Well hello, Alice…

I don’t know about you, but when I buy a house I’m always fascinated by the people who might have lived in it before me. This insatiable need to know the history of where I’m living probably harkens back to my childhood growing up in a 150 year old farmhouse. In that case, the same family had owned the house since it had been built. So we were only the second family to live in the house. Despite that, there was a rich history and a lot of information that my parents were able to glean from the family who sold us the house. I think it’s so great that they were willing to talk with my parents about what they knew and they even shared old photographs and historic documents that my parents have since passed on to the new owners.

It is that experience that has made me so interested in the houses I’ve lived in. Curious as I was, I never really explored the history of our two prior homes, other than checking out “Stalker.com” to determine who had owned it before us. That’s not really a web site (at least I don’t think it is) – it’s my husband’s nickname for the county government’s online property information database.

In Delaware we are blessed with a county government who values making it easy to find out information on properties. We have access to an online database called Parcel View, which lets you search by address and discover the history of ownership of a property as far back as the county’s records go. This web site is what my husband lovingly refers to as “Stalker.com” – which really is pretty appropriate since he uses it often to figure out who owns properties.

When buying The Duckling, Stalker.com was the first place we went before we even stepped foot in the house. We were curious about who owned the home currently and its history of ownership. But I have to say, just looking at that web site only paints part of the picture. Talking to the neighbors has been even more enlightening than anything we might have learned online.

Here’s what we knew before buying – the investor from whom we purchased, bought the house in 2008 from the estate of Alice Sanders. Alice had lived here with her adult son, Alan, until her death. The Sanders family (which included two sons, Alice and her husband) built the house in 1951. Alice was widowed for many years and died in the home. Her son went to live with other family and the estate sold the property to the investor from who we bought.

This is the information that Patrick and I can agree on. The other nugget that I swear our neighbor told us was that Mr. Sanders was a doctor. But we can’t agree on this, so it’s not part of the “official” story in the sentences preceding. However, I’ll leave you to decide who’s probably right on this fact (as if there were ANY question!).

Other neighbors told us that the two boys used to play in the “secret room” on the second floor and they made this their playroom. This “room” is in the eave above the master bedroom and is accessible through a little door in the guest room. It’s got shelving, a rod for hanging off-season clothes, a light and a window – so it really would have been the perfect spot for little boys to make their clubhouse.

Knowing this little bit about the original owners of the house, we’ve always been very curious about the Sanders family and their story. Our curiosity has peaked even more in the last few days because we are starting to wonder if Alice might still be around. And by around, I do mean AROUND.

Our jokes about Alice’s “presence” started last month when we were demolishing the shelving in the basement. We chuckled that Alice was probably sitting on the couch either laughing at how hard we had to work to get those shelves out or she was really PO’d that we were making changes to her house. But even as we were joking about it, part of me got the chills wondering if she really might be lingering….she did_die_in_this_house, afterall.

I’m not much for ghost stories, but the saga continued when Patrick mentioned the other day that he swore he heard doors creak the other day. Okay….that’s creepy, was my thought. Then this morning, it’s just me and Gavin in the house and I heard it too – and not just once or twice but a good five or six times. And it even sounded like the floor boards upstairs were creaking. It honestly scared the bejeezus out of me and made me think that we need to get Theresa Caputo, The Long Island Medium, down here ASAP.

So now I have an insatiable need to find out as much about Alice as we possibly can. I did manage to find her obituary today online, so we’ve got a little more information, but I still want to know more. Why, for example, did the Sanders family build a bomb shelter in the basement? They were en vogue in 1951, for sure, but what was that decision all about? We may never know….but in the meantime, here’s what we do know:

Alice M. Sanders

Age 85, of Wilmington, DE, passed away at her home on Tuesday, July 3, 2007. Alice was a devoted and loving mother and homemaker. She enjoyed art, literature and history.

She is survived by her sons, Alan P., of Wilmington, DE, and Richard, of Atlanta, GA; 2 grandsons, Charles and Jackson; and a brother, Francis T. Mooney, of Wilmington, DE. Alice is preceded in death by her husband, Paul A. in 1979; and 2 siblings, Mary Braun and William Mooney.

A graveside service will be held on Saturday, July 7, at 11:45 am, at All Saints Cemetery, Wilmington. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to American Heart Association , 15011 Casho Mill Road, Suite 1, Newark, DE 19711.

