Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

Saving Etta: Chapter 2: The Vision

Saving Etta - One Woman's Journey to Save a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy GirlSaving Etta: Chapter 2: The Vision

This is the true story about a house built in 1900 that is in serious disrepair. It’s also the story about my journey toward becoming a general contractor and my attempt to save a home from being bulldozed. I hope you’ll follow along as I embark on a journey into the unknown perils and rewards of flipping a home in downtown Raleigh, NC.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram as I share live updates about this project I’m calling Saving Etta.

As Lori (my realtor) and I continued through the house we stepped down into a small hallway connecting the kitchen, bathroom and a bedroom. “This feels like an addition,” I said noticing the low ceiling overhead.

Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

“Hmm, I hope this is at least 7 feet or you can’t claim it as square footage,” Lori replied.

I pulled out my tape measure from my “picnic basket” tool bag and quickly assessed that the ceiling was 7’ 2” — I was good. Just for giggles the opposite corner of the room was measured.

“Whoa, this spot measures 7’ 5”! That’s some serious sloping within 9 feet.” I remarked.

Lori didn’t look shocked but firmly stated, “Better hope the foundation is okay and it’s just water damage.”

We turned a corner to stare face-to-face with a big mass of insulation protruding from the ceiling. The edges were damp and foretold a big or long suffering roof leak.

Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

“Those new shingles on the roof were either installed incorrectly or are hiding some issues.” I stated.

We walked through the tiny kitchen and were assaulted by a strong odor. Lori suspected it was rotten food, but I knew the smell well. Four years ago our kitchen was gutted after a small water leak turned into a moldy disaster.

After that experience, I will never mistake the smell of mold for anything but mold. Water leaks can be the most damaging disaster on a home (short of a fire or tornado) and if left undetected for a long period of time can absolutely wreck a home.

Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

During the mold remediation we spent twelve days living in our house with giant air scrubbers running 24-7. I equate it to living on an airport runway. The sound is mind numbing and walking outside feels like being released from the hull of a Boeing 747. Little did I know that living through that experience would land me where I am today: looking for a run down house to renovate.

We walked into a back room off the kitchen and covered our mouths and noses with our hands. “Oh wow, that’s some serious mold.” I made a mental note to bring a respirator next time we toured a house.

Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

Lori and I quickly retreated back into the hallway and walked into the other two rooms. “The house is definitely chopped up and lacking a reasonable flow.” Lori declared.

I agreed as I spotted an attic pulldown in the ceiling. She nodded, knowing all too well what I was planning. “Go get it, girl!”

The ladder nearly fell apart as it was pulled out of the ceiling. I assured Lori that I’d be careful as I headed up into the attic.

The flood light illuminated the hot and dusty space. I inspected all the rafters noticing they were super narrow and some showed breaks. Then I scanned the attic floor and noticed a possum carcass and a thick layer of brown dirt-like material covering the floor. I made a mental note to look up what asbestos insulation looks like. Nestled among the dirt in several places was scat from a larger animal. The possum must have called this his home for quite a while. 

Lori called up, “What do you see?”

“Well, if I buy this house, I’ll be shoveling some shit.” I yelled down to her.

After a few more minutes poking around in the attic, I managed to snap a picture of the HVAC sticker to determine the age of the unit. Unfortunately most of my view was obscured by the giant silver ductwork coming out of the unit. 

Gingerly climbing back down the ladder, I hoped it would hold until I reached the floor. After a quick peek inside the only bathroom in the house, I turned to Lori.

Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

“Okay Lori, what are your ideas?”

She began to explain her vision and the walls began to change in my mind. Occasionally I asked her to stop and explain it again to help me get a clearer picture in my head.

She continued, “If you can squeeze two bathrooms and three bedrooms into this house you’ll be in a better position for resale.”

I nodded, thinking there should be enough space to figure that out within 1,300 square feet.

Lori spread her arms like an eagle, “Put up a wall here and this becomes your third bedroom. The other side is your mudroom and laundry room. You’ll just have to move the door over here.”

I realize that she talks about moving walls, doors, and windows as if this were a lego house. In actuality, opening walls always seems to reveal hidden issues and can be challenging.

After the vision was cemented in my head, I took a quick video on my phone. I find it helpful to walk through the house from front to back and dictate what I see in my mind and how I plan to change things. As the video began, the smoke detector chirped and I chuckled. My husband had just commented last night, while watching another one of my house videos, about the annoying chirping. “I guess that’s what happens when there is no one around to change the batteries.” I remarked.

