In Jan 2010 I quit my job and my life in San Francisco and moved back to my hometown of Seattle to care for my mom who had Alzheimer's. She had her own home she lived in with her late husband but still owned the house we all grew up in near Portage Bay in Seattle. Great old 1922 house, great neighborhood but it had been used as a rental property for almost 20 years and the wear and tear was definitely showing.
I moved into the house and eventually, when we knew we had to sell to continue to care for mom, the tenants all moved out. When I was a young girl living in this house and had trouble sleeping, I would daydream (or is it nightdream) about what I'd do to every room in the house. Well, in order to sell this place I knew I needed to put in some sweat equity and I eventually got to redo every room.
How did I do it?
I bought and read repair and how-to books and watched a LOT of HGTV and DIY network shows. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work...and work....and WORK!
My parents bought this house in the 1960's and us eight Keeler kids all grew up here. It was a great house, lots of hiding places, secret pass-through in the upstairs bedroom closets and a big back yard. It's very, very hard to say goodbye but it's all for a good cause--taking care of our mom and making sure she's comfortable and safe.
I put the house on the market on a Tuesday night and by Wednesday evening we had two offers over our asking price. We officially closed the deal a few days later and I'm packing up my belongings and moving on. Continue reading to see the transition from fixer-upper to a turn-key property ready for moving right in.
Curb Appeal: It's very important to make a good first impression so I needed to really spruce up the front. The rockery in front was covered with weeds and scraggly bushes. I hired a couple of guys from "Casa Latina" (the great alternative to picking up day workers at Home Depot) and had them pull everything up and then plant some lovely flowers. I painted the front of the house but found a great painter to climb up and do the top and sides of the house in a nice dark steel grey. I took off the screen door and painted the front door a Cherry Red. It really does make quite an impression when you drive up.
Here's another look at the front yard makeover. We had more dandelions than grass and the top of the garage was covered with dirt and mud. For a mere $3.84 each I got about 20 rolls of 10 sq foot sod and magically transformed a sad front yard into a showpiece. Sod rules!
The front porch needed a lot of cement patching. I painted it black, added new flowers and painted the trim all white.
Back Yard Transformation: For some strange reason three trees were planted willy-nilly in the back yard. My mom had once run a daycare center out of the home and the old play structure was still there now supporting clotheslines. A drab chain link fence went across the back yard with about 2 feet of space between it and the very nice fence that was put up when they built the condos behind the house. Let's move those trees somewhere else, cut down that chain link fence, dig up the blackberry bushes and take advantage of the much nicer looking condo fence. After lots of digging and cutting we ended up with a pretty nice looking backyard.
Living and Dining Room: Since this house had been used as a rental for many years there were lots of dogs and cats here and the carpets had definitely seen much better days. When I first moved in I shampooed the hell out of the carpets and they actually came out pretty good. A nice coat of paint color called "Artisan" went up on the walls and really warmed up the room. When it came time to sell my real estate agent strongly suggested that if there were hardwood floors under there to pull those carpets up. Once all the tenants were out I did just that. Ouch, water stains, pet stains and a thousand carpet staples stared back at me.
I can do this, I know I can! I'll refinish those floors. I rented a drum sander from Home Depot and with my son Michael's help, we grinded and sanded away years of wear and tear. Drum sanders are very tricky and hardcore but the floors needed it. I did the living room, dining room, hallway and one of the main floor bedrooms. I learned a couple of things from mistakes along the way. #1--drum sanders will only get you 1/2 way to a nice smooth floor. I ended up renting an oscillating sander and went over all the floors again to really smooth them out otherwise the stain shows every imperfection. #2--stir your stain as you work on a very large floors. When I did the dining room I didn't stir and noticed the color had suddenly changed from a rich brown to a weird red. After sanding it all off again I remembered to stir, stir, stir.
When it came time to finish them off with Polyurethane I found that doing it on my hands and knees with a brush gave me the look I wanted. I applied 4 coats in all the rooms this way. Backbreaking but the finish was perfect!
Below is a photo of the Living Room after it was staged using some of my furniture and some of the stagers (Natalie English of Windemere--she's the best!).
I gave the dining room a coat of paint called "Kenya" and also used it in the entryway. I didn't get any good pictures of just how bad the floors looked before I refinished them but believe me, I wasn't sure they could be saved. We're talking years of dog/cat pee and god knows what else.
Hallway and Main Floor Bedroom: the pictures below show how bad the hallway floors were when I took the carpets up. The wood in the hallway and bedroom is Fir as opposed to Oak in the living and dining rooms. It's a lot softer wood and really needed to be smooth in order for the stain to look good.
The bedroom had two marks against it--someone had painted the floor over with yellow paint and it originally had brown wood paneling on the walls. One of the roommates had it painted a Tiffany blue with white trim but I found this great "eco-friendly" light green paint on sale for $5 a gallon. It looks very Martha Stewart.
Below are the before and after of the main floor bedroom across from the bathroom. I also added a new light fixture.
