Sunday, November 20, 2011

The finishing touches for the external work on the house

When the addition was completed, our house had nearly tripled in size, from 860 square feet to 2300.  This ambitious project caught the attention of many neighbors, who gave accolades, advice and even sometimes lemonade on their daily walks.  A lot had been accomplished in a short time, but Mark's six-week leave from work was nearly over, and he still had several windows to install and siding to put up.  Our project timeline was behind due to weather, miscalculation of time needed, and some mix-ups with materials deliveries.  To get the house sealed up in time for winter, we relied on the help of contractors, friends and a relatively warm fall that year.
We used a contractor to shingle the roof.  Mark decided that installing shingles on the steep- pitched roof should be left to the experts.  We later used the same contractor to install gutters and complete the siding. 

I got to make a couple window wells along the back wall of the house.  Other than that project, I stuck to running errands, making lunch for the laborers and going to work. 

Our shipment of 41 windows (that's right, 41) included two with broken panes, two with incorrect dimensions and two that were the wrong color.  A couple weeks went by before those windows were replaced.  The windows in the new parts of the house were all installed before Bruce and Dave went back to Australia.  It was those that needed to be retrofitted into the existing parts of the house that weren't completed, and those took additional time and skill to install properly.  When you're working with an existing house, you have to compensate for openings not being plumb and square, or in layman's terms, not straight.  But before the siding could be put up, all of the windows needed to be installed.

Several friends helped with window and door installation.
Mark installed Hardi board siding, beginning with the framing around all the windows on the main level, moving on to the siding boards on the main level.  He created a little handy tool to help him hold one end of a board while he nailed the other end.  This method enabled him to work independently.  The contractors who helped out with the remaining siding were impressed with his invention. 

Mark installing our Hardi board siding on the back of the house.
Mark and Don were glad to finish the soffit installation. 

Here is the house with windows, siding, roof and doors all installed. 
Here's the back side of the house.  There's me, about six months pregnant.

Having finished the outside of the house, it was time to start working on the inside.  We prioritized the completion of the main level before starting work on the second level.  Would we have a floor, cabinets and appliances in our kitchen before the baby arrived in February?  Time would tell.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The surprise from our old dryer

Allow me to go back in time before the major project began.  I can't leave out the story of our dryer.  Before we put the addition onto the side of the house, Mark and I decided to finally take our old, rusty, non-working dryer out of the basement and get it hauled away.  We planned to drag it up the stairs and out the side door that was mercifully located at the top of the stairs.

The two of us lifted the dryer step by step, Mark at the bottom and myself at the top.  That thing was heavy!  Each time we dropped it onto a step, a coin or two fell out.  We got partway up the flight of stairs and Mark decided to give the dryer a thump.  A handful of coins fell out! I banged on the top of the dryer and more fell out of the bottom.  How about that?  The previous owner left us a little money in the dryer to go toward functioning appliances!  No wonder it was so heavy!

Once the dryer was outside, we took turns banging and shaking it to see how much more change would fall out.  Did someone think this machine was coin operated?  Mark took it apart to see if we could find where the coins were coming from.  But ultimately, our method of banging and shaking proved most successful in getting the coins to drop out of the bottom.

We guessed that the previous owner didn't empty his pockets of change before washing and drying clothes.  Nearly $40.00 in coins came out of that dryer that day.  Not enough to pay for the new dryer we had already purchased, but hey, every bit helps, right?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

We can't turn back now!

Once our renovation plans were finalized, Mark was on the phone with his dad and brother in Australia.  They had agreed to travel to Minneapolis to help build the addition.  The two  would arrive in early July, with the expectation that the project would have been at the point when the framing could begin.  We had a great deal to do before they arrived to work on our project.

A little wrinkle in our planning came up just before we started this major project.  I got pregnant with our firstborn.  It was exciting, but also challenging to determine whether we should go ahead with our plans.  At the very least, I wouldn't be able to help with a number of projects that would expose me to chemicals that may harm the baby.  But we ultimately decided to proceed as planned and re-allocate our respective tasks to ensure that I didn't put my health, or that of the baby's, at risk.

