We’ve been working our tails off to get moved into the Sullivan House by the end of the month. It’s a breakneck pace, and it’s wearing us down pretty fast. I arrived at the house before 8am today to have the kitchen floor measured. Today was special because several key things came together.
First, we now have wifi. Internet means I can do my job (for Vanilla Forums) from the house. Second, we have a water filter installed and a microwave. That means… hot tea!
I sat out on the porch for the first half of my day, the morning summer sun rising. Joggers, deliverymen, neighbors walking dogs, flier hangers, and the postwoman all passed by. A neighbor moved in. I waved to a lot of people. And worked. It was a perfect peaceful morning and I got a ton done.
As I sipped on my tea to keep warm, it hit me: this is my new morning commute. After all this moving crap is done… I get to sit on the porch of our new castle to do what I love while the neighborhood hums quietly around me.
I got sucker punched, so I snapped right back. I got together a mess o’ gear, donned goggles & mask, and tore into that mold-infested space with a crowbar and a huge bucket of bleach water.
Terror building as I prepare to enter the void.
I took out two big bags of shattered drywall and found… nothing. Well sure, there was some white and yellow mold, and there was indeed a strip of black mold by the opening. But that strip quickly fell to my spray bottle, and its expected siblings were nowhere to be found. The darkness and stench had fooled us.
Actually... it kinda looks OK. Huh.
Suddenly, I had a manageable project again.
Last week was a setback. Today, it was a sucker punch.
Andy and I were investigating why the walls in the rear stairwell were always damp. I’d previously determined the walls outside weren’t leaking, but we went outside and had another look anyway. Nope, still fine. But the walls were definitely abnormally damp, even after repeated priming and spackling. Then Andy said those fateful words: “It can’t be coming up from the ground, can it?”
He asked if it was wet under the stairs. I said “You can’t get under the stairs, it’s sealed off,” and my stomach dropped a little as I could see where this was going.
Mike Mallet of Ohio picked up a helluva deal when he bought the former Van Dyke Place restaurant for $115,000. Curbed Detroit did some sleuthing and found that Mr. Mallett is already building a home in Port Clinton. So why would he want the restaurant? Maybe to steal all its architectural details and ship them up north? Hard to say.
Well, unfortunately for the Ohioan buzzard, the Historic District Commission had something to say about that. The former Van Dyke Place restaurant is located in East Indian Village, which, like Boston Edison, is protected by a local historic district. That makes looting its architectural treasures illegal. Mallett now has until August 8th to present plans to restore the property.
Enjoy fixing up your Detroit treasure, Mr. Mallett. You’ve earned it.
Today I made a decision on the carriage house roof. We’ll be removing the old roofing materials ourselves and building the subroof. Then a professional roofing company will install a metal imitation shake shingle roof. It will be the second truly major expense of this project, on par with the boiler and heating system repairs. And, we’ll be doing it in the next month.
Fifteen people came to the Sullivan House over the weekend and catapulted us forward. The house I found at 11 AM Saturday morning was not the same house I left at 8 PM Sunday night. It was transformed from looking a broken building to a home that was being redecorated. The amount of work that was done was amazing.
The Sullivan House has matching, original handcrafted wood trim around every door and window in the entire house. The wood is gorgeous, and it’s a very bold and wide trim. In fact, I’m resolved to removing the paint from every inch of it in the entire house because it’s a crime for it to be covered.
In the renovated kitchen and bathroom, we need new trim to replace pieces that were lost, broken, or no longer cut correctly from before the renovation. We have sources for trim, of course, but it will be a poor substitute for the original. In the kitchen, especially, it will stick out like a sore thumb against the originally-trimmed windows. Getting it professionally custom cut seems prohibitively expensive.
Does anyone out there have the ability to either produce custom cut trim or produce router bits for custom patterns? Of course, if someone has the actual rotary tool for producing custom trim (I’m forgetting the name presently) that would be amazing. Additionally, if anyone has skill at identifying and matching wood types, I’d appreciate help with that as well.
I met our contractor Andy at the house this morning and we talked strategies and solutions for a lot of issues throughout the house. Smoothing walls, minor electrical fixes, appliance and cabinet installation, and door placements were some of the many things that came up. I notice a water leak in the upstairs near the rear chimney, and a litany of smaller issues.
I had an agent from American Metal Roofs come out and check out the Sullivan House. I’ve been interested in metal roofs for a while now. My uncle originally mentioned them to me after discussing them with my cousin, who’s an architect. They are essentially permanent insofar as they’ll never need to be replaced again in my lifetime, and they absorb far less heat. You can also get them in various styles, like vintage shake shingles to match the original style of my house, and they look damn good.
There’s an undercurrent of panic in my actions.
We have five weeks until eviction from our home in Warren will be looming over our heads. We have no firm date, only the knowledge that August is when our six months of foreclosure grace is ending.
The kitchen and bathroom are so close to completion, but so far away. We have dozens of gallons of paint in our immediate future. There are some major undertakings left, including siding and gutter repairs. The City of Detroit inspectors could conceivably stop me from occupying the house until every single thing is complete. I don’t see how it’s possible to reconcile that with our deadline.
