...because home doesn't happen overnight.

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Confession: we’ve been trolling house listings since last fall. We knew that once our mortgage was paid off, we wanted to seriously consider potential investment properties. Initially, several scenarios came to mind: 1) Buy another fixer-upper to renovate and live in, and sell our current home for a profit. 2) Buy a rental property and rent it out while living in our current home. 3) Buy another fixer-upper to renovate and sell for a profit while living in our current home. We spent a lot of time studying the local real estate market, researching feasible real estate investment options, running the numbers, talking to realtors and seasoned investors and figuring out exactly what we wanted to gain from our investment. A new home? A sizable, one-time payoff? Steady, long-term additional income? A new experience? A challenge?

We looked at a ton of houses – online and in person. I can’t even make a guesstimate. A TON. We looked at all kinds of properties: foreclosures, short sales, HUDs, for sale by owner, sheriff sales, real estate auctions, old houses, new houses, big houses, little houses, estate sales and plain ol’ houses just, you know, for sale. At one point, we were this close to purchasing a parcel of land in a neighboring city and building an Airbnb first, then eventually adding a home for ourselves, but were stopped short thanks to zoning restrictions and a questionable lien on the property.

We discovered pretty quickly that it was going to take a property with loads of potential at a great price and some proper star alignment to get us to leave our current home. We’ve touched every surface, made it ours and own it outright. It’s the ideal setup for us at this stage in our lives. Plus, I think there’s something to be said for living in a home for a while after the renovation dust settles. So many homeowners move on to bigger and “better” things when their house is done, but we feel like, “What’s wrong with staying put even if it’s not our forever home, our dream house?” In reality, we’re very much enjoying the freedom our home has given us. That’s not to say we wouldn’t be tempted if the right house came along – at the right price, at the right time, in the right location. But, so far, it hasn’t and we don’t see any reason to force it. So we ditched option #1…for now.

Regardless of our living situation, Steve and I have been itching to take on another project. Home improvement is something we both enjoy. It’s a fulfilling outlet for us. We know houses are just things, but we can’t help seeing the potential in even the worst ones. And if we can turn a profit doing something we love, then heck, let’s try it! But not on TV. (Yes, there have been television offers but that’s not us. Props to the people who do it though!)

So as soon as we paid off our mortgage, we took out a home equity line of credit in order to make a cash offer on and renovate a fixer-upper. Mere days after we opened the account, we found the perfect investment property in a highly sought after local neighborhood. I toured it the day it went on the market while Steve was at work. (Scouring new listings had become part of my morning routine.) The minute I stepped in the door, I knew it was the one. Immediately after the showing, I called Steve and we decided to make an offer. We were actually driving up to Michigan for spring break later that evening and communicating with our realtor via phone to put in an offer. Sadly, a few hours later, we learned that there was a clause in the contract requiring owner occupancy for 12 months. Basically, we were required to sign a contract saying the house would be our primary residence for the first year. We had no plans to live in the house, and our realtor advised us against lying due to legal repercussions. So we had to let it go. Even though it was perfect.

Fast forward two months, a nearby dilapidated ranch caught our eye. (Sound familiar?) It was an estate sale to be sold in as-is condition and was located in a township void of pricey city taxes and within an excellent school district. (We had learned from months of research that “as-is” listings can be great investment opportunities.) Steve called our realtor to schedule a showing, but while we were waiting to hear back I noticed the listing had already gone “pending” online. When our realtor called back, we fully expected him to tell us the house was under contract, but instead he said we were good to see it that day.

“It’s listed as pending online. Is that not the case?” we asked.

“No. The listing agent said it’s a mistake. There have been major issues with a new listing database. There’s no contract,” he answered.

We saw the house later that day and made an offer that evening. Our lowball offer was accepted (most likely because we were paying cash, could close quickly and beat other buyers to it thanks to the lucky “pending” slip-up) and…SURPRISE!…we closed on the house last month. Since no liens, loans or in-person sellers were involved, it was the fastest closing ever. It went something like, “Sign here and congratulations.”

