Let There Be Paint!

I wish I could start this post by saying the painting was all done and the place looks great, but we’ve only scratched the surface of what needs to be done.  But at least we have progress!  I spent most of last week continuing to spackle; it feels like that’s all I’ve been doing for days on end.  I know I had said I hoped to be ready for paint in the kitchen and bathroom by the weekend, but now I can see that was completely unrealistic.  Some tricky spots need to be spackled and sanded multiple times, and I’ve been waiting one day for it to set and dry in between applications.  Most of the stubborn spots are located above the windows and the sliding glass door, like this spot here.



This is what it looks like underneath where we pulled the trim off above the sliding glass door.  Some of the wall is crumbling at awkward points, so I’m not getting too crazy trying to be accurate with the spackling.  After all, I may need to replace the door to fix the wood rot problem.  Luckily, I have heard from the association about that issue.  The roofing on all the buildings in the complex is in the process of being replaced, and the board agreed to send the roofing company to repair the damage, and to pick up the tab for it as well.  Score!  I haven’t heard from the company itself yet, but I’ll be sure to give an update when I do.

Applying painter’s tape all over the condo has been the next step, and although it takes a while, it’s been my favorite job so far.  Probably because it’s mindless and easy.  However, taping does really highlight where the builders had issues in the construction of the condo.  For example, at first glance, the kitchen counter looks totally normal and pretty much standard in terms of installation.  Applying the tape from left to right, I noticed that one side is perfectly flush with the wall, but the other end it’s at least 3/4 of an inch away, and the gap has been filled in with silicone caulk.  Pretty cheesy (and lazy) if you ask me!



Now, especially with the tape on it, it’s all I can see when I look at it!  Hopefully putting paint on the walls won’t make it any more noticeable.  By the way, the kitchen looks spotless in that photo.  Thanks to my aunt for scrubbing the place down!

As the title of this post might suggest, we have actually been able to put paint on a surface.  We started with the ceilings, which (unfortunately) are popcorn ceilings.  Apparently popcorn ceilings were all the rage in the ’70s and ’80s, but now they’re just outdated and kind of sad-looking.  Not to mention, early spray-on varieties of popcorn ceiling contained asbestos, before it became illegal in 1978.  As luck would have it, my complex was built in 1977, which means it’s highly likely that there is asbestos in the popcorn formula.  It sounds like a big deal, but it’s not a problem unless you try to go about removing it.  So, in all likelihood, the popcorn is here to stay.  Almost every single person I have been turning to for handywork help advised me not to even think about painting the ceilings, because the popcorn texture tends to fall off, sticks to your roller, and becomes a huge hassle.  But I’m on a budget here, people, and I wasn’t going to hire some fancy painting company to come spray paint my ceilings.  Plus, once the popcorn has been painted once, you really don’t have to worry about the texture coming off; it’s pretty much a done deal.  As I predicted, we have had no problems with the ceiling so far.



Since my mother is the resident expert on painting this kind of ceiling (we have popcorn ceilings in our house now), she is heading this operation, and has done an amazing job so far.  We started by painting just the edges with a regular paintbrush, using Behr Flat Ceiling paint in Ultra Pure White.  Just look at that color difference!  My ceilings are very low to begin with, so I bought the whitest white they had, hoping it might reflect more light and make the rooms look a little bigger.  Just as a disclaimer, the taping job I did in that picture looks horrible, but I swear there’s a wire coming out of that hole that made it a particularly difficult spot.

Here are the painting supplies I’ve used so far:

  • 1 qt. of Patch-n-Paint lightweight spackling (we had an extra lying around the house, no need to purchase, but it goes for about $7)
  • 1 5-sheet pack of 3M 9″x11″ assorted grit aluminum oxide sandpaper (I’ve been alternating between medium & fine grit)
  • 1 stiff putty knife (already had one)
  • 2 rolls of ScotchBlue .94″ painter’s tape
  • 1 roll of ScotchBlue 1.88″ painter’s tape
  • 1 3″ flat paintbrush
  • 1 plastic paint cup (it’s handy for going up and down the step ladder and not having to return to the paint bucket)
  • 1 2-gal. Behr Premium Plus Flat Ceiling paint in Ultra Pure White

I’ll keep this list updated as the painting continues!


Endless Paint Prep

This weekend was all about prepping the walls for paint.  After spackling and sanding for hours, I figured they were ready, but one glance from my folks and they could tell I still had a long way to go.  Who knew paint prep would take so long?  I’m trying to focus on getting the bathroom and kitchen ready first, since those are 2 rooms that aren’t getting new floors right away.  I’ve started to tape those rooms, and I hope to have them ready to begin painting by this weekend.  The other larger rooms will need some extra sanding, probably by way of an electric sander.  Unfortunately, the condo association has rules about construction noise, and limits the time you can do that sort of work to business hours only.  Hopefully I can bend the rules just a bit.. I do have a job after all!

