there any way I can get a quote sooner?” I begged. “We need to know the damage so we can ask the seller for a price change.”

He said he understood and promised to do the best he could.

Before I left the house, I had one more thing I wanted to do. I motioned to Bryan that I needed one more minute. He nodded, never breaking his conversation on the phone.

I entered the front door and boldly walked toward the freezer chest in the back utility room. My stepmom’s words lingering in my head, “You better check that freezer for dead bodies.” I laughed because I was used to the overactive imagination of Diane Chamberlain’s brain. She is a famous fiction author for good reason, her mind can run away with an idea.

Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

I adjusted my mask and slowly lifted the freezer lid. Immediately I dropped the lid, nearly gagging.

. . . continued in Chapter 7.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

 

Saving Etta - One Woman's Journey to Save a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

This is the true story about a house built in 1900 that is in serious disrepair. It’s also the story about my journey toward becoming a general contractor and my attempt to save a home from being bulldozed. I hope you’ll follow along as I embark on a journey into the unknown perils and rewards of flipping a home in downtown Raleigh, NC.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram as I share live updates about this project I’m calling Saving Etta.

The Inspection

It was a cold afternoon in North Carolina, especially for May. A mist of humidity hung in the air, threatening rain.

I saw him pull up right on time.

“Are you the structural engineer?” I yelled down.

Sean looked around perplexed.

“Up here.” I called to him from the roof peak.

“Well, I’m not the fireman come to get you down.” Sean retorted.

I laughed and told him no worries, I had a ladder around back. Arriving at the property early gave me a chance to get up on the roof to see why there was so much water damage in the house. It was as I had expected, the middle section of roof between two gables was flat as a pancake. Large sheets of asphalt with exposed nails wasn’t doing anything to push the water off the roof. Asphalt shingles are for sloped roofs with a minimum of 2/12 (2 inches in one foot) pitch. Dirty circles provided evidence of pooling water that sat until it evaporated or eventually seeped into the house. This also explained the large rubbermaid tubs filled with water inside the house.

Turning to climb back down the ladder, I was awestruck by the view. Tall trees on either side of the yard provided tons of privacy in the back yard. I knew if I had to tear the roof off, I wanted to build a small second floor room to take advantage of the view.

Back on terra firma, I walked to the front of the house to meet Sean, the structural engineer. He was slim and wore an olive green shirt fresh from the racks of L.L.Bean. He appeared ready to venture into the rainforest instead of a dirty crawlspace. Behind his back was slung a hatchet. I never figured out what it was for, but perhaps he used it to hack away at the ivy covered crawlspace door. He had already been under the house to take a peek the day that Lori called him. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it downtown day.

We spoke for a few minutes about the issues in the crawlspace. He chuckled a little as he explained the granite boulders set on their side to act as piers. Then we walked around the back again as he made suggestions for correcting the drainage.

Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

Sean leaned against a tree that was growing out of the foundation wall of the house.

“About this tree…” he began.

“Oh yes, I like that tree.” I interrupted. My smile let him know I was joking.

“…well it’s causing a lot of damage to the house.” he finished.

We both looked up 30 feet, and watched the top swaying in the breeze. The weedy tree had grown alongside the house and was rubbing the shingles and fascia board away. The base of the tree hugged tight against the foundation probably pushing it into the crawlspace. I’m sure that tree would be a bitch to get out. And, it would be impossible to cut the whole tree without damaging the foundation or the siding.

We walked around front and began discussing the porch foundation that was bowing out and cracking. I thought for sure I’d have to support the porch roof and rebuild the entire foundation.

Sean pointed to the corner and said, “It’s pier and skirt foundation. See? There’s the pier and the rest of the block is just cinderblock that someone added later.”

Sure enough, I looked closer and saw the brick pier separate from the blocks. He explained that people used to fill in the gaps between the piers to keep the kids from going underneath the house to play.

“Easy fix, just knock off the skirts and have a mason patch any areas that are missing from the pier.” He explained.

Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

“Sweet. That’s a big savings.” I said.

“But, you do need to wall up the foundation under the house.” Sean replied.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“There is a large opening in the foundation where the porch was added. You need to close that up to protect the crawlspace.” He explained.

“Ugh, there goes that savings.” I groaned.

At that moment Lori pulled up and got out of her Range Rover. Today she looked somewhat casual (if you count Hunter boots, black leggings and a long cotton tunic casual.) My casual look was holey jeans and paint spattered shirts.

“Ready to head inside?” she asked with a chipper voice.

We stepped in the front door and Sean pulled out his flashlight and began to scour each room. He found the attic pulldown and gingerly climbed up the ladder. I prayed it would hold him as the wood steps creaked and cracked.

