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

Build Garage :: Kitchen Island :: Basement Stairs :: Deck

Elizabeth Weintraub Building Garage Wall
Building My First Garage Wall. © Big Stock Photo
This Victorian house swept me away. It was a three-story, built in 1898, located on the edge of a gentrifying area in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis. Like with most cities, the socio-economic lines were clearly drawn. These lines pushed buyers in search of affordable housing from Kenwood (best known as where Mary Tyler Moore walked around Lake of the Isles) to Uptown, then the Wedge and finally to Whittier.

At the time I lived there, Whittier had such a bad reputation that my friends' jaws would drop in astonishment when I mentioned my new address.

Today, of course, few bat an eyelash as new condos are going up like hotcakes, and yuppies are running wild at the bus stops.

Building a Garage

This house was a perfect candidate for remodeling. I was excited to begin. My first project was to build a new garage, and my husband reluctantly agreed to help. Not because he enjoys remodeling like I do, in fact, quite the opposite -- he detests wood, making things out of wood, anything to do with wood -- but because he was a 50/50 partner in the house. Besides, I couldn't lift the walls by myself.

  • Design.
    I bought several books about garage designs and chose the easiest: a square 24 x 24 with no windows and a service door on the front instead of the side to deter burglars.
  • City Permit.
    Our old shed was 10 x 12. The new garage would be constructed one foot from the side property line and two feet from the back property line. Eaves that extended over those lines were an encroachment; we followed city code.
  • Remove Existing Structure.
    I called all over town and received quotes from $150 to $1200 to demolish and haul away the existing shed. I hired the $150 guys.
  • Pour Slab.
    I found a guy who had a crew who worked for the city and hired him to pour the slab, apron and install a row of concrete block. The crew, however, gave no thought to where they dropped the J bolts, which, in some places, ended up being positioned directly under the studs.
  • Walls.
    I built the walls on the slab and called on friends to help raise the walls. Inserted some of my own J-bolts to secure the sill plate to the concrete block.
  • Trusses.
    Friends helped raise the trusses. It costs a little more to buy trusses, but it's easier and less time consuming than building rafters.
  • OSB.
    Oriented strand board was cheaper than plywood. We nailed 1/2-inch OSB to the garage walls and 3/8ths OSB to the trusses, using clips to hold them in place on the roof.
  • Composition Shingles.
    First, stapled tar paper. Second, nailed drip edge. Third, we tarred over the nails my husband put in the wrong spot on the beginning row and continued to lay shingles from the bottom up, finally nailing and gluing down the ridge cap.
  • Garage Doors & Opener.
    I didn't want to do this, so I hired an unfortunate person who made it his "mission." After two days, I fired him and hired a real door installer.
  • Electrical.
    Code required a trench 18-inches deep. The electrician refused to come back out when the city inspector demanded a shut-off switch in our basement. One call to my congressperson got the job done.
  • Vinyl Siding.
    I ended up firing the professional installer and doing the job myself after I was forced to remove his entire starter row and the corner posts because none was plumb nor level. P. S. Attaching a fine-tooth saw blade backwards cuts through vinyl like a breeze.

    Building a Kitchen Island

    • Framing.
      Using 2x4s, I created a frame much like my garage walls but spaced the studs to allow for a dishwasher and cabinet.
    • Dishwasher & Cabinet.
      I connected the electrical myself but hired a plumber to run copper piping to the water heater in the basement and connect the dishwasher. Finished off the sides with backing material that matched the cabinet. Did you know that a dishwasher connects by two screws to the underside of a counter?
    • Countertop.
      I ordered the countertop to match the other kitchen counters. The fabricator used the inside instead of the outside measurements I gave them, so they had to replace it for free.
    • New Floor.
      Of course, I tore up the floor putting in the electrical, so we laid new Pergo in the kitchen. I don't recommend Pergo in the kitchen now. It warps and scratches.

      Replacing Basement Stairs

      • Removed Stairs.
        After I tore out the rotted stringers, I discovered a mountain of fine mortar and sand, which I left in place.
      • Ledger.
        Because there was no wall to which I could attach a ledger board, I made a frame using mail-box posts to hold the 4x4s, nailing the 4x4s to the opposing walls.
      • Stringers.
        Using a circular saw and a carpenter square, I cut out custom stringers from 2x12s. This was complicated; the math and angles made my head hurt. Then I attached the stringers to the ledger.
      • Treads.
        I bought treads and risers. Cut them to fit as each tread was a different width and needed to fit perfectly between the opposing limestone walls. Then I sealed them.


      • Floating and Traditional.
        I built two decks. One floated, with 2x6s that rested in the X of cement blocks. Deck boards were then screwed to the 2x6s. The trick with a floating deck is to level all the cement blocks first. The traditional deck was more difficult and required posts.
      • Posts.
        Because of the frost-line in Minnesota, post holes need to be 42-inches deep. After I grew tired using the post-hole digger, I resorted to scooping hard clay with an empty tomato can.
      • Cement.
        I mixed 6 bags of cement for each hole. Knocked one of them over while attaching the beam because it wasn't quite solid. I sat in the dirt and cried because I had to start over from scratch.
      • Finishing.
        After I hung the joists from the ledger, I screwed down deck boards, installed railings and built two sets of stairs.
      • Staining.
        I used a whitewash stain to give it a distressed look. White decks are impossible to keep clean. I will never stain another deck white.

      The Payoff

      A few years later I discovered I desperately missed California. So we sold, made a 300% profit, and used the cash to make a very healthy down payment on our new home in Sacramento. My husband says we are never moving again. But that doesn't mean I'm through remodeling.

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