Jenny and I have been finding our way forward. We both knew that buying this house was like jumping out of an airplane. The conditions under which we purchased the Going Queen didn’t allow for much time to think about it. We knew we were taking some risks, but also understood that once the the transaction was done, there was no going back. No unjumping from the plane.
When we bought the house, it was barely passable as a liveable space. This was key, because it had to be liveable to be eligible for 'normal' of financing. We had trouble with the financing because it was an edge-case. Most banks wouldn’t touch it. We got a lot of ‘yes’ answers, but then after they looked into it they all turned into ‘wow, no’ answers. Umpqua Bank however was into it. They said they’d carry the loan themselves and keep it in-house because while it would not make sense to the financial market, it made sense to them. But, it was essential that it had a kitchen, a bathroom, smoke detector etc.
As an aside, I submit to you that Umpqua Bank is what you would call a 'community bank'. Jason Sphon at Umpqua, knew the neighborhood, believed that preserving the home was beneficial, listened to what I had to say, advocated for me, connected the dots and made the loan happen.
Once we starting doing the work necessary to clean up the Queen and see what our options were, we knew there was no going back. Anything we did to it would put it in a state where it was no longer habitable and therefore no longer a viable home that could be resold in the traditional manner. Once we cracked the egg, we were making the omelette or we were going to have to sell this house on the cash only cracked egg market where things would get ugly.
There were 3 ways this story was going to end:
Plan A: We restore the home
Plan B: We tear it down and rebuild
Plan C: We incur a massive loss by unloading it because by opening it up, we just irrevocably removed any value in the structure and turned it into dirt lots
In purchasing the home, our goal was obviously ‘Plan A’. Whether we could do that would come down to whether the structure was salvageable and whether we could afford the restoration. At some point, if we found that we would have to do so much work that it would no longer make sense to us to restore it then we would move to ‘Plan B’.
Plan B sucks. I don’t mean that it sucks inherently, it’s just that the price we paid for the house only makes sense if Plan A makes sense. Plan B makes sense for an empty lot. We paid the Plan A price. We then paid to have Plan A cleaned up and had the interior demo’d for remodel. Plan A meant we paid for a house and hoped it was in decent enough condition that the structure had value that we could invest in.
Plan B would mean we waaaaay overpaid for dirt lots and we’d have to pay to demolish and prep the lots just to get the starting point of Plan B. Plus, Plan B involves tearing down a house that we are really fond of. I’m not sure we could stomach that.
If you read my last blog post, you know then that is where our ex-contractor left us. Plan B. He pretended to play the Plan A game with us, but made it so expensive that it didn’t compute.
I didn’t have much faith in his conclusion. However, he did bring in subcontractors who supported his position. There was a day where he scheduled a dozen subcontractors to come by, evaluate the project and respond to him with bids. I wasn’t available to be there on this day, but Jenny was. She was pretty upset by what she’d heard. Everyone was walking around, calling out all the problems, saying mean things about the Going Queen and recommending a complete rebuild. When this scene was replayed for me, I was mad at myself for not being there. I could have stopped my ex-contractor from ‘chumming the waters’.
I’m familiar with the dynamic that occurs when you get a bunch of dudes in the same space, hyped up on coffee and egg mcmuffins, trying to outdo each other and show off what they know. Add to this my ex-general contractor’s bias about the project and this ‘subcontractor day’ seemed more like a shark feeding frenzy. Every sub was trying to tear off the biggest chunk of meat they could, and at some point, there was so much blood in the water that it was a Going Queen bloodbath.
Was my description a little dramatic? Maybe. But it explains how we got to a 1.4M remodel estimate and the mounting pressure to tear her down.
Specifically, the findings from the engineering subcontractor were pretty bleak. According to our ‘ex’, the foundation was bad and had to be replaced, the house had to be re-framed, re-sided and the floors had to be rebuilt because they weren’t attached to anything. That last one, about the floors not being attached to anything, was really surprising to me. This was explained to me at a meeting held inside the house. We were standing on one of the floors and another one was above our heads, apparently just floating there. I asked my ex-general contractor how the floors were able to stay suspended above our heads not being attached to anything and he said they weren’t attached to “anything good”. I assumed he meant that they were attached to the house, which he clearly thought was something bad.
As you know, he then got fired. That was in June.
After a spell of feeling sorry for ourselves, we started brainstorming new versions of ‘Plan A’. One bright spot was the architect (jesus h. I’m tired of typing this) our ex-general contractor brought in. His name is Tom Shaw. We made a connection with him the first time he came out to the project site. The ex-ge… (fuck it. I’ll just say ‘x’ from now on) … the x was mansplaining something to Jenny and Tom rolled his eyes. Jenny liked him after that. Jenny has a keen sense of mansplaining. She liked that Tom was adept at detecting it too. We kept working with him after x left. As it turned out, Tom is a clear communicator and a practical thinker.
We told Tom that we felt the information we got from x was biased and that we’d like to find another engineer to get a second opinion. We’d like this engineer to be someone who understands that we aren’t trying to make the Going Queen something she is not… new construction. We get that she is old, irregular and imperfect and like her for that. He said he knew of such a guy. His name was Bruce. Bruce would be our engineer.
Bruce is busy. We had this conversation in July. I took until September 18th to get him out to the house. Here were his initial thoughts:
There is nothing wrong with the foundation. It’s old, like all old homes, and it’s in the condition you’d expect it to be in. We’d have to do a little destructive testing to see what type of work will be required to strap the house to the foundation but rebuilding is optional. The framing is fine. The bones are fine. The floors are attached in the manner you attach floors in the 1900s. We can add brackets to improve them but they are as expected. He said there is a practical solution for every challenge in the house.
Bruce said he owns a 1901 Vickie and the Going Queen foundation is in better shape than his.
He said the next steps were for him to work with Tom, go over his drawings, run some calculations, make some recommendations, do a few tests and then run the whole thing through the City planners to get buy-off on the approach.
This is strikingly different advice than we received from x and his subcontractors. Somebody is full of ass products.
I would like your opinion on who to trust here. Please use this survey form below to vote:
[ ] Bruce is wrong
[X] is full of hyena shit and impractical self-serving advice
I have more things to tell you. Give me a few days. I have to go to Nashville to sell some software so I can put money in the Going Queen Fund piggy bank.