Some friends showed up for the weekend, our contractor Andy returned from his trip to the motherland, and suddenly we’re back to ludicrous speed at the Sullivan House. We’re aiming to have the kitchen and bathroom functional by Memorial Day weekend, and we’re well on our way. Check out the renovation log for what we’ve done the last couple weeks.
The last of the “junk” left by the previous owner exited the house yesterday, which felt like a big milestone. We’re getting ready to put up the kitchen ceiling, and the bathroom is almost ready for that magical moment we install a working toilet in the house. My current project is clearing the main room and office to prep for painting. As usual, we’re figuring it out as we go.
Two rooms have sold in the second & final round of sponsorships, but there’s still quite a few spaces available if you want your name to forever grace the halls of our new community headquarters.
My uncle visited again last week. It was his first time in the house since just before I bought it, and he was duly impressed with the improvements that had been made. It made me remember what things were like that day back in January, and it made me feel a little better about our progress. We’ve really done a lot in three months, but it never feels like enough when considering how much is left to do.
These days, a lot of things are moving between the two houses. Outdoor furniture and supplies head downtown, and left-behind junk for our impending yard sale heads to the suburbs. We typically only get to work on the house on the weekend, but it’s usually for 4-8 hour stretches when we do.
We asked for people to sponsor the Sullivan House, and you responded in a big way. Every room we put up for adoption was snapped up, and you found even more spaces in the house to sponsor that we hadn’t thought to include.
Here’s the breakdown of how the rooms sold.
So how’s the Sullivan House coming along? Here’s a quick run down of what remaining tasks we currently know about. Before we can move in:
- Bathroom needs tiling, painting, appliances and fixtures installed, and radiator adjusted and installed.
- Kitchen needs tiling, painting, countertops, sink & cabinet & appliances installation, radiator installation (including re-running cut copper lines), a gas line for the stove, and ceiling & light installation.
- Ground floor needs more electrical ground (office, dining room) and CAT-6 runs
- Exterior requires repairs to the fascia and sophets, new rain gutters, and a ton of primer and paint.
- Chimneys need repairs, liners, and a new damper.
- Boiler / water heater needs to be installed.
- Basement and carriage house need to be further emptied of junk while we have the dumpster.
Other than that, we have a litany of other tasks ahead that are not necessarily going to be finished before we move in:
I am so very tired right now, but it’s time to write again. I’ve been quiet here for six weeks and now I have a lot to say.
Since the major events of St. Patrick’s weekend, progress has been significantly slower on Avery Street. I’ve been swamped at work and met someone special in February, so I’ve been pretty limited with how much time I spent at the house. We put in a big effort every Saturday, but otherwise I’m usually restricted to coordinating work and purchases. Brian’s been awesome about scheduling & meeting our myriad experts (heating specialists, chimney sweeps, electrician, and plasterer) these last few weeks. It’s been our contractor Andy who’s probably putting in the most time, but he just left for a three week trip home to England. Luckily, just as he left the rest of us sprung back into action!
We had an extremely productive weekend at the Sullivan house. Our friend Eric Ryder came to help and we got two solid days of work done. A lot of progress was made on the basement (with still a ton left to do), the kitchen was stripped down the rest of the way, all four floors of the back staircase was cleaned, we replaced the security floodlights in the backyard, and more.
Another friend Ryan Perry came by to help Saturday, and together we engineered a way to get the two broken 400-pound radiators down to the first floor. It required a a 10 foot 2×8 board, a 4 foot 4×4 board, and a lot of grunting, but we got them down with only trivial damage to the front staircase and a pinched finger. That no one broken a bone or tore anything is a miracle.
I never told my uncle I’d bought the house.
I joked with my mom that he’d inevitably find out thanks to Facebook, but I wasn’t eager for the next conversation. On Tuesday, it came up between my mom and aunt as they chatted on the phone. And so it was that a day later my phone buzzed with a voicemail from my uncle. Oh boy. Here we go.
I can’t tell you what a relief it is to have power on at the house.
It took a dozen calls to DTE and two weeks, but electricity has been restored to the house. In the meantime, we were burglarized twice, I lost entire days of work due to being restricted to daylight hours at the house, and there was precious few repairs we could do. The house was cold and dark most of the time.
I really can’t believe the amount of help we’ve already had since we bought the one in Woodbridge. A dozen friends have already shown up on short notice (and on Superbowl weekend no less) to help us clear out the house. Several more have given ridiculous amounts of money to help buy materials. Thank you so much.
We’ve set up goals to sponsor each room in the house if you wanted to help out and weren’t sure how. We want to make sure everyone who gives like that is recognized. We set a goal of $10,000 total for all the rooms combined. We basically made that number up and are painfully aware that it may be crazy talk.
Of course, everything’s more complicated than we thought.
