We went from being “homeless”, as in we-didn’t-own-a-home, to owning 2 homes within a few months after our transplant to Florida. The first, a new home under construction, was by design, and a result of our decision to retire to Florida in the first place. We’ve been posting updates on the build, but not a lot has happened lately since the job (and many others) is being held up waiting for a critical part of the HVAC system, the air handler. Apparently the factory in Georgia that makes most of these was wiped out by a tornado not too long ago, and it is taking time to get the work done by other companies. We’re told that will be remedied soon and things will get back on track, and then the update posts can resume.
The second house was purchased as a result of a long and arduous search for a home for the Ricker family, comprised of our grandson Daniel, his mom Kristen, and his other grandparents Donna and Glen. They currently rent a little over an hour south of Palm Coast, where we are building, and wanted to be closer once we finally get the keys to the new pad. The date to get the keys has moved considerably in the last year or so and is now mid to late spring which dovetails nicely into the end of the school year for Daniel. Given plenty of time we decided to do some searching on their behalf for a reasonable rental, or even better, a house they could afford to buy.
We went through several iterations and strategies in our search. An existing rental quickly went off the list because the red hot housing market has driven rents through the roof. But high rents gave us another idea, buying a duplex and renting the other half of it out. This looked good on paper, and there were plenty of duplexes for sale, but the cold fact is that many of them are occupied by Section 8 tenants, which makes it really difficult to adjust rents to cover our expenses of the purchase. Weeks of canvassing the town and walk-throughs with no good results led us to abandon that strategy. In that process, however, we discovered that it might be just as viable to find an older fixer-upper home that would fit the bill for affordability and practicality. We had a great agent (Scott at Take Action Properties), who was invaluable in helping us locate homes that were either just fresh on the market, or even better not yet formally listed. Thanks Scott! He led us to the very first original neighborhood in Palm Coast, Country Club Cove. These houses were built in the early 70’s shortly after ITT/Levitt Corporation bought the old Graham swamp and began clearing and building on it to create what was, at the time, the largest planned community in the state of Florida (that honor now goes to The Villages). The development featured a golf course, raised up out of the swamp, and 200 ranch style homes on winding roads built within the golf course. The original model homes still have plaques in front of them commemorating this birth of Palm Coast over 50 years ago.
The Cooper House, as we are calling it, jumped out at us the first time we saw it. A wonderful, quiet neighborhood with little to no traffic, surrounded by a beautifully manicured golf course, and cleanly kept and neat yards was exactly what we were looking for. An expansive front yard and a very ample back yard surround the house, which is about 1900 square feet of living space, 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. It was a little long-in-the-tooth as they say, with the original bathrooms, done up in 70’s yellow and blue tile, still intact and in amazing condition. This house definitely has “good bones” and the few remodels done to it during the last 40 or so years have given it character as well. But, along with the character, there was plenty of “deferred maintenance” (to be polite).
The day we closed on it, Halloween 2022, we made our plans to move out of the RV and into the house and get to work. Inside and out, we have scraped and scrubbed, sanded and filled, patched and painted, ripped out and replaced, until it is nearly ready for the Ricker fam to move in come summer. For those of you who may be as masochistic as we are, or perhaps intrigued by the thought of resurrecting an old home, here’s a summary. Disclaimer: if you are in your 70’s and considering this, make sure you are faithfully going to the gym 3 times a week for several years before you start. It’s never as straight forward or easy as it first looks!
The “popcorn” ceilings were the first to go. These were ubiquitous in the 70’s, obviously well before anybody had an idea about how well they would (or wouldn’t) age. We had these professionally stripped and re-textured before we moved in, because frankly it creates a huge mess and we hate overhead work.
Wendy also painted the master bedroom while I tended to a few upgrades before we moved in, like kitchen appliances and a new garage door opener, figuring we could paint the rest of the interior while we lived there.