Arrangements by MCCRERY FUNERAL HOME

So it’s not much, but it’s a start. And until we know more, all we can do when the doors or floors creak is take a deep, calming breath and say, “well hello, Alice.”

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Parental Consent…?

No matter how old you get, there’s still some part of you that seeks approval from your parental unit. It definitely fades from years 8 to 38 – but it’s still there, nagging at you in the back of your head when you’re making critical life decisions. Our decision to buy The Duckling was no different.

At first we were all, “we’re not going to let them see it – if they see it, they’ll tell us we’re crazy to buy this house and we KNOW we’re not crazy!” And then it was, “we’re totally grown ups and we don’t need their approval!” Post-offer, those sentiments grew to, “if we don’t show them the house before we buy it, then it looks like we’re hiding something.”

So we made the decision to show our parents, and ONLY our parents, the house before we bought it. They got to see the soap scum caked sinks, the leaf-blown sunroom and the laundry cluttered kitchen in all its glory. Our parents, our realtor Cynthia, our electrician and our contractor are the only people who ever saw the “before” (luckily, the electrician and the contractor have even seen the “after” – no one should have to live with the before image permanently burned in their memory).

When we showed the parents the house, we got the obligatory “it’s got potential” responses. We talked about our vision and they listened patiently. Meanwhile, we both knew what they were really thinking – “are these two CRAZY?!”

So when my mother admitted as much to me about four days after we’d moved in, I was vindicated! She did the whole, “you know we weren’t too sure about this house….” and I said, “yup, I knew that” (she actually thought she’d managed to keep her concern veiled). But when she followed it up with – “but we have to admit, you and Patrick saw potential that we didn’t and it really_is a great house” – VINDICATION!

I laughed because I know my mother well enough to know that she was concerned – I’ve been her daughter for 38 years, that tends to help in my ability to read her mind. But I also trusted Patrick and my instincts to know that we were making the right decision. So even when deep down I knew that my parents thought we were making a bad decision, I trusted my own instincts to know we were right.

I guess there really does come a point when parental consent is nice, but not necessary!

In the meantime, we need to say a big thanks to both of our parents for not trying to interfere and for raising us to be two confident adults with just enough DIY training to give us the confidence we needed to buy this house.

Ch-ch-changes….Part Deux

You’ve seen the outside, we’ve teased you with the inside and now its time to make the full reveal of the remainder of the inside of the house. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, I quickly fell off the “before photo wagon” early on in this process of buying this house. So this post will lack the drama of the last one, but hopefully my written word will suffice in painting a picture of what the rooms looked like.

As is the case with most traditional Cape Cods, there is often a bedroom or two located on the first floor. This is exactly the case with The Duckling. The other really cool thing is that these bedrooms have their own hallway that has a door that closes them off from the rest of the living space.

This house was built in 1951, so a la Mad Men, it’s not hard to imagine that there were probably many a dinner party thrown that involved plentiful martinis, Frank Sinatra on the stereo and a wicked game of cards. (Evidently, I’ve written a whole screenplay in my head just based on the features of the house!). The doorway closing off the hallway to the bedrooms is both interesting and ingenious, because it meant the kids could be put to bed and the door could be closed to keep the adult conversations that followed under wraps.

Ok, so back to the tour….the renter who lived here before us used both bedrooms downstairs – one as his room and the other as a room for his children when they visited. Nothing really fancy about any of these spaces, but they are much improved by our furniture and decor.

Here’s the master – we took down the blinds that weren’t sized right for the windows and put up lined curtains. They are perfect because we can close them for privacy, but can also easily throw them open in the morning to let the light in. This room is pretty well done, but there will be some painting for sure. And just for fun, I’m throwing in some “during” photos when Patrick took down the blinds. The fact that they had been screwed in using drywall screws made them almost impossible to get down, but we persevered and it’s one of many “what the h&#l!” moments we’ve had in this house.

Patrick wrestling with the blinds.

Patrick wrestling with the blinds.

Finley being an awesome assistant as usual!

Finley being an awesome assistant as usual!

The final product - still a few things to do, but it's working for now!

The final product – still a few things to do, but it’s working for now!

And here’s Gavin’s room – still blinds to be removed, curtains to be hung and painting to be done, but it’s a good start. Patrick also hung some of his artwork, but we’ll likely move that around a bit.