A lot of pipes were copper, and the thieves were very thorough. The bathroom was devoid of plumbing save the drain lines. “Well, it’s not the end of the world,” our contractor Andy tells us. We get an initial run up to the bathroom and the rest of the lines blocked off. Essentially, we can now fill the toilet with a hose. Ryder and I flush it for the first time (evacuating the parting gift left behind by the movers). Meanwhile, in the basement, Brian and Andy are watching the lines. A trickle of water seeps out of the floor at the sewage line.
“Andy, that’s piss.”
“I think you’re right.”
After closing on the house, I was pretty numb to the world. People would ask what my plans were for the house, and I’d shrug. My plans blew up. I have enough money to buy some supplies at the hardware store and that’s about it. I didn’t even bother calling the utility company for a day. Whatever.
We had a fun little adventure our first day, meeting the neighbors. Later that night I called my parents to tell them about the crazy I’d done. “You’re coming down from an incredible amount of stress and trying to let it go. It’s pretty normal,” was my mom’s reaction to my ambivalence. My parents offered to send me some money. I asked them to only get some furniture if they wanted to help out. I didn’t want them going into debt for my new money pit. At least I could take furniture with me if things fell apart.
Closing day. My stomach knotted, I drove downtown to pick up the inspection documents. I was terrified to see the results. The money still hadn’t transfered to my checking account. It was now 11:45am with the closing scheduled for 2pm.
I checked on the money wire. After some back and forth with my family, it became apparent we had made a grave error. I had many thousands of dollars less available than we thought. My careful plans and budgeting evaporated, buffers transformed into impossible shortfalls. The knot got tighter. My resolve began to fade.
The closing documents are with my attorney. The city inspection is scheduled for tomorrow morning, and the closing is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. The fund are being wired to my account in the morning. Thousands of dollars seem to have evaporated somewhere in all the transfers. My first round of desired fixes are off to the contractor for a quote. Agent still hasn’t sent me the final quote to start home insurance. Asbestos removal quote is higher than I’d hoped, but less than I’d feared.
I put on my headphones and try to concentrate on work. I decided to skip a visit to the house today. Every time I think of it, I feel tightness in my chest.
I went down to the house with Nicole today to meet the electrician. “I used to come down here all the time,” the electrician told me in greeting. “I drove around the neighborhood for a while to check it out, and I just fell in love with this building. I saw it was for sale and almost called my brother-in-law to come down and check it out before I realized it was the one I was going to!”
Once inside it was a constant stream of “Oh wow, just WOW” and “What a treasure!” as we passed from room to room. We talked as much about the house’s potential as we did the electrical.
After a dose of reality, I wandered back to the house a second time. Soon, our contractor friend Andy showed up for a much-anticipated professional eye on the building.
Good news first: We confirmed the knob and tube electrical work is disconnected and is not what’s powering the house. There are already modern runs connected to the new circuit panel. He called an electrician to come by and get a better estimate of what changes are needed.
“I want you to be able to do this, but it will bankrupt you. It’s not that it’s a tight budget, it’s an order of magnitude more than you can afford.”
I know he’s right. My uncle has changed his plans to be in Detroit today for an hour and see the one in Woodbridge. He has a tremendous amount of experience in real estate and investing. This, he assures me, is out of my grasp. I counter with my community and friends, their offers to help. Just last night, a member of Icrontic offered to fly out with his father for a week to assist with renovations. “Even with free labor, the materials will easily exceed what you can afford, and you’ll need licensed electricians and plumbers. You’re looking at three to six months of renovation.”
Today’s visit to the one in Woodbridge was far more mundane than The Burgling, but all the more stressful because it was my first visit alone. I carried a larger sheath knife and a larger light this time, and opted to wear sneakers for running ability.
I went with the intention of replacing our haphazard barricades with sturdier fixtures, but the cold and near-dusk paranoia reduced me to another grounds inspection. I confirmed all our barricades were secure, and I added “tells” to the house to make it clear if anyone had passed thru the main hallway or either staircase. My uncle is coming to visit the house Friday, and I’d really like it if he didn’t get shot.
I visited the house again today with a friend, expecting to give a tour and measure rooms. What I got instead was a stark reminder about what it means to rehabilitate a property in Detroit. After a meal at the pub, we arrived shortly before dusk.
I knew something was wrong when I saw the broken carving. The day before, it was injured but respectably resting on the stairs. Today, it was in several pieces on the ground. A few paces away, I saw it: broken glass, and a door ajar. Someone ripped the screen from the outer door, punch a hole in the door glass, and knocked away the plank that had kept it wedged shut.
Somewhere in the house, there was a faint thud. Was it our imagination?
I have no experience in home buying, loan securing, home repairing, or home ownership. I do not have a millionaire’s resources, a rich family, or high-level connections. What I have is just enough money to buy a run-down property in Detroit. That, and a hundred awesome friends.
It’s getting harder and harder to find a nice plot in center city. Several nights of online searching turned up precious few homes in the central neighborhoods of Detroit. Today, Nicole and I spent a few hours touring the city and checking out potential homes. I’m really partial to Woodbridge, but there’s very little for sale there.