Saturday, July 26, 2008

Work in Progress

Once upon a time, there was a little semi-detached rowhouse in Washington, D.C. It was a happy little house that had been in the same family for nearly 70 years. Then, four years ago, a real estate agent and investor named Tom bought it. He, like hundreds of others in this town, was into flipping. Buy a house, semi-gut it, install neat new fixtures and floors, paint the outside a pretty color, double the price, and laugh all the way to the bank.

Today's story is about the outside of the house. It is about a tree, three bushes, and a driveway.

This is the tree. An old elm that is at least 40 years old, but maybe older...

These are the bushes. Arborvitae. Hate them. They're coming out...

This is the driveway. The mess on both sides is part of my project...

Tom decided the backyard needed a new driveway, so he hired a crew--because flippers rarely ever do the work themselves after the first three or four flips and this was Tom's 10th or 11th flip--who took out the old driveway and prepared to pour a new driveway. That's all well and good, but in order for the new driveway to be flat and even, they hacked at the roots of this old elm tree. As a result, the old elm tree is dying and will have to be cut down soon. In putting in the new driveway, Tom decided to leave a strip of dirt and weeds on the west side of the drive and a strip of weeds on the east side of the drive. Why, is a mystery. It isn't enough space to create an urban oasis, per se. And it's just enough space to be a pain-in-the-ass, as in it needs to be mowed.

Well, tired of this strip of nothingness and wanting to expand possible off-street parking, this new home owner decided to get rid of the dirt and pave it. But money was tight, so what to do? Lo, and hark! A call did come from Janet's friend and realtor, Monica, who said, "I have brick. Do you want brick?" and Janet said, "YES!"

So far, I've dug out 2/3 of the grass and weeds. I'll likely do the rest this weekend or early next week.
Note one set of pavers at the bottom of the stairs. I'm not sure where these will go yet, but I'll figure it out.
The strip of grass and weeds I'm digging out will be replaced by red brick I salvaged from a friend last year.

The plan in the back is to get the rest of the grass and weeds up. Note I'm about 2/3 finished. It's tough work. You should see the blisters I have (and no, I won't be providing pictures of those,!) Once I have the grass and weeds up, I'm going to till the ground to loosen the rest of the dirt, dig out the dirt about three inches, lay down some black nonwoven cloth that will prevent weeds, top that with some sand, and lay brick. Hopefully, when I'm done, I'll have a spot I can use to park a second car when needed and a place to put containers for small gardening.

The other project is the front. In a continuation of Tom's flipping wonders, he planted grass on the west side of the house--which gets very little sun in the summer--that has not been hardy enough to survive in the shade. Plus, he terraced it cheaply. I'm smoothing off the bad terracing with some of the dirt I dig out of the back and reseeding that. He also planted three arborvitaes in the front yard in front of the house. That's lovely for about five years, but then they grow rangy and huge and out of control and will obscure the front of the house and I hate arborvitaes. So, I'm digging them out next week and working the soil. I may or may not terrace it to build up the growing area, then I'll probably plant azaleas.

This is what it looks like in the spring after a little rain.
Notice that it's not looking all that healthy...

This is what it looks like right now after treating it with an herbicide to kill the weeds and bad grass.
I'll be treating this with a hardier grass seed and some Miracle-Gro...

So, there you have. My back-breaking, blister-producing, blood, sweat, and tears project. The moral of the story: don't cheap out on landscaping when you flip a house. Azaleas actually would have been cheaper than arborvitaes and are prettier. Planting a hardy grass that's good in all temperatures and sun conditions is a smart move. And, if you're going to destroy a tree to pour a driveway, pour it all the way across.

And that's just the outside. Don't even get me started on the cheap-ass, chicken-sh*t stuff he did on the inside.

Photos by D.C. Confidential


NG said...

If there's one good thing to come out of the recent housing slump, it's to discourage people like this from entering it, thinking they're going to cut a fat hog on a "flip" with very little effort.

The owner of the house next door to me, who had rented it to a lovely, stable family for the last 20 years, kicked them out last fall and tried to sell it for about $100K more than it was worth. Not surprisingly, he had no takers. I chuckled a little too self righteously a couple of weeks ago when he was showing it to new prospective renters because he couldn't cover the mortgage anymore. But then, I am a bad person.

Virginia said...

