One Week In – Lessons Learned

Well folks, it’s been a week of Cottage West and already powerful lessons have been learned. It is one thing to manage a property, a completely different one to own that property and have to deal with the consequences of guests’ decisions.

Our first guest last Saturday was quiet. I had been rather vigilant, because she was local and I was worried she was planning to throw a party. It’s a common theme, local folks don’t want/can’t throw a party in their own home, so they rent an Airbnb and then invite a hundred people.

I was relieved that nothing crazy happened, but when I entered the home at 11:30 the next morning I was hit with a wall of odor – marijuana and cigarettes – that practically knocked me over.

Signs Everywhere

As I opened every window, turned on the ceiling fans, and eventually even opened the front and back doors in an attempt to clear the air, I realized that it is one thing to state “no smoking” on your house rules, and another to enforce it.

Signs help with that. So as I made a panicked run to the store to get air fresheners (our next guests were running early and wanted to check in before 2 p.m.) I resolved to place polite no smoking signs in every room of the house and then also make the front porch a smoking area. It’s a covered porch, with a lovely swing, all I needed with a “designated smoking zone” sign and an ashtray.

I added the following “no smoking” signs to the living room, bedrooms and back porch.

Make it Obvious

After the third guest had come and gone, I realized that, except for the 2nd guest, no one had used the bath towels located in the hallway closet.

I hadn’t made a sign, I had just assumed that everyone would look in cabinets for things. This was an incorrect assumption.

I made a change when preparing for Guest #4. I added two bath towels and washcloths to our welcome tray that I place on each bed with two mints.

I also will be making a sign that I will place on the built-in cabinets that basically says “look in here for more supplies you might need.”

Collect Connections

While the idea of this did not occur to me until our third guest was already there, I now am setting out a form that says:

Dear Guest:
I hope you are enjoying your stay here at Cottage West. I wanted to let you know about two things:

1.    We are busy working on our other Airbnb offerings, which will include a 1956 Flying Cloud Airstream and Cottage East – a four bedroom, three and ½ bath house.

2.     We have a website dedicated to our Airbnb properties that will give you all of the latest updates on our progress and our current offerings. You can find it at:
http://thecottagebb.com

We will also be sending out emails when new properties come on line, which will give you advance notice of special pricing. If you would like to be notified (we promise we will not spam or share your email address), please add your name and email address below.

Again, thank you for choosing Cottage West. We want your stay to be pleasant, peaceful and comfortable, let us know if there is anything we can do to help with that.

I hope to eventually create a newsletter for guests that inform them of special pricing and events coming up in Kansas City.

Bite the Bullet

On Saturday, my husband went into the basement of Cottage West searching for a tool and discovered that the sewer had backed up. It turned out to be a tampon.

Someone had flushed a tampon down the toilet.

One hundred dollars later, the plug was cleared.

Ouch.

Now I have zero idea WHO put the tampon down the toilet. I have had four guests, it could have been any of them since in every case there were women staying there. Short of asking them if they had their period while staying at Cottage West, which I am NOT going to do, I have to eat this expense.

Lesson learned. As I wrote above, a sign will now need to be posted in the bathroom.

This is a Business

As soon as we began the process of finishing Cottage West in earnest, I joined several Airbnb Hosting groups on Facebook. It was an interesting experience. Despite the rather obvious fact that they are running a business, many of the hosts posting were far from business-minded.

I was taken aback by their pettiness. After all, they were making money, running a business, it just happened to be a place they owned.

Instead of looking at it as a hospitality business, and treating it as service-based, I got the feeling that many hosts expect their guests to be thankful in some way for getting to stay in a home instead of a hotel.

I believe that is the wrong way of looking at it. I want people to embrace staying at an Airbnb for several reasons.

  • I am offering a HOUSE, complete with a fully stocked kitchen and laundry facilities.
  • I am offering PRIVACY. I make myself available to the guest, assure them that I am just down the street, but they don’t ever need to meet me or interact with me if they don’t want to.
  • I am offering INFORMATION. Where is the best place to get street tacos, see a movie, or find craft beer? I can help them with that. I’ve created a guest handbook that advises on some great places to eat or visit and I also let guests know that if they need any additional recommendations, I’m happy to assist.
  • I provide HOSPITALITY. Not just in the kitchen and laundry, but in the warm, cozy house with bright colors, a television with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, but also the yoga mat, lending library, and a host of supplies in the built-in cabinets that guests can use. The coffee station in the kitchen, the art on the walls, and the hair dryer and curling iron all say “this is like home.”

I don’t expect a guest to be thankful or appreciative. That’s icing on the cake, that tells me I’ve done the job I was supposed to do. I’ve made it different, and better, than any hotel stay will ever be able to do.

I think that expecting a guest to be thankful is a trap that many folks fall into. The fact is, for Cottage West and other places to be successful, I have to be giving them something they won’t find at just any place. It is an experience, one that makes them talk about it, and hopefully return, that is what will differentiate us from the crowd.

That’s what a business does – it finds a particular niche and/or creates it – in order to be different (and hopefully better) than its competitors.