“There are some broken rafters up here.” Sean yelled down.

I nodded, having noticed the same thing on the first day I saw inside the house.

He descended the ladder and explained he couldn’t see into the attic area over the front two parlors.

“What? I could have sworn you can see by peeking on top of the HVAC ductwork.” I explained.

Climbing the creaky steps, I was in the attic and crawling on top of the ducts determined to see into the attic over the parlors. I laid on top of the shiny foil heating and air conditioning ducts with my flood lamp shining into the original attic. It was empty. No storage items, just old brown blown insulation. My eyes traveled up the rafters and I admired the unusually tall ceilings in an old attic. As my gaze turned to the gabled ends, I rejoiced to see the original louvers were still there. They must have been covered by aluminum or plastic soffit sheeting on the outside. Call me crazy, but those cute little shaped louvers on old houses always make me swoon.

As I began to climb down the pull down ladder, I looked to my left and noticed the rafters were barely supported by a 1” thick board.

“What the. . .?” I exclaimed.

Sean followed my gaze and said, “Yup, you’ll need to correct that.”

We talked about potential solutions for the back portion of the house, which was currently three or four separate add-ons. None of them were built to code, and they looked like a DIY special. Sean pulled out a small notepad and drew a few sketches for connecting the rooflines and adding a second floor.

“Shore up the ridge beam with an LVL to support and carry the load of that roof and you are set.” he said. My brain struggled to keep up with his jargon and I was reminded of my struggles two years earlier.

I sat in the exam room facing the computer and re-read the question three times. Frustrated, I pressed my fingertips to my forehead. What the heck was a “plenum” again? Gah, why can’t they show me a picture? While reading the NC Residential Building Code book, I typed numerous google image searches for every word I didn’t know. Reading through the four inch thick code book took me ten minutes per page because I ran into so many words I didn’t know. This must be what it feels like to read a foreign language.

I’ll just have to guess at this one. I continued to slog through the exam questions. Overhead was a camera and I knew the proctor was watching me like a hawk and waiting for me to break one of her rules. I was practically frisked before entering the room. She made us open our bags and remove everything. “No cell phones, no papers, not even your own pencils. And definitely leave your cell phone in the car! I’ll give you pencils and one sheet of scrap paper. When you need more paper you can come ask for another. If you HAVE to go to the bathroom, I will keep your driver’s license. If you don’t come back from the bathroom in 5 minutes you fail the test and lose your license.” The proctor recited her spiel while sounding exactly like Roz, from Monsters Inc.

After answering the last exam question, I slumped in the chair from sheer exhaustion. I was tired, hungry and praying I had passed the test. If I didn’t, I doubted I’d ever get the nerve to re-take this four hour exam to become a licensed general contractor. The clock on the computer counted down the final seconds: 5-4-3-2-1. After what seemed an eternity, a message popped up on the screen. “PASSED”. I thought I was reading it wrong, but the proctor handed me a print out as I walked out of the testing facility with that same word on the top. I was too exhausted to jump for joy. Instead a quick fist pump celebrated the qualification I had worked so hard for.

DING! I looked down at my phone and saw a text from my husband, Mike. He would be arriving in 5 minutes. My stomach clenched. I was nervous for his first peek at the house. We drove by the house last week, but he had yet to step inside Etta’s front door.

A few minutes later, Mike’s car pulled up out front. He walked up to Lori, Sean and me as we stood outside. I gave him a quick kiss and asked if he was sure he was ready. “Yes, I am.” he replied matter of factly.

We stepped into the foyer and I looked down the hall trying to imagine what he was seeing. I knew he was probably horrified by the full scope of this project to Save Etta. The sagging ceiling fan and old dusty books in front of my eyes were not even visible because I could envision a grand foyer with a beautiful chandelier. I had been blinded by Etta’s charm and her potential.

Mike walked in and asked a few questions. I left him with Lori as I ascended the ladder into the attic space again. As I lay on the HVAC ductwork, I got a better view of the huge attic over the front two rooms. It was highly likely an adult could stand fully upright in the space. Mike’s voice wafted up from beneath me. “All I see are boots! Is that Brittany up there?” I heard them both laugh as I tried to wriggle back out of the little hole in the attic.

Turning around, I spotted the mid-century door laying on the rafters. “Oh my gosh! I found a door up here.” I called down.

Mike called back up, “Well I found a rifle!”

I thought he was joking, but as I climbed down the ladder he stood there with a vintage rifle in his hands. 