Listen, I have watched enough episodes of "Curb Appeal" (and Flip That House) to give as much advice as you could possibly gag down. Wish I lived closer and I would give you a hand. keep at it. It will be great when it's done and you will be glad you did it. I have a house in mind that has a terrific container garden. I will do a "drive by shooting" and get you some photos.

Maya said...

Dam* flippers! This is why I'm trying very hard not to buy a flipped house. Those cheapscates.

I'm glad we got to see what you've been up to in pictures. :-)

D.C. Confidential said...

NG: Nah, you're not a bad person. I do the same thing. I keep thinking I should get into flipping, but I know I'd never make money at it, because I'm not willing to cut corners. The guy I bought the house from had the audacity to tell me he and his wife were originally going to move into it. Yeah. Right. Whatever.

Virginia: I would love some pictures! That's part of why I've taken up walking around my neighborhood lately: to get ideas. I'm definitely leaning toward azaleas as my foundation piece, but only because it's not very original.

Maya: Beware the flipper. Some of the other sh*tty things this guy did? Put new flashing around the windows on the exterior so they'd look new. Turns out they're not. They're single pane windows. Used IKEA cabinetry in the kitchen. Did a stacking, front-loader washer and dryer. (Never, ever, ever get a front loader. They're disgusting!) Painted the stairs on the side of the house to hide the shoddy, unsafe construction.

Those are probably the worst of the infractions, but they're costly ones to fix and they're annoying the hell out of me!

Becky said...

Wow, you've got quite a job on your hands! How fun to fix up a place of your own. I'll be starting to work painting some of the innards of my home tomorrow. Looking forward to it and dreading it at the same time. It IS summer, after all, and it does get hot here.

Thanks for stopping by my blog. Hope to see you there again sometime. I look forward to following the progress on your home and seeing scenes from a place I've never been: D.C. Thanks for sharing your world with the rest of us.

Virginia said...

Go with azaleas, but get good sized ones. I bought the $2 ones thinking I would save money. NOT. I have replaced them all just like they were disposable. you get what you pay for and what you WATER. Might want to ask about deferring planting till later in the year. I can't remember when the optimum time is...obviously.

USelaine said...

Oh my. It does indeed sound like the next reality show - "Getting Un-Screwed!"

April said...

Oh-oh. that looks like a lot of work. I hope you can turn it into something enjoyable.

Lucy said...

If there's one thing I want to do before I die is have enough money (yeah right) to buy an old beat up house ... I don't care what..Victorian...Row House...Whatever...and fix it up to a gloriously fabulous finish and live in it. No flipping for me. But hey...want to flip a townhouse in Arizona? I know one.

Thiên said...

Hello there, best of luck on all your hard work. My husband and I are in a house that's over 100 years old and in not so great shape about 10-11 years ago. It's taken us the same hard work as you to get it to the point where we really really love it. So keep at it, I know it's hard! I will try and find some before/after shots if you're interested. We didn't buy it flipped but there are houses in little Seguin that are getting the flip. We often question their workmanship.

Maya said...

I'm so glad I have a good realtor. She is always pointing out this sort of thing to me when we go looking. She has a sharp eye for the "flipper" details... :-)

D.C. Confidential said...

Becky: Home ownership has its pluses and its minuses, doesn't it? Maintenance would be a minus. Good luck with your painting! I love painting.

Virginia: I saw some rather robust azaleas at Home Depot the other day for around $30/piece. Although, I may forego HD and go out to Betty's Azaleas in Virginia. Supposedly that is THE place on the East Coast to get azaleas.

USElaine: That's a pretty accurate assessment!

April: I hope so, too! Right now, it's an eyesore. I'm sure my neighbors are totally cursing me behind my back!

Lucy: Too hot in Arizona.

Thien: I grew up in a house that was over 100 years old and swore I would never buy an old house, but then I fell in love with this one. I'd love to see pictures of the work you and your husband put into your place. I'm sure it's beautiful.

Maya: A good realtor makes all the difference! Stick with the one you've got.

The Artful Eye said...

Holy Mackerel! No wonder you're petered out. That's alot of work. I usually these projects in their infancy stage and then I get so carried away and the project becomes bigger than life, and I go zulu.

Flippers are like slumlords. Cheap it out, get fast cash, who cares.

I feel for you. Take it easy.

D.C. Confidential said...

Andrea: You know, the physical labor is wearing, but energizing and survivable. It was/is the migraine that did me in. I'm still recovering from this one! In the end, though, I'm sure it will all be worth it!

As for flippers, grouping them with slumlords is about right.