Mark set to work tearing apart our half-story - taking down drywall, removing carpet, and tearing out insulation.  Then, he and a friend tore off the roof.  There was definitely no turning back now.  We literally had no roof over our heads.

Check out our Tear-down slideshow!

Some tasks seemed more appropriate to delegate to people with the training and tools for the job.  We hired a contractor to dig the basement for our addition.  Then, a concrete contractor built the basement walls.  Everything started to feel much more real once we had no roof and a deep hole in our yard.

New Basement Slideshow

Mark's dad, Bruce, and brother, Dave, arrived ready to tackle the framing segment of the project.  We were lucky to have a neighbor's brother, Don, who was a semi-retired builder, to lead the way.  All three Bertrams admitted that they wouldn't have made so much progress in two weeks were it not for Don's leadership.  The three would have wasted time arguing about the proper way to get the job done.

On an unlucky night before the roof was built, we, along with our next-door neighbors, Kevin and Meg, scrambled to put up several tarps to keep out the rain that poured down that night.  It was a stressful process, but we succeeded in keeping out the rain.

Framing slideshow

Dave's girlfriend Sophia flew into Minneapolis and the two of them took off on a cross-country road trip.  Two days later Bruce departed for Australia.  We were grateful for their help and happy with the progress that had been made up to that point.  It was fun to see the house take shape and begin to visualize how it would look when finished.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

How to design your own house

Did you know that you could buy software that facilitates creating the blueprint of your house without the help of an architect?  You can.  That's how Mark and I designed the addition to our house in the winter of 2005.

We discussed the pros and cons of a major renovation/expansion project.  Can we take this project on?  Should we tear down the house and start over, or can we work with the existing structure?  How much extra space do we want to add?  Should we use the land on the south side of the house to add square footage without sacrificing our backyard?  What's our budget?  How much of the work can be done ourselves?  How long will it take?

During the Summer of 2005, our next-door neighbors, whose house was the identical twin to ours, put a major addition on their home.  They worked with a local general contractor to design and build the house.  We watched carefully, and Mark asked many questions, as the contractors built a full story upstairs and converted a main level bedroom into their dining room.

We were fortunate that our neighbors took on this project just before ours got underway.  Mark could learn more about the building codes and regulations affecting renovated homes in Minneapolis, and we could borrow ideas from their choices.

Our project would include a 32' by 10' addition on the side of our house for an expansion to our basement, a new kitchen and dining room on our main level, and a master bedroom and living room on the upper level.  The half-story would be dismantled and in its place, a full second story, including the expansion on the side of the house, would be built.

The biggest challenge was the layout of our new kitchen.  We knew we wanted a half-hexagonal breakfast nook off the back of our house and a mud room and pantry where the existing kitchen was.  Apart from that, we were stumped.  A board member of the nonprofit where I worked was an interior designer, and she told me of a special event through which you could have a free 45-minute consultation with a designer.  I signed up right away.

Mark and I met with the designer regarding our kitchen space.  Those 45 minutes were invaluable to us.  She sketched a few options for us, helping us to visualize the space available and see how an island could help us maximize our counter space.  We then took the plans to Home Depot and worked with a designer there to insert our chosen cabinets and countertops into the space.

We discussed many options for the layout of the second level.  We knew we wanted a master bedroom suite, two additional bedrooms and a laundry room on that level.  Planning the space while accommodating the existing staircase and maximizing the use of existing plumbing lines for the laundry and bathrooms upstairs was tricky.  But we worked it out and are happy with our plans.

Once we settled on the plans for our house, we worked with a drafter to ensure that the official house plans that Mark would submit to the City of Minneapolis for approval contained all the necessary documentation.  The drafter was straight out of the 1970s, even resembling Greg Brady from The Brady Bunch.  He chose to draw the plans up by hand, rejecting the advances of technology in his field.  But his final product was accurate, detailed, and exactly what we needed to get our approval from the City.