His nature theme continues in his big boy room - bedding from IKEA is perfect!

His nature theme continues in his big boy room – bedding from IKEA is perfect!

The bathroom downstairs was updated (although not to my taste, it will do). I’ve already told you about how I’ve improved its functionality. There will be some paint in its future, but just the few things that we’ve done have vastly improved things.

It's small, which is why it's mostly just mine and the boys are using the larger bathroom upstairs.

It’s small, which is why it’s mostly just mine and the boys are using the larger bathroom upstairs.

When you enter the house at the front door, you enter a small entry hallway that will take you straight back to the kitchen, back and to the right to the bedrooms or to the left to the living room. The coolest part of this entry hallway is the staircase. It’s got this really cool Greek key carving up the side of it and a really cool matching post at the bottom of the railing. It’s one of the things that we thought was so cool about the house.

Love this stairway!

Love this stairway!

The stairs lead you upstairs to a traditional cape layout – a bedroom to the right, a bedroom to the left and a bathroom straight ahead that was added in the shed dormer off the back roofline. There’s a door (another one!) at the top of the stairs that can close the 2nd floor off from the first floor. I think this was less about wild martini-drinking dinner parties and more about energy efficiency. When the house was first built, the second floor may not have even been finished off. So keeping that space closed off in extreme heat or cold would have been important for the efficiency of the heating and cooling of the house.

It’s one of the doors that will be removed (joining it’s two kitchen cousins – I mean, two doors to completely close off the kitchen, really?!), unlike the first floor bedroom hallway door, which we honestly use every night after putting our 3 year old to bed. (Believe me, the slightest hint that we’re still awake and he might be missing something is reason for him to get out of bed and “have to tell you something”).

So these rooms upstairs were both empty of furniture, although the bachelor renter was using one room as his closet. They are now our guest room and our home office/den.

Our guest room - light and airy!

Our guest room – light and airy!

The home office - cozy, but it's probably the room that needs the most paint help.

The home office – it’s cozy and we love it!

There are lots of plans for the office – painting, etc. – and maybe a little to be done in the guest room. But for now, we’re just loving the TONS of built ins and storage. (I have to say, the storage space in this house is AWESOME – so many closets and all are great sizes).

The bathroom was the bachelor’s main bathroom. This is the one that I referred to as a toxic environment that required a hazmat suit in order to clean. It’s vintage 1951 and is now the “boys” bathroom for Patrick and Gavin.

It's really so tempting to leave this bathroom as is just so we can have a "museum quality" room in the house! LOL

It’s really so tempting to leave this bathroom as is just so we can have a “museum quality” room in the house! LOL

This bathroom will be totally gutted at some point, but in the meantime, it’s CLEAN, functional and gets the job done.

Now, the last room of the house…the basement! We were stunned when we discovered the house had a finished basement – it’s a treat we didn’t have at either of our last two houses. And although there are some concerns with musty smells and whether we might ever have a water issue, we were pretty happy with what we saw when we looked at the house. It was totally empty, it’s finished on one side of the basement and unfinished on the other. The finished space has a bar, recessed lighting, plenty of storage closets and a room that we’re using for storage that probably was a home office when first created.

At first, we weren’t exactly sure what we were going to do with the basement, other than create a family room and some play space for Gavin. We ended up also moving our dining room set down there since it fit and someday we plan to have a “real” dining room again and figured if we could use it, then let’s use it. It actually ended up working really well in the space and we figure it will be a good thing for when we have large family gatherings or as a work space for Gavin.

Cozy basement!

Cozy basement!

So that’s the lay of the land at The Duckling these days….we’re moved in, but we’ve definitely got some items on our to do list. In a future post we’ll talk about what the plans are.

‘Til then…

Ch-ch-changes…Living, Dining, Kitchen, Sunroom

Aside from the fact that our neighborhood is so peaceful and it feels like I come home to “vacation” every night, my other favorite part of coming home is walking into our house and seeing the great changes that we’ve already made on the interior. We’re not the most patient people and we tend to want things done right away, so it’s no surprise that we’ve done as much as we have. Even in the midst of the chaos of moving and unpacking, there were certain things that just HAD to get done (I’m talking to you, kitchen drawer pulls).