Three Guests Down, Plenty to Follow

At this point we have had three guests stay in Cottage West and give us feedback. A fourth guest is there now.

We have had fabulous feedback with five stars all the way. I’ve also seen comments like:

“This cottage is super cute! Christine and Dave have obviously put a lot of love and thought into this home. Very clean, with lots of thoughtful touches. Also, they have it very well stocked with little things that you might need, or may have forgotten. We would definitely stay again!”

And her private note in the Airbnb feedback: “We loved your home! Super cute, and we loved all the little touches. We’ve stayed in a lot of Airbnb’s, but yours was by far the best stocked, and most thoughtful! Thanks!”

These comments and others tell me I’m on the right track. I’ve created a place that is both comfortable and warm, friendly and safe, and well thought out.

I also know there are still improvements to make. We are working on scheduling in repairs and improvements such as re-surfacing the inside of the clawfoot bathtub and cast iron kitchen sink and other fixes as time allows.

I want our little property to be the best that it can be. Build it, and they will come!

October is Nearly Full!

Nice roomy kitchen…

Zoom, to the Moon!

I listed Cottage West on Airbnb knowing we were days away from completing the project, and immediately inquiries began to light up my phone. It was quite exciting and resulted in the month of October (our official open date is today) getting crowded with reservations.

A roomy kitchen complete with a coffee station

Out of the 26 days in October we had listed as available, eleven of them are spoken for. That might seem like it isn’t a lot, but we can already see our hard work paying off.

A handy dandy utility room…

And now that Cottage West is ready for guests, it’s time to turn our attention to our lovely 1956 Flying Cloud Airstream. The first order of business? Getting two new tires for her. Then we will hook her up to our SUV and tow her over to someone who is well-versed in fixing up Airstreams. We need help with the plumbing, some electrical, a couple of windows, and installing HVAC into it. After that, we need to install new flooring, finish it out with curtains, and the Airstream will be ready for visitors.

A peaceful enclosed back porch for sipping coffee or practicing yoga…

And while we have the guy working on it, we have a long brick pathway to fix and mortar in between. Thank goodness for cool weather, that’s backbreaking labor that will be thankful for cooler temps!

Relief, Anticipation, and Nervous – All Rolled Into One

I’ll admit it, yesterday I was a nervous wreck. Partially because in addition to getting all of the little details DONE, it was also my wonderful daughter’s 13th birthday.

I had promised her lunch out with me and her dad, ziplining at GoApe, and then a birthday party, complete with an overnight lock-in at Cottage West.

Yes, that’s right, the day before our first official guest I allowed six children to run wild in Cottage West.

I must of have been out of my mind. That said, they were well-behaved. There was a little mess, but nothing compared to some of the situations I am sure to find myself in as a host of a short-term rental.

It has been so long dreaming of this, wanting this, and working for this that I’m kind of in disbelief. Can you blame me? I’m just…boondoggled. We did it! And it feels AMAZING. Now I’m raring to hit on the next project, but I’m also over the moon at the realization that we have done something I honestly wasn’t sure at times would ever happen.

I’m learning to trust my intuition better than ever before. I’m glad I kept at it and I know we can make a stunning success of Cottage West, our lovely Airstream, and eventually Cottage East.

Onwards and upwards!

Why Stay at a Hotel, When You Could Stay in a Home Away From Home?

It’s officially official – Cottage West has been listed on the Airbnb website and is available to rent beginning the 27th.

I’m ridiculously excited about this, it has been a looonnngg haul to get to this point.

A few weeks ago, after hosting an open house for our friends, I passed out on the queen bed in Bedroom #1. My husband, seeing that I was squarely in the middle of the bed, decided to sleep in Bedroom #2.

I woke up that morning and walked around the slightly messy (hey, we had just hosted a party!) house and couldn’t help but grin.

We had taken a decaying, unloved property and turned it into a home. And that was a powerful feeling.

We had gone from this…

The front bedroom with its tiny, unusable closet…

To this…

Bedroom #1 – Newly painted, closet removed and IKEA closet added

Or from this…

View from the old dining room to the living room

To this…

The old dining room has been transformed into an eat-in kitchen

From this…

View of old dining room looking towards hallway on left and pantry on right

To this…

Old dining room transformed into an eat-in kitchen

From this…

The pantry side of the built-in cabinets

To this…

A fresh coat of paint on top of the bead board wallpaper.

We have replaced the roof, installed new windows, re-done the wiring, electrical, HVAC, insulation, walls, and refinished the floors.

Through scrimping and saving, hard work, sweat, and even a heaping measure of blood and tears – we have created a home out of an empty, abandoned, decaying shell that was home to raccoons.

Raccoons make poor residents, by the way. They smell bad and don’t clean up after themselves.

And now, we have something we can not only be proud of owning, but plan to live in one day when we are old and don’t feel like climbing up and down stairs any longer.

By next fall, I hope to have opened up Bedroom #3 – a cozy suite in the attic that will include a full bathroom and also Cottage West – basement unit – a separate entrance and separate space for 1-2 guests, complete with a bedroom, kitchenette, living/dining space and full bath.

Until then, please check out our listings on Airbnb. I’ll be adding on other short-term rental sites soon. I have my sights set on VRBO next.

