Oliver Update

Warning: It’s a long one, you might want to bookmark this chapter and come back when you have plenty of time to read or if you’re having trouble sleeping some night. 
Exciting times are on the horizon for Storybook Homes this Spring and Summer, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it; but before I can get to all that, I feel I need to spend some time updating you on Oliver. Remember Oliver?
Back in February, I put out an ALL-CALL looking for a homeowner for this gem. And Guess What?!?! Despite the scary pictures and being greeted by this in person:

We had multiple families interested in the place and ended up shaking hands with the first couple we met. Crazy, huh?!? You know what is even crazier??? We truly thought finding a prerenovation buyer was going to be the biggest challenge of the project! Boy were we wrong…. (blatant foreshadowing folks… read on)
The couple adopting Oliver could not be more perfect. If you have spent any time on twostorysister, you are familiar with my slight control issues. Because of this, I have been VERY apprehensive to leave the flipping model to work with homeowners because this would require me to put someone else’s wishes and priorities over my own (I get it, I get it… their money, their house). Gosh, that looks awful in writing….not proud of this personality trait, however “honest” is another trait from which I suffer so I have this need to share EVERYTHING with you or I feel like I’m lying. 
Anyways…the couple we are working with understand and respect my need for control and are really trying to let me take the lead. But here is the cool thing, they have contributed some really great ideas too! For example, at our first meeting when I presented my hand-drafted plan, they suggested in lieu of the soaker tub we incorporate a larger “doorless” shower. I LOVED that idea! My dream shower is doorless too and I had only put the soaker tub in to satisfy the masses so I was totally on board with this change.
We also moved some closets around to create a doorway to the backyard. Easy Peasy. And they wanted to add a 2 car carport to the plan. After we reviewed the proposed floorplan, I pitched the story idea behind the house design and provided a few inspiration pics to let them see how this might play out in terms of color and overall feel. Here are 3 of the pics I showed them:

I’m afraid this last one might have scared them a little, but you see HE was the essence of the story. For some reason, this house had always conjured up images of Ken and Barbie, specifically Ken and Barbie in Tennis wear. 
This was going to play out in the cutest vintage preppy craftsman. I even had vintage tennis rackets stashed away for staging. However, upon sharing the inspiration pics I learned that she was not a fan of green and was nervous to try out some of my other color ideas. I’ll admit I panicked for a second because I could feel my story slipping away and I was terrified to attempt this project without a story as my guide. But then something happened…. before I left that meeting she graciously took me on a tour of their beautiful home and pointed out some of her favorite furniture pieces that she would like to see incorporated into the design of the house. During that tour it became clear how perfect her favorite things would fit into the space we had just reviewed and I realized that I would not have to navigate this renovation without a story after all…. the new homeowners ARE THE STORY! Their wishes and ideas would form the new story of this house!


I know this seems like an obvious answer to most of you, but it was a real “ah-ha” moment for me. I’m sure this story will evolve throughout the construction process as I get the privilege of working alongside this couple but at this stage of the game, I can reveal that the home has moved from whimsical preppy to a slightly more traditional timeless cottage. It’s going to be great!
(Don’t worry, I’m sure Ken and Barbie will resurface on a future project.)
With the plans approved and a clearer direction for the design of the house, the next step was to submit the plans to the historic commission for approval of the carport. This process delayed the project for about a month but during that month I worked with a real-life draftsman to draw up official plans for the renovation. Guys, I wish I had time to tell you about Bob the draftsman, he is a hoot and when we don’t want to kill each other we have a real good time BUT this blog is already turning into a novel and I haven’t even gotten to the drama so Bob will have to be revisited on another day. 
Fast forward to the Friday before the Monday Historic meeting.  Rory and I scheduled a meeting with our concrete man and framer to discuss the best approach to repair/replace the foundation so we could be ready to roll the second the historic commission blessed our plans and we could pick up our building permit.