One of the other projects I had planned for this past weekend was changing the mailbox lock.  The seller was supposed to provide me with keys to the mailbox, but apparently they never had a set.  So I called the town post office and arranged for a mailman to meet me at the mailbox so I could pop out the old lock and replace it with a new one.  On Friday, I went to the local locksmith and purchased the most universal size they had for a mailbox lock, which came to about $13.  The salesman there explained to me how I could go about changing it, and when I told him I had just replaced a deadbolt recently, he assured me I would have no problem.  Well, when the mailman arrived on Saturday, the two of us took quite a long time figuring it out.  It took us about 30 minutes to change the lock, and I’m very grateful that he took the time to help me; I can only imagine how long I would have been there if he hadn’t.

Because no post on this blog would be complete without a new problem arising, it’s only fitting that I discovered another issue on Saturday.  I was minding my own business, cleaning in the bathroom, when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed water coming UP from the sink drain.  Who even knew that was a thing?  I hadn’t run the faucet or any other bathroom fixtures so far that day, so I knew the water was coming from somewhere else.  So I frantically scooped the rising water out of the sink and poured it down the tub to try to get the situation under control.  When it seemed to calm down, I ran down the stairs and knocked on the downstairs neighbors’ door.  They had never heard of such a problem happening in their unit, so I placed an emergency call to the association.  They transferred me to the person on-call, who sent the local sewer company.  Turns out, whenever the people across the hall used their bathroom sink, the water came up in my drain.  To me, that’s just crazy!  The plumber had to cut and replace the pipe to fix the problem, but now the water is draining normally.  Looking on the bright side, the bill for this job goes to the association, not me, since it involved more than one unit.  I’m grateful that at least this issue was cost-free to fix, but if I find one more unexpected problem, it’s really going to damper my spirits.


A Broken Window… Or A Ghost?

This has been quite the tedious week at the condo.  I’ve been doing plenty of boring but necessary jobs to prepare for the first cosmetic changes, which also happen to be the biggest- new paint and new floors.  I’ve finally finished pulling up all the staples in the floor, and with the exception of my back and shoulders being in a permanent hunch, it was an easy task.  I ended up using a flat-head screwdriver for almost the entire job, with the exception of a pair of pliers to pull out the stubborn ones stuck in one end.  I tried to sweep up as much of the staples and leftover bits of padding as I could, but with hundreds of them throughout the condo, it was tricky to get them all.  Let’s just say I won’t be walking in there barefoot any time soon!

I have not yet heard from the alarm service technician who did the original installation, so I reached out to a few other independent companies, hoping they’ll have some info for me on how to get rid of the old thing.  While I was poking around in the storage room yesterday, lo and behold, I came upon the master control for the system.



After unscrewing the front panel, I found an extensive installation manual.  Turns out, the darn thing is connected by wires to every single room.  It’s probably more complicated to take the system out than leave it in at this point!  (Also, I discovered that the installation date was in 1992, so not quite the Stone Age.)

The landmark problem of the week, however, definitely goes to the broken window.  On Tuesday, my dad had decided that he would take on the task of removing my window screens, which are so worn out they clearly haven’t been doing their job for years. The screen in the guest bedroom was in the worst condition, so it made perfect sense to start there.  The windows tilt out, so we popped the screen out, put the window back in place, and left for the day.  Imagine my surprise when I arrived to work on the condo two days later, after some pretty torrential rain I might add, to find the window was out of the frame, laying on the floor of the bedroom.  The fact that the glass panes hadn’t shattered was probably a miracle in itself, but I was more concerned with the possibility of more water coming in.  I tried, to no avail, to put the window back in the frame aligned on the track, while still being able to completely close.



It would either not line up with the track on the side, like you can see here, or not shut at the bottom, as you see below.



I called in some reinforcements, better known as my parents.  My dad, for one, was in disbelief, because he swears he closed and locked the window before we had left two days prior.  I mean, I suppose it’s possible I have a ghost, considering the previous owner of my little corner condo passed away a year and a half ago.  The more likely culprit?  The tooth on the tilt-out lock had been snapped off at some point, and now the window is unable to stay in a locked position.  We have a temporary fix for now, which involved a good slam of the window downward, and putting a more permanent lock on the one good side.  The reality of it is that I will probably need a new window in the not-so-distant future.

And the hits just keep on coming!