For the most part, the thing that has changed the most is the decor. It’s mostly our same furniture from our prior house, but we’ve done a few things differently in terms of where things are getting placed, so that makes it feel like it’s a whole new look for us. And we’ve added in one, new signature piece that makes our dining area pop. But there’s no paint yet and we can’t wait to get to that phase (that’s what the late fall months are for, after all). Because the paint is really when the magic happens.

But we can’t wait that long to share what we’ve done so far, and frankly, any of those other updates down the road just give us another reason for some awesome before and after photos. The other thing to note is that we’ll take this in phases and it would be a REALLY long post if we covered the before and current after of every room in the house. So we’ll start in the living spaces on the first floor for now.

So before and after Phase I commences now. Remember, not everything has a before photo, so you’ll just have to use your imagination. (And PS – I rocked the panoramic feature on Patrick’s iPhone to get these awesome after photos! Just click on the image to make it bigger so you can see the detail.)

When you walk in the house from the side door off the driveway, you enter the sunroom. It’s a three-season room that didn’t have ANY personality when we looked at it and frankly, it needed a MAJOR scrubbing, but it’s got potential and we’re really enjoying the space.

Sunroom - before.

Sunroom – before.

Now that it’s gotten a proper scrubbing, and we’ve put our furniture in the space, it’s got a little more going for it. There were no major changes in the space, and there’s still a few tweaks we might make, but we’re pretty happy with how far it’s come. We still have long-term plans (and they’re different, depending on which of us you ask), but for now, it serves it’s purpose.

Sunroom - after.

Sunroom – after.

After you walk through the sunroom, you enter the house in the dining area. There’s no traditional dining “room” in this house, something that we may choose to remedy years from now (hint, hint). When we saw it, we were thinking “it’ll do.”

Dining area - before.

Dining area – before.

Other than decor, the biggest change was taking down the swinging door. I’m not a big fan of doors, doors, doors – and there are two others in the house that I’m got in my crosshairs, but this one couldn’t wait. Taking off the door was a huge improvement. And now, with the new and MUCH improved curtains, some proper seating and our AWESOME dining table, this space is looking much more presentable. And now we LOVE to eat at the table and look out at the backyard and watch nature do its thing. (Special shout out to Salvaged in Frederick, MD – the owner, Amy, is a good friend and we bought the table sight unseen from a photo she posted on her Facebook page! We LOVE it!!)

Dining area - after.

Dining area – after.

The dining area is an open concept to the living room. I took the before photo of the living room and sent it to my sister, Heather. Her reply? “Only a man would put the back of his couch facing the fireplace!” So true, so true.

Living room - before

Living room – before

Living room - before.

Living room – before.

The thing that we loved about this living room was the great natural light and the awesome built ins. We repurposed our furniture that used to be on the 3rd floor of our old house and put it in this space because it was a better fit for the space size and aesthetic. The only real change to this space was the removal of that hideous metal screen that used to cover the fireplace (oh and cleaning out a garbage bag full of leaves & old wood from the fire box – thanks again, Dad!). We’ll be doing a lot with paint in this room, but just updating the curtains (hard to see because of the light) and putting our things on the walls has made a huge difference.

Living room - after.

Living room – after.

If you walk straight through the dining area, you enter the kitchen. This is the room that sold this house! As we all know, it’s kitchens and bathrooms that make or break a house. This kitchen MADE the house! My favorite part of the kitchen before photos is the homage to the bachelor pad that this house was as a rental property. The laundry and mail piled everywhere. Nothing really matching or feeling like it belonged.

Kitchen - before. Note the bachelor lifestyle with laundry piled everywhere!

Kitchen – before.

Love, love, love our kitchen! I’ve never had a 6-burner cooktop, a double oven or water and ice on the fridge door. It feels like I’m spoiled when I cook in this kitchen! And can we talk about those IKEA pulls on the cabinets – DO NOT buy these pulls anywhere else. They are easy to install and super reasonably priced. LOVE THEM!! (Have to give a big shout out to my Dad for perfecting the installation of the pulls! He’s a perfectionist and his patience paid off in the end!)

The other big change in the kitchen was the swapping out of the white washer/dryer that came with the house and us bringing our stainless washer/dryer with us from our old  house. SO glad we did that – seems like a small change, but it makes the washer/dryer disappear. We’ll talk plans for the kitchen in a later post – not much to do in here, but there are a few things.