We hope to see you soon!

To rent the whole house, go here: Cottage West

As a friend posted on my Facebook feed today…

I came, I saw, I conquered!

And hey, if you made it this far, leave a comment! I get a ton of spam, so it’s really nice to hear from real humans from time to time. All of those offers of cheap viagra are getting a little bothersome these days.

Get Yourself to Gimpy’s

Seriously adorable, who wouldn’t want to stay here?!

Earlier this year, well, for even longer than that, I had been thinking of going to a writer’s conference. The idea of rubbing shoulders with other writers, and just spending some “me” time away from the daily grind was very appealing.

As I clean client’s houses, I listen to podcasts about writing or Airbnb topics, and late last year, while listening to the Portfolio Life, I heard about TRIBE Conference which was held in Franklin, Tennessee.

This bed was super-comfortable, I slept so well!

This year would be the fifth and final year of the conference, and I pulled the trigger and bought a ticket that I felt like I couldn’t afford, in order to force my brain into a new, uncharted path.

Elaine has written a book Gimpy’s Secret, which she was kind enough to give me a copy of.

I knew nothing about Franklin, Tennessee other than it was relatively close to Nashville and about nine hours car drive away. I toyed with the idea of flying and then just renting a car, but decided that, in combination with the premium ticket I had purchased, would be too great of an expense.

This vintage soda machine works! It was so fun to put a dime in and get a soda out of!

“I’ll drive there, but I’ll stay in an Airbnb. It will be great!”

The first Airbnb that I found was a tiny house, something I was very interested in staying in, but a month ago I received notice that they would not be able to have me stay there. Apparently Airbnb rules had been changed in their area to prohibit tiny houses as Airbnb’s.

My view each morning as I practiced yoga. A darling little hummingbird came by and rested its wings for a brief second as it sipped from the feeder.

It didn’t make much sense to me, but as I searched again for an Airbnb in the area, I was delighted to find Gimpy’s.

Colorful, eclectic, and set in a private space – it was perfect for my needs.

Dinner at Gray’s in historic downtown Franklin. Shrimp, scallop and crab gumbo over gouda grits – this was scrumptious!

I can’t say enough good things about my host, Elaine and her husband. She was as sweet as could be, and her husband even made sure I had plenty of dimes in order to retrieve the darling bottles of Coke from the vintage Coke machine.

The lovely front porch swing. Gimpy’s rural location was wonderfully peaceful!

Each morning, I walked out of the back door onto the enclosed porch, sat and sipped some water and then meditated and practiced yoga on the thoughtfully provided yoga mat.

I loved this funky, fun toilet paper holder!

The bed was wonderfully comfortable, the space was private, and I loved all of the decorations. It definitely showed the personal touch that I love and want to see in my own spaces.

There were so many cool lights you could turn on and off. Tip: the red panel controlled the most important lights inside and the yellow one handled most of the outside front lights.

It was around 15-20 minutes away from The Factory, a factory-turned-mall a short drive away from their historic downtown. Along the way there was plenty of lovely scenery to take in – low, rolling hills and a mix of old and new architecture.

I even had a chandelier to play with!

I enjoyed the trip immensely, learned a great deal, and met some wonderful people. But above all, my stay at Gimpy’s was the best part of the trip!

A fabulous “metal man” sculpture there at The Factory.

Dear reader: If you have made it this far, take it one step further and comment. I LOVE to hear from you, and frankly, the list of spam emails is often demoralizing. Hearing from YOU will make my day!

How Is It Going? Spectacular!

I leave tomorrow for the TRIBE Conference in Franklin, Tennessee. I’m staying at a super-cool Airbnb – a cottage called Gimpy’s which is apparently modeled after the owner/writer’s book. I’m excited to meet a fellow author, and to be surrounded by other creatives.

But before I make the loooonnnggg drive to Tennessee, I wanted to update everyone on our progress. Because wowza, has there been plenty of it!

Take a look…

Front porch – currently cluttered

I’m going to show it as it is right this moment – warts and all. Well, no warts, but still a ways to go.

The living room.

We still have to do something about the fireplace wall. Thanks so much drywall guys, you really did a bang-up job here. They left it uneven and just…stopped…mid-wall! The gas logs are vent-free and mean that we don’t need to worry about lining the chimney. We are waiting for the contractor to find the remaining part needed to hook it up.

From the other side of the living room

It was wonderful to get the wood off of the beautiful beveled glass door. Once we strip the paint off of it, we will refinish it back to its original wood glory, then add window hardware and a curtain to give our guests privacy. Although it is a little cluttered at the moment, we have an entry table and a corner desk for those who need a little bit of writing space.

The former dining room, now new kitchen.

The original kitchen was far too small and we knew we could create a reasonable eat-in kitchen out of the dining room. I love how it turned out, especially now that we refinished the wood floors!

I still have some painting to do before I can re-attach all of the drawer hardware. I also need to hem the curtains and find the third sconce for the light. Eventually I will also repaint all of these chairs. They were at Habitat for Humanity – old Five Guys metal chairs for just $5 each!