As we continued the tour, Mike, Lori and I discussed a few options for the house. Mike’s suggestion was to hire a junk company to haul away everything. I balked at tossing some of the treasures that were still in the house. There might be some value in the furniture, rifle and books. Every little dollar would help toward this project. But Mike’s MBA brain told him time is money and it was better to get everything out of the house as quickly as possible.

Mike left to head back to work, while I stayed behind to take samples of the mold growing in a few spots of the house. I donned a respirator and carefully cut out sections of sheetrock. Each sample was carefully deposited into a ziploc back that was labeled with the room name and location. For added protection all the mold sample baggies were put inside a bigger ziploc. I was not taking any chances with this stuff. It the results came back positive for toxic mold, I’d be glad I had been extra careful.

As Lori locked up the house, I threw my tool bag into my minivan knowing I’d need to purchase a real work truck soon. We departed our separate ways and I called Mike, hoping to get him before he got to work.

“Hello.” Mike answered.

“So, what did you think?” I quickly asked.

. . . continued in Chapter 6

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Saving Etta - One Woman's Journey to Save a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

Saving Etta: Chapter 4: The Door

This is the true story about a house built in 1900 that is in serious disrepair. It’s also the story about my journey toward becoming a general contractor and my attempt to save a home from being bulldozed. I hope you’ll follow along as I embark on a journey into the unknown perils and rewards of flipping a home in downtown Raleigh, NC.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram as I share live updates about this project I’m calling Saving Etta.

The offer had been submitted. In the morning, my realtor Lori sent over the contracts to sign. She asked me to re-sign a buyer’s agent contract. Lori called me to explain, “Did you know we started this journey to find you a house to flip three years ago?” I couldn’t believe it had been that long.

It was 2014 when we stepped into the foyer of that little ranch house. The odor of dog urine wafted into our nostrils as Lori made a coughing sound. She stood patiently while I scoured every inch of that house with a flashlight in hand. (As is common with foreclosures, the power and water had been turned off.)

There was a fist-sized hole in the bathroom floor where the toilet used to be. In actuality, most of the flooring in the home had been removed. The fiber board that remained was worn along a path of familiar travel. Kitchen cabinet shelves sagged and showed tell tale signs of a water leak. Several of the cabinet doors were falling off their hinges. A large pet-sized hole had been cut into the door in the garage and the deck was one rusty nail from falling apart.

This was the house that taught me you could learn a lot from the crawlspaces and attics. Typically I’ll look in the crawlspace of a potential flip house before entering the front door. The crawlspace in the ranch had several red flags: a large pool of water in the crawlspace; a pit dug into the earth; water dripping from pipes; and multiple spots where the subfloor had rotted. The attic looked good, no water stains or visible signs of daylight permeating the roof.

Regardless, the home had fallen into disrepair, but my vision for this house was perfectly planned down to a fresh coat of light gray paint and a bright red front door. This house would be a charming suburban oasis when it was done. It was easy figuring out my budget and how much I could offer on the house. Having lived in the neighborhood for almost a decade, I knew all the comps in the area. But, this was my first foray into bidding on a home that was being sold as-is.

Lori helped me prepare an offer and submitted it. Hours later, the bank told us there were multiple offers and to re-submit our best and final. My husband, Mike, and I discussed an amount we thought we could handle, but in the end it wasn’t enough. I lost the house to the only person who could financially make it work: a flipper who intended to move in with his family and fix it up while they made it their home.

There would be two more homes I fell in love with after that. Both were located near downtown Raleigh and both pulled at my heart strings (and purse strings.) Sadly those two weren’t meant to be mine. By now I thought I had learned how to avoid getting attached to a house. Unfortunately Etta had a way of charming me.

I felt it in my heart that this was the one and knew almost the minute I walked into Etta’s front foyer. This house was meant to be saved. It had too much family history that deserved to live on. I couldn’t let this house be bulldozed. 

After a brief online search, I learned that Etta was built in 1900 in a historic African American neighborhood of downtown Raleigh. The architectural style was listed as Triple A style with an attached porch, gable returns and a diamond shaped attic vent. These were all features that had lasted for the life of the house.

The day after Lori submitted the offer, I kept my mind distracted by running errands, building a wine storage rack, and taking the dog for a walk. For a change of scenery, we deviated from our regular loop and included a detour behind the nearby shopping center. The space behind strip malls is always ripe for freebies and discarded treasures. Sure enough, as I neared the second dumpster I spotted two doors laying on the pavement. One was a solid wood exterior door with four windows along the top. The second door was a half window door with many panes of glass missing or broken. But, the first door still had all the glass intact. The door was dirty but looked like it might clean up nicely with a little elbow grease. With Etta still on my mind, I pictured how the door would look with a fresh coat of paint centered with the porch. The windows would help add more light in the front foyer and up the welcome factor. If my offer was accepted, I would come back and pick up the door. But honestly, I knew the house would be mine to finesse and restore. It was just a feeling I had — a faith that it was meant to be mine.

