Catastrophic Construction Costs

I feel comfortable admitting to you that I am getting pretty jiggy without my usual renovation fix to carry me through. While I generally do a darned good job hiding from the news, it’s evident that several things are happening that are going to put the kibosh on, if not my hunting efforts, at least the actuality of a purchase and potential renovation. You see, my desire to do it, even if it’s not good for me is so inexplicably compelling that I may need to be held down. I think it’s fitting that I riff on Oliver Hazard Perry’s famous sentiment when I say, “I have met the enemy and it is me”. Hazard indeed.

Timing is everything.

In the News external problem No. 1: interest rates are going up. I did search for a property with a renewed fervor from the start of the year, knowing what The Fed was up to, and hoping that I could get a property under agreement prior to the first rate hike scheduled for sometime in March 2022. I did not succeed. You see I have my own internal problems that are reeking havoc on my ability to buy. I was burned on my last property, not badly, not a third degree burn or anything as serious as that, but enough to be cautious in this heated market. There were two one bedroom properties that I loved, one of them I made an offer on, but many others wanted it more. A whole lot of cash makes its way to our city and it’s not my kind of cash, it’s the kind of cash that doesn’t bother to consider interest rate hikes because they don’t subject themselves to them. Damn you cash buyers – I hope to be you someday!

Peace really is the best answer.

In the News external problem No. 2: war. This is a heartbreaking injustice on so many fronts. Lives lost, upheaval, displacement, nations aligning as the dark curtain of divisiveness is drawn across the globe. This type of unrest does not scream optimistic time to buy. My second problem stems from my age and the volatility of the markets. I’m losing big when by all rights I should be sliding into stabilizing stocks or bonds or whatever will carry me into retirement.

They always say, don’t gamble money you don’t have to lose.

External Problem No. 3: Supply Chain and let’s go ahead and throw in labor resource challenges while we’re at it, and combine it with my own internal issue – I can’t leave even the best of properties alone. I have to have it my way. I have to rip and tear, tweak and squeak it into my own version of perfection and that is going to cost you in this market, I don’t care how patient you are, which I am not at all, it will cost you. What a pickle I’m in. If you’ve got any advise at all, now is the time to give it.

Opps: I almost did it again

Look at that molding. Love!

I have a sickness for which I am neither seeking sympathy or a cure. It possesses me even when I attempt to quiet the insistent voices that inquire, “what would you do”? “Go ahead, you know you want to – buy it and show me – show me – show me – what you would do”? Like any honest to god addict I am spending money that I don’t have, and conjuring ways in which to beg, borrow or steal more to feed the habit.

And that working fireplace.

I am a real estate addict, and I broke the cardinal rule. I attended a broker open house, just to have a look. I know I’m not a broker, but you can’t let little details like that get in the way of your obsession. I knew that the unit didn’t have air conditioning. I’ve been driven from a home before because of this issue. Laugh if you want. I stood dripping in sweat as I served my guests perfectly prepared tuna nicoise, and I wasn’t the only one. They too were mopping their brows and made a quick exit to the cool comfort of their own conditioned homes. I abhor being hot, just as much as being cold. That was the other problem with the unit – it had a heating system that was substantially undersized for the volume of the space. Oh those lovely 11′ tall ceilings with moldings that made me cry they were so beautiful. I rued the day I bought you.

I’m not even put off by a tiny kitchen. I prefer it, and am certain I could spent $70K in this little space alone.

You can understand why I said not again, no, ney, never, but a little look just to satisfy my curiosity couldn’t hurt – it did after all say in the ad that deck rights were penned into the condo docs. I could add a deck, and then introduce an entirely new heating and cooling system. Those baseboard electric heaters would have to go. Expensive and ugly – of course not as expensive as installing a whole new system. Even in these inflationary times the payback on energy consumption might take as long as ten years, and we all know I can’t sit still for that long.

A Room With A View.