I’m currently sorting and labeling door keys. I also bought a photo album and will be posting pictures of the renovations so that guests can see how much work went into creating the warm, comfortable home they are now staying in!

I have found so many amazing deals on Facebook Marketplace. I imagine I have saved thousands! This little table was just $40.

It took a lot of scrubbing, but I finally got the sink clean.

While we couldn’t realistically fit a dishwasher in, the kitchen has everything else. I’ve found a microwave, toaster oven, electric kettle, and so much more!

Built-ins on the pantry side

I have managed to lose the bottom right cabinet door, and the two top doors are glass and need work. For now, I plan on taking off the bottom left door and just hanging a curtain there. The top part will be left open until I can find someone to install replacement glass in one of the doors, then we will put it back in.

The original kitchen, now utility room

We replaced our washer and dryer set earlier this year and will install the older ones into Cottage West. For now, we have a bunch of tools in it. I plan on leaving the brick exposed, but I’ll probably put some kind of clear coat over it.

The back porch – messy, but pretty much done

We will be clearing out the construction debris and then I’ll stencil the floor. It will be a lovely, peaceful place to sit and drink coffee, practice yoga, or just nap in a hammock!

I have been listening to a ton of podcasts and reading articles on best practices for short-term rentals. Guaranteed, this wall-mounted wine bottle opener will be a huge hit!
The built-ins on the hallway side.

I still need to get the little metal brackets in place and figure out where everything should go. I’m labeling everything – light switches, drawers, doors, you name it. This will make it far easier on my guests to find necessary items.

I’m also making a point of including everything from over-the-counter analgesics (Excedrin, Ibuprofen) to cough drops, q-tips, first aid, and even eye wash.

Bedroom 1

Bedroom 1 has a queen size bed. Originally, this room had another door, one that led to the living room. We took it out and that allowed us to put a queen size bed in without having to block any doors.

I need some artwork in here, but I love the quilt and wall color!

Bedroom 1 – view from where the other door used to be

There was a tiny, truly unusable closet here where the IKEA cabinet is. I plan to put a small chair there on the left.

I love this sign. When I saw it, I just had to have it!
We have water flowing in the bathtub and the toilet!

We have just a little ways to go here. My husband still needs to hook up the sink and we need to finish hooking up the shower component of the bathtub and hang the shower curtains. I love how the floor turned out!

Bedroom 2 with a full-size bed

Imagine my dismay when I went into the basement to retrieve the bed frame for this bed, only to discover it was a twin-size daybed!

So I found, and bought, an antique wrought iron frame for $50 from Facebook Marketplace that night. It is fantastic! No creaking, and just as solid as can be.

Bedroom 2’s closet (this is the same exposed brick as in the utility room).

We still need to finish out this closet with a pole.

Another great find on Facebook Marketplace.

I found the matching lamps in both bedrooms at Cargo Largo for $15 each. The bedside clock has two charging ports and it also tells you the local temp and humidity!

I bought luggage racks for both rooms (another good podcast suggestion) and we have some molding, wall art and mirrors to hang.
I had this old box in my library, sitting on one end and serving as a side table.

I love how this old box turned out. I asked my husband to install the light into it. It hangs between the two original metal cabinets, serving as additional storage, a light, and decoration!

Our lending library in the living room

The library will include books that stay with Cottage West (I’ll label them accordingly and put them on the top shelf) and also has a tip jar for folks to add money to if they want to take one of the books.

Wall art in the living room
I have a bit of hemming to do on the curtains! This little coffee table from IKEA was the perfect size and price. Just $12!
This window film looks fantastic and blocks the view of our neighbor’s decrepit house.
The glider looks gorgeous in dark green, don’t you think?!
I can’t wait to get this up on the outside wall!
I plan to add a small pond with solar fountain here in the middle of this tiny front yard.
The althea bush in bloom.

Here’s hoping we can officially open for business in mid-September. It’s been a long haul, folks, but it is so worth it. We have created a HOME. One that, come what may, is 100% paid for.

I can’t say that about my main house, or my rental house in Belton, so I’m pretty damned proud.

This has been an incredibly productive year – first with the front fence and now with Cottage West on the cusp of being complete. We have done well!

Final Week of August – Do or Die

And here I am hoping we don’t die. To just…do…to get it totally and completely done will be a-okay with me.

After all, we have come so far. SO…FAR!

My husband is taking next week off. This was his idea and I certainly was not going to object.

So what do we have left to do?

Well, I made a list. Of course I did. If you have been reading my posts for any time whatsoever, you know how I can be.

What’s Left?

Living room:

  • Troubleshoot one of the fans, the lights come on, but the fan blades don’t rotate.
  • Install gas logs in fireplace
  • Front door – remove paint, paint, add hardware and alarm sensor
  • Fix middle sconce
  • Install bead board around fireplace and re-mount mantel to the wall
  • Refinish floors

Kitchen:

  • Finish plumbing kitchen sink
  • Outlet & switch plate covers
  • Molding and trim
  • Install smoke/monoxide detectors
  • Refinish floors
Em’s treescape on one of our salvaged windows.