A few more hours passed before Lori texted me. She relayed that the seller was very pleased I didn’t intend to tear down the house. Lori swore this was a good sign, but the waiting continued. Finally at 5:15 pm my phone rang while I was grocery shopping. My arm froze in the air with a bag of carrots in hand. Lori’s voice boomed from the small cell phone, “They accepted your offer!” She was so excited and happy. I was elated, but also felt that familiar nervousness. The voice inside my head reminding me I had no business fixing a dilapidated house. I thanked Lori for calling and headed for the check out line.

Walking in the door with groceries dangling from each arm, I told Mike that Lori had called. He guessed immediately that my offer had been accepted the minute he saw my face (he knows me too well.)

At dinner I explained that I needed his help to rescue a door with me. I’ve never invited him on my trash saving excursions, but this time I needed his help to lift the heavy door into the car. We drove behind the supermarket under the blanket of darkness. I spotted the door and he helped me lift it into the car. Just as we were about to close the trunk, a woman and her poodle walked out of the darkness. She didn’t say a word, but nodded when I said hello. We sped off laughing about what she must be thinking about the couple picking up a trashed door from beside a dumpster.

That night I fell asleep thinking about all the work that had to be done on Etta. I hoped I was woman enough to rehabilitate her to her former state of glory. And I hoped the salvaged door would fit in Etta’s door frame.

Find out what turned up in the inspection in Chapter 5!

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Saving Etta - One Woman's Journey to Save a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

This is the true story about a house built in 1900 that is in serious disrepair. It’s also the story about my journey toward becoming a general contractor and my attempt to save a home from being bulldozed. I hope you’ll follow along as I embark on a journey into the unknown perils and rewards of flipping a home in downtown Raleigh, NC.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram as I share live updates about this project I’m calling Saving Etta.

That afternoon I sat down with the spreadsheet my husband, Mike, made for me. I plugged in my estimates for all the repairs while watching the video I made of the house (to jog my memory for the renovation list.) The three columns were titled: “Best Case”, “Average”, and “Worst Case” cost estimates. Next, I entered a variety of purchase prices and finally added the amount I thought I’d be able to sell Etta for (based on the comparables that Lori sent me.) As I researched the price of doors, windows, new siding, foundation repairs and a new roof; my lessons on estimating in the general contractor class began to come back to me. My instructor’s voice spoke up, “Figure out the square footage of a triangle by halving a square.” I smiled as I thought to myself, I might be able to actually do this.

Mike came home from work and patiently listened as I recounted the tour of the house. His eyes lit up and he said, “This sounds perfect.” I had to laugh because I remember how horrified he was when I showed him pictures of another house a mere year ago. The condition of that house had been shocking to him, yet Etta would need repairs beyond the other house. I guess I’d prepared him for this day.

We looked over the spreadsheet together and checked the balance in our bank accounts. He assured me we had the funds to attempt this major overhaul. This meant he was on board with the idea. In my mind, I knew this might be the last chance to talk him out of it; I had to let him know how I really felt.

As Mike and I sat at the kitchen table, I looked at him and poured out all my fears and insecurities. “Now is your opportunity to tell me you worry about losing our money on this house. I want you to be honest and let me know if you think this is just funding a hobby for me. Please tell me now if you have any concerns.”

He looked at me with knowing eyes. Mike and I have been together since 1988 (we were 17 when we started dating.) He knows me better than anyone. Which means, although I may seem confident, he knows I have misgivings and doubts about my abilities. For example, there are still occasions I’ll feel intimidated when a male professional is talking. But, my husband believes in me with all his heart and knows that I can do anything I put my mind to. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I know you can do this. There is no one I trust more to renovate this house and earn money doing it. You are going to rock this!”

This is why I will forever thank my 17 year old self for falling in love with the long-haired guy in high school for his resemblance to Axl Rose of Guns n’ Roses. I had no idea that this man would stand behind me and push me to do things I never would have believed I could. He is still my best friend and my biggest cheerleader.

(I still can’t believe we looked like this so many years ago.)

Age is a wonderful thing, it gives you more confidence or less concern about what others think of you. I still have to give myself pep talks for confidence, but these talks are becoming less frequent. Still, taking on a house that needs upwards of $100,000 in repairs is scary shit. That evening I let Mike give me his pep talk. Then we looked at the numbers and discussed an amount to offer.

