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Ten Rod Road: The Journal of a Pro-Remodel

Not too long ago both of my wife’s parents passed and after about six months she took charge and decided to have their modest house fixed up and put on the market. A week later, sales agreements were signed with a 30-day closing date. Now the pressure was on to find a new place for her youngest brother who would need a new place to live.

My brother-in-law’s new place needed to be nearby, small, maintenance free, low cost and preferably not an apartment or condominium type complex.

As luck would have it, or at least that’s what it seemed like at the time, my wife noticed a “For Sale” sign in front of a very small property less than two miles from our house. Apparently it had been on the market for a few months. I drove by it almost every day but never noticed because I wasn’t in the market so I wasn’t looking.

(Note: Click any image to enlarge)

The lot was just over 3000 sq. ft. and featured an 824 sq. ft. house with a stand-alone garage, both of which were built in 1910. The house was in severe disrepair and needed significant work on every component (frame, siding, windows, roof, etc.). Only the foundation was apparently in good shape, but nothing else, including the cesspool, which had to be replaced with a modern septic system.

Of course, being a builder/carpenter, I was undaunted by the condition. In fact, it’s this type of property that I look for as an investment knowing that I can improve it cheaper than most others by using sweat equity, calling in favors, and even trading labor with some of the sub-contractors.

So, as is my custom with properties like this, I had my broker submit a cash offer with no contingencies or inspections. There was a little back and forth with the offer amount but not much. The entire process was pretty simple. I ended up coming in at close to the asking price and it was accepted. But that is when things started to get interesting.

The usual dozen or so pages of the purchase and sale documents were emailed from their agent to my broker, who in turn sent them to me to sign and initial. I signed and initialed them then sent them back up the chain. The next day my broker received a correspondence from the other agent stating that one or two initials weren’t executed and since this was a time sensitive deal (which was news to me), I needed to resign all of the papers again, immediately. Of course, my broker reviewed the documents and quickly recognized the problem: the error was from the other agent’s scanning of the original emailed P&S. There had been a couple of initial boxes omitted when the scan cut through some of the margins.

But in the spirit of cooperation, my broker printed out the P&S pages again and we met face-to-face, to be certain everything was meticulously signed and initialed, and then he immediately sent them back to the other agent.

However, once again, the other agent stated that not all of the documents requested were submitted correctly. The owner’s agent warned us that if the documents were completed incorrectly a third time the sellers would move on to another buyer. And the agent said all the executed paperwork must be in their hands by the next business day.

Hmmm… In the past I have been on the losing side of a real estate bidding process because, as I found out later, the other agent had some skin in the game, or maybe a friend or business associate who wanted the property. I got that same feeling from the owner’s agent and decided it was time to bring in my attorney. Suddenly there were no more threatening correspondences or major issues. Less than three weeks later, I closed on the property and figured the remainder of the project could proceed without interruption or hassles.

Yeah, right. Watch the video and see what happens next!


18 Responses to “Ten Rod Road: The Journal of a Pro-Remodel”

  1. stephen anderson

    I bet the bums in the township collected their transfer fee, property taxes other sundry taxes when the house was bought!
    A prime example of uncodified laws, and the hand in your pocket by the US, State, County and local demigods!

    • Gary Katz

      Actually, there is a LOT more to the story, and you’ll enjoy it immensely, I promise. It’s a real knee slapper!

  2. Dave

    Great video, hope it’s the first of a long series. And that cliffhanger! Sounds like an appeal to the city council is coming in the next episode. Please keep this story going!

  3. Andrew

    Wondering why you need to replace windows, they look to be in good shape, already more than 100 years old. Re-tune and storm windows to improve performance – likely not too much of a concern because of boiler and small footprint.

    …but, crazy to hear about order to demolish. Good luck, curious to hear update

    • Gary Katz

      Half the windows were painted shut, and about half had rotted sills and other damage. The house is right on a MAIN road and traffic noise is considerable (you can hear the trucks in the background of the video). The cost to repair the windows AND install storm windows to control noise…well, it’s a financial decision, as often happens in our business (and every other, which is why–if you believe that climate change is influenced by human activity and our use of fossil fuels–we’ll never do anything about it, and thousands of historic homes along our coasts…well, I’ll shut up now. :))

    • Rick Arnold

      In addition to the points that Gary brought up, there is issue of lead paint. I got a quote for making the windows lead -safe for the last historic house that I worked on which had the original windows. The price was $1000 to $1200 per window. The house had 40 windows. Ouch!

  4. John Bunday

    Yes, a beginning of a great story. Hope to read/watch many more installments.
    Frankly, regarding the order to demolish, I have a strong suspicion the previous owner knew what was up with the building department and thus the posture of the selling agent to get the deal accepted ASAP.
    Undoubtedly the previous owner did not have the Capitol for the demolition cost. I ran into a similar fiasco some years ago in my trading area in which the building department had already made up their mind and required me to take end run to the city council.

  5. David Lee Persha

    Rick, Ive been saving old homes like this all my carpentry life, 40 yrs. It can be done. Yeah its alot of work…..but what isnt. From your story sounds like there were some irregularities in the signings. That might be something you give a second look at. Moving on you might give some thought to finding a local or regional historical planner or archivist who will work with you on this project. Pursue the history of the house and the people or events that took place here. You might have a new beginning with this old house! I apreciate your presentation of this project and bringing Gary in on it. Keep it going, our past is important in guiding us to our future.

  6. Mark Barabas

    Looking forward to the rest of the story. How will we know when the next episode is available?

    • Gary Katz

      We send publication notifications to all subscribers, usually once a week, on Fridays. But it will be a month or two before we publish Episode 2.

  7. Warren

    “But it will be a month or two before we publish Episode 2.”

    As famous philosophizers once said –
    Here we are now, entertain us…
    -Dave Grohl & Kurt Cobain

    • Gary Katz

      Hah hah! But this isn’t IG or a binge-watchable streaming service…:) You’ll need to practice a little differed gratification. I know, that’s tough these days! But like I said, it’s good practice!

  8. Mike Powel

    Great video, keep this story going! Looks like more than 100 years old, yet in perfect shape. Though it needs quite a work (rotted sills and other damage), demolish order is insane. No, not because of any other reason, but just because it’s a financial decision that only owner should take.

  9. Dimitri Tsimikas

    Rick and Gary,
    Thanks for this story. It’s really fun to see a piece on a street I know and a house that I probably have driven past a thousand times.
    Most contractors (even the bad ones) would run from a project like this- it will be interesting to see what you do with it! Lucky for you, there’s a really great lumber yard nearby ;)

  10. Raphael (Ralph) Livingston

    I’m just trying to find out what happen with the house after they messed up the foundation? I know this is two years ago but I really would like to see the finished home. If anybody can help me out, I would appreciate it. Thank you


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