Once the video tour was complete, I headed outside and was dismayed to see a tree had been allowed to grow up against the left side of the house. From looking at the base of the tree it was evident the foundation had been compromised and would likely need a lot of work to bring it back.

Saving Etta - The Story of Saving a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

Lori had headed outside before me and was talking to the neighbor, a man in his 30’s with long hair and a beard. He asked if the house was for sale. We both nodded, explaining that it had just listed on the MLS database.

The neighbor told us how he bought his house seven years ago for 1/5th of the price of the house we just exited. Our mouths dropped open. We knew this area was hot, but that’s some serious appreciation. He continued to explain that he’d put money, but mostly sweat equity, into his home. I knew immediately that I liked this guy and appreciated that he didn’t blink when Lori explained that I was thinking about buying the property. He showed no hint of disbelief in his eyes. The men in the construction and building trades that see me as a person (not just a woman,) are people that I value and lean on when I need a lesson on a home improvement skills. They tend to be the ones that push me beyond my limits and force me to face my fears of unknown skills and abilities.

There are three men in particular that were instrumental in helping me earn my general contractor license. Bob K., Jack and Bob L. all saw me as a person (not just a woman.) They each took time to answer my questions and ultimately vouched for my moral character when I was applying for my general contractor license. They each wrote a letter to the Licensing Board of General Contractors explaining why they felt I should be a General Contractor. Not once did they treat me like a woman who would likely be getting in over her head while trying to rehab a poor broken down house.  As I stood outside talking to the neighbor, I knew he might one day fit into this same group of valuable friends.

After we left the house, I felt it in my heart that this was going to be my first full house rehabilitation project. Something in my soul told me that I was meant to have this house to work my magic on. She gave off positive vibes but at the same time I knew that she wouldn’t give in easily to the changes I had planned for her. That was okay with me because I like strong stubborn women like myself.

Read the next chapter! Chapter 3.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

18 replies
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  1. Janet
    Janet says:

    You’re gonna ROCK that house! I’ve done 3 (all with mold, but I am a partner in a Paul Davis Restoration franchise that specializes in mold remediation – dangerous stuff for sure) and if you’re like me, I LOVE to take something totally destroyed and so ugly that nobody wants it, and transform it into a work of art! My houses sell quickly and of course, my favorite part is redesigning and staging! Everyone and their brother (or sister) want to flip houses, but it is WORK and can be stressful, but the end result can be ecstatic! I look forward to your progress! Take photos during the entire process!

  2. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    You sound fit and committed to begin this project in earnest. I look forward to more on your rehabilitation of this property! Love seeing the pics and look forward to the process you will go through.

  3. Zovesta
    Zovesta says:

    Inspiring, but what a crapload of money and work you’ll be putting into this place! Best of luck, you can do it. Keep us updated. 🙂 I admit, I love the smell of mold, even though it’s not good to breathe in. 🙁 Dust and mold smell great to me…

    • Barbara
      Barbara says:

      I am allergic (seriously) to both dust mites and mold. They wreak havoc on one’s respiratory system. Do not breathe into your lungs air that is surrounded by mold.

  4. Jill M Miglin
    Jill M Miglin says:

    Hey Brittany!
    I have to tell you that I’m impressed with you going for your general contractor license. i’m in my 60’s and wish I had done that when I was a wee bit younger. Love reading about “Saving Etta”

    • Holly Walters
      Holly Walters says:

      Amen Jill! I’m 63 and wish I had done the same! Good for you, Brittany! Keep up the good work girl!

  5. donnalee stadt
    donnalee stadt says:

    Total insanity at this point….a vision not easily seen by me, 3 bdrm. 2 bath… I am all about your journey….I want to see what a house stretcher looks like. I have usually been able to envision things pretty easily until now….I will be looking to buy a cottage later this summer, however the bones need to be more intact, not on life support. Did you weigh out detonating and then rebuilding….I kid of course because I admire your gumption. Get your tetanus shot, buy some hazmat clothing and carry on….I will be following you for sure.

  6. Colleen Taylor
    Colleen Taylor says:

    I find myself making awful faces when I read this blog & view your photos Brittany. It’s that gag reflex in me leftover from years gone by. My goodness, Miss Etta desperately needs your magic. It truly is exciting but pretty overwhelming to think of it all. Keep up being strong & stubborn. The world needs more young women like you!


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  6. […] you are just joining the story, you may want to read Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 for more of the back […]

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