My agent warned me we had less than 24 hours to submit an offer because there were already multiple offers on the table.  Of course, we figured as much after seeing several sets of interested parties looking at the house. Lori suggested I work the numbers and offer the most I thought I could (but were still comfortable with.) Mike and I agreed on $180,000. This was over asking, but well within the value of the property in that location. Mike briefly said I should offer $190K, but I didn’t feel comfortable with that figure. As an afterthought, he told me I should include a note with the offer about my intentions for the house.

I sat down to email Lori and typed this message to her:

We’d like to offer $180,000. Please pass this note on to the seller:

“I am a female licensed general contractor who has a love for saving old homes. I do not plan to tear the structure down. Instead I want to make her beautiful again and document the process on my website. Hopefully this will be my opportunity to put my skills and license to work.”

Right before I hit the send button, I looked at that figure and I heard my voice say, “You know, I always liked the numbers 8 and 4. They are my lucky numbers.” I deleted the 0 and wrote $184,000. Then I held my breath and hit send.

Find out what happens next! Read Chapter 4 .

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

 

Saving Etta - One Woman's Journey to Save a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy GirlSaving Etta: Chapter 2: The Vision

This is the true story about a house built in 1900 that is in serious disrepair. It’s also the story about my journey toward becoming a general contractor and my attempt to save a home from being bulldozed. I hope you’ll follow along as I embark on a journey into the unknown perils and rewards of flipping a home in downtown Raleigh, NC.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram as I share live updates about this project I’m calling Saving Etta.

As Lori (my realtor) and I continued through the house we stepped down into a small hallway connecting the kitchen, bathroom and a bedroom. “This feels like an addition,” I said noticing the low ceiling overhead.

Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

“Hmm, I hope this is at least 7 feet or you can’t claim it as square footage,” Lori replied.

I pulled out my tape measure from my “picnic basket” tool bag and quickly assessed that the ceiling was 7’ 2” — I was good. Just for giggles the opposite corner of the room was measured.

“Whoa, this spot measures 7’ 5”! That’s some serious sloping within 9 feet.” I remarked.

Lori didn’t look shocked but firmly stated, “Better hope the foundation is okay and it’s just water damage.”

We turned a corner to stare face-to-face with a big mass of insulation protruding from the ceiling. The edges were damp and foretold a big or long suffering roof leak.

Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

“Those new shingles on the roof were either installed incorrectly or are hiding some issues.” I stated.

We walked through the tiny kitchen and were assaulted by a strong odor. Lori suspected it was rotten food, but I knew the smell well. Four years ago our kitchen was gutted after a small water leak turned into a moldy disaster.

After that experience, I will never mistake the smell of mold for anything but mold. Water leaks can be the most damaging disaster on a home (short of a fire or tornado) and if left undetected for a long period of time can absolutely wreck a home.

Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

During the mold remediation we spent twelve days living in our house with giant air scrubbers running 24-7. I equate it to living on an airport runway. The sound is mind numbing and walking outside feels like being released from the hull of a Boeing 747. Little did I know that living through that experience would land me where I am today: looking for a run down house to renovate.

We walked into a back room off the kitchen and covered our mouths and noses with our hands. “Oh wow, that’s some serious mold.” I made a mental note to bring a respirator next time we toured a house.

Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

Lori and I quickly retreated back into the hallway and walked into the other two rooms. “The house is definitely chopped up and lacking a reasonable flow.” Lori declared.

I agreed as I spotted an attic pulldown in the ceiling. She nodded, knowing all too well what I was planning. “Go get it, girl!”

The ladder nearly fell apart as it was pulled out of the ceiling. I assured Lori that I’d be careful as I headed up into the attic.

The flood light illuminated the hot and dusty space. I inspected all the rafters noticing they were super narrow and some showed breaks. Then I scanned the attic floor and noticed a possum carcass and a thick layer of brown dirt-like material covering the floor. I made a mental note to look up what asbestos insulation looks like. Nestled among the dirt in several places was scat from a larger animal. The possum must have called this his home for quite a while. 

Lori called up, “What do you see?”

“Well, if I buy this house, I’ll be shoveling some shit.” I yelled down to her.

After a few more minutes poking around in the attic, I managed to snap a picture of the HVAC sticker to determine the age of the unit. Unfortunately most of my view was obscured by the giant silver ductwork coming out of the unit. 

Gingerly climbing back down the ladder, I hoped it would hold until I reached the floor. After a quick peek inside the only bathroom in the house, I turned to Lori.

Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

“Okay Lori, what are your ideas?”

She began to explain her vision and the walls began to change in my mind. Occasionally I asked her to stop and explain it again to help me get a clearer picture in my head.

She continued, “If you can squeeze two bathrooms and three bedrooms into this house you’ll be in a better position for resale.”

