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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.

 

24 replies
  1. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    As a fellow lover of old houses and Triangle resident (Durham over here!) I can’t wait to see what happens next!

    Reply
  2. Cyndi J
    Cyndi J says:

    Reading about your husband’s faith in you made me cry! So touching. How fortunate you both are to have each other. I’m looking forward to following along as you save Etta.

    Reply
  3. phyllis
    phyllis says:

    This is a great story and start to your project. I’m sure the note did the trick! Will be following with great interest and support. You go girl!!!

    Reply
  4. mary
    mary says:

    I am so excited and proud of you! I can’t wait to see what you do to this house! You are such a wonderful role model for young women wanting to get into the construction business! PS…LOVE that old pic of ya’ll!

    Reply
  5. Lori
    Lori says:

    Showing the house to Mike for the first time was a true highlight for me! He absolutely believes whole heartedly believes in your ability to rock this reno! Love this part of the story 🙂

    Reply
  6. Eileen
    Eileen says:

    I had tears in my eyes as I read this, Brittany. You have a whole tribe of readers out here cheering you on and believing in you too 😉

    Reply
  7. Bar
    Bar says:

    I’m praying that your offer is accepted and I can follow your story on “Saving Etta.” Like you, I adore old houses and restoring anything old. Let’s focus on the positive and I’m sure I’ll be reading Chapter 4 and you will have begun tearing out and repairing what you can save. I’m pulling for you!

    Reply
  8. Ivory
    Ivory says:

    I know you will get it, because if anyone can give the old girl a beautiful face and body, you can! The old girl will look better than beautiful, because you are just that good. I love reading your love story, touching and sweet.

    Reply
  9. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    I absolutely LOVE reading about saving Etta and I adore her name. You are a total inspiration and the picture from the 80s is totally stellar!

    Reply
  10. Candye Blodgett
    Candye Blodgett says:

    I am so excited to watch your progress! And for those bonus points; that would be my hero, Nicole Curtis! 😉

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] you are just joining the story, you may want to Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 |Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 for more of the […]

  2. […] you are just joining the story, you may want to read Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 for more of the back […]

  3. […] 1 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter […]

  4. […] you are just joining the story, you may want to read Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 for more of the back […]

  5. […] Read the next chapters: Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 […]

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