Although, the congratulations part felt laughable to us. “Congratulations! You just bought a second house! It needs a ton of work and smells like cat pee!”

As far as plans go, we’ve decided to fix it up and sell it as opposed to rent it out, although both are viable options. If it doesn’t sell (fingers crossed it does), we can always rent it out even though it’s not our first choice. (We’ve learned that we need a Plan B in case Plan A doesn’t work out.) Why sell? First, if renting the house were our primary goal, many of the improvements we’d like to make wouldn’t happen. Making improvements to appeal to renters is not the same as making improvements to appeal to buyers. Sure, we could go in and clean it up a bit and make a few so-so repairs and rent it out, but that’s not something that sounds too enjoyable or fulfilling to us. We like a good challenge. Second, the house is in the same township we live in, so we’re all for renovating it to maintain (and possibly increase) home values. Finally, we aren’t entirely sure where we’ll be living 10 years from now, and we don’t want to invest in a long-term rental and be responsible for it remotely.

I’m hesitant to call what we’re doing a flip even though, let’s be realistic, that’s what we’re doing. However, we have no plans to install the cheapest granite countertops we can find and slap down a bunch of carpet in a matter of weeks. Yes, one of our goals is to make a profit, but we don’t want to completely sacrifice style in the name of dollar signs. We love the idea of a thoughtfully designed, budget-friendly flip, and we’re fully prepared for it to take a little longer than the average flip. Is there such a thing as a careful real estate turnover? On the other hand, we also realize we’ll have to make some compromises since we’re not renovating the house for ourselves. We’re confident we can find a sweet spot between cheap flip and dream remodel.

I’d like to mention that we chose not to share our plans and house search in detail in real time on the blog because we wanted to be sure our decision wasn’t swayed by outside influences. We really wanted to stay true to ourselves and our personal goals. I hope you understand! The good news is I plan to document our flip experience much like I did our downsizing journey. If anything, we’ll all learn something, right?

So, yeah, we bought a house. It reeks of cat piss. And we couldn’t be more excited. Or scared. House tour coming soon! (Two words: pistachio walls.)

image: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

122 Comments

11.July.2016

Ahhhhhhhhh! Congrats!

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11.July.2016

Eeeek! So excited!!!

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11.July.2016

YAY! It will be so great to see what you do with this new house!

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11.July.2016

Could not be more excited. I went back and read your “under-dog” posts right from the start last month just as entertainment (Yes I’m weird). I did make a little wish that you’d convert your garage, or pop a studio/shed/annexe in your yard, but this is waaaay better! I’ll really enjoy watching you make your version of a flip :)

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replied on July 11th, 2016

A garage conversion and/or man shed pop-up isn’t off the table! They just aren’t happening anytime soon.

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11.July.2016

Yay! My favourite vice – renovation porn. Can’t wait to see all the dirty, disgusting details!

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replied on July 13th, 2016

Haha ~ Me too!!!

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11.July.2016

Awesome! This will be a blast! I’m looking forward to following along :)

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11.July.2016

Super exciting! Can’t wait to hear all about the house — and the joys of removing cat pee smells. Good luck and thank you, as always, for sharing your adventures.

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11.July.2016

I’m excited to see what you and Steve do with this house!

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This is so cool, Dana! You guys have a serious knack for taking an ugly home and making it beautiful!! Cnngrats!!:-)

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replied on July 11th, 2016

The uglier the befores, the better the afters, right?

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11.July.2016

Yay! Congrats to you guys! Cant wait to see what it becomes. :)

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11.July.2016

Exciting!! Can’t wait to follow along and see what choices you make. We have three rentals so I understand the roller coaster of emotions that is real estate investing. Best of luck on this new adventure!

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11.July.2016

How exciting, Dana! Congrats on your decision to “flip”…this house WILL sell, you have impeccable taste & tons of talent! Can’t wait to see renovation progress :)

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11.July.2016

Can I suggest an option #4?

