EVERETT — After watching hours of home makeovers on HGTV, I said to my husband, “We can do that.”
So we did.
We bought a 100-year-old bungalow with crooked floors, mismatched doors and a toilet in the laundry room that was once the back porch.
What’s up with that?
We fell in love with the quiet side street, big yard of mature trees, shiplap walls and sloped attic with a peekaboo view of the water. Perfect for empty-nesters with energetic grandkids, with the added bonus of being too small for grown kids to move back in.
The house was a simple two-bedroom Craftsman-style box, like hundreds of others built in mill-town Everett in the 1920s for the hardy blue-collar working class families who all shared one bathroom and had tiny closets that held all a person really needed.
It was painted flamboyant yellow, with a gabled roof.
“A romantic storybook cottage” is what a woman walking by called it. (She lived in a nice big house up the hill.)
Despite our HGTV degree and owning a number of homes needing TLC over the decades, we were naive about houses this old. There’s a lot not covered on those 22-minute renovation episodes or disclosed by sellers.
I’ve since been told by others who’ve been there, done that: “When you buy an old house, you wait for the next thing to go wrong. And you don’t have to wait long.”
The house had been pieced and patched together in good and bad ways by a series of do-it-yourselfers over the past century. It had survived the great 1930 powder plant explosion and was still standing. That was a plus.
On HGTV, after the homeowners get the news the foundation is faulty, they cut to a commercial. When we got that news, I cut a path to the fridge for the box of Costco wine. I couldn’t add my usual ice cubes because by then the ice maker was kaput.
Remodeling a house often leads to divorce. I fantasized about offing my husband, Max, and hiding his body under that faulty foundation.
Those low kitchen cabinets I adored because I could finally reach the second shelf? Turns out these were a fire hazard that needed to be raised.
That quaint cellar? First heavy rain, it flooded.
The main bedroom? Functional. We can sit in bed and watch TV — the one in the living room.
The front door was backward. The gas fireplace was ancient and terrifying. The wind blew down the fence gate, which dented the side of the car.
The street is quiet, sure, but not the sky. Planes roar overhead. The house sits under a flight path, we learned. I wave at the passengers on Alaska Airlines and assume they wave back.
To keep a sense of humor, we dubbed it the “mellow yellow” house, a name that stuck even after it was painted gray. The yellow had seen better days.
The original fir floors from 1924 were beyond repair. The only bathroom was a flashback to a 1970s acid trip. One project led to another. We were in way over our heads.
We hired two guys who knew what they were doing and had the power tools to do it. We couldn’t have done it without them.
What was to be one month working on the house became four months of plastic sheeting, cords, dust, debris and stepping over nails.
“What have you done to this house!” my granddaughter exclaimed. I felt the same way.
In late summer, the mature trees morphed into an orchard of plums. Thousands and thousands of purple plums. The ground was a squishy sea of violet swarming with wasps that attacked me with incredibly painful stingers. I was afraid to go outside.
In the fall, a tech came to service the furnace.
“You got a gas leak,” he said.
Turns out a wrong-sized, second-hand furnace had been installed a few owners ago. Rather than retrofit the old war horse, our retirement bucks paid for a new furnace, delayed by the pandemic supply shortage.
We were without heat for three weeks.
That’s OK. At least we had plumbing.
And we had plums.
It’s a friendly neighborhood and a popular walking street for families and pet owners. People brought us banana bread and brownies when we finally moved in.
On a sunny Friday in January, the doorbell rang with urgency. This time, it wasn’t so sweet.
“You have a water leak, a big leak, it’s severe!” said a neighbor, whose little dog looked scared.
Water gushed through the yard.
“Oh, this is sad,” she said, shaking her head.
The water cascading along the curb was a strange sight on a clear afternoon.
“Why is your house leaking water?” asked a little boy on a walk with his family. He just stood there, asking it over and over, until his dad said, “OK, that’s enough,” and pulled him away.
The shutoff valve in the house didn’t stop the surge. A city worker came to the rescue and used a special tool to find the main shutoff, which was hidden under an overgrown bush by the street. That’s where the city’s responsibility ended. The underground pipe that burst was our problem.
“Good luck getting a plumber,” the worker said sympathetically. “They’re all still busy from the storm.”
We were without plumbing for four days.
That’s OK. At least we had heat.
The nice plumber who helped with the renovation altered his schedule to fix us up. He even gave us a returning customer discount when we called him back a few weeks later to scope the sewer line.
The mellow yellow house now has a new furnace, new pipes, new doors, new paint, new crooked floors.
What else could possibly go wrong?