From the picture above you can see we were FULLY prepared and budgeted to replace every interior pier and beam and pour new footings inside the house AND we knew we would need to replace some crumbling brick on the perimeter skirt with block BUT what we were NOT prepared for was when our concrete friend starting sticking his metal rod deep into the ground around the entire perimeter of the house and discovered that this home had NO (none, zero, nada, not 1) concrete footing under the entire house. WHAT?!>? How can that be? How has the house stood for the last 90 years on wet dirt? I mean even a 4-year-old knows wise men build their house upon the rocks, therefore their house stand firm BUT foolish men build their house upon the sand and eventually that house goes splat! There’s even hand gestures to prove it! (if anyone needs help with this illustration, here is a youtube link to help you out https://youtu.be/cZlirVKALJ0)

Guys, I felt sucker punched. I just stood there frozen in complete shock as Rory and the concrete man continued talking. I finally came to when I heard Rory say “we just need to demolish and start over” What?!?! Nooooo!!!! We CAN’T demolish and start over! I mean, our storybook tagline is “we give old homes a new story thru renovation and design” NOT we build NEW homes! But even as I argued, I knew that it was just not financially feasible, responsible, or even safe to try to lift this 90-year-old home with its creaky bones to pour perimeter footings under her. Nor would it be even remotely ok to continue the renovation knowing it was not sitting on a firm foundation. So really we had no other options.
I’m not going to lie. This realization felt like a failure. I felt we were tasked with the job to save this house and we had to admit defeat. But if I’m being really honest, what hurt the most was my pride. I can’t tell you how many subcontractors had visited the site and volunteered their opinion that we should just tear the place down. This is a common sentiment shared by visitors at the majority of our prerenovation projects and it used to hurt my feelings and make me doubt our ability to do the work but after so many projects under our belt, I now just smile and thank them for their opinions while I think to myself “you just wait and see buddy, You just WAIT AND SEE.” (Again, not proud of this arrogance, but feel obligated to confess it to you.) So thinking about all the “I told you so’s” that would be coming my way, caused a bad case of humble pie induced indigestion.

Plus on top of all that, I am terrified of new construction! I have been told by a number of real builders that new construction is easier than remodels BUT I know that my strength is in being able to look at something and figure out a way to make it better NOT making something great the first time around! So let it be known. This is NOT an announcement that SBH is branching out into new construction. I have already told myself I am NOT allowed to like it. This is just a very special circumstance. The only thing that makes me feel better about this new construction is that it will be based on the floorplan we already had drafted for the old house.

So, after finally accepting the inevitable, I made the first of my “hard phone calls” to the future homeowners.

Guys, let me pause right here to tell you “hard phone calls” are no joke! It is like the worst! I get physically ill when I have to make one of these phone calls to the homeowners and I have the easiest, nicest, most understanding home owners on the planet! I can’t even watch Chip and Jo make the phone calls anymore without getting sick. 

I think I led with “you are under no obligation to go forward with the purchase of this property” before I went on to explain that we would no longer be able to provide them with a brand new fully renovated 90-year-old home, but rather all we could offer was a replica in the form of new construction. They took the news like champs and let me know they were still all in!

With that phone call behind me, the next hurdle I had to jump was with the historic commission. I had no idea if I would even be able to present the plan now that it had turned into a new construction project. But by this point the clock had ticked past the city’s quitting time so I would have to wait until Monday to find that out…..

Over the weekend I crunched out what I thought would be a worst case scenario budget to present to the future homeowners to show them a side by side comparison of the original renovation budget vs the new construction budget. I did this to make doubly sure they still had no reservations about going forward with the project before I “hopefully” presented the plan to the historic commission….and again they said to march on.

SIDE NOTE: This “worst case scenario” budget would later come back to haunt me when I actually started getting subcontractor and material bids and realized I had no idea how much lumber costs had increased nor what a new slab foundation would cost. Holy Moley! These shocks to the budget resulted in at least 2 more “hard phone calls” to the homeowners which taught me 3 things:

  1. Going over budget with someone else’s money feels a trillion times worse than when it is your own money at risk.
  2. In the future, I am going to take my worst case scenario budget and at least double it before I present it to homeowners.
  3. I am working with the sweetest, most understanding, gracious future homeowners on the planet. Instead of getting upset with me, they actually tried to make me feel better and have on multiple occasions been such a great source of encouragement. And despite the fact that I have given them multiple opportunities to back out they continue to remain excited about this project.
Ok, back to the story. 