Everyone knows the story of Murphy. The guy that wrote the law “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong”. This especially applies to home renovation, just like it does to Little British Car restoration (see the way previous blog about Eddie the MG coming to life). Two weeks or so after moving in, on the day before Thanksgiving, we were busy touching stuff up and cleaning because we had invited some friends over to dinner. The vacuum cleaner became possessed by Murphy’s spirit and decided to blow a circuit that took out half of the lighting and outlets in the house. No amount of breaker resets or cursing would remedy it, so we turned to our best source for help, Tony the ice cream guy. Don’t laugh! Tony, who runs Twisters Hand Made Ice Cream in Palm Coast, was the first person we met and became friendly with locally, and he knows everyone, including an electrician named Joe. We still don’t know Joe’s last name (definitely not “The Electrician”), but Tony made a call and Joe appeared at 3PM on Thanksgiving Eve, discovering (with me as his assistant) that the previous owner had done some pretty shoddy rewiring in the attic for his stereo system closet and a few wires had melted together. Joe got that (and a few other things) cleaned up by 5:30 and tried to only take $70 for the repairs. We tipped him very well as he had just literally saved our turkey bacon. Tip: when moving to a new town, meet the local ice cream shop owner FIRST. You will be surprised how much this can improve your future prospects. In fact, it was Tony that led us to Scott at Take Action Properties, bonded by a mutual love of homemade ice cream. Tip #2: when a tradesman does you a big solid on a holiday Eve, pay in cash. You’re welcome.
There were lots of small plumbing jobs, mostly upgrading old fixtures or fixing leaks or bad electrical outlets and switches. Of the two largest plumbing tasks, one was planned and the other was not. The toilet in Bathroom #2 had a broken tank lid, so we replaced the whole thing. But, alas, the new lid wouldn’t fit under the existing cabinetry, so we fabricated a new lid out of polystyrene plastic (hats off to YouTube). In retrospect, we could have done this for the old toilet as well, but then we would be left with the likelihood that the old crapper would eventually bite the dust anyway.
In addition to that, a hose bibb on the front of the house was leaking, and when Warren tried to replace the worn seat in it, the whole thing broke off inside the concrete block wall. This, of course, happened at another optimum Murphy Moment, New Year’s Eve. Tip: don’t start any plumbing jobs, or any jobs for that matter, that might require a professional to fix if you can’t complete it. Plumbers, go figure, are as rare as hen’s teeth on New Year’s Eve. It took some creative imagination but tapping the inside of the broken pipe and threading a new coupler into it did the trick and a new bibb was installed as a permanent fix.
The kitchen cabinetry is solid and in excellent shape but painted with a God-awful stenciling that came from some of the darker regions of the previous owner’s memories.
The paint scheme seems to have sprung from a World War II theme, and we think the 81 year old previous owner must surely have been one of the Greatest Generation and felt at home with that motif. We are not of that generation (go Boomers!), so a long weekend of stripping the cabinets down, sanding, and painting restored some sanity. Disappearing all that military stenciling left us with an eerie sense of having erased some important history, just not important to us.
Speaking of cabinets, when we took possession of the house there was a small “orphan” cabinet just sitting on top of the fridge. We initially thought to put it out for the bulk trash, but then realized there was an inoperable vent fan over the stove in a very large space and no microwave. We refitted and repurposed the small orphan cabinet to fit the gap, installed it, and also installed a new over-stove microwave/vent. Two new doors had to be fabricated to match the rest of the kitchen, and it was subsequently painted to match.
The kitchen ceiling had some hideous track lighting that we just tore out before the ceilings were done (I detest track lighting). We installed a new drop ceiling and an integrated LED light panel, along with a new LED fixture over the sink. While we were at it a garbage disposal was installed. Who can live without a garbage disposal? Luckily there was a nearby switched electric circuit that was repurposed as the power source. It’s likely that there was once a disposer, but for some strange reason someone removed it. Go figure.
The bulk of the interior was classic 70’s décor, from the yellow and green paint down to the alpine gingerbread chair rails on the walls (even where no chairs would ever be found). While the ceiling guys were doing their job, we stripped all that off, and Dan’s crew was nice enough to patch all the holes up while they were doing the ceiling patching. Thanks! After lots of sanding and painting, the house has a completely new look inside. It even feels bigger.