Mark was pleasantly surprised when he took the plans to the City.  The project was approved on the spot and he could start building that day if desired.  Apparently in Australia, these projects can be delayed for months by the government.

Anyone who's taken on a major project like this knows that no matter how much you try to plan and how many delays to anticipate, there will always be setbacks you didn't predict.  Mark put together a careful timeline for the work to get done and we finalized our budget for materials and labor.  We felt prepared for this major undertaking.  But we learned quickly how timelines and budgets become obsolete!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Want to see some pictures?

 Here's the back of the house.  Notice the nice green lawn.  This picture was taken before the Bobcat incident.  The roof of the screened-in porch leaked, but otherwise it served as a nice dining room during summer and a little bit of fall.
 Here's the front of the house.  The skylight was nice, but it leaked.  It's unfortunate that an electrical outlet was placed just under the skylight, right where the rain dripped down.  The house came with no landscaping.  A blank slate.  I'm still working on that.
Here's the color we used in the kitchen and living room.  Our new kitchen and living room are still that color, and I am still glad we chose it.

Here's a photo of the half-story upstairs.  Notice the sloped ceiling.  Even I, at barely 5' 1" could hardly stand up straight there.  How did a family of five reside in that space?

Many of our early photos weren't digital, and I haven't taken the time to scan them, so I don't have much more to show of the early days.  I will post more photos as I start to tell about the major addition we put on in 2006.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

For the love of Bobcats

Fast forward several months to Summer 2005.  Mark and I had gotten engaged in February and planned a July 29 wedding.  His father, brother and a couple close friends would be traveling from Australia to witness the wedding.  But that's not all they'd be doing.

Mark decided to take the opportunity for free help to install pavers in our gravel driveway.  He and the other Aussies were delighted to learn that one could rent a Bobcat in the States and operate it without a special license.  They couldn't wait to take turns driving the Bobcat.

Before his family and friends arrived, Mark measured, planned and ordered materials so that they could get right to work and finish the job before we hosted about 40 people at our Rehearsal Dinner in the backyard.  They got an early start the first morning, ready to get started digging just after the eagerly-awaited Bobcat was delivered.  Soon enough, the driveway area had been dug out deep enough to put down the base layers of sand and gravel. The Bobcat wasn't going to be picked up, however, for hours.  Rather than waste those hours with the Bobcat sitting still, Mark and his helpers decided to re-grade the soil around the house to improve water runoff.  Apparently, the only way this project could be achieved was to tear up most of the backyard lawn.  Two days before we hosted family and friends for a Rehearsal Dinner.  I had not anticipated this side project.  I was not pleased when I returned home from work that day.

I admit, the results of the paving project were great.  Gone were the messy gravel and weeds we had driven on over the past year, replaced with a level, smooth driveway paved with paving stones.  Shoveling snow would be a lot easier that winter!

I was still a little annoyed when we set up tables and chairs in our backyard for our guests, but we had a nice dinner party with family and friends who came not to judge our lawn care skills, but to enjoy the company of others and congratulate Mark and I on the occasion of our wedding.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

What was he thinking?

Most people, when moving into a home, find a couple quirky features that leave them scratching their heads and wondering, "What were they thinking?"  Maybe it's the odd shade of chartreuse paint in the bathroom or the haphazard shelving in the closet, or carpet that wasn't expertly installed.

Well, we had a lot of those moments with this house.  Our favorite was the absence of doorknobs on any internal door in the house, with the notable exception of the bathroom (we think it had been recently added).  There were doorknob-sized holes where a knob would generally have been installed, but instead, a piece of yarn was tied around the hole to make opening and closing easier.  What happened to the doorknobs that we assume once were there?