Pantry:

  • Troubleshoot light switch (it has a short)
  • Strip/paint cabinet doors to built-ins
  • Remove bottom cabinet door and replace with curtain rod and curtains

Utility Room:

  • Back door – strip paint, paint, and install hardware
  • Install deadbolt on basement door
This bathtub definitely needs a good cleaning!

Hallway:

  • Paint stairs to attic

Attic:

  • Install lighting
  • Add bead board to ceiling and half walls
  • Finish out storage and built-in bookshelves

Front Bedroom:

  • Hang door, install hardware

Back Bedroom:

  • Finish closet interior
  • Back door to porch – strip, paint, add door hardware

Back Porch:

  • Seal with caulk
  • Finish painting
  • Install molding on back door

Basement:

  • Declutter/remove trash
  • Remove random nails/screws and paint walls and rafters

In All Areas:

  • Finish installing trim/molding
  • Add smoke/carbon monoxide detectors
  • Touch up paint
  • Refinish wood floors
  • Finish adding switch plates and outlet covers
Mike and his son. You can find photos of Mike’s other work at his Facebook page: Mike’s “Wow Factory” Carpentry

After Nearly Half a Century of Wanting One…

We now have a playhouse! I have wanted one since I was a child, and now, finally, we have one. My tween is almost too old for it, but that’s almost. The three year old is excited and wants us to paint it pink. We keep telling her that she will grow out of this.

As far as I’m concerned, we got it for a steal. Quality workmanship, solid carpentry, heck, it was even delivered!

Mike’s “Wow Factory” Carpentry really delivered!

I highly recommend Mike for your future woodworking project – be it a playhouse, doghouse, chicken house, she shed – the sky is the limit, I think he can build it all!

We are now working on getting it painted. Eventually, I’ll surround it with hostas and other flowers and even install a brick walkway straight to it.

Em busy painting it. We will put on two coats and then paint the front door red and the trim a cream color.

Now I’m dreaming of two sheds – one for my husband’s brew equipment and one small one that can hold all of our lawn tools – and a gazebo.

Next year, definitely next year!

The First Weekend of August – Not as Productive as I had hoped

The metal sink cabinet that was in Cottage West when we bought it. Believe me, it’s shiny compared to how it used to look!

Renovations laugh in the face of deadlines. For that matter, life laughs at deadlines, and it is usually laughing its ass off at me and my grandiose plans.

This antique glider is too heavy to lift on my own, so I painted it in place. One coat. It will need at least one, probably two, more coats before its done. It will look great on the front porch of Cottage West.

But here we are at the end of the first weekend in August – my husband is laid up with a thrown-out back, we had to spend a good chunk of Saturday hauling two loads of brush to the free brush drop-off site, and the bathroom floor still doesn’t have grout.

I painted this baby with oil rubbed bronze metallic paint. I can’t wait to install it in the bathroom!

My husband is truly the dog to my cheetah. He keeps me calm and I miss his presence acutely when I’m there at the Cottage working on my own.

My brain started to circle around in panic, thinking of deadlines and how we really, REALLY need this project done and for it to be filled with guests…NOW.

This picture is from when the sink cabinet was in the old kitchen, now the utility room. I took it on the first day we went in to look at the house before making an offer of $25 with Land Bank.

I took a few minutes and reminded myself of how many things I can still do without having him there.

Sure, I can’t hang cabinets all by myself, but I can get the cabinets out of the basement, clean them up and paint them.

Another image from that first day, of the back of the house, covered in vines and rotting wooden siding.

I can order the sink faucet and garbage disposal, realize we need to do yet another change order and add another outlet to behind the kitchen sink for the disposal, and that the small cabinet cannot go on the wall I had planned.

So while I might not be as efficient, I still managed to get quite a few things done.

I painted the footsies and toesies black and even added oil rubbed bronze to the little clawsies!

The sink cabinet has been moved into the correct position. The fridge and stove will be placed to the left of it.

I couldn’t help myself, I just had to clean some of the floor. Can you believe the hardwood floor through the entire house was covered with either carpet or linoleum? The floors are in fantastic shape, although we still might need to refinish them. This is the spot where the fridge and stove will go.

I’ve coated the sink cabinet and drawers with three coats of paint and all of the grossness was cleaned out of it. I’ll see if I can’t find a “before” picture.

I keep fighting the temptation to bring furniture and linens over. I’m tired of dust and drywall and dirt. I want color, and softness and shiny wood floors.

I want to be done. I want to finally share with everyone how beautiful and welcoming this place can look.

After five long years of dreaming, sweating, and pouring our money into it – I’m ready to have this job completed!

What a Weekend!

This is definitely my painting shirt now!

I am glad we had the late start to a summer that we had. This past week was awful, heat-wise, and we both would have been miserable, overheated, and dehydrated if we had been out working on the fence.

Thankfully, most of it is done and the rest can wait until more temperate weather.

The back bedroom (and door to the enclosed back porch) as we began to add the primer to the drywall.

This weekend was something I looked forward to all week – it was time to paint Cottage West!

The bathroom sub-floor. It had to be rebuilt due to the water damage. It was a priority to get the bathroom painted and ready. This week we can add cement board and the lovely hexagon tile I will be buying. It’s a tiny bathroom, but it is going to look amazing!