Buy and renovate a new house while living in your current home, then post your current home to AirBNB.

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replied on July 11th, 2016

Does anyone want to come to Dayton, Ohio, and stay in our house? I’m seriously asking. Dayton isn’t Seattle, but it is a great, affordable place to explore with hidden gems.

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replied on July 11th, 2016

Have you looked up Dayton on AirBnb? I thought the same thing about my city and was surprised by the options and the prices seemed worthwhile (not $5/night, ya know?). I live an hour away from Portland, OR and thought no one would come here – it appears I was way wrong! I don’t know anything about your city, but I would love to hang out in your home. :) Maybe we can swap?

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replied on July 11th, 2016

I think there is a market for beautiful airbnb’s everywhere. I’ll give you a couple scenarios where we use Airbnb.
#1 – my dad was in the hospital with a serious medical condition that would require round the clock care. Family that lives out-of-town wanted to help my mom share the job but needed a comfortable place to stay. The solution was to rent an Airbnb for a couple of months in middle-of-nowhere Maryland.
#2 – My husband is s travel nurse. Many times the best assignments are in places like Dayton, OH. Most travel nurses turn to services like Airbnb to find comfortable rentals for the duration of their assignment. Most assignments last for 13 weeks. If you are anywhere in the vicinity of a hospital you would be an option for that type of rental.
Hope that helps!!

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replied on July 12th, 2016

I’ve never considered those scenarios, so thank you so much for sharing! Definitely something to think about and look into in the future. (Especially since we have no less than three huge hospitals within a 10-minute drive of our home.)

replied on July 12th, 2016

One thing to keep in mind for any potential Airbnb plans is to check your zoning ordinances. Many places prohibit short term rentals of entire homes within certain residential zoning areas. A quick call to your zoning office would be able to answer those questions. If it is allowed or if it isn’t but it’s not enforced, get it in writing.
And airbnbs take a lot of work! The return can be great but if you’re self-managing, you are always on call for guests and maintenance and cleaning, etc. It’s not as easy as finding a long term tenant and collecting rent checks :)
We have several long-term rentals and one Airbnb and the Airbnb is way more work!

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replied on July 19th, 2016

Thanks for the tip!

replied on July 20th, 2016

You’re close to a big university, I would imagine parents/family coming for graduations at least might be interested in a nice house to stay in. That’s just a short window of the year, but the other possibilities people mentioned might make it worth the time to try Airbnb.

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11.July.2016

oh wow!! What an exciting opportunity! I love the stance you are taking on not rushing through the remodel and making careful, thoughtful choices. I can’t wait to see the process and how it all comes together! I’m such a huge fan of everything you do :)

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11.July.2016

Congratulations! I can’t wait to hear and see all the details!

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Congratulations! What an exciting new adventure!

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11.July.2016

SO. EXCITED. FOR. THIS!!!!! No, but really :) Happy for you guys and for us readers, too!!!

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11.July.2016

Ooh, very exciting! Can’t wait to watch!

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This is so exciting! Really, truly I can’t wait. I want to be you in 5 years.

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replied on July 11th, 2016

Except I’m like 10 years older than you or something. Haha!

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11.July.2016

This. This is so perfect. We are days away from closing on a place that was built in 1975 and hasn’t been touched since (think orange carpet, a bar with gold speckled mirrors, chained chandeliers, and a faux brick wall panel). It’s a perfect place for our next phase of life but we know we won’t be there forever. We plan to redo everything but we’ll also be there for at least a few years so I want to be able to interject some design instead of just picking whatever is cheapest. (Sadly things like Semihandmade door fronts aren’t in the budget even though I so wish they were!!) I’ve just been mulling over my kitchen design because I want gray cabinets but the bodbyn don’t seem very modern, which is sort of what I’m going for. I think I could change that with white concrete counters and sleek pulls but we’ll see. Anyway all that ramble to say I’m so excited to see what you guys come up with for this new place!!!