The man who owned the house for over 30 years was a heavy drinker.  According to the title, he and his wife bought the house in the 1970s, but were divorced years later.   We suspect that those absent doorknobs, likely to have been worth some money if they were the original knobs installed in the 1940s, were sold to buy liquor or pay the bills.  But that was just a guess.

Another odd feature was the kennel attached to our garage, complete with a doggie door and an enclosed space inside the garage.  As far as we knew, no dog had lived in that kennel for many years.  Why was the kennel still there?

The unfinished basement was mostly empty, apart from the huge heating system.  One small room was sectioned off in the basement, complete with carpet and paneling for walls.  Why did they choose to enclose the heating system inside that small room?  Was it a bedroom?  Could someone sleep with the heater running right next to him?  Is that even safe?

We knew that the previous owner had regular, transient tenants living in the half-story upstairs.  Most of our utilities are split into apartment 1 and apartment 2.  Neighbors told us that at one point a family of five lived up there.  It couldn't have been a very comfortable arrangement, as that level had only one room, few adults can stand up straight due to the slope of the roof, and the entire home had only one bathroom (located on the main level).  We still can't convince the cable company that we do not live in an apartment building.

The most notorious story about the previous owner was one that our neighbors decided not to tell us until a couple years after we moved in:  that a man living in the upper story had fallen down the stairs and died one night.  I learned of it while looking through the title and seeing the lawsuit that was filed against the homeowner.  The details are a little shaky, but apparently the man was an alcoholic and was nervous about his daughter's upcoming visit from Hollywood.  The homeowner came home drunk that night and saw the man on the floor at the base of the stairs but thought he was passed out.  When he woke the next morning, he realized the man was dead and ran outside the house yelling that he was in trouble.

The man's daughter arrived in a Jaguar with an entourage (not common to our neighborhood) to collect some belongings, all of which allegedly fit into a small box, and decided to sue the homeowner for negligence.  Realizing that he had few assets and very little equity in his home, she backed down.  But this event prompted the homeowner to put the house on the market.

After I learned about the death in our home, I picked up some sage to burn throughout the house to cleanse the area of bad energy (I thought it couldn't hurt).  I also used the sage around the perimeter of the property, just in case.  Mark was a good sport through this exercise in removing bad karma from our property.

Eventually, doorknobs were added to our internal doors, the kennel was dismantled, and the makeshift room in the basement was torn down.  But the house didn't feel like our own until we started planning our addition.  That's when the big projects began.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Heat: a Minnesota necessity

The monstrosity of a heating system in the basement was a barely-functioning forced-air unit in our home.  Not only that, but the whole unit and its ducting were covered in asbestos.  We were warned of this fact before the final sale.  No matter; Mark already had made the decision that he'd like to install radiant heating on the main level.  We'd forgo heating the half story upstairs to start because we had plans to expand the upper level.

Contractors are notoriously challenging to work with.  We invested in a subscription to Angie's List to help us identify those that were highly rated by satisfied customers and avoid those with many complaints.  In spite of our best screening efforts, we still ended up with a few contractors over the last several years that we wish we had avoided.  Our heating contractor made the list of those we should have avoided.

We interviewed a couple companies who installed Wirsbo/Uponor radiant heating systems, and chose the one that would be open to having Mark do some of the work himself.  The installation of our new system was a major undertaking.  Because we didn't want to pull up our existing hardwood floors, the contractors installed our water pipes beneath the floor joists.  This method is less efficient than installing above the subfloor, but is still workable if you can place insulation throughout the floor joists.

The first task on the list for our contractors:  asbestos abatement.  We were happy to let someone else complete this task.  They had to remove the ducts, being careful with the asbestos tape around the ducts, and remove the actual heating unit that was completely covered in asbestos - caked on like plaster of paris.  The suits they had to wear reminded us of astronauts aboard the space shuttle.

As is often the case with projects, our heating system installation took longer than we expected.  There were days that the guys didn't show up, days when the necessary materials weren't delivered, and mistakes that had to be corrected.