I nodded, thinking there should be enough space to figure that out within 1,300 square feet.

Lori spread her arms like an eagle, “Put up a wall here and this becomes your third bedroom. The other side is your mudroom and laundry room. You’ll just have to move the door over here.”

I realize that she talks about moving walls, doors, and windows as if this were a lego house. In actuality, opening walls always seems to reveal hidden issues and can be challenging.

After the vision was cemented in my head, I took a quick video on my phone. I find it helpful to walk through the house from front to back and dictate what I see in my mind and how I plan to change things. As the video began, the smoke detector chirped and I chuckled. My husband had just commented last night, while watching another one of my house videos, about the annoying chirping. “I guess that’s what happens when there is no one around to change the batteries.” I remarked.

Once the video tour was complete, I headed outside and was dismayed to see a tree had been allowed to grow up against the left side of the house. From looking at the base of the tree it was evident the foundation had been compromised and would likely need a lot of work to bring it back.

Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

Lori had headed outside before me and was talking to the neighbor, a man in his 30’s with long hair and a beard. He asked if the house was for sale. We both nodded, explaining that it had just listed on the MLS database.

The neighbor told us how he bought his house seven years ago for 1/5th of the price of the house we just exited. Our mouths dropped open. We knew this area was hot, but that’s some serious appreciation. He continued to explain that he’d put money, but mostly sweat equity, into his home. I knew immediately that I liked this guy and appreciated that he didn’t blink when Lori explained that I was thinking about buying the property. He showed no hint of disbelief in his eyes. The men in the construction and building trades that see me as a person (not just a woman,) are people that I value and lean on when I need a lesson on a home improvement skills. They tend to be the ones that push me beyond my limits and force me to face my fears of unknown skills and abilities.

There are three men in particular that were instrumental in helping me earn my general contractor license. Bob K., Jack and Bob L. all saw me as a person (not just a woman.) They each took time to answer my questions and ultimately vouched for my moral character when I was applying for my general contractor license. They each wrote a letter to the Licensing Board of General Contractors explaining why they felt I should be a General Contractor. Not once did they treat me like a woman who would likely be getting in over her head while trying to rehab a poor broken down house.  As I stood outside talking to the neighbor, I knew he might one day fit into this same group of valuable friends.

After we left the house, I felt it in my heart that this was going to be my first full house rehabilitation project. Something in my soul told me that I was meant to have this house to work my magic on. She gave off positive vibes but at the same time I knew that she wouldn’t give in easily to the changes I had planned for her. That was okay with me because I like strong stubborn women like myself.

Read the next chapter! Chapter 3.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Saving Etta - One Woman's Journey to Save a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy GirlSaving Etta: Chapter 1: At First Glance

This is the beginning of a true story about a house built in 1900 that is in serious disrepair. It’s also the story about my journey toward becoming a general contractor and my attempt to save a home from being bulldozed. I hope you’ll follow along as I embark on a journey into the unknown perils and rewards of flipping a home in downtown Raleigh, NC.

If you are just joining the story, you will want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram as I share live updates about the project I’m calling Saving Etta.

The weather was hot and slightly muggy as is typical for Raleigh, NC. Up popped the “You have reached your destination” on Google Maps. I had planned to get to the house before my agent so I could drive around the neighborhood to assess. I was looking for signs of renewal and renovated houses. In the back of my mind I heard my husband’s voice. “I just worry about your safety. I’d feel better if you’d get a gun.” This stuck with me but somehow my Quaker upbringing wouldn’t allow me to entertain the idea of purchasing a gun. Instead I attended a pepper spray workshop the week before. Looking down at my purse, I saw the canister ready for use (but hopefully never needing to be used.)

The neighborhood was nice. Lots of cute bungalows with colorful siding and front doors. This was a completely different feel from the homes we had looked at earlier in the week. Both of them prompting me to tap the canister of pepper spray in my rear pocket frequently to make sure it was still there. Typically I ask my agent, Lori to lock the door behind us once we were in the home.

I pulled into the driveway, a major plus for any potential flip house. Driveways are sought after in the typically small lots of downtown Raleigh. I knew my agent would point that out. I looked at the siding of the small bungalow and noticed lots of english ivy. Having eradicated our backyard of ivy several years ago, I knew first hand how much damage it can do to a house. I also knew how happily black widows and snakes lived inside its protective coverage. “Hopefully the foundation is still in good shape.” I said aloud to myself.