First thing Monday morning I called the City to get an appointment with the City Planner to find out if I could go ahead and present my proposal for new construction at that night’s historic hearing or if I would have to reapply and wait until the following month’s meeting. Praise the Lord, he said I could go ahead and present that night since I was planning on building back the same structure in my proposal. Then, that night, although they too were sad to see an old home demolished, the historic commission voted unanimously in favor of our project! Yippee we were FINALLY ready to get this project started!…… or so we thought…

The next day I filed my application for demolition and while there I casually mentioned I would be picking up my building permit the second the house came tumbeling down because I was BEYOND ready to get going on it. That is when the next bomb was dropped. I was told because the project was no longer a remodel but new construction, we would have to have a “licensed contractor” over the project.


What?!?! You see, as a renovator of old houses we do not have to be licensed contractors as long as we only work on homes we own, but apparently, the same rules do not apply with new construction. The rules state that you can only self-contract on new construction if you plan to owner occupy the completed home. This, of course, was brand new news to me. So at this point I had a decision to make, I could either hire a licensed contractor who would allow me to still be the project manager or I could put on my big girl panties and get that license myself- which was already on my long-term goal list I just thought it would be waaaaay in the future when I had more experience and was more confident and ready to branch out from our flipping model to work with clients. But what the heck, I decided to go for it.

The next day I filled out the application and had it in the mail in time to meet the next licensure board meeting. All that was left to do on my part was to take the contractor licensing test. The test was open book and every man I talked to who had taken the test before assured me they did not even crack the book before they sat down to take the test. Well, that is not how this chick rolls. If there was going to be a test, I was going to study for it. I didn’t make a 4.0 GPA in college by winging it folks. (Yes, my 4.0 GPA is completely irrelevant to the story but gee whiz I worked hard for those grades and NOT ONE time have I ever been asked my GPA on a job interview, so when the opportunity presents itself I try to work it into everyday conversations just so I don’t feel it was all for nothing.) Anyways, the week before my test I accompanied Rory on a business meeting in Las Vegas and while he was in meetings I sat in the hotel room and read that book from cover to cover. And guess what?!?! I still needed to use my book for 95% of the questions. But I did make an A (not that anyone at the permit office will ask me about my grade when I go to pull the building permit).

So at this point, I am just waiting for the licensing board to approve me, to be ready to roll. Assuming they do, I’d appreciate it if you would keep the fact that I am a real life Licensed General Contractor to yourself. Just not ready to advertise that…. although I do plan to get my Carhart hat, tool belt, and maybe some overalls monogrammed with G.C. to wear at the job site- you know, just to gain the respect of the other subs on the project.

But in the meantime, while I wait for my license, this happened…

Moment of Silence for Oliver, please.

Thanks. And a big Thank You to the sweet neighbor who sent us this footage because it happened so fast I missed it.

2 days, a broken water line, and a stuck tree truck later this is how she sits…. just waiting for her building permit….

So now you’re updated!

But before I sign off on this forever long blog post, I want to get your take on an idea I had. Because this project is spoken for and our very patient future homeowners will be anxious to move in the second we wrap this project up, I will not be hosting an open house at the conclusion of this project. Which means no dramatic reveal. So in light of this, I’m playing with the idea of letting Colby do a weekly video recap on what happens each week at the project since he will be out of school pretty soon for summer break. He has been trying to get me to do a SBH YouTube channel for over a year, and I keep telling him “no one watches YouTube” but he insists people do. So anyways, I think this would be a good project to try it out on. What do you think? Do you click on video’s when they show up on FB or Instagram?

Just to test it out… here is a video Colby made shortly after we purchased Oliver. You can tell by the twinkle in my eye and the excitement in my voice, I was completely ignorant of the impending doom awaiting this little duplex when this video was shot.

Woo Hoo! Thanks for hanging with me to the bitter end of this loooong blog. You’re dismissed! Until next time….

3 thoughts on “Oliver Update

  1. Ron Lenderman says:

    I like the idea of Colby doing a weekly video update. You should find \”just the right music\” for background sound but one that can build to a big climax when the project is complete.


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