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11.July.2016

Congrats, Dana! Can’t wait to see the magic you guys create there!

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11.July.2016

Hi Dana! I have been following your blog for quite some time and love it — especially as a fellow Cincinnatian. My husband and I are wanting to put an IKEA kitchen in our home in Hyde Park, and I was hoping you could recommend local folks that are either good at planning or installing IKEA kitchens. Thanks much!

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11.July.2016

Hooray! Can’t wait to see it. My husband and I have done four houses now (two as rentals, and two to sell). I learn something new every time we start a new project. I’ll be anxiously following along. Congrats!

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11.July.2016

Yay! Looking forward to another Dana transformation! Congrats.

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11.July.2016

Thank you so much for sharing, and for being so genuine and sticking to who you are. It means even more that way. And I know this house is going to be gorgeous! Excited to see it unfold and wish you could “flip” a house for me :)

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11.July.2016

Dana! I am so excited for you all. Nothing like a new adventure. Always such an inspiration.

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11.July.2016

Congratulations! I can’t wait to see all of it.

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11.July.2016

yea! I can’t wait to see what you do with it since the outside looks like my own home, minus the overgrown lawn

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11.July.2016

This is my dream!! Good for you for going for it! Can’t wait to read along.

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Huge, huge congrats! I am eagerly on the edge of my seat for this guy.

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replied on July 11th, 2016

Aw, thanks Kim!

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11.July.2016

Congratulations!! I am so excited to follow along with you on your renovation journey!

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11.July.2016

This is so exciting, can’t wait to see the transformation!

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11.July.2016

How exciting! I can’t wait to follow along on another renovation journey!

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11.July.2016

So excited. To make sure I read correctly, you are staying in your house and flipping to sell the new place? If you need any recipients (read: thirty-something academics, swimming in student loan debt and living on the way-to-expensive east coast) to take this remodel off your hands….I’m taking donations! lol

:) Stoked to follow your journey.

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replied on July 11th, 2016

Yes, we’re staying put in our current home while we flip this new/old house. Looking forward to having a finished home base to come home to after making a mess!

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11.July.2016

Congratulations, so very cool! I was wondering if that was somewhere you were headed. I really enjoy reading your blog and am looking forward to this new project and all the remodel photo porn and deets!

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11.July.2016

Congrats, Dana! I can’t wait to see what improvements you make to this cute little ranch. A two car garage is definitely an asset.

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11.July.2016

Yessss! It totally needs a nickname, like Ugly Duckling or something. So much potential there. This time go-round should be much more productive without the obstruction of a person growing out of your abdomen ;) and now the kids are big enough to really help too. Now, let’s talk about this kitchen. I am so excited to see your take on something new. Can’t wait to see some interior shots and your mood boards-love love love your inspiration, girl!

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replied on July 11th, 2016

I was just thinking the other day, “What are we going to call it?” We are habitual namers of inanimate objects like houses, cars, furniture, etc. I’m open to suggestions!

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11.July.2016

Since you twice mentioned the odor of cat urine and I know you’re fairly new to cat ownership, I felt compelled to warn you: be very careful with anything that you bring to/from the investment property and into your own home, even the clothing you wear to work. Don’t leave anything that has been sitting in the investment property into the house and leave it sitting where Cheetah can get to it. If you come home in dirty clothes from working, put them in the wash as soon as possible and don’t leave them where she can get to them. Sometimes, all it takes is the lingering smell of a strange cat’s urine to push an otherwise well-behaved cat into territorial peeing. Laundry piles and hampers are a common antagonist, especially if you throw, say, a dirty pair of jeans into your hamper after kneeling on carpets where a cat peed 2-years-ago. Other things can carry scents, too, like a bucket full of tools or the shoes you wore while walking all over the other property. If those things are left out without being cleaned, Cheetah will smell them and might take offense. It’s far from uncommon.I speak from experience, after living my entire life in multi-cat households. I highly recommend enzyme cleaners like Odoban or Nature’s Miracle for cleaning up items that must move back and forth. I apologize if my unsolicited advice was not needed, and good luck! I’m looking forward to following the renovations!

