Buy, Fix and Sell: Part 2 of 5 - How to Buy, Fix-Up and Sell Your Home

Refinish Hardwood Floors :: Strip Painted Woodwork :: Install Drop Ceiling

After photo of nook with cabinet
Finished storage cabinet. © Elizabeth Weintraub

For several weeks, I studied a photo of a house in my Saturday newspaper's Picture Classifieds. It was a 1916 Dutch Colonial surrounded by a white picket fence. I hadn't really considered buying another home since I had just finished remodeling the one I had, but something about this house drew me to it. So I called the agent and made an appointment to see it. Couldn't hurt, I shrugged.

Diamond in the Rough

Upon entering the house it was immediately clear why the place was still on the market.

Looking up, toward the center of the living room ceiling, I noticed a jagged hole about six feet in diameter. The walls were covered by a hideous wallpaper with vertical stripes, and the maple floors were scratched, marred and neglected. Every room needed paint and a thorough cleaning.

A Deal Too Good to Pass Up

The house was vacant. I found out the sellers had bought another home and moved six months ago, which was information the listing agent was not authorized to divulge. To me, this meant the sellers were making double mortgage payments and were probably desperate to sell. I wrote an offer for the amount of the existing FHA mortgage, plus $100 earnest money deposit. My offer structure greatly confused the listing agent. He said, "Nobody sells houses like this. Why, the sellers would have to take money out of their savings account just to pay the commission and closing costs. This will never fly."

Silly agent. The sellers accepted my offer as written. Including closing costs and assumption fee, this house cost me less than $1,000 out-of-pocket to buy.

The Remodeling Projects

Refinishing the maple floors.
Everybody warned me that tackling a floor sander was best left to the professionals; however, it didn't seem that difficult to do.

You know what? It wasn't. Of course, the floor sanders available today are easier to operate than a drum sander and provide more protection against gouging the floors, but drum sanders are still in use. Here is what I learned:

  • Machine rentals are inexpensive. You will need a floor sander and an edger.
  • Sandpaper is very expensive. Buy more than you think you will need because you can likely return unused sheets.
  • Buy three grits of paper: heavy for first sanding, medium for second sanding and fine (150 or higher) for final sanding. Sanding screens are less expensive to use for the final sanding.
  • Seal off adjoining rooms by hanging plastic sheets over the doorways. Dust will fly everywhere.
  • Be patient, walk slowly and uniformly, pushing the sander.
  • When using an edger to sand along the walls, do not attempt to sand while wearing socks or you will be zipped across the floor.
  • A 2x4 scrap piece of wood wrapped in sandpaper makes it easy to sand corners.
  • Use tack cloth after sweeping / vacuuming to clean up every speck of dust.
  • Lightly sand after first coat of poly because the wood grains will rise.
  • Staining is not always necessary nor preferred. Natural maple is beautiful in its own right.
  • Let finish dry completely, preferably overnight, between coats.
  • Do not walk on the floors for at least five days.

Hanging a dropped ceiling.
Installing a suspended ceiling might make you wish you had paid more attention in math class, but it's a pretty straightforward procedure consisting of main tees, cross tees, hanging wires, wall molding and panels. I brought my ceiling measurements to the hardware store and asked an experienced clerk to figure out the quantity for me. Here are my tips:

  • Begin measuring a level line at least six inches down from the joists at the lowest spot in the room. This way you will draw that line only once, instead of two or three times.
  • To determine the lowest spot, measure each corner from floor to ceiling. The lowest number is your starting corner.
  • The hardest part is "thinking upside down" when cutting panels to fit.

Stripping wood.
Because the wood baseboards, door and window trim on the first floor were oak, I assumed the painted wood upstairs was also oak. It was pine. But I didn't discover that fact until I had stripped an entire bedroom. Still, adding wood shutters to the windows that matched the stain on the baseboards perked up the space. Here's what I picked up about stripping paint from wood:

  • It's a time consuming process, so you need a lot of patience.
  • Environmentally safe products take longer to work and are not as effective as the toxic products.
  • Ventilate room to avoid breathing fumes caused by the chemicals in the strippers.
  • Wear old clothes and gloves.
  • Steel wool helps to remove stubborn paint chips but a sharp-pointed object easily digs out dried paint embedded in grooves.
Building storage cabinet in hallway nook.
At the top of the stairs was a nook big enough for a dresser, so I had stuck a dresser in that spot. (See photo above--click to see the "before" photo.) But it wasn't providing the amount of storage that I needed, and the space seemed wasted. I decided to close it off and build a cabinet. The finished result was a look that blended with the rest of the house and looked like it was an original component.
  • Here are the materials I used:
  1. Furring strips cut the length of the back wall and shorter furring strips for the sides.
  2. Stud finder for locating studs to which I attached the furring strips.
  3. Screws and screw driver.
  4. Pre-cut shelving purchased from a lumber yard was then set on top of the furring strips.
  5. Enamel Paint.
  • After the shelving was in place, here is how I finished the project:
  1. Measured width and height of space.
  2. Ordered two sets of maple cabinet doors (upper and lower) from a cabinetmaker.
  3. Installed the doors.
  4. Installed trim to conceal gaps and put rosette squares in the corners so I didn't have to miter the trim.
Later that fall, I stood outside on my balcony, admiring my yard. I the number of boarded-up windows on the block and said to myself, "If I stay here until spring-time, I'll probably get shot." It wasn't the safest neighborhood in town. Besides, I had always wanted to move near the lake.

The Payoff

I sold this house four months after I bought it for a $10,000 profit. I also sold my first house, which I had converted to a rental. Armed with cash, I set out to find my next fixer.

NEXT . . . Buy, Fix-up & Sell: Part 3 of 5

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.

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