The bathroom needed to be gutted, the kitchen needed to be gutted, but she had good bones. She was on the Parlor Level, and was wide. Her purple kitchen was tiny, tucked as it was under the buildings stairs, but had an adorable tray ceiling. Clear the slate, install wood cabinets with a natural rich dark grain and add brass hardware, and a black marble top – yes black. Don’t argue with me it’s going to be gorgeous. Inlay the ceiling with mirrored glass, and a statement fixture, throw in a butterfly sink, and lay the floor in black and white marble tile that will be carried into the hall just off the living room. That flooring would have to go too, when you rip out all that baseboard heat you’ll leave holes all over the place, and its not original. It’s oak. I’ve always wanted a hemlock herringbone floor – this would most certainly be the time to do it. That door that would lead from the bedroom out onto the tiniest deck – new City of Boston requirements for depth wouldn’t even accommodate a hearty American teenage boys full length, but those doors, they would be French, steel, divided light. All the closets in the bedroom would have to go. An unfortunate choice to have made when they were installed the first time. The bath – gut. A glass shower installed in it’s place. Good-bye to the wallcovering from another era altogether.

I am strangely attracted to this bath. It’s happy. It does have a window and baths with windows couldn’t be anything but.

The man who owned the property had lived there for forty years – God rest his sole. It was impeccable, preserved, loved even. His art and mid-century modern furnishings to be admired. I want to believe he was happy there, even if he was hot. Maybe it’s for the best that I not be the one to buy it. I’m a hundred thousand in and I haven’t even signed an offer to purchase. Some days I long to be the buyer that will move right in, leave it exactly as it is, and be blissfully happy. All this desire and desperate want is a pain – even if it is one I cannot imagine living without.

Heading Home

The Team that lasted til the end. Wonder Women.

My quest for one nest after the next is a privilege. An inconvenient one at times, but a privilege nonetheless. I have agency over my own actions, even those that have me living out of two suitcases between flips and hopping from one friends home to another. I’ve done a stint as a house sitter in a penthouse unit for neighbors deployed to Europe for a few months. Slept on my sisters sofa – as a very uninvited guest in her home, stayed in a five-story walk-up of a Airbnb that I shared with a mouse, and many other houses, while I awaited the arrival of my next nest. Privilege.

Yesterday I took that privilege and put it where it matters most, in the hands of a young grieving widow, and her three baby boys. I did not do it alone though. A team of amazing corporate real estate industry professionals banded together to raise money, source donations, volunteer time and their considerable organizational, project management, design, assembly, staging, and house cleaning talents to a cause…this cause. Look out @CleaShearer and @JoannaTeplin of The Home Edit, we’re gunning for the title of fast and furious, having completed our Up and Out for @HeadingHome – the entire outfitting of a three bedroom apartment including stocked refrigerator, in six hours. I even arranged the cans of seltzer in neat rows, branded labels facing forward of course.

I’ve moved dozens of times, times at least three, but none of them have been as meaningful as this move to make someone’s burden a little lighter. An enormous debt of gratitude to @ColliersBoston, @ElaineConstruction, @Samuels&Associates, @EastdilSecured, @ElkusManfrediArchitects, @Officeworks, @Restream and to @KristinBlount and @LeslieCohen who together led this team, and brought us all together for the Heading Home cause under the angels wings of @SuzannePicher and @CaleighLeach. Thank you.

Making too much into just enough

43 Hiawatha Road . Harwich Port . MA

Running my weekend errands typically includes a round of open houses, whether I’m in the money or feeling closer to the skids, looking costs nothing, and the education one receives is priceless. It’s like the equivalent of getting a masters degree from your public library. And I so love to learn.

FYI . Mice love that Homasote Ceiling. It’s like paper-mache.

While I wish I could attribute my bout of dizziness to the head-swirling prices for which homes are on offer, I cannot, but metaphorically speaking, I’m reeling. I visited a vessel on a “close” to tony little street, who takes its name Hiawatha, from its adjacency Nantucket Sound, and the Iroquois Indian Tribe. “He makes Rivers” gives some mean to the list price of this 3200sf vessel of a home, but doesn’t fully account for its cost. At $1.5M, boasting 7 bedrooms and 3.5 baths, one might get an all together different impression of what is being hocked here, but as my father likes to say: “People loved to be fooled.” It is after all how most of us get into the beautiful messes we get into. The “had I known what I was getting myself into, I never would have done it” laments, are the ones most likely to categorically change you as a person, and who among us couldn’t use an overhaul?