Looking around again, there was still no sign of my realtor’s car. Feeling impatient, I stepped out of the car and began walking around the perimeter of the house inspecting everything from top to bottom. I wandered toward the back of the house and was amazed by what I saw. A long expansive backyard. Immediately I began to doubt whether all of it could be the homeowner’s. Then I noticed the fences around the perimeter. The chain link fence was barely visible behind the scrubby weed trees and overgrown lawn. Unbelievable, this might mean I can check off installing a fence to the property. Plus, it meant that I could easily let Bandit out while I was working on the house.

Bandit is my apprentice in training. He’s a one year golden retriever/boxer mix that we adopted about six months previously. He’s still young and full of energy, but I’m hoping he’ll mellow out and fill in where Buddy departed. A year ago we lost our English Shepherd, Buddy (affectionately known as Handy Dog to many of you.) I had visions of flipping a house with his presence by my side at all times for protection. He never strayed from my view (except to wander down to the creek to cool off now and then.) He was a constant supervisor of the DIY projects from a safe distance. We used to joke that Buddy was a Walmart greeter in a past life. He was calm and polite to anyone he met. But, he always came back to me. I still get choked up thinking about his final month with us. We knew he was dying from a tumor on his heart. It was a blessing to be able to spoil him rotten, but it was hard on all of us knowing that death was imminent.

I turned around and began walking back toward the house. I noticed a car parked in the yard. “Well, that will have to get moved.” I stated as I tried to calculate how much that would cost in my head.

As I neared the back of the house I began to have visions of someone jumping out from the weeds and assaulting me. I tried to shake the worrisome thoughts from my head. Being a woman means it’s always important to be aware of your surroundings. How nice it would be to be a guy who doesn’t stress about these things.

I located a vine covered crawl space door and began trying to free it from the death grip of the ivy. After some tugging and ripping it finally broke free. I stumbled backwards and realized it had broken off in the hinges. “We won’t tell anyone that I just broke something on a house I don’t own.” I thought guiltily.

I peered inside the crawlspace but it was too dark to see. A cool musty breeze wafted over my face from the crawlspace. I looked around to see if my agent had arrived yet, but she hadn’t. I quickly decided to run back to the car and grab my floodlight and some gloves. As I neared the car three people walked out of the house. I panicked for a minute thinking I was trespassing (flashbacks to my wreckless teenage excursions.) I never did anything illegal beyond walking through people’s yards, an activity that both thrilled me and made me feel guilty. It was the battle of the good girl vs. the rebel.

I got my thoughts in check as I realized it was another agent and his clients. The young asian couple looked shell shocked. I quickly asked if they were finishing up their showing. The man, who I assumed was the agent, laughed and said, “Yes, but it is all kinds of jacked up in there. The ceiling is falling, the floor is treacherous and there are spots that have dropped two inches.” He told me there were two more people still looking in the house. The three walked off to the empty lot next door and began to talk. I decided to grab my bag of tools and headed back toward the crawlspace as if I owned the place. “It’s always better to look like you belong than to look timid and hesitant.” I told myself. My mind always needs a reminder that I belong here and I know what I’m doing. It’s hard being a female general contractor in a man’s world sometimes.

When I was studying for my general contractor exam I spent most of the prep class observing the other men in the class. I was the only woman and I knew I was stepping over the threshold into their world. I watched how they stood (legs apart and arms folded confidently across their torso.) I watched how they walked (confident and casual strolling down the center of a hallway.) But, most of all I watched how they spoke to one another. It was conversations about past jobs and experiences that I had no information to add. They spoke of corrupt inspectors, clumsy subcontractors and shoddy construction. I longed to tag along like a fly in a toolbelt and learn about home construction from them. Instead I tried to absorb as much information as I could from the lectures. I spent an enormous amount of time looking up terms that I didn’t know. Oftentimes, I would exclaim to myself, “Oh that’s what that thingy that holds up the other doohickey is called.” I knew basic construction skills visually, but the terms were not something I learned. Again, I felt like a fraud, out of place like a duck out of water.

As I walked back toward the crawlspace two men walked out of the house shaking their heads. One of them looked at me and asked if I was an agent. “Nope, I’m the buyer.” The word echoing in my head like a lie. Who was I kidding. I had no right to be here. Sure, I had a piece of paper saying I was a licensed residential general contractor in the state of North Carolina, but I had never flipped a full house before.

As if on cue, my agent pulled into the driveway behind my car. “That’s my agent.” Lori stepped out in her usual high heels and impeccably pulled together outfit. She’s a slight woman in her late-30’s. She looks more at home playing bunko with the country club gals than digging through old disgusting houses. I had told her jokingly that she doesn’t need to dress up for me because we always walk into the shittiest houses in Raleigh.