While the inside needed lots of love, the exterior was just as demanding. There were extremely overgrown Aloe Vera cactus plants at every corner of the house. We hated those, so out they came. These would be easy to extract if we had a backhoe. Instead, we had a shovel and our hands. Wendy figured out the magic formula for extracting the stumps, chopping away with an axe at the root ball until the stump can be ripped out of the ground.
We wish we had known before we started that there was a fair amount of irrigation plumbing that had been grown over by the Aloes as well. Plastic sprinkler plumbing is no match for an axe: see the later paragraph on irrigation repairs and renovation. We also met a few new local friends while we worked, like this little guy here.
There were 2 lamp posts in the front yard that were so dilapidated it was amazing that they still stood upright. We stripped all of the structure off (a hollow wooden post constructed of badly warped fence boards, wiring, and some large carriage lamps that were bolted on). We fabricated new hollow posts, sorted and cleaned up all the wiring, and installed new motion sensor LED lamps that are fully automatic, providing subdued lighting starting at dusk, with motion sensors that ramp the lights up to a brighter mode to illuminate the walkway for anyone visiting at night. We painted them in the trim paint we have selected for the rest of the house. Cast aluminum post caps finished them off and provide a little weather protection.
All of the flower beds and gardens adjacent to walkways also needed to be regraded because they were “bleeding” mud and sand all over the hardscape every time it rained. Our solution was to tear the beds out, remove a bunch of dirt and sand, establish a nice border using brick pavers, repair any irrigation in the beds, and re-grade the bed with a 2” cedar mulch cover. We’ll let the Ricker’s decide on any planting since they are going to care for it. And I’m well aware that it looks like Wendy is doing all the work, but who do you think is taking the pictures?
The property has an extensive sprinkler system that is nearly as old as the house itself, I think. There was a rat’s nest of wiring coming into the garage, with an old valve timer system, and a strange bank of wall switches that were assembled as a manual operating system for the 4 zones. It looks like a previous owner, rather than fixing the original valve and timer system, just patched on the manual switch system because they couldn’t figure out how to program the ancient timer. In addition to the weird valve/timer/switch system, the sprinkler heads themselves weren’t too pretty. We fiddled around with the wiring and old timer a bit, and after hooking up a 12 volt power supply and setting the switch to “Manual” operation, we were able to get 3 of the 4 zones to at least spray water. Progress! But it became obvious that we would have to locate the valve bank to renovate all 4 zones. We started at the “root” of the system and followed the rat’s nest wiring to a point where it just disappeared into the ground. Then we dug, and dug, and dug, finally uncovering 5 valves under about a foot of dirt. All the valves were cleaned up, the wiring sorted and cleaned up, some pavers were used to construct a “vault” for all of this that would be out of the dirt and protected from the environment, and the timer was relocated to a better wall in the garage for accessibility. At last all 4 zones would spout water, and one by one the sprinkler heads were either cleaned up or replaced, leaving us with a fully functional irrigation system. We even added a drip zone in the front where some new landscaping replaced 2 of the old massive Aloe Vera plants. This process also required us to dig up and patch some of the underground feed lines, thanks to the sharp axe that was used to extract the aloes.
The back yard has 2 landscaping “zones”, the closest to the house being the lawn, and the rear of the lot had been taken over by palmettos, vines, weeds, bushes and overhanging tree branches that were grossly overgrown. Our solution was to hack and trim it back, and to rip out anything that had taken over territory through years of neglect. We ended up with 4 massive piles of yard waste and ended up calling a trash removal service who brought a large dump truck and a couple of workers and hauled it all away.
After a couple of months of chipping away at the renovation, we are to a point where we can see the final result. The next 2 (and perhaps final) projects: a new roof goes on in February, and then we will get busy pressure washing, stucco patching, and painting the outside. Until then, we are going to resume our retirement life!
Tippy has the last say, always.