Whoa . This “refresh” is baffling to me.

This property would need just that. I recklessly threw a $600K price tag on the renovation, and that was for something that wouldn’t be at all high-end. What do I know about costs? I’m not an estimator, I having little to nothing to do with supply chain issues unless you count my chase for toilet paper in every megastore and outpost from Boston to Orleans expertise, but I have ears. It’s incredibly difficult to get anything from kitchen appliances to labor for construction and even my tenth grade math class, or was it history? taught me the laws of supply and demand. I’d like to demand a reinstatement of sanity, but I am afraid no one will listen, still the renos to this modest Cape home will cost you.

Love the wall paneling, but don’t think it can be saved.

Constructed in 1948, aside from a somewhat laughable kitchen refresh in the form of a veneer of glass and subway tiles, it appears to be a perfect specimen of a time capsule. Those seven bedrooms wouldn’t fulfill the modern day needs of a walk-in closet. The one en-suite bath in what appeared to be the master bed was so small that one would be advised to disrobe before entering to preserve elbows.

Promise of the Fifties.

The warren of tiny rooms would all need to go, though there will be little the next owner can do about the floor to ceiling heights which will give new meaning to “cozy seaside retreat”. Once you’ve stripped away the interior, installing a state of the art HVAC system will become much easer, but it won’t be cheap, and you’ll lose at least three of your seven bedrooms. You won’t be receiving a refund. The good news is, they have an adorable mudroom, just inside the back door, which is likely the place everyone enters as it’s just off the car port,. If they once had a garage it was converted to an in-law apartment, making it possible to recover some of your renovation expense, if you so choose. That mudroom, don’t touch it, when all is said and done. When the floors gleam and the ocean breeze blows through your new Anderson windows into your spacious and airy living room, remembering where you started your journey might just make the investment worthwhile.

Flagstones are a telltale hint of the times – not this time of course.

Real Estate: At the rate we’re going

Rising interest rates are looming, inflation is inflating the cost of everything, and limited inventory is putting the Boston buyer in a pricing predicament. A pickle if you will, and not the sweat and sour kind that I adore with a turkey stuffed sandwich. This pickle is the prickly kind that warns you not to make an emotional decision. It would be so easy, and understandable, to attend an open house and run into swarms of other would be buyers, and think to yourself, this will be the only property. Look at all these people, they are validating my belief that its a good one, one that I shouldn’t let slip through my fingers. That’s emotion talking. It’s the evil voice in your head that has you placing offers that are overblown, on properties that you may, or may not, even like that much. It’s the voice that responds to the “Best and Last” offer request with an increase in your price.

That voice must be silenced. Try asking it: “What if I am only bidding against myself?” How stupid would I look then. It’s the voice that must be silenced with reason, with data, with an understanding that there is no more powerful a place to be, than to be in the place you are willing to walk away from. I am not suggesting that you don’t have any emotion at all. That wouldn’t even be possible, would it? A little passion, a little desire, is necessary to ensure you bring your best to the home, the investment, the property. You owe her that. She’ll likely have had lots of owners before you came along. Many will have neglected her, cheeped out on renovations, deferred her maintenance, when attended to it was what she really needed. There would have been bad design decisions for which she had no input. Some owners might have treated her better, but left her to start a family, and what she needs is someone that will both invest in her, and be invested in her. Emotion, you can’t get away from it, but you can’t let it rule you either.

Run the numbers, consider the supply chain issues, the cost of labor, if you can in fact get that crew to show up for you, and remember that inflation will make even the most mundane materials astronomically more expensive. You’ll long for the early days of the pandemic when you were only dealing with increases associated with the bottleneck when those inflationary costs start to land on your renovation spreadsheet. This is real, and I hope that you are a fan of Mies van der Rohe, because you will be getting a whole lot less for a whole lot more.

I’m not saying don’t bid. To the contrary, bid away. You’ll get so much more insight into the market by playing in it. I love putting bids in on properties. I put one in just this week. I looked at it once, went back again to take a harder look, to evaluate the cost per sf, the location, the amenities, the necessary renovations in the next few years, and put in a price that I was certain wouldn’t result in a win, but was more than fair for the property. I lost, but learned that there were eight bidders, and that an over ask, no finance contingency, and no inspection contingency wasn’t enough to seal the deal. That’s good data. It will make my next offer that much better.

