Written by: "Luca"

More Brackett House Beginnings

Brackett Flip House Exterior Before

Ready to go upstairs?

In the last post, I introduced my first flip house, a 1929 English Cottage Revival in Arlington, Massachusetts. So far I showed you before pictures of the front exterior and first floor. Today you’ll see the second and third floors and the backyard.

To help orient you, let’s start with the floorplan. Here’s the original layout of the second floor:
Brackett Flip House Floorplan Layout Before

Just off the landing was a small full bath with a shower/tub combo. Two bedrooms are located on this floor, and the one at the front of the house came with a sweet little dressing alcove. The final room on the second floor was billed as an office– and here I found a little secret– a hidden staircase to the third floor tucked inside the closet. If you didn’t know to look for it, you could easily walk through the house without even discovering the third floor.

Second Floor Hallway

The second floor hallway has an arched doorway to match those on the first floor. There’s also a small linen closet just before the door to the office. I know pictures of a hallway aren’t thrilling in their own right, but I wanted to give you a good overview of the original space because I made several big floor plan changes in this hallway. Stay tuned!

Brackett Flip House Hallway Before Brackett Flip House Hallway Before Brackett Flip House Hallway Before Brackett Flip House Archway Arch Doorway Brackett Flip House Linen Closet Before

Second Floor Bath

This bathroom was actually quite charming. Black and white basketweave and subway tile– it’s a timeless look. But unfortunately the bathroom had serious issues. The walls had conspicuous water damage from past leaks. Many of the tiles were cracked and stained beyond salvaging. Some of the subway tile had been replaced over the years, and the replacement tile didn’t quite match the color of the original.

The bathroom’s layout was also problematic. As you can see in the photos, there were about 2 inches between the lip of the tub and the toilet bowl. Not only would that not pass modern code, the germaphobe in me was not a fan. The layout would have to be changed, and since I was also intent on upgrading the house’s entire plumbing system, that meant opening up the walls as well– a bittersweet decision because I really appreciated the classic style of this black and white bathroom.

Brackett Flip House Bathroom Before Brackett Flip House Bathroom Before Brackett Flip House Toilet Sink Before Brackett Flip House Bathtub Tub Before

Bedroom 1

The first bedroom on the second floor is fairly large, approximately 15′ x 12′. As with the rest of the house, I just loved finding so many features intact— original windows, doors, doorknobs and backplates, along with hardwood floors that looked as though they hadn’t been touched since they were installed.  I was really excited to bring all these features back to their original glory.

Brackett Flip House Bedroom Before Brackett Flip House Bedroom Before Brackett Flip House Bedroom Before

Bedroom 2

The little dressing alcove in the second bedroom was definitely one of the reasons I bought this house. Wouldn’t it be the perfect spot for a vanity or window seat? The pair of matching closets makes great use of the space underneath the roofline.

Brackett Flip House Bedroom Before Brackett Flip House Bedroom Before Brackett Flip House Dressing Area Before Brackett Flip House Dressing Area Before Brackett Flip House Closet Before

Office

Now we come to the little office. The room is small, about 8′ x 9′. But open the closet door, and there‘s the hidden set of stairs leading up to the third floor.

Brackett Flip House Office Before Brackett Flip House Office Before Brackett Flip House Hidden Stairs Before Brackett Flip House Hidden Stairs Before

Brackett Flip House Floorplan Layout Before

Third Floor Landing

The attic was already considered by the town to be finished living space when I bought the property. That was a very big plus because many towns like Arlington have started limiting the amount of finished space a house can have relative to its lot size– part of an effort to fight the “McMansion” craze. So I was thrilled to see existing finished space, no matter what the condition. And the condition was pretty dreadful.

According to the town records, the first permit for a third floor bathroom was issued in 1932! The entire attic space, including the bathroom, was renovated in the eighties. The resulting layout was awkward and impractical.

There was a fairly large landing at the top of the stairs — basically dead space. A double-sided closet was wedged between the chimney and the wall, bisecting the room in an unfortunate and unbalanced way. In order to fit the doors under the slope of the ceiling, they’d even chopped off the corner of the closet doors.

On the plus side, the former owners installed a skylight during the renovation, which gives the space an extra hit of natural light.

Brackett Flip House Third Floor Before Brackett Flip House Attic Before Brackett Flip House Third Floor Before Brackett Flip House Attic Before Brackett Flip House Attic Before

Third Floor Bath

So more on this 1932/1988 bathroom. It was… weird. The toilet was just hanging out in the middle of the room, two feet from the wall. Obviously the homeowners at the time didn’t want to place the toilet under that low, angled ceiling, but why didn’t just close up the void behind the toilet with a piece of drywall? To add to that, the sink was maaaybe 8″ wide. The only normal thing about this bathroom was the prefab shower stall– and it was pretty gross.

Brackett Flip House Attic Bathroom Before Brackett Flip House Third Floor Bathroom Before Brackett Flip House Old Bathroom Brackett Flip House Bathroom Toilet Before

Study

Next we have what was called a study. It had nice natural light from the double windows, but it was oddly shaped and small. The shower from the adjacent bathroom jutted into the room, creating an awkward little recess in the corner.

Brackett Flip House Study Before Brackett Flip House Study Before Brackett Flip House Study Before Brackett Flip House Study Before

Bedroom

And finally the third floor bedroom– a nice big space with ample natural light, but cut off from the rest of the floor. All in all, the third floor definitely had potential, but the layout needed a major overhaul.