Mark has high expectations for quality work and was disappointed that the guys drilled more holes in our floor joists to run the pipes than were necessary.  Whenever a hole is drilled in a floor joist, its strength is compromised.  Mark wanted to make sure that the joists could withstand a second-story addition.  He also emphasized to our contractors that  our new boiler needed enough BTUs to accommodate our possible expansion.  Our hope was to finish our basement and maximize the height of our ceilings and the use of the square footage, which Mark thought he had stressed as a priority with our contractors.  However, some of the end pipes were run under the floor joists instead of through them, which would require an eventual ceiling to have a soffit to cover the piping.  This suggestion was not acceptable to Mark.  The pipes needed to be rerun.  Also, the fresh air intake ducting for the boiler that led to the outside was placed on the wrong side of the steel I-beam that ran through the center of the house.  This placement made it challenging to eventually maximize the use of the space in our basement.  Mark's primary frustration with this issue is that he was just upstairs at the time and the workers could easily have asked him where he'd like the ducting placed before they installed it, if they were uncertain.  Once the hole was drilled through the external wall, little could be done to change it.

The stainless steel exhaust duct to vent the gas outside was on backorder, which also held up the progress of this project.  The contractors insisted that all the other pieces of the system were installed, but they had to wait for this part to ensure that the fumes from the natural gas that heated the water running through the pipes would be vented outside.  In the meantime, they didn't anticipate the next issue:  that there was no electrical outlet in close proximity to power the boiler.

We were headed into Fall when we would need to start using our heating system.  I recall one week in October when the overnight temperatures dipped into the range when most homes would have their heaters running to keep their occupants warm.  Lucky for Mark, this particular week had him traveling to a customer site for work and staying in a nice warm hotel room.  Unlucky for me, I was home in a house with no heat, trying to stay warm with warm blankets and extra layers.  The argument we had over this situation wouldn't be the last regarding house projects.  Until writing this blog entry, I didn't know that Mark, in solidarity, turned off the heater in his cozy hotel room and opened the windows so that he, too, could feel the pain of an October night without heat.

In an effort to get our system working despite the lack of an electrical outlet, our contractor agreed to use an extension cord to connect our system on a temporary basis until we could get a proper electrical outlet installed.  This temporary fix probably wouldn't have won the approval of the city inspectors, but it met the need for heat until an outlet could be installed.

Soon after, our system was working and we were enjoying warm hardwood floors and a comfortable room temperature, something that most people in the US and the developed world take for granted.  Radiant heating systems are complicated and challenging to install, but the benefits of warm floors, less noise and lower heating costs are worth it to us.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Wallpaper and paint

The house was built in 1947, the time just after the war when people built basic homes with little of the 1920s charm that the majority of homes in our neighborhood featured.  As a result, we didn't have any guilt when thinking about what to keep and what to change in the renovation process.

Next door was our home's architectural double, but it was easy to see that our neighbor's house (and its yard) had been well-maintained and cared for, in sharp contrast to ours.  The advantage for both houses is that they each sit on a 1.5 lot, meaning that we have a large yard (and plenty of room for expansion) compared with typical homes in our neighborhood.

One of my immediate priorities, after functioning appliances, was removal of the wallpaper in the bathroom.  Its whimsical 40s-style design, featuring shampoo bottles, combs, toothbrushes, and other bathroom essentials; and including catchy little grooming phrases such as, "Prevent the wrinkles or your true love might crinkle," and "If you want the girls to rave please don't forget to shave," was one of the few charming aspects of the house, but it was dingy and peeling.  It had to go.

I tried using a wallpaper scoring tool to remove the paper.  It didn't work.  The drywall clung to that paper like they were one and the same.  I used Dif solution for my next attempt.  With both of these products, I would get small pieces at a time, but it would have taken many hours to get all the wallpaper down in that tiny bathroom.  My coworker recommended a palm sander.  It was messy and noisy, but it got the job done.  The wallpaper was out and the painting could begin.

