It was a big house – still partially furnished and with the requisite peeling wallpaper, cracked plaster and bare incandescent light bulbs. Walking in I noticed how cold it was, crypt cold. It was March when we closed, with the first tentative warm days of spring, but the house had kept the cold of winter. Typical of older homes. It was solidly built, with high ceilings. Large rooms. It definitely had potential!
You entered the home through the front door into a large room – a front parlor or living room. There was an equally large room next to it that would be better suited for the sectional couch and flat screen TV. Behind that was a smaller room, likely a first floor bedroom.
And those stairs had to go. I was at the Pittston Diner after walking through the property a second time when I casually mentioned to Steve on the phone that I couldn’t wait to get rid of those stairs so it would be easier for me to be at the house with Savannah. I was worried about her breaking her neck on them! Dead silence on the other end. He wasn’t planning on replacing the stairs! “Are you kidding me?” “That puts us way over-budget.” “Well then you better cut back in some other areas because no one is going to buy a house with stairs like that!” “Why not?”
This is why Scott needs Amie on Flipping Vegas. I don’t know if it’s a man versus woman, Venus and Mars thing or what – but neither my man nor Amie’s man can see the things we see in a house! I’m not intending to be sexist. I am sure there are many men who would have noticed those stairs were unacceptable. My man was not one of them. He needs me. It’s nice to be needed.
Hiring contractors – high drama!
I’m sure there are some very fine professionals working in the construction trade in northeastern Pennsylvania. We just haven’t met that many of them. Probably they’re busy on higher paying jobs. Our mission will be to find one or two of these highly professional contractors, who have a steady crew working under them that they are 100% responsible for managing. Those contractors will make a lot of money off us, because we want to flip a lot of houses. The story I’m about to tell you about our experience flipping Avoca makes me never want to do this again. But of course I’m going to. A quitter never wins and a winner never quits.
We closed on Avoca in March of 2104. First we gave our handymen a shot at doing the renovation. Our guys did good work on our rental units, but speed is an issue when you’re flipping a house. Our goal was to get it finished and on the market for the summer selling season. Our guys couldn’t work that fast, so we had to bring in some reinforcements. We hired a “professional.” I liked this guy. He convinced my husband (when I could not) that we needed to demo the plaster lathe and drywall the whole house, which is what we did at our house in Swoyersville. It’s so much more modern. So we hired him.
Things went downhill rather quickly. He put one guy on the job. And he was, as far as I could observe, a drunk. The guy managed to get the drywall up, but again, speed was an issue. Steve wasn’t happy with the quality, either. But the final straw came when he got to the stairs.
The stairs were a huge undertaking. The plan was to rip out the old, unsafe staircase, demolishing the side wall at the kitchen. We would reorient the stairs, putting the second floor landing on the opposite side of the opening, have them go straight down to a mid-point landing with the rest of the steps at 90 degrees down into the kitchen. We’d have to eliminate the old pantry to make this happen. The end result would be a modern, attractive staircase wide enough to accommodate modern furnishings. The new owners could get their king size beds up to those huge second floor bedrooms!
The one-man show our contractor put on the job was able to handle the demolition. But he built the new stairs without any kind of plan. The bottom steps were a wide 48 inches at the kitchen, but at the mid-point landing they narrowed to 26 inches! Code is 36. I gained a significant amount of weight in my first pregnancy. If I got pregnant again and gained another 60 pounds, I probably wouldn’t be able to use those stairs! I’d be stuck at the landing, they’d have to call the fire department, jaws of life…
Steve went up the stairs and hit his head on the ceiling – he’s 6’ 3’’. Oops. Guess someone – maybe the “professional” contractor – should have noticed a problem?
All of that didn’t get this contractor fired. What got him fired was that he argued with Steve about the acceptability of these stairs. Steve had to bring in the borough inspector to convince him! The inspector told him to correct the stairs, but he never did. The guy put the rest of the drywall up, but never touched the steps. So Steve told him to leave the property. He called Steve’s cell phone later that night, uttering drunkenly slurred threats. Steve refused to give me his number so I could call him back and let him know in calm, dulcet tones what happens to people who threaten my family. It’s not a good idea to make this ginger snap.
Meanwhile, we had hired a couple of guys who specialized in working with gravel and mortar to help us solve our wet basement problem. They graded the backyard to keep rain water from flowing in and parged the basement walls. They discovered a rotten sill plate under the kitchen addition and fixed that for us. We missed it when we bought the house because there was a foot of snow on the ground. Investors tip: leave room in your budget when flipping a house, because there will ALWAYS be surprises!
When we fired our “professional” contractor and his drunken minion, our gravel & basement guys asked us to give them a shot at completing the work. So we did.
I wish this was the happy ending to this story. But alas, the epic drama will have to continue next week.