Real Estate Junkie (Part 3)

Continued from here.


We were practically bursting out of our condo.  I had bought a 3 family building when my kids were 3, 4 and 5 years old, that I converted to condos.  I kept the lower bi-level unit.  That was when I was a single parent, before I got married, my husband moved in, my youngest son was born and my Mom moved in.  It was sufficient when it was just the 5 of us, but with 3 additional… no way.

My Mom had sold her home to move to St. John.  She was living on a sailboat for a while, but missed us, so returned to the States.  When she got back, she moved in with us.

Quarters were tight, and I was frustrated.  I got a call from my next door neighbor one afternoon.  The house 2 doors down from us would be sold.  The elderly man that was living there fell on crumbling steps and had to be hospitalized. The house was now vacant.

Without delay, I ran over and kicked in the back door to check it out.  The place was in bits.  Rotting. Deteriorated.  Years of neglect.  Pink paint was jumping off the walls in sheets.  The roof had a massive hole in the corner. Very convenient for the raccoon family that was in and out every night.  Back room walls were thick with musty black mold, and crumbling from years of moisture pouring in through a tethered blue tarp.  Original wood floors buckled from the cold and the place was loaded with years of accumulated trash and belongings.  It was a mess; needed gutting.  I wanted it bad.






I watched every day for 2 weeks for someone to show up, finally, the daughter arrived.  She confirmed that the house was for sale and that the guy across the street was also interested.  Of course he was, he stored his boat and vehicle in the driveway, and he had been milking her Dad, the old man, for years in hopes of getting his paws into the house one day.  She named her price.  I was not willing to meet it.  Countered.  She rejected.  I let it go.

I salivated over the house for 6 months as it sat unattended.  What was going on?  There was no movement with the eyesore .  I phoned my lawyer and asked him to call the daughter’s lawyer to see if he could negotiate my deal.  Maybe she would change her mind.  Maybe he could get my house for me, lawyer to lawyer.

The house was under contract.  The guy across the street got it.  He was due to close by the end of the month.  I was crushed.

Three more months had passed and still no movement;  no building permit in the window, no clean-out, no contractors giving estimates, no nothing.

My phone rang one morning.  It was my lawyer, “Want to buy a house?”.  I couldn’t believe it.  The guy across the street couldn’t come up with the cash to close, and rehab loans don’t come easy;  especially at that time.  They accepted my offer.  I had 2 months to close.

I put my condo on the market.  It sold immediately, and I closed the money pit.  I was delighted.

Refusing to burn my renovation capital on the exorbitant cost of rent in my area, I purchased an old, raggedy, 38′ RV and parked it in the driveway.  Seemed like a good idea at the time. Renting a place with 5 kids was a task, and I didn’t want to be roped into a 1 year lease.  We stayed in the RV for 3 months while I converted the detached garage into a studio apartment.  Ever have one of those moments in life when you say to yourself, “I’ll NEVER do that again”?  This was that moment.  RV living with 5 kids was gruesome.  The a/c didn’t work.  It was a junk-box. (paid $3,000)  It heated up like an oven under the summer sun.  I rigged a long garden hose with a pump from the RV to the toilette drain in the house.  Every 3 days I would have to put on rubber gloves and galoshes, and start the macerater to empty the black holding tank.  It was a dirty job.  If I missed a day, the tank would leak; gave a horrendous odor that was exasperated by the heat.  Subsequently, I would have to bleach the area and hose it down.  The grey tank we left unplugged, so there was a constant stream of soapy sink water running down the driveway.  With the dinette dropped, couch pulled out, and drop down bed above the drivers seat, it had just enough space for us to jam in, not comfortably, but it was short term.  My mom stayed with a friend.


We immediately began the clean-out.  It took eight, 40 yard dumpsters to trash all of the abandoned belongings.  As I was sorting through one of the rooms, looking for hidden treasure, I noticed a sticky note on the wall.  It was sad; made me pause a moment.  “Dave, I’ll fix the steps soon“.  The note was signed by the guy across the street.  He was referring to the same steps on which the old man had fallen.  The same crumbling, front brick steps.  Pathetic.

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The garage conversion entailed digging 4 trenches in the backyard 5′ deep to run utility lines to the garage.  Meanwhile, I applied to the Zoning Board of Appeals to tear off the roof and build a 3rd floor addition.  I knew the appeal process would take time, especially since my neighbors were fighting it.  We would move into the studio apartment until the house permit was issued and the work was complete.






The appeal process took 6 months.  I finally received the permit in December to demo the exhisting roof, build a 3rd floor addition, rear addition, basement addition and renovate the main house… just in time for winter.

First, we dug and poured a new foundation at the rear of the house to support the rear addition.





We also had to dig the basement down 3′ to gain enough head room for the basement apartment addition.  Then, poured a new basement concrete floor after the plumber was done running pvc.



I called in a concrete cutter to saw openings in the exhisting foundation for doors and windows.



It was a horrible winter. One of the worst.  Snow every other day, and roofs all over Massachusetts were caving from the weight of the thick and saturated snow.  The guys tore my roof off at the beginning of January.  It was 20 degrees outside.  We tarped the roof every night, and had to shovel snow and ice from the tarp every morning.










A Noreaster’s hit.  The tarp lines frayed in the high winds and part of the tarp detached from the house and roared in the wind like a freight train.  Everything inside got soaked.


The engineering plans called for 40 LVL’s to be placed as support for the new 3rd floor.  These are very heavy beams and would normally be boomed to the roof, but because of all of the snow, the trucking company refused to boom.  My guys had to haul the beams up by hand; back breaking work, that took 6 men, and a full day.



By February the new 3rd floor was built; and the house was gutted, re-framed and ready for completion.  I was rolling.





By the time the warm weather arrived, the house was done.  Customized to my liking, and designed to meet our needs.  Plenty of space for everyone.  We moved in.

Took a break for 6 months, then picked up where I left off.  Back to my out of town, short money rentals.

After about a year of living in the new house, I decided that I wanted to sell, and buy a boat.  Hence, the plan.

The house is currently for sale.  Once it is sold, I will post the photos of the completed renovation.  Check back later…


Coming soon: How to Get a Free House




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