One of the bedrooms also had wallpaper covering the walls.  Removing this room's wallpaper was a different challenge.  We learned the hard way that the wallpaper was applied to bare drywall, without any paint or primer.  Not good.  Trying to remove this wallpaper without destroying the drywall proved unsuccessful for us amateurs.  We ended up replacing the drywall in order to remove the wallpaper.  After these challenges with removing wallpaper, I don't think I will choose to decorate with wallpaper, at least not for a long time.

The paint color that the previous owner chose for the living room and hallway was a dull gray that reminded us of cold, dark Minnesota winters.  We had to make a change.  We opted for a bold, bright, Spanish-style orange that has earned us many compliments over the years.  The color still brings a smile to my face when I see it, though I must confess I was skeptical about using such a bold color at first.  I'm glad I relented.  When you live in Minnesota, you need to maximize sunshine, or even the illusion of sunshine, in order to cope with the long winters.

Free time was minimal during these early days of updating, correcting and improving the little white house, but we enjoyed spending time getting our new space to suit our tastes.  Little did we know how much more it would take before all the projects would be crossed off our to-do list.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Our first priority: The leaking roof

As promised, Mark got straight to work on replacing our shingles.  Because he had plans to add on to the house, and would likely need to replace the roof again, he decided to go with the cheapest shingles he could find.  As luck would have it, one of his customer sites rented nail guns and his contact there was willing to let him borrow a few to redo our roof.

Mark, with his friends Andy, Micha and Nick, started pulling off the old shingles early on a Saturday.  I was in charge of coffee, sandwiches, water, and emergency hardware store trips.  Midway through the morning, it became apparent that a wheelbarrow would be necessary to haul shingles.  I headed over to 54th and Penn to pick one up at our local hardware store.  The guys, who had already started to recognize me as a repeat customer, showed me two types of wheelbarrows:  those that are already assembled, and those that require assembly.  We agreed that the former would be better.  However, the assembled wheelbarrow wouldn't fit in my Honda Civic.  No problem.  The guys said they were just headed to lunch and would drop it by the house on their way.  I quickly gave them my address, and within 20 minutes, we had a fully-assembled wheelbarrow delivered free of charge.  Did they win my loyalty that day?  You betcha.

The shingle-removal process was more time-consuming than we anticipated.  The hot sun made the work even more challenging.  Day two of replacing the roof came and went without  finishing the work.  Mark decided to take Monday off work, and asked Andy to do the same, so they could finish it up.

I didn't get up on the roof of the house much, but I did work with Mark to replace the shingles on our detached garage the following weekend.  I looked forward to checking this project off our list, so we could focus on the interior of the house.  First stop:  1940s-style bathroom wallpaper!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Moving in and getting settled

July is a great time of year to be in Minneapolis.  Residents, knowing what winter will bring in a few months, don't want to waste a minute inside and make every effort to enjoy the beautiful weather.  But on our moving day in July of 2004, it rained.  Thankfully, the contents of a one-bedroom apartment didn't take long to move from the west end of Lake Calhoun to our new home.

Mark and his friend Andy transferred most of the furniture and boxes while I worked on scrubbing the paint off our living room floor with my new discovery:  Goo Gone.  The red oak hardwood floor had not been sanded or sealed for decades.  The former homeowner did the floors no favors by painting the living room and bedroom walls without using drop cloths.  Paint splatters could be found all around both rooms.  Another immediate chore I assigned myself was washing down the walls, which reeked of cigarette smoke, with another newly-discovered cleaning product:  Soilax.

The house was in such bad shape that Mark had difficulty convincing Wells Fargo to give him a loan.  He also struggled to get homeowners' insurance due to the condition of the house.  He went back and forth between the two and convinced them to provide a loan and offer insurance.  Mark, in return, promised to replace the roof within the first month and work through the other issues identified in the inspector's 44-page report.