Kitchen - after. LOVE our IKEA pulls on the cabinets - DO NOT buy these pulls anywhere else. They are easy to install and super reasonably priced. LOVE THEM!! (And a big shout out to my Dad for perfecting the installation of the pulls!)

Kitchen – after.

So that’s the first part of the tour – hope you’ve enjoyed seeing how we’ve managed to put our stamp on things. We’re really excited to share the rest of it with you. There won’t be the drama of the before and after photos because this is where I fell off the photo wagon. But you’ll still get to see where things stand so far. And that will create the benchmark for any after photos down the road.

‘Til then…

Business in the front. Party in the back.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again….we can’t wait to see how this house transforms in the next few years! If you recall from one of our very first posts, there was a whole lotta ugly going on in this house when we looked at it. It was practically a Herculean effort to look beyond that ugly and see all of the potential.

But the good news is…we’re making progress! And it’s always fun to look back at where we’ve come from to where we are today. But we thought we’d ease you into the before and after photos of the house….after all, it’s a lot to look at! (Plus, let’s be honest, it means I can spread the love over a couple of blog posts!).

Let’s start outside…as the title of this post says – we’ve been all business in the front, party in the back. The whole outside is pretty much a blank slate and ready for our divine inspiration (er, intervention?). And the good news is that the investor we bought from had pretty much done most of the hard work with clearing the trees away from the house. But we’ve still got our fair share of work to be done.

We started with limbing up the trees a little more and we’ll be doing some grading of the yard away from the house and hopefully rebuilding our front stoop. But until then, the photos do show some good progress…

The Duckling circa 2010 - I promise, the house is somewhere behind all of those overgrown trees!

The Duckling circa 2010 – I promise, the house is somewhere behind all of those overgrown trees!

The house circa 2010.

The Duckling in May 2013 when we first found her!

A kinder, friendlier version of The Duckling circa July 2013. Trees limbed up, wreath on the door and some planters on the front stoop ready for flowers!

A kinder, friendlier version of The Duckling circa July 2013. Trees limbed up, wreath on the door and some planters on the front stoop ready for flowers!

In the backyard, things haven’t changed a whole lot – we’ve put our grill out there and some chairs, but for the most part, she still looks pretty much the same.

back of the house before

This is the back of the house circa 2013 before we purchased.

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This is us starting to settle in a little more in the backyard and getting things somewhat situated. This is a VERY temporary solution. There are big plans for this backyard.

The most fun that we’ve had in the backyard is tucking our public art piece in a small grove of trees. It will certainly give folks something to talk about for a while and probably will have the neighbors wondering…

Our friendly snowman hanging in nature.

Our friendly snowman hanging in nature.

So that’s the story of the outside of The Duckling so far – we’re making some progress, albeit slowly, outside. This is the interesting part of homeownership – it certainly isn’t always glamorous!

Next time we’ll take you inside!

‘Til then…

Suburbia Suburbia

OK!  So here it goes. I certainly do not have the same writing skills that my wife is able to produce, but this is half my story too so I though I should post once in awhile.

Suburbia! Suburbia!  As our house hunt started, I would identify homes in zip codes outside of our target area just to branch out a bit and to consider areas we might be able to afford a little more. My wife would always start to sing a little diddy she made up, “Suburbia Suburbia!”  As soon as I heard it I knew I better just turn the car around there was no chance in hell she was going to even consider a house that might cause her to have an 18 minute commute.  Even if it was set on a bucolic 3 acres overlooking a scenic river.

Choosing Pembrey was perfect because the house really did meet all the requirements from our checklist, but there are many other items that we could not have identified prior to a move.  Now that we are settled in we are recognizing why this was a great choice all around and are enjoying the community more and more each day.  So to name a few reasons see my list below:

  1. Friendly neighbors who wave or stop to chat everyday.
  2. A neighborhood welcoming committee who stops by with a housewarming gift.
  3. Neighbors who already offer dog and babysitting services.
  4. A walkable community with easy access to dog parks, playgrounds, and walking trails.
  5. Being able to see the stars and enjoy the sounds of nature.
  6. Two minutes to a library.
  7. Local farm CSA within walking distance.
  8. Having multiple choice for conveniences such as gas stations, banks, restaurants, and of course Dunkin’ Donuts (we now have two to chose from).
  9. Pretty awesome local businesses all within minutes.
  10. Easy access to school and work.
  11. Still close to many friends.
  12. Good public schools.
  13. Enjoying watching birds, squirrels, and rabbits playing in the yard.