I passed on two others that I took hard looks at. One needed the type of work that comes with a thirty year tenant, and nary an upgrade during that time, and the numbers didn’t pencil out. Too high a price for the assumed risk, for a property that I never intended to live in. You’ve got to be willing to live in it, or rent it, until you can sell it for a profit, or fish and cut bait so that you can free up your cash to make a smarter decision the next time.

The last property was dreamy. Needed the kind of love I could have given her, but was out of my price range. I knew it when I looked at it, but feel better knowing that she had three offers at over ask. How do I know, I asked. It was on the sunny side of the street, but if you are stone cold broke, no amount of sun will warm you up if you’ve made a decision that leaves you house poor.

The year is off to an exciting start. Stay warm this weekend.

Reflections of: A Real Year of Estates

27 Willow Bend . Chatham . SOLD!

I wonder what crypto currency smells like? I’ve started to dabble in it. An attempt to stay hip, to do what I am imploring my readers to do, to take a little risk. Of course the risk that I am asking them to take is tangible. You can touch it. Observe its lines and massing. Appreciate the ways in which it draws attention or detracts. It has an identity, a distinct style, a personal scent. Crypto is ethereal, celestial, ghostly, many would say that it’s not real at all. I guess that’s where faith come in. I’ve converted some of the “real” dollars I made on this years real estate transactions, into an idea, a concept, a different currency. Who knows if it will pay off, but I’ll always remain true to my first love.

2021 has some bad parts to be sure, but I’m not going to think about them today. The year resulted in some very big firsts on the wealth building front that are worth reflecting on here. First, 27 Willow Bend was transformed from a frumpy old lady into the hip new girl on the block, and I mean fly. Not as in flashy, but as in super sophisticated classy. She shines in all the right places. This first was a JV with my dear friends. While I was only a nominal investor, it presented an opportunity to do something I had never done before, like an actual budget that we followed, a whole house, and yard, and a schedule that we drove instead of being taken for a ride. When I say “we” , I really mean that I observed my talented friends as they made all of this happen. Gratitude and awe at your facility, determination, and heart, Tiffany, Jeanne and Al.

They doubled my little pile of money, which led to my second first. I got a kids seat at the development table for a commercial investment. This is a very big deal. Women are not on the call list for developers in search of investors. In fact, there is so much money out there, held by a few, that developers with a good reputation hardly need to break a sweat to raise the funds for their next venture. Getting in on the action was a result of an enterprising young gals desire to change the investor profile to look a whole lot more like her, or in my case, an older version of her. We share a similar ambition, and desire to help women build wealth. To my dear friends Lauren and Kristin, thank you for connecting me to Jen, for supporting me, and for making the slog silly fun.

My third first was the sale of 34 Lawrence Street. My fifth property – all these numbers, added up to a loss. That’s right. I sold the property for just under what I invested in it. That was definitely the first time that had happened to me, leading many, myself included, to ask, “does she really know what she’s doing”? Who ever can be entirely sure? I’m taking the long view. I might have lost this hand, but I’m still in the game, searching for the next deal, the next lesson, the next home.

Wishing you a new year filled with prosperity and plenty of firsts.

Not Nothin’: Another chapter closed

I’ve been as apathetic about the sale of No. 5 as one might be. I’ve been nervous, even angry about how the negotiations went on passed homes. I’ve conceded, and dug my heals in. I’ve been nasty, and gracious, and expectant. I’ve promised to be better, and do better, and failed, and tried again. Strong emotions all, but not this time. This time I said, buy it, or don’t. Agree to my terms, or not. I want to wash the taint of the pandemic off, but not at any cost. This property, I conceded, I would take a loss on.

Not exactly an exclamation point over the fireplace, but an end.

The loss would be nominal, $2500., but it stung more than I thought it would, or should. I wanted to place that blame on anyone, but on myself, and I certainly owned a part of it, didn’t I? I bought it after all, in all its ugly ducklingness, but that was just the outside. Doesn’t everyone always say the most important thing is what’s on the inside? She was ugly there too, but I didn’t know that when I bought her. She was abused and neglected, and I cared for her, when others had not. I can’t regret doing the right thing by her. I just wish the payoff had been greater.