Not long after we moved in, my parents and siblings came for a visit.  Mark thought we'd make pizza for an easy Friday night dinner.  I put the oven on preheat, but it didn't heat up.  That explained why the oven was as clean as new.  Plan B involved cooking the pizza on our Weber charcoal grill.  Here's a tip:  if you want to barbecue pizza on a charcoal grill, don't use Matchlight charcoal.  Your pizza will taste like lighter fluid.  A new stove would be a priority.

A new washer and dryer became an early priority as well, after my first load of clothes came out looking rusty.  The dryer wasn't getting clothes dry, either.  I mentioned in the first post that the harvest gold dishwasher, circa 1975, did not work.  Were we going to have to replace all of our appliances at once?  We lived without a dishwasher for a while.  The refrigerator seemed fine, but we found that food would spoil sooner than we expected.  Add a refrigerator to the growing list of major purchases that we'd likely be making in the near future.

As we invested time and money in this house, it started to feel more like a home.  Soon after we moved in, the annual National Night Out potluck gave us the opportunity to meet nearly all of our neighbors.  We felt truly welcomed and looked forward to many more chances to get to know them and feel a part of this urban community.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The beginning

My husband, Mark, had a plan:  he wanted to buy the worst house on the block in a great location.  Mission accomplished.  After an entire year of searching, and narrowing down the geographic area of interest to a small area near Lake Harriet in Minneapolis, he found what he was looking for.  The house was owned by an older man who had a reputation in the neighborhood of being an alcoholic and someone who didn't take good care of his home or yard.  Oh, the stories we've heard.

Mark and I were not yet married and he was determined to buy the house on his own, so I wasn't involved in a lot of the details of this major purchase.  In fact, I hadn't seen the house before he committed to owning it.  I had toured other homes with him, but there was some miscommunication with the real estate agent on the showing for this house, and he had to dash over to see it without me.  In 2004, the housing market in Minneapolis was hot.  So hot, in fact, that if you found a home you wanted, you better be prepared to make an offer on the spot.  Mark knew right away that this house was the one and made his offer.

My first opportunity to see this house was at the inspection.  The realtor, Judy, and I trailed Mark and the inspector through the house and exchanged horrified glances at what we saw.  The cracked tiles in the kitchen, the paint splattered on the worn hardwood floors, the non-working harvest gold Kitchenaid dishwasher, the massive archaic heating unit in the basement, and the screened-in porch off the back of the house that had certainly seen better days.  The thought that kept going through my head was, "What has he done?"

The inspection turned up some serious issues with the house.  It would need a complete overhaul of electrical wiring (all outlets were two-pronged and many were not grounded), a new roof as soon as possible, and probably all new plumbing, among other updates.  It was just what Mark wanted.  His plan involved updating and repairing the house to fit in with the neighborhood, and possibly installing a couple dormer windows in the half-story upper level to make it more livable.

Though I wasn't as eager about this 'project house' as Mark was, I did look forward to sprucing up the place and creating a home of our own.  After years of living in apartments, I was excited for the opportunity to paint walls a color other than white or beige.

Mark grew up in rural Australia and was raised by a man who found it rewarding to build his home from the ground up.  His hard work inspired both Mark and his brother Dave to buy homes with the vision to improve and expand them.

When Mark arrived at the house on the day of closing, he (and his realtor) were shocked to find that the homeowner had not moved his few belongings out of the house.  Apparently, he did not believe that the transaction would go through and had no plan for where to live after the house was sold.  There was some scrambling, whereby some of his possessions were moved to the detached garage temporarily until he found a place to keep them.

Through all the challenges of finding and purchasing this home in the highly-sought-after neighborhood of Fulton in Southwest Minneapolis, we found great reward in meeting our new neighbors and becoming familiar with the walk around Lake Harriet.  We anticipated a great deal of adventure to encounter as we began to settle into this new home.