Here are a few images of our new community! Some provide us inspiration while others just are here to give you a sense of what its like.

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And while we have already identified all that was on our list of must haves for the house, there are a lot of items we didn’t consider that have made this move so perfect.  We had a detailed plan to be out of boxes and semi organized so our family would feel better about settling into the home in a rather short time.  When we started stalking the house before and after our appointment with our realtor we were astonished by how friendly the community felt.  As you pass-by everyone waves and stops you to say hello.  Believe it or not that was not staged to get us to buy the house.  This community is actually that nice!

One way we know we’ve made the right choice is walking the dog each night.  Each neighbor stops to introduce themselves and engage in conversation about the community. We have come to discover this is a very dog friendly community which is huge for Finley and his daily walk.  The Pembrey community association Welcoming Committee has already stopped by with a beautiful plant.  During their visit we discussed various gatherings throughout the year and our annual meeting.

Needless to say, we’re feeling pretty much at home here in Pembrey. The boxes are unpacked and the to do list shrinks more every day.

They say you buy a house, not a neighborhood. In our case, I feel like we managed to do both!

This girl is on fire!

Until we’re ready to start showing off the current status of The Duckling, I figured I’d tease you a little with some of the small tweaks that I’ve been making around the house.

First, on a random Tuesday afternoon while I was still off from work for the move, I tackled my bathroom. And I say MY bathroom because it’s mine….all mine! We are blessed with two bathrooms in this house, and when we moved in, the decision was I get the one on the first floor that’s small, but updated, and the boys get the 1950’s vintage bathroom on the 2nd floor. Personally, I think it’s REALLY fair.

Ok, so back to MY bathroom. My mission? Get thee a toilet paper holder, add some bling, stop scaring the neighbors and make it more functional. The overall plan for this bathroom includes some dark gray paint on the walls and on the cheapo vanity (to make it less fugly until I can figure out what the space will allow). But until then, I needed to handle some basics.

First, a toilet paper holder. Since the walls are tile 3/4 of the way up, I wasn’t really up for the idea of drilling into tile. So the side of the vanity was calling my name. I marked the anchor, drilled two holes into the vanity and screwed the anchor in to the vanity….upside down (details people, details). So I unscrewed the anchor and installed it again upside right this time. Then put the holder in place and tightened the screw that would keep it squarely in place. Voila!

Here are some before, during and after shots.

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Next I felt compelled to make the vanity look a little less cheapo by dressing her up a bit. What gal doesn’t love some bling? So bye-bye plain white knobs and hello gorgeous glass! Since the old ones easily unscrewed and the new ones easily screwed on, it was a piece of cake. And it makes a huge difference – until I take on the painting of the vanity!

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One of the biggest challenges of this bathroom is the window – it’s tall and narrow. In other words, to give me some privacy (and to prevent any kind of traumatic TMI moment with our lovely new neighbors), my choices were limited. My immediate solution was to hang a towel over the window – functional but not exactly the long-term aesthetic I was going for. So I decided I could pay for some really expensive specialty install of wood blinds or a shutter, or I could go to Home Depot and pick up some semi-transparent film for the window that would give the appearance of frosting the glass without the “you can never go back” permanency of actually frosting the glass. I went the Home Depot route.

First, I had to cut the film to the right size, then clean the glass and then wet the glass so the film would stick, but not be so wet that I would end up dealing with Niagara Falls when I went to apply the film – no easy feat! I did finally get it up, got the bubbles out from under the glass and voila – privacy and light all in one!

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My last task on this lovely Tuesday afternoon in late July was to make my bathroom more functional – in other words, one towel bar is not enough. So I found some lovely curvy hooks that would be perfect on which to drop my bath towels and bathrobe every day. This project raised the bar on my DIY skills as it required me to drill into the wall and to get the two hooks parallel to one another.

I marked the holes for the first hook using the anchor for the hook. I drilled, I put the drywall anchors in and then I screwed the anchor in place. I then placed the hook and tightened the screw and voila! Hook 1 was in place. Next I measured the distance from the top of the wall tile to the bottom of hook one and marked where the hook should go. I repeated the marking of the holes and started drilling – and whoops! – I hit a stud. Not what I wanted to have happen so I shifted over a half inch, drilled again and hit my mark. Then I installed the second hook like I did the first and was thrilled with the result. Both hooks were tight to the wall, solidly installed AND parallel.

