A neat fixer-upper that is 40% done


Couple transform N. Linthicum house with help from family, friends

October 13, 2002|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Like a lot of young couples, David and Karen Cole wanted a home of their own. Both in their late 20s, the couple had rented for years. Their last rental home, in Pasadena, was nice enough, but it wasn't theirs and it wasn't what they really wanted.

What they wanted was a rancher in a stable, family-friendly neighborhood in Anne Arundel County where they could raise their two sons, 9 and 4, and daughter, 7.

Karen Cole wanted hardwood floors and maybe a fireplace. But the couple were also on a budget.

David Cole works with a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning company and Karen Cole stays at home with the children. The couple didn't want to be house poor and put every dime they had into the home.

And so the Coles looked for more than a year but couldn't find anything in their price range. Though "we weren't in a hurry," it was a bit disappointing to look for so long and find nothing, he said.

After a while, the couple decided to take a break from looking at houses. It was then that the perfect home turned up.

Well, the property in North Linthicum was not exactly perfect, but it turned out for the best.

Her father, a contractor, had been asked to do major renovations on the house in North Linthicum. The seller was a woman acting on behalf of an elderly relative who could no longer live there.

Although the house and neighborhood had almost everything the Coles wanted, the property would likely need $30,000 in repairs to make it presentable to a buyer.

Knowing that his daughter and son-in-law were interested in finding a house, Karen Cole's father asked the seller if she would sell the house as-is.

It seemed like a good deal. The seller would be able to move the house quickly and the Coles would get a house in a good neighborhood well within their budget.

"It even had an attached garage," David Cole said. "That wasn't even on our list."

Still, his wife was a little leery about buying a fixer-upper. Her husband and father could do some of the renovation work themselves, but she wondered whether the family was getting in over its head.

When she first went to see the house, Karen Cole said she prepared herself for the worst. Instead, she was pleasantly surprised.

"I took one look at the hardwood floors and the fireplace and that was it for me. Everything else didn't matter. ... I could picture what it would eventually look like," she said.

The couple purchased the two-bedroom, one-bath home for $80,000 in the summer of 2001 and David Cole got right to work. "The house was habitable," he said.

But Karen Cole quietly shook her head, remembering how dated the house had been.

"The house was in what I called the pre-Brady Bunch era," she said. She remembers a lot of gold and green accents throughout the home.

"Just adding a fresh coat of paint made a world of difference," her husband said.

He sanded and caulked and primed nearly every square inch of wall space and ceiling until the sheetrock looked nearly new.

The home's kitchen dated to the 1930s, including the stove, and there were only two cabinets.

"Two cabinets!" the Coles recalled in disbelief.

The home also lacked a dishwasher and a clothes washer and dryer.

"I think the refrigerator was the only thing in the house that was less than 10 years old," he said.

The kitchen was redone with new top-of-the-line appliances, countertops and wooden cabinets. The linoleum flooring -- there were several layers of it in the kitchen -- was stripped and replaced with tile.

The Coles also faced another problem. The house had only two bedrooms but the Coles have three children.

The couple managed to add another bedroom by walling off the dining room. To someone who had never seen the house before the change, it appears as if the house was always laid out in this fashion.

Since the living room was fairly large, the Coles decided to turn it into a living-dining area by knocking out part of a wall between the kitchen and living room.

David Cole said he couldn't have done the renovations without the help of his father-in-law, brother-in-law and co-workers from his job.

The outside of the home was also seriously neglected, having become so overgrown that a side fence was hidden.

"The day we moved, we rented a 19-foot van and completely filled it with yard debris and hauled it to the dump," he recalls.

Dead trees and overgrown, thorny bushes were removed. Nearly an entire cord of wood was scattered throughout the back yard. Karen Cole spent a day moving and stacking the wood into a neatly organized pile in the far corner of the yard.

"She's my pioneer woman," David Cole joked.

With most of the debris cleared and the yard tamed, she set out to do what she always wanted to do -- plant a garden.

This year she planted a vegetable garden and a garden along the side of the house to attract bees and butterflies. "It's finally starting to bloom," she said.

Karen Cole also enjoys the neighborhood's amenities, especially the community pool. On summer days, she and the children walk to the pool and spend the afternoon with their neighbors and friends.

In the evening they come home and drape their towels over the front porch railing. She said it reminds her of living in a little beach house.

There's still work to be done on the home. "We're about 40 percent done," David Cole says.

But for now the couple is taking it easy. "I spent so much time last year working on the house, I didn't see the kids much and we didn't take a vacation," he says.

Future projects include installing a new roof and windows and adding a bedroom and bath in the basement.

He estimates the home is worth nearly twice what they paid for it, but says there's more value in the home than just its resale price.

"Just being able to look at what we have done and knowing that it's really ours and seeing all of our hard work pay off. That's what I like the most," he says.

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