As I prepared to embark on my next mini-chapter, I toured, and analyzed, new tower complex, after new complex, and went back to a few that I had visited before. What I discovered is that these places in the South End are outrageously expensive. I’d give back the dog shampoo station, the swimming pool, and the on-line match making service for residents, in exchange for $1500. off my rent a month, which got me thinking. I paid $4000. a month in mortgage payments over the course of 35 months. That’s $140,000. That’s not nothin’, and it made me smile, and think a little more kindly of No. 5. It might not have turned out the way I had hoped, but it wasn’t all bad.

Construction: from destruction to done in days

I’ve been around construction my entire life. Skeptical by nature, hopeful by design, it never ceases to amaze me, the miracle of the last three days of any project. I walk the site, head hung low, heart heavy, feet shuffling through piles of sawdust flecked with red and blue encased wire bits, the remnants the Electrician left behind. A bottle cap, a cigarette butt – violation – a greasy paper bag with a half eaten pastrami on rye. How in the Sam Tarnation was I expected to move into this place in just a few days?

Fun with Recycling . bringing detail where detail lacked.

I’d need a miracle it seemed. I’d need divine agency. I’d need something entirely unexpected, and desperately desired, and then like magic it would happen. I’ve been witness to this highly improbably happening so many times, you’d think I would have come to consider it banal, common, predictable even, but no. Each time I walk a site, the calendar with its red circled deadline date flashing in my minds eye, I feel sick with worry.

They, of the brilliant, marvelous, often maligned, construction professionals, GET IT DONE, and I adore them for it. I revere them. I want to know how they do it, but like the Free Masons, and other secret societies that drink blood from a skull, wear hooded robes, and meet by candle-light, they’d have to kill me if they told me, and I’d like to live a little while longer, so the mystery will have to remain in tact.

See – that wasn’t so bad, was it?

As the summer wraps up, and many decidedly difficult projects come to a close, I’d like to send out into the universe of construction professionals a huge thank you, for being there when the materials or the labor or both didn’t show. For having faith when I’d lost my own. For wearing your masks when it was 100 degrees, and for being the few, the proud, that create. Your building something, your making a contribution, and your contribution makes a difference to me, so thank you.

Every Ending is a New Beginning

Parables are among the best stories.

If I simply said that I was ready to put this year behind me, I would be missing an important opportunity to recognize the growth that I have experienced in this last, most interesting of years. I listened to a parable while meditating a few days ago. I’m not a practiced meditator, I’m flawed, my thoughts racing by, raging fire engine red machines snaking their way through the streets of Monaco. My brain is a frenetic place to house a calm guest, but I work at welcoming them anyway. This parable struck me, as they are intended to do, and I thought I would share it with you. – A farmer woke to discover that during the night his horse had run off. His neighbors said to him: “What misfortune to have lost your only horse.” Maybe the farmer replied. A few days later the horse returned, bringing with him three wild stallions. “What good fortune”, remarked the neighbors. “Maybe” replied the farmer. The farmers only son was riding one of the wild stallions and was thrown from the horse, shattering his leg, forever leaving him with a limp. “What bad luck remarked the neighbors..” “Maybe” replied the farmer. Soon after, his country was embroiled in war, and soldiers made their way through his village, identifying all able bodied boys to enlist them in the army. When the soldiers arrived at the farmers home, and saw that his only son walked with a limp, they moved on. “What good fortune” his neighbors proclaimed. “Maybe” replied the farmer.

This little parable got me to thinking about examining the coin more closely. So many of you believe that head’s up is the way to bet. I’ve always gone for the underdog, tails. More than a pretty face, a tail can wag and control a situation, it can distract, entertain, and in the end it has just as good a chance of landing on the “right” side as the other. Which is the point. Heads or tails, we can all even our odds by changing the perspective in which we view the events that happen – remembering that they are not happening “to us” – they are just happening.