But before we could begin, my husband went out and bought a pole saw so that he could do something that has been bugging him since we moved here…cut off the low-hanging branches of several of our trees.

The double gate next to Cottage West. There is a street light here, but it had been obscured by all of the tree branches. We’ve found all manner of items at the base of this tree, none of it particularly nice.

Ours is a neighborhood in transition. And one of the insights we learned was not to make it easy for criminals. After all, most criminals are, well, lazy. If you make it hard, they go somewhere else.

Before, the branches brushed the top of our SUV (the closest car). Now, there is plenty of room to see and be seen.

With low-hanging branches obscuring the streetlights at night, it gave the ne’er-do-well’s places to hang out, hide out, or get into mischief in.

These are the stairs up to the attic. I want to paint the risers with all manner of interesting books. See example below.

So the pole saw allowed my husband to reach all smaller branches within 25 feet of the ground and he removed so many! This also helped our plum tree that was doing well on one side, but not so much on the other, where the black walnut hung over it. Now those branches are trimmed back and we will get them to Missouri Organics sometime soon where they will turn all of it into free mulch.

Except maybe I’ll do it with my own books!

So that was Friday afternoon and evening. And then he hit some more of our trees with the saw bright and early on Saturday morning.

The living room – all primer’d and ready to be painted!

By 8 a.m., we were at Cottage West, our supplies in hand.

The back bedroom looking into the hall and the front bedroom beyond. I know it’s bright, but I really love this color. Especially when you add in the gorgeous teal velveteen curtains below.
These are the teal curtains (well, they look like this) I’ll put in the back bedroom
And I purchased three bedspreads from Zulily this weekend. I’ll either use this one…
Or this one. Both look gorgeous, don’t you think?

We blasted through a 3 gallon container of primer within a couple of hours. We managed to get the back bedroom, hallway, bathroom, and the utility room mostly done with that 3-gallon container. I estimated it would take at least six more gallons, probably more.

Teton Blue looked rather gray at first. This is in the front bedroom. Sorry there aren’t better pictures of the room, it is occupied by this enormous IKEA cabinet and the clawfoot bathtub. This room is considerably bigger than the back bedroom. It took nearly every last drop of paint to finish the walls in this room!

After lunch, we hit Home Depot and picked up two five-gallon buckets of primer, along with a eclectic palette of colors.

Is it Boho or Just Madness?

The third bedspread which I will put in the front bedroom. I hope it will look good in this room. I also have some dark green velvet drapes for this bedroom.

I had contacted my mom earlier in the week asking for her advice on choosing paint colors. I had found some adorable kitchen towels at Target and wanted to paint the kitchen green like the towels and then the back porch a bright yellow. Other than that, I had no idea what to do.

The dark green velveteen curtains that will go in the front bedroom

I told my mom, “Think bohemian, eclectic, something that makes you think colorful, artistic and books.”

My mom looked at me, “What do you mean, bohemian?”

Umm…

The clawfoot bathtub we got for FREE! It weighs around four hundred pounds and took four strong adults to get it into the house. I’m going to clean it and then paint it with oil rubbed bronze paint, paint the feet black with oil rubbed bronze claws and then re-attach them.

She went home after suggesting I paint all of the rooms in some pale, pale shade of green – but vary the different shades. “Green is calming,” she said. She also suggested that all molding be painted white. And nothing should be shiny.

The hexagon tile that will go in the bathroom complete with black grout.

I basically ignored everything she said.

Instead, when I got to the paint department, I did what I usually do, began to panic. And so, my 12-year-old daughter took command.

This is the “dear lord, what have I done?” shot. The Blue Teton looks GRAY, the beige looks rather orange/yellow, and the blue just looks…schizophrenic!

We found a gorgeous sunny yellow for the sunroom. And Em picked out a lively light blue for the back bedroom to go with the teal velvet curtains I picked up the other day. I tried to pick out a nice beige, and ended up with something that has…a lot orange in it…[sigh].

I will be stripping the paint from these built-in cabinets in the hall. Then I will re-stain the wood. It will be gorgeous…I hope. Stairs to the attic are on the left.

I forgot that I had to match some of the colors in the fireplace tile, so at first I bought teton blue (which actually looks very gray) for the living room. I ended up putting that on the walls of the bigger front bedroom.

This is NOT beige.

The golden, mustardy yellow (boy, do I know how to sell it!) will go in the front living room. The kitchen will be a lovely shade of green, and the back utility room remains open at this time.

Oh, right, and I chose a cream color for the molding. I hate white.

Several times I have told my husband, “You need to take more pictures of me. Otherwise, no one is going to remember what I look like when I’m dead.” I’m the main picture-taker in the family. But now, my smart phone has a way to take selfies. So there, I’ll take my own!

While my husband tackled finishing the living room and a few other areas with the primer, I tackled painting the bathroom, hallway, back and front bedrooms.

A picture of the back bedroom before painting it the light teal.