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At this point, I broke out into a lovely rendition of Alicia Keys’ “This Girls is on Fire!” – it was the perfect theme song for the moment and felt a lot more GirlPower-ish than say “I am woman hear me roar.”

With my bathroom tackled, I checked those items off my to do list and moved on. And I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my father for teaching me my excellent DIY skills and my lovely assistant Finley, who kept me company while I worked…

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If only I could teach him to hand me my tools….

The negotiations.

I’m a firm believer in the old adage, “what is meant to be, will be” and in the case of our Ugly Duckling, it was definitely meant to be. I highlight this because if you had spent any time in our heads during the four weeks of negotiations with the seller, you would have thought to yourself, “RUN! Don’t walk. RUN!”

The short version of the story is that the seller has DPD or Difficult Personality Disorder (a term coined by my father that will likely live on for many years to come!). I’ll preface the long version of the story by clarifying that this isn’t Patrick’s or my first time at this house selling/buying rodeo. This is actually house #3 for each of us. So we know what to expect….at least we thought we knew what to expect.

The long version of the story goes something like this….

We make an offer.
We negotiate the final sale price with the seller via our realtor.
We do the home inspection.
We submit an addendum to the inspection.
We wait. And wait. And wait.
Seller finally replies with an addendum that is….bizarre. Bizarre wording, bizarre offer to do more than we asked, bizarre bizarre bizarre.
We ask for some clarification to his wording.
He suggests we meet at the house to go over everything (at which point my spidey senses are on alert – this transaction should be cordial but shouldn’t be personal or friendly…..and meeting at the house to discuss the addendum made it personal).
We meet at the house and from the handshake I know something is up.
Patrick and he go out to the garage to start discussing the addendum.
Our realtor and I are two minutes behind them and walk into a tense exchange.

What proceeds next is the seller suggesting that he should leave, our realtor then spending an hour talking him off the ledge and us spending an hour not sure if we’re actually going to get this house or not. Our realtor succeeds in bringing him off the ledge, but we’re still not sure where things will land.

I then call a friend who is good friends with the seller and ask if he’d be willing to talk to his friend and tell him that we’re good people, that we really want the house and that we’re sorry that things got off on the wrong foot. He agrees and this makes a world of difference. He is now forever known as “The House Whisperer.”

We spend the next two weeks doing a lot of CYA shipping legal docs over to make sure that we don’t lose the house. He ends up offering to pay for some of the work to be done on the house in advance of settlement. He ends up being mostly decent about things.

Most importantly, he ends up selling us the house. But when I tell you that this transaction will go down in the history books as “the worst house purchase EVER,” it’s no exaggeration. There was more than one occasion where we thought we were going to be starting our search from scratch. But we made it to the finish line…..or in the case of the Ugly Duckling, we made it to the starting line.

So the biggest disclaimer to this blog is that we weren’t really good at taking photos at critical moments. It’s a bit strange to be in the middle of the chaos of moving and say “WAIT! We need to photograph this for our blog!” So forgive us if we’re not exactly pros at this yet. That said, the before photos of Duckling are somewhat sparse. But these should give you a sense of what we saw when we looked at the house for the first time (and why we had to have a TON of vision to see beyond the ugly).

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The search.

It was May 3, a beautiful spring day – picture perfect for house hunting. And if we actually were going to be taking our time with the search, we might have enjoyed the weather. But this was a house hunt to end all house hunts. We had 5 hours and we needed to see 10 houses. Oh yes, this was no marathon, this was a sprint!

The good news is that we had a vision of exactly what we wanted. The better news is that we were willing to be somewhat flexible, but weren’t willing to give away everything on our wish list. The list included:

  • 3-4 bedrooms
  • 2 bathrooms minimum
  • Family room or sunroom
  • A turned 2-car garage (I’m not a big fan of looking at garage doors on the front of a house)
  • One step out to the yard from the back door (rather than the 8 we had now)
  • A big yard
  • Buried in the neighborhood
  • A quiet neighborhood
  • And if we could find it, a Cape Cod.

We set out at 10 a.m. with our wish list in mind and saw two houses in a nearby neighborhood, still in the city limits of Wilmington, in the Brandywine Hills neighborhood. The first was much too small. The second was too much work, had a strange layout and we would have been dumping too much money into it to make it worthwhile.