An Unexpected Mess

I had not intended for the first project on Saturday morning to be replacing the deadbolt in the front door.  The keys I was given for the condo had been used to lock the doorknob itself, which I had noticed was a little temperamental.  But after lugging gallons of paint up to the third floor to begin the day, that doorknob just did not want to unlock.  Here I am, not 24 hours into this project, jimmying the lock while sitting on the hallway floor. After a good 20 minutes and an almost-meltdown (“I’m locked out of my own condo!”), I finally managed to bust in, and replacing the deadbolt become priority number one.


For my first official project, I think I did pretty well.  It’s a standard-issue Home Depot deadbolt, and cost me $9.97 (although the peace of mind was priceless).

The next project was the alarm system.  I had questions about the alarm system since my realtor first showed me the place.  I thought it was odd that the keypad itself was connected to a power switch, so every time you turned the switch on, the alarm went off.  Not to mention the thing looks like it’s from the Stone Age, and let’s face it, I really don’t have the budget to be paying money to an alarm company every month.  But, how to disconnect it?  I mean, I’d like to be able to use that light switch for something!


I found an ancient business card taped to the alarm manual (which, regretfully, did not include a code), and gave the guy a call.  No response yet, but here’s hoping I hear something soon.  Otherwise, I’m going to have to go cutting the wires, which I’m pretty sure is illegal…

The biggest project on the condo was always going to be ripping out the flooring.  There were no less than 6 different kinds of flooring in the condo, which is ridiculous because there are only 4 ‘official’ rooms.  I had already decided to go with wood laminate in the living room and bedrooms.  My realtor and a few others tried to convince me to go with real hardwood, but who am I, Rockefeller?  To cut my costs even further, I knew I wanted to rip the carpet out myself.  That way I could avoid the extra fees that would magically appear when it comes time for installation of the new floors.  Special thanks to my mom and aunt for their help with this!

Here is the ugly, and clearly worn, carpet. Now you see it…


Now you don’t!


It took about 4 hours to rip up the carpet itself, the pad underneath, and the nail strips against the wall.  We used 2 utility knives with heavy duty blades to cut through the material, and a hammer and pry bar to pull up the nail strips.  For the next few days, I will be using a flat-head screwdriver to pull up all of the staples out of the plywood.

Unfortunately, we discovered a real problem around the sliding glass door to the balcony.  Once the corner of the carpet was pulled back, we found some serious wood rot.  Water has clearly been coming in for years and gathered mostly underneath the corners of the door.  Even the sheet rock behind the wall crumbled in my hands.  Yikes!  Not exactly the best thing to find when you’re on a pretty strict budget.  Now the condo “politics” begin.  Since the water is coming in from outside, and technically I only own everything from the walls in, we have to determine whose responsibility it will be to find the problem and repair the damage.  I’m really hoping the management’s insurance company will cover it, since I may have to put some other projects on hold while we get it sorted out.  Here’s hoping for the best!

And So It Begins

On closing day, after signing my name so many times that I started spelling it wrong, I was handed the deed and the keys and officially became a homeowner.



Naturally, the first thing I did was drive straight there to start celebrating!

Now, I had started a list of everything that I wanted to change and improve way before the closing date.  But when I stepped over that threshold, I realized that some things were going to have to wait, while others would definitely take priority.  First of all, I never really noticed just how dirty the place was.  The fingerprints on the walls were a lot more noticeable without furniture in the rooms to distract your eye.  Granted, the condo hadn’t been lived in for about a year and a half, but you could tell the previous owner’s cleaning habits weren’t the greatest.  So, after writing a to-do list (and a grocery list of cleaning supplies!), I vowed to return Saturday morning, ready to work.


“Why Rent When You Can Own?”

You may have seen this phrase in the real estate listings for teeny tiny little houses and apartments converted into condos to try and entice buyers that just happen to fall in my demographic.  The listing for my condo said “Bring your decor ideas and enjoy!”  If only the process was that simple…

I started contemplating the idea of home ownership in the summer of 2012.  Living with my parents was starting to annoy (‘where are you going?’ ‘when will you be home?’), and renting seemed the likely next step.  And then the news stories began: Record lows for mortgage rates.  I thought, why not?  Throughout the chaos that ensued from that point, I’ve found that these were the most helpful steps:

  • Organize your documents
  • Find a good team
  • Research, research, research

I must stress this fact: I absolutely did my due diligence when researching mortgage information, and you should too.  Knowledge will be your best friend throughout this process.  You’ll get hit with paperwork from every angle, and the more you know ahead of time, the less likely you are to stumble across something you don’t understand that will slow you down.