By the time I rolled on the coat of paint in the front bedroom, I could see I had managed my standard carnival of colors. What was I thinking? I have no idea. Standing there in the front bedroom and seeing the gray-blue, the orange-beige, and pale teal color – what could I do but laugh?

The utility room. I will be stripping the paint off of all of the interior doors and refinishing the wood. Except for that door on the left. That’s a junky NEW door, why bother? I like the exposed brick chimney here (this was originally the kitchen) and I’m still trying to decide what color? Have a good color for me? Send me paint colors. I use Behr exclusively (LOVE Behr) but they can usually color match.

I wanted bohemian…

I think I got it.

Hell, I’ll try it. If it just looks awful, I’ll find a way to fix it.

You’ve come a long way, baby. Just a few more weeks to go!

It’s been a very productive weekend. I’m proud of what we accomplished. All of it is movement forward, and that’s a good thing.

Pie in the Sky Dreams Can Come True

After leaving my first husband and moving back to my home state of Missouri, I had plenty of time on my hands. The year was 1993 and I was just 23 years old. I had found a job, enrolled in college, and a dream began to form as I stayed with my mother in her house in the north part of Kansas City.

It had seemed so impossible in California, but here? Here owning a house was possible. I wrote to the father of my young child and asked him to consider sending her to me. “I want a yard where she can play with her bestest friend and go to the school down the street. I want toys in every corner.”

I poured out my heart and soul, and apparently wanting those simple things made him angry. He wrote back, “Give up your pie in the sky dreams and send me the support I deserve in dollars.”

A month later, he filed for divorce, sole custody, child support and alimony – my hopes for an amicable end to our marriage were crushed and my dreams of a home of my own were put on hold. I returned to California less than six months later, determined to get custody and return to Missouri, a place with a far better standard of living than anything she would have in California.

I returned to San Jose in December of 1993 and I would spend the next three and a half years there, living first in a homeless shelter for three months, until I had a steady job and enough to cover rent in a shabby, one-bedroom apartment in an old, barely maintained 8-plex.

The owners were slum lords. There was no air conditioning, in the winter, the heat was supplied by radiators that began to warm at 8 a.m. in the morning (after I had left for work), were turned off during the day, and then turned on again at 8 p.m., just in time for me to go to bed (yes, even then I was usually an early-to-bed kind of gal).

There were no screens on the windows and there was a serious infestation of beetles from trees outside on the street. A bare lightbulb dangled from the ceiling in the living room, my bathtub dribbled a steady stream of boiling hot water, the wall above the bathtub had collapsed and anytime I took a shower, water ran down inside of the walls. Each winter, the stairs in the basement would swell, cutting off my telephone line. I went through four phones and multiple trips to the pay phone three blocks away trying to fix it, and the landlords tried to refuse to pay for it when the phone company finally did come in and fix it (I took it out of my rent and cited a property code that mandated one working phone line be present in each apartment). I dealt with an onslaught of cockroaches, ants, and even fleas and began to hate my landlords with a passion.

Each day, as I first rode the public transit to work (later I was able to afford a VW Bug that was one year younger than me and broke down at least once per month), and later as I drove to work, I would stare at the tiny bungalows that lined the far side of the street. Formerly homes, but now used mainly as small businesses, I dreamed of one that would have two bedrooms, that I could rent and have fun gardening and fixing up. I dreamed it day and night what I would do if I had that chance. How could I bring value, produce something that was beautiful, welcoming…something that I could call home.

Twenty plus years later, I can say my mind. My first husband was a complete horse’s ass. And I am profoundly grateful that I stopped listening to the idiot, focused on my dreams and when the right opportunities came along, I jumped at them.

It hasn’t been easy. But then again, what good and worthwhile thing is? Dreams take work. They take struggle, sacrifice, sweat and even tears.

I haven’t been standing around waiting for my dreams to come true, I’ve been working hard to make them happen. And with a combination of luck (right place, right time), foresight (seeing a deal and moving on it at just the right time), and tenacity, I see those pie in the sky dreams coming true.

It doesn’t mean I get to sit back and rest on my laurels quite yet. There are still a couple of years (at least) left of sweat, hard work, and out of the box thinking ahead of me – but I see the realization of those dreams every day.

A few weeks ago, exhausted from pulling weeds, moving bricks and fence supplies – I sat down, drank some water and watched my husband work on our front fence. I looked up at the profile of our home, this beautiful brick Victorian that I love so much, and I felt overwhelmed with gratitude. My dreams weren’t pie in the sky, they weren’t irrelevant or unrealistic, they were good, honest dreams.

I examined my relationships and realized that the ones I hold close, who I see each day and interact with, they are true, honest ones. They are people I can depend on, who love me as much as I love them, and the others, the fakes, the manipulators, and the disingenuous – they are all gone.

I find myself wanting to say the words “luck” or “blessed” but both seem insufficient. They don’t fully entail the reality – that this has taken thousands of hours of thought, planning, and execution. It has meant aches in places I never knew could ache, slashing our food budget in half, and recognizing that buying used clothes isn’t something I needed to stop doing, but instead continue ad finitum. It isn’t blind luck, it’s hard fucking work. My eldest used to refer to me as being made of Teflon, but the reality is, I made a decision to be Teflon. I refuse to let failure define me. I learn from the mistakes and move on, it is a mind set, not a series of fortunate turns.