The remaining houses were all outside the city limits and had a myriad of issues – too much work, strange layout, priced too high and therefore you wouldn’t get out of it what you put into it, too close to the highway and noisy, etc., etc. After a long day and a break for lunch (that thankfully saved me from getting cranky), we settled on three options.

When I describe these three options, I’m going to sound a bit like Goldilocks…forgive the analogy, but it can’t be helped. Sometimes you really know when something is “juuuust right.”

The first was in a good neighborhood, with the right public school feeder pattern, but was pretty much a total gut job and had a view of a water tower. It had potential, big potential. But with that potential came big dollar signs and no ability to live through the renovations.

The second, was also in a good neighborhood, not as good as the first neighborhood and not as great a feeder pattern for the public school system, but doable. It was also a total gut job – worse than the first. No way to live through the renovations and big dollars signs that would have been pricing us outside of the value of the neighborhood.

The last house, was in the perfect neighborhood – quiet and with very little street traffic as there’s only one way in and one way out of the neighborhood. It was a four bedroom, two bath Cape Cod. It was partially renovated (gorgeous kitchen, ok first floor bathroom, partially finished basement), but there was still plenty of room to put our stamp on things. It had the turned garage, it was buried in the neighborhood, it was 3/4 of an acre and it was one step out the back door to the yard, which would make it very accessible for family BBQs and for our son to enjoy.

Was it love at first sight? Not nearly. Why? Well, let’s just say that the guy living there was….picture Pig Pen times 10 and you’ll be close. There were leaves and trash in the sunroom, there was laundry laying all over the house, the floors hadn’t been vacuumed in forever, the upstairs bathroom was…..NASTY. There’s no other way to describe it! And the house had NO curb appeal whatsoever. The landscaping had all been ripped out, and there was no personality. Needless to say we were deflated.

Of all the houses we’d looked at online and in person, this was the one we wished the most for. We wanted it to be “the one.” And we walked around it seeing the ugliness of the tenant rather than the bones of the house and the quality of the few renovations that had been done.

More importantly, we were bummed because this house was in a neighborhood that we had actually been “stalking” for years. We’d drive through every now and then, wishing that something right would come on the market. We’d actually noticed when this house sold in 2010 and said then that it had a lot of potential.

So we ended the day confused. We got home and Patrick went out and mowed the lawn and I sat at the dining room table and made a pro/con list. An hour later Patrick came in and we both said “Pembrey” at the same time. It was one of those moments where we both just new that this one was “juuuuust right.”

Based on the list of cons above, you might wonder why. When I share with you our to do list, you’ll understand.

In the meantime, here’s a taste of why we’ve called this one “the Ugly Duckling.”

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The listing.

When we decided to list our house, it was March 27. The plan was to spend the next six weeks working to get the house ready. This included cleaning out closets, emptying the basement, having the parging in the basement repaired, replacing windows where the thermal seal had broken and generally putting a shine on everything.

The to do list that Patrick put together was two pages – count ’em TWO. We started chipping away at it very quickly and before we knew it, we were well done half of the list. This was the middle of April. About that time our realtor, Cynthia, called to say that the market was really heating up, inventory was low and if we wanted to capitalize on this, we should list immediately. So we pushed up our listing date by two weeks and shot for Wednesday, April 24 for the house to land on the MLS. Our showings would start on Saturday, the open house would be Sunday and we’d be on our way!

On Wednesday night we started getting requests for showings. We pushed up the showing start date to Friday at noon. There were three showings that day, two on Saturday (one a repeat from Friday) and about 70 people (many nosey neighbors) who showed up on Sunday for the open house.

Tuesday night, April 30, Cynthia texted at 11 PM the following message “ding, ding, ding – we have a winner!” She had three offers, one that was a standout and would be meeting us the following evening to review and hopefully accept the offer.

If you’ve been keeping track, Tuesday was SIX DAYS from our house going into the MLS.

We met with Cynthia Wednesday night and immediately knew she was right – we had a winner! The only problem was….we had no where to go! The short story is that we found something – the detail of that will be forthcoming – and luckily our buyers were willing to let us rent back for a few months if we needed to. So not quite homeless, but certainly feeling the pressure to find a place and quickly.

Here’s a taste of what we’ve left behind….

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