The photo below is the second bedroom on the main floor. It only needed a good cleaning and paint job. It also had the sliding glass door that went directly into the TV room which was taken out and a wall put up. The really nice feature in this room is the remaining sliding glass door that goes out into the back yard. I put a small brick patio just outside the door. I didn't refinish this floor as I wanted to leave it up to the new owners to decide what to do.
Main Bathroom: The main floor bathroom had never really been finished. An addition had been put on the back of the house 20 some years ago and there was a window in the bathroom that used to open to the backyard. It now opened to the family/tv room. My brother David came up from Oregon and helped me take out the window and put up drywall. He left it up to me to tape and mud. To me it was a lot like decorating a cake with frosting so it went fairly smoothly.
The floor had mismatched linoleum tiles as well as a rotted subfloor around the toilet from old leaks. I pulled up the rotten wood and put down plywood pieces. When I tried to drill them down with long screws I found out that the original porcelain floor was still under all the sublayers and I had to get an impact drill with special masonry bits to drill pilot holes through all the layers. Gawd that was awful! After I finally got them in I put cheap self-stick tiles over the wood and then laid a luxury vinyl tile over those that looked like slate. My brother Mark came up from San Francisco and helped me put in new light fixtures---I know a lot more about putting in lights now.
I didn't want to spend a lot of money so I painted the existing vanity a dark brown as well as an old cupboard that one of the tenants left. I put in a backsplash with some inexpensive glass tile I found for $4.95 a sheet. My brother Mark had built a cover over the pipes next to the toilet years ago so I used the same tile there as well.
I went to Tile for Less and got some nice, inexpensive ceramic tiles for the shower. I also used the same backsplash tiles as a decorative border around the walls of the shower.
The ceiling is one of those old drop types with hideous plastic light panels. I wanted to use those cool tin panels as an alternative to the plastic but they are too expensive. I found some flocked wallpaper that looked like Victorian tin panels and glued them to the old plastic panels and then spray painted them silver. They look much better than the white plastic.
Below shows the bathroom complete and ready to go.
Kitchen and Family Room: the two most used rooms in the house were also the most in need of a makeover. The TV room was an addition put onto the back of the house over 20 years ago.
It included three skylights and a wood planked ceiling. When my mom ran a daycare center there was a sliding glass door put in between the TV room and her bedroom where she kept the little babies when they napped. My friend Luis came over and helped me remove the sliding glass door and put up a new wall. I did the taping, mudding and finishing.
I put the same luxury vinyl tile in both the TV room and kitchen, repaired the holes in the walls and installed new floorboard trim. The kitchen ceiling was in such poor shape I rented a hopper from Home Depot (my home away from home) and sprayed on an orange peel texture to hide the flaws. I added new lighting and then refinished the kitchen cabinets with the same stain I used on the hardwood floors. I used the same paint color in both rooms to really tie them together. There are French Doors from the TV room out onto the deck and the backyard. It's a great room for entertaining.
I really wanted to put in Granite countertops but it was too expensive so I used 12x12 tiles. I had help putting on the plywood and Hardee board to prep for the tiling. Tiling on a flat surface was a breeze compared to tiling the bathroom shower!
Below are final looks for the kitchen and the TV room.
The Second Floor Bedrooms and Half-Bath: the three upstairs bedrooms only needed a good cleaning, carpets shampooed and new paint. My real estate agent staged one of the bedrooms as a kids room.
The 5th "bedroom" is attached to the bedroom. It used to have two doors that went into each of the two bedrooms and was my bedroom when we first moved into the house. When my youngest son was living here he turned this bonus room into his art studio because of all the natural light that came in from the big picture window.
The little half-bath needed a major redo. The original cast iron corner wall sink had to go. I found a cut little vanity sink an stand to replace the old sink and painted it with some "Oops" paint from Home Depot. "Oops" paint is returned paint that customer's didn't want and it sells for $5 a gallon. Sure, most of it is some horrible bright pink or Barney purple but every once in a while there are some nice colors. I had to replace the old toilet, and had new flooring put down.
Well, that's it. It was very hard work but I really enjoyed learning and certainly enjoyed the final result. So, if you think you can't "Do It Yourself" I hope this gives you at least a little confidence to tackle a project or two around your own homes.
A big thanks to my brothers Tim, David and Mark for their help--they don't live in Seattle but came out to help when they could. My friend Ymelda who loves to clean and helped me for hours cleaning and recleaning the rooms and getting the basement in some kind of organized chaos. Thank you to Luis, Ymelda's husband, for showing me how to take out a sliding glass door, put up a wall and all his expert suggestions. Pedro and Juan from Casa Latina who braved rain and hot sun to tear up the front and back yards and put my design plans into reality. Justin--thanks for your help getting the kitchen countertops out and the plywood down! Daniel, my attorney, who has been my friend and mentor. David and Nick who saved my bacon more than once with their help with plumbing and electrical work. And Natalie, my real estate agent from Windemere--you stuck with me through the rennovations and staged the house to perfection! I don't know how many times you've sold a house in one day, but to me it was awesome, especially in this economy.
I couldn't have done all this without all of you!
(originally published June 16, 2011)