The events in my little corner of the universe included my very first joint venture flip. This project like all the others I have done to date was purchased in one year, but will not be sold until the following spring. What good fortune, many have remarked. You found a home in Chatham for under a million dollars, an in town location, a walk to the beach. This little three bedroom Cape has expressed its dissatisfaction with its decades of neglect, again and again. It absorbing cash at the rate of a roll, or two of Hefty paper towels, which I am not begrudging the old gal. She deserves to be cleaned up, put to rights, but I did so want to adorn her in accessories that made her sparkle, and instead, the majority of the budget will be spent behind her walls, under her foundation, a ventilation system that will allow her to breath free and easy, winter or summer, spring or fall, and she’ll have new steps to ensure no one does trip and fall, which we can all agree is very important. I know I do, and felt a little bad that I was asked to do more with less for the portion of the project that is mine to make shine. Then I remembered all I’ve done with paint in the past, and it made me perk up a bit. Cape’s weren’t born into the upper class, attending premiers, and walking the red carpet at The Met Ball. No, she is happiest when she can throw a log on the fire, open her high gloss coral colored front door to the neighbors, serve them a nice bottle of wine that she found at Trader Joe’s – laugh not, the selection is incredible and very affordable. Welcoming, comfortable, cheeky, that’s what she of Apres Sea will be. Maybe it’s just what needed to happen.

And what of my main manse, my little condo on Lawrence Street in Boston’s South End? To say she was in rough shape when I found her in December of 2018 is an understatement. Hidden under her floor boards and behind the walls, was all manner of malfeasance. Like me, she was forced to undergo an operation, no little facelift for this gal. I had to rip her insides out and rebuild her, the best way I knew how, and now she is strong and thriving, but the market for little condos in the South End is not. Bad luck some of you have said, to have had her ready for sale during a pandemic. Too bad you couldn’t have put her on the market in summer, or the previous spring, when we all still believed this would end sooner, rather than later. I agreed, I felt sorry, I worried, I lamented, and then I thought, maybe it wasn’t the worst thing in the world that could have happened. I thought just maybe, there is something that I have yet to have predicted that will come of this. Maybe. We will see. Whatever will be, will be.

Fortune Knocks Once

Is it really true that fortune knocks once on every man’s door? What about women? What about A woman – more specifically what about me, and the “we” of the Willow Bend three? There are really four of us in this endeavor, but “we” rhymes with “three”, and all I can think for four, is shut the door, and I certainly don’t want our door to be shut. I want to open the door, and have song birds, and sunshine accompanied by a seersucker slacked, blue blazered, butler carrying a silver tray of cut glass coupes filled with bubbly come bursting forth. I want the guests to hear the pop of the champagne cork as their Gucci clad loafer crunches down on the bleached seashell drive and think – a party? For me? Yes, I believe the front door can say all of that – minus maybe the butler, but wouldn’t he look sweet in that outfit. Would I be going to far if I asked him to wear a blue linen pillbox hat and a coral colored bow tie? He’d have my utmost respect.

I do think a door says a whole lot more than people give it credit for. It’s no wallflower, well maybe there are a few demure dames in the door derby, but a door can, and should be so much more. This is the point we are arguing, not arguing right now. No one really wants to replace the front door – money, oh the money honey, it all adds up so fast, but a few of us, two of us, were secretly hoping that the old gal would get put out to pasture, and as it turns out – horray – she really does need to retire. She stood valiantly for decades, with her cherry red lipsticked smile, greeting passers-by, and she’s tired. Now the question remains, whoever will replace her?

We’ve been interviewing candidates. Some have hundreds of years experience – oh they’ve been around the door business for generations. We lean toward those first. There are side lights to consider, transom windows over the door, paneled, glass lights, mullioned, clear, tripled glazed, and it goes on and on. Every candidate makes a case for why their looks and experience really are the best, and that’s before we even consider adorning with jewels. They probably won’t be wearing Harry Winston to the ball, but I have my fingers crossed that we can get a little fancier than Kay Jewelers – no offense Kay, but not even the throbbing pain from the weight of the Harry Winston wreath diamond earrings would deter me from saying anything but yes, yes, yes please and thank you – a door deserves a little hardware that’s not hard to wear and easy on the eyes.

I do want it to look good in a wreath and I am leaning toward a happy pop of a color for her gown, after all, she lives in Chatham.

Merry Perfection.