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replied on July 11th, 2016

That has never even crossed our minds! Good to know. I appreciate the advice.

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Oh, what exciting news! We’re currently going through a full-house flip ourselves, so I can’t help but squeal with excitement when someone else takes a similar plunge into renovating!

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11.July.2016

So exciting! Congratulations. This is going to be so fantastic to follow along with.

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11.July.2016

I totally agree with you keeping it private, but now I’m excited you’ll be sharing the process. When my husband and I bought our homes, we never thought we had options, 30 year mortgage, that was just part of the process. So glad you’re sharing how you’ve done it differently. Thinking outside of the box can be so liberating.

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11.July.2016

Good luck on your new adventure! My husband and I have done 3 live-in flips in the Northern VA area and recently bought our 4th and long term home. You are right. It’s hard not to want to move once the project is done. I love the remodeling process. With our newest home, I able to spend more on my finishes and do things that I want vs what the buyer would like ie cement tile, tumbled marble, higher end shower trim, moving HVAC, amazing molding options! All of my houses have done really well so I am in the process of getting my real estate license and building my team to buy investments without having to live in them and then move. The deciding factor for me is having a crew I trust and who will do good work in a timely manner. Because let’s be honest, it’s a different beast remodeling a home you own over time and remodeling a home to sell in 3-6 months.

I definitely agree, there is a need in the flipping market for thoughtful, well planned flips. Our area is saturated with generic house flippers who only care about the profit and not the process. You should look into getting your real estate license as well to save money on the buying and selling end. Boy do I wish the houses in my area were as cheap as OH! You’re so lucky! Even though the ROI is higher in my area, the houses are too- which is a bigger gamble. I do have a question, how did you get a television offer without ever having flipped a house?

Excited to see what you do! I need to get a blog going. It’s so much work to maintain!! Hats off to you.

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replied on July 11th, 2016

I have no idea how we got TV offers! I don’t know how they found us. The blog, I guess? While flattering, we have no desire to do that sort of thing.

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11.July.2016

Congratulations! I am SO excited to see it – can’t wait for all the details :)

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11.July.2016

Exciting news, cat pee and all! Looking forward to reading along on this journey. What’s first on your new-house to-do list–neutralize eau de chat or something else?

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replied on July 11th, 2016

We’ve actually started work: getting quotes for windows, demoing the kitchen, designing a new kitchen, scouring Craigslist for appliances, etc. It still smells like cat pee though :/

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replied on July 12th, 2016

Dana, check the subfloors in every room to see if that is where the cat pee odor is lingering. I once purchased a house with the same issue. We ended up removing sections of the subfloor along walls that were overly saturated. It was that bad. Can’t wait to see pictures of your new challenge. I know it will be beautiful in the end and it will smell good, too!

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11.July.2016

Congrats to you all! I hope the kids are excited (after the cat pee carpets are gone). I’m a carpenters daughter and grew up in homes being reconstructed.

It’s a long way down the road but maybe consider slate countertops….

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11.July.2016

Congratulations! This is so exciting and I CANNOT wait to see the house and what you guys do with it!

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11.July.2016

Very exciting! Congratulations! I’ll admit I’ve missed seeing updates posts on the blog (which is understandable since there isn’t too much more to do at your current house) so I’m really looking forward to following the progress you make on the new house! Good luck with everything

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11.July.2016

So excited to watch what you do! I know it will be beautiful!

Laura
TX

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11.July.2016

Congrats!!! I’m sure you guys will do a beautiful job and create something the future owners will love. I can’t wait to see the plans.

When I walked into my house, I thought “It smells like cat pee and there is a swarm of flies circling in the dining room – IT’S PERFECT!” And after putting in a bunch of work, now it is :-)

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11.July.2016

I can definitely see why you bought it…what a mess, with so much potential! I can not wait to see what you have planned! Good luck

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