One of the men chuckled and said, “Did you bring a hard hat?” Lori looked at him and said, “Nope, but I have my boots.” She quickly pulled on a pair of Hunter boots. By this time I was really concerned about what I had gotten Lori into. I told her I had a hard hat in the car if she wanted it. She waved her hand dismissively. “Okay, so we’re doing this” I thought. I picked up my goodie bag (an open tool bag with a few tools inside: floodlight, flashlight, knee pads, gloves, a tape measure, an inspection camera that snakes into small space, a 5-in-1 painter’s tool for poking potential rotted or soft spots and a hard hat…just in case.)

The men laughed at us and asked if we were going to have a picnic inside (as they eyed up my tool bag.) We laughed back and Lori rolled her eyes at me. She muttered under her breath, “If they say one more condescending thing — I don’t have any patience for men that think we are bimbos.” Lori’s attitude bolstered my confidence as we headed toward the house. I turned around and saw them peeking into the crawlspace through the opening I had created. I kicked myself for giving them easy access. I should have left it alone.

We stopped at the bottom of the stairs and I pointed out the porch masonry that was bulging and pulling away from the house. “That will have to go.” I said. She nodded in agreement. We carefully ascended the steps unsure what awaited us beyond the front door.

We stepped inside and waited for our eyes to adjust. The sight we saw would have been shocking but I was all too familiar with homes that were a time capsule after someone had moved out or died.

Last year Lori and I walked into a house so decrepit that we weren’t sure if it was carpet under our feet or fur from a dead animal. We had spent at least 45 minutes navigating piles of clothing, furniture and trash to try to see the house’s potential. The blinds were drawn, the walls were either dark paneling or dripping with a yellow substance. We didn’t have the aid of a light fixture as the power had been turned off. I had been amazed as Lori began telling me about her vision for the house. Her quick chatter began to fill my head with a vision of what the house could be. “Open up this wall and put L-shaped cabinets here. You might even have enough room for a breakfast nook.” She continued to wave her hands and explain her thoughts about renovating the house. Everything in my line of sight disappeared as my mind began to see the vision she was describing. When we left I had fallen in love with that little 900 sq. foot bungalow and knew I had to make the numbers work so I could bid on it. Later I learned that the homeowners (two brothers) had lived there. The one brother had passed away in the house and the other brother (who had some mental instability) neglected to tell anyone for two weeks. I shuddered to think that we might have been standing where he had died. When the bidding on that house went above my comfort threshold, I was sad but tried to remember that everything happens for a reason.

Recently I drove past that little bungalow and saw that nothing had been done to it. I called the new owner and was told that it was slated for demolition once the builder could get to it. I was horrified. That little bungalow had stood there since 1920 and its days were numbered. Without much thought, I offered to purchase the house from the buyer telling her that I thought it was a shame for the house to be bulldozed. She told me, “You can’t get emotionally attached to these houses. It’s an investment. It makes more sense to build a two story house on that lot.” I filed this away as future advice and continued to search for my first “investment property”. But, the idea sat cold in my heart. I love old house and the character and charm they exude. I imagine the stories they could tell. I imagine grown children driving by the home they grew up in explaining to their grandchildren, “That’s the house I grew up in. We had a lot of fun there.”  

I thought to myself, maybe I’m not cut out to be a house flipper. My heart is too attached to old homes.

Our eyes scanned the hallway now that we could see in the dim light. A partial set of furniture was in the parlor. Some photos sat stacked on a chair. In the second room to our left (a second parlor) the carpeting had been pulled up and piled in the middle of the floor. We picked our way over the carpet padding and cords lying on the floor. The floor buckled under my weight and sank an inch. For a second I thought that surely I would be in the crawlspace in a second. But, the particle board held. I gingerly continued to walk around the room noticing lots of water on the floor. I looked up but didn’t see any signs of a leak. We were perplexed. Lori offered to walk outside and look at the exterior for clues. She came back in in less than a minute exclaiming that the fascia board was completely rotted out. We nodded to each other.


A boarded up fireplace was centered on one wall and two windows would have offered lots of light if they weren’t covered with mini blinds and yellowing cotton curtains. The other parlor was a mirror image of its twin. Another boarded up fireplace and two windows. I calculated the expense of replacing the windows and made a mental note that bigger windows on the front would really improve the house. As I turned around and looked down at the pile of photos, I saw several faces smiling back at me. Their faces were dark with bright white smiles. The photos had a yellow cast showing their age. I nodded at them and said, “Don’t worry, if I buy your family home I promise to respect it and make it beautiful again.”

Find out what plans I have in store for this house in Chapter 2!

Thanks for letting me share with you this adventure I’m embarking on. In the meantime I’d love to know if you enjoyed this post. Do you want to hear more about this journey to save the house I’ve affectionally named Etta?

If you are just joining the story, you’ll want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.