Organize Your Documents

I knew from word-of-mouth that the first step in buying a home is to get pre-approved from a lender.  For all intents and purposes, it really does not matter which lender you get your pre-approval letter from.  I went with the major bank where my other accounts were held because it seemed like the easiest option to start, plus they have my entire financial history, so what more could they need, right?  Let me tell you, I had to unearth some of my most obscure financial documents right off the bat … and this was just the pre-approval!  The mortgage application process in itself is an even bigger beast, so my first tip is to organize all of your pertinent financial documents.  Of course, these will be different for everyone, but it is a good rule of thumb to start some file folders with your recent tax returns, W-2s, pay stubs, and statements from all of your accounts, from regular checking to mutual funds.  Once you’re a few weeks in, many people will expect you to know a lot of this information off-hand, so making sure it is in one convenient place is the best favor you can do for yourself.

Besides all of the boring (but important!) financial paperwork, I also recommend keeping notes on all of the properties you go to see.  Many people just rely on pictures they take, but pictures cannot always give you the whole story when you’re looking back a week after the showing.  What was your initial impression? Did you get a feel for the neighborhood?  What did you hear? (or, God forbid, smell?)  Did your realtor mention any issues he/she knows of ahead of time?  These are all things you should jot down when you’re looking at a property, as well as some of the general listing information, i.e. beds, baths, address, and listing price.

Finding A Good Team

Thanks to my good buddy, the World Wide Web, I was able to look through tons of resources that explain the steps to buying a home.  (I recommend checking out Wells Fargo: My First Home.  It’s interactive and free!)  But the Internet is no substitute for a hard-working human team.  Everyone in your life, including family and friends, will obviously play an integral role in supporting you throughout the process.  But for our purposes, when I refer to my “team,” I am including 3 people: my realtor, my mortgage broker, and my lawyer.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to find people who will work hard for you.  Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later!

My realtor was absolutely top-notch.  She listened to all of my requests and demands (“Don’t you dare show me anything out of my price range.”) and would meet with me at any time of day to show me a listing.  I have a reasonably flexible job, but this was still very important to me, which leads me to my next point.  Make sure you know what you want in a realtor before signing an agreement.  I was looking for 3 qualities: someone who would be available at the last minute (hey! sometimes a good Zillow listing comes out of nowhere), a fun personality, and someone who would offer up plenty of information about a property.  Have a face-to-face  conversation with your realtor to see if you’ll be a good fit.  It’ll help in the long run too- the more they knew about you, the more intuitive they will be into your wants and needs in a home.

My broker was also outstanding.  I ended up choosing a brokerage firm instead of going with a major bank mostly because my realtor recommended my broker to me.  I found that this happens a lot in real estate; many people are looking to work with someone that they know has a proven track record, especially throughout this long and often frustrating process (not to mention that referrals are half the business).  However, that didn’t stop me from looking up the broker on my own.  I also had a long sit-down chat with her, and I asked her to go over every single point on a cash-to-close worksheet, which she gladly took 2 hours to do.  What I was looking for in a broker was flexibility and a willingness to answer every single one of my questions.  During the mortgage application process, you will find yourself sending and filling out endless amounts of paperwork with so much fine print your head will spin.  So, in my humble opinion, someone who will take the time to answer your questions is absolutely crucial.

My lawyer is actually a friend of the family, so I didn’t have to do much searching.  However, I do recommend using an attorney who specifically handles real estate law, and is not so much of a trial attorney.  The last thing you’ll want is to have to postpone your closing because your lawyer has to go to court for a few weeks straight.

Research, Research, Research

As with any major undertaking, don’t forget to stock up on information.  I looked around at the housing market, including rates and trends, and determined what kind of property I wanted and what the market was doing in my preferred location.  Appraisals often look at the selling prices of similar properties nearby, which can help you determine the kind of deal you’re getting.  I was willing to go with a place that needs some work as opposed to move-in condition, so I made sure to research the cost of improvements I wanted to put in.

Above all, I researched what I could afford.  Your pre-approval letter will give you a ballpark range to help guide your search, and I also asked my broker for a sample cash-to-close worksheet on every property I was interested in, but I never stopped double- and triple-checking my numbers to ensure that my offers and expectations are realistic.  No one wants to have to foreclose on their first home.

From the first meeting with my realtor to the time of my closing, it took just over 6 months.  It was frustrating and discouraging and exciting all at the same time.  I found that I kept having to remind myself to enjoy it.

But in the end, I now have a brand new home to try a whole bunch of Pinterest hacks!  Because that’s what’s most important, right?

Closing Time

Tomorrow is the big day.  After months of searching and planning and paperwork, I close on the little corner condo, which in turn, will make me a first-time homebuyer.  Yikes!

This blog is about the trials and tribulations of being a first-time homeowner and everything that goes along with it.  The good, the bad, the ugly, and the Pinterest hacks that didn’t quite make it.  I’ll walk you through all of the steps that I’ll be taking into making the little corner condo my first home.