I’ve been in the right place at the right time to buy Cottage West, Cottage East, and heck, even the house I live in. But in all of those, it took persistence, no small amount of craftiness, compromise, and skillful (and plenty of not-so-skillful) negotiations.

We make our own luck. To leave it up to anything or anyone else is foolishness.

As I consider yet another opportunity, a lead on someone in the market to offload some commercial real estate, it is partly terrifying, mostly thrilling. I’m not going to say anything more on it, because it in all likelihood might not happen. I have a price in mind, and if the price exceeds that, if the owner is not open to the terms, then I will walk away, recognizing that I have enough right now that I don’t need to take anything else on if the price is not right.

Here’s what I do know. It is absolutely essential that you dream those pie in the sky dreams. And even more importantly, that you act on them.

Get rid of people who try to make you feel insufficient or lacking. Move away from those who treat you with less than love and respect. Go out the door, grab ahold of those dreams and do not let go. Fight for them. Make them happen. Sacrifice, penny pinch, negotiate, and think creatively. Make the “no’s” turn into “yes” and make your pie in the sky dreams come true.

I’m worth it.

And so are you.

How It Is Going-A Progress Update on Cottage West

While we wait for the contractors to finish, we are making enormous progress on the front fence that will eventually encompass the entire front of our three properties. This is the view looking northeast. Cottage East is out of camera range on the far right.

I am really getting excited. I can’t help it, and I wanted to share it all with you!

As the contractor’s work on Cottage West nears the finish line, I know that our work has yet to begin. And I am hoping (fingers crossed) that we can get it all done by the end of July.

The view from the living room into the old dining room/new kitchen. We had the spray foam done two weeks ago.

What’s Left

The contractors are putting the finishing touches on the electrical outlets, and another team is currently putting in drywall.

When everyone is done and cleared out, then our jobs take center stage.

A view from the back of the house, back bedroom looking north into the hallway (bathroom on right) and into the front bedroom beyond.

We need to:

  • Install a tile floor in the bathroom
  • Prime the ceilings and walls
  • Paint the ceilings and walls
  • Install the toilet, sink and bathtub back in the bathroom
  • Install the cabinets, stove and refrigerator into the kitchen
  • Install the washer and dryer in the utility room
  • Fix a part of the ceiling and install paneling in the back porch
  • Layout the furniture, rugs and wall art
  • Add utensils, dishware, and all of the sundry things folks need in a rental/Airbnb
  • Refinish the front door
  • Hang curtains
  • Take photos and begin advertising on Airbnb and get as many reviews (and reservations) as possible

Special Pricing

I will be offering special pricing, with deeply discounted nightly rates for a limited amount of time, in order to fill the calendar and also garner the most possible reviews on Airbnb. I aim to qualify for Super-Host status as soon as possible!

The bathroom in progress…

If you have family or friends who need a comfortable, safe place to stay, I hope you will recommend Cottage West to them. I’ll have more information on how to reserve it on Airbnb once we have finished the work and taken pictures.

I may also offer some “free” nights’ stay to a handful of folks in exchange for honest reviews. More on that soon.

The Almighty Budget

I live and die by two things: my Google calendar, which I rely on to keep track of my cleanings, my family’s busy schedule, and events, and the almighty budget, which is continually in a state of flux, updated as things change in our lives.

The front living room looking at the shared wall of the front bedroom. We only made two changes to the layout of the house. One of them was changing the kitchen into a utility room and combining the kitchen and dining into a slightly bigger room, and the other was removing the doorway from the front bedroom to the living room. You can see the remains of the doorway in this picture. Both bedrooms are small, so having two doors going into the bedroom didn’t make sense. Now it is simply accessed off of the central hallway.

The almighty budget is what I turn to when I want to specifically track how long a debt will last, what our average monthly and yearly payoff rate is, and how to maximize that payoff to make sure we are doing everything we need to do to get out of debt as quickly as possible.

The budget tells me that, if we maintain the rate of debt reduction we are currently doing, we will be debt free, as in mortgage, loan, everything, in ten years.

It also tells me that by mid-2022, we will have saved enough along the way that Cottage East repairs will be completely covered. Not just that, but I built in a six month delay into any potential profits from Cottage East, just as I have for Cottage West.

I don’t expect Cottage West to begin producing any income at all until at least January of 2020. This means that any funds I do make are gravy on top. For Cottage East, with a finish date of mid-2022, I don’t anticipate any income until January of 2023.

I cannot stress enough how important a budget is. It assesses spending, clarifies areas you need to reduce expenses on, and creates a plan of action. In fact, one of the reasons we are able to do as much as we are in the future is because I slashed our food budget in half.

I realized we were spending around $1,200 per month on dining out and groceries. We are both on a weight loss regimen, so we aren’t consuming the amount of food we were and food was being made, only partially consumed, and then going bad and having to be thrown away. So I cut us down to $600 per month in groceries/dining out, and so far, so good. Far less eating out, and we are doing just fine on the reduced budget.

The future is looking bright!