Brackett Flip House Third Floor Bedroom Before Brackett Flip House Third Floor Bedroom Before Brackett Flip House Third Floor Bedroom Before Brackett Flip House Third Floor Bedroom Before Brackett Flip House Third Floor Bedroom Before Brackett Flip House Attic Bedroom Before Brackett Flip House Attic Bedroom Before

Backyard

The backyard was a thorny overgrown forest when I bought the house.  But believe it or not, it helped sell me on the house.

Underneath the brambles and years of discarded trash was a huge level yard. Arlington is a very hilly town, so it’s actually quite a boon to find a flat piece of land.

The house sits on a relatively busy street, so having a large private backyard is great compensation. The yard was also completely fenced in, which I knew would be a major bonus to buyers with young kids and pets.

One other funny thing back here– notice how the front of the house is a kind of teal blue? Not the back! For whatever reason, the former homeowners painted the front and west side of the house blue and left the rest of the exterior grey. Yankee thriftiness perhaps? I don’t know, but I sort of loved it.

Brackett Flip House Back Yard Before Brackett Flip House Back Yard Before Brackett Flip House Back Yard Before Brackett Flip House Back Yard Before Brackett Flip Exterior Paint Before

So that’s where I started with the Brackett House. Next time, we’ll get to the fun stuff: demo and design! Check back soon!

Ready to go upstairs? In the last post, I introduced my first flip house, a 1929 English Cottage Revival in Arlington, M...

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This Way Home Flips!

House Flipping Renovation Brackett Flip

I have been dying to share some incredibly exciting news – and it’s finally time. I just flipped my first house! I call this project the Brackett House, and I documented the entire renovation from start to finish. Today’s post introduces the house, but there will be much more to come, so please check back soon!

Let me rewind for a moment. I started house hunting in the spring of 2016, and my parameters were fairly specific: an older home in need of restoration located in a desirable community. Inventory is really tight in the Boston area, and it’s not unusual for an open house to attract over a hundred people. So to my strategy: I targeted houses that were so run down realtors didn’t dare hold an open house, and I avoided properties with high tear-down potential, i.e. small houses on oversized lots. I didn’t want to get into a bidding war with a developer.

I actually had two accepted offers before I found the right house. The first was a dated but charming three-bedroom Stick Style house in Needham, MA, and I bid very close to the asking price.  Unfortunately, the home inspection turned up asbestos-laden vermiculite insulation* in the attic.

Asbestos is always bad news, but vermiculite is particularly problematic because it’s loose and granular. It is much more likely to go airborne than solid insulation. Moreover, this house had balloon framing, meaning that there was a void between the interior and exterior walls; it was highly likely that some of the vermiculite had slipped into that void and fallen down to the first and second floors.

Most vermiculite insulation in the U.S. came from a mine in Libby, Montana. Asbestos decimated the town– in the true sense of the word– as nearly 10% of Libby’s population died. Asbestos can be abated, but given the framing of this house, it would have been impossible to eradicate the vermiculite without opening every single wall. I just didn’t feel good about passing along a potential health risk to a future buyer, so I decided to pull out of the deal.

The second property was a darling four-bedroom English Tudor in Waltham, MA. The house had great character throughout, but the attic was the real showstopper: twenty-foot cathedral ceilings and tons of natural light. But of course that third floor also turned out to be the biggest obstacle. The home inspector noticed some problems with the floor joists and the roof rafters, so he suggested I bring in a structural engineer. The engineer confirmed the worst-case scenario. The floor joists on the third floor were not designed to support a proper floor– they were merely intended to hold up the second floor ceiling. I would have had to rip out the attic flooring, the joists, and the second floor ceiling and rebuild from scratch. On top of that, the roof rafters were too narrow for today’s code requirements, so I would have had to replace them too. That kind of reconstruction is astronomically expensive, so I had to rescind my offer.

But you know what they say…third time’s the charm. In early October, I spotted a 1929 English Cottage Revival for sale in Arlington, MA. Superficially, it looked pretty dilapidated– with cracked plaster walls, peeling paint, broken bathroom fixtures– but I could tell that the house had great bones. Most of the original architectural features were intact and unadulterated. The house gets lots of natural light, has a huge fenced-in backyard, and belongs to an excellent school district.

My offer was accepted, and this time the home inspection went swimmingly. Sure, the house needed tons of work, but there were no major surprises. The house was sturdy and well built, so I felt confident going forward. Flipping is always a gamble, but this house was worth the risk.

Front Exterior

Brackett Flip House Exterior Before Old

So enough preamble, let me show you the Brackett House! The shingle cladding and steeply pitched cross-gabled roof are hallmarks of the English Cottage Revival. The roof was in great shape, with fairly new architectural shingles that last 30 to 40 years. The front yard, on the other hand, was a mess. The ground sloped towards the house, causing water to seep into the basement, and roots from the overgrown bushes were starting to compromise the retaining wall between the yard and the driveway.

Brackett Flip House Before Exterior Old

Up close, the house was showing signs of neglect. The front door was beaten up, and the steps were in desperate need of masonry repair. The actual portico around the door was in perfect condition, but it wouldn’t last if the concrete and brick underneath was left to crumble.

Brackett Flip House Front Door Steps Original

Floor Plan

Before I show you the interior, let me give you a sense of the original layout. Just inside the front door is a foyer with a stairway to the second floor, along with a small-but-handy coat closet.

To the left, through a set of French doors, is the living room and a windowed bonus room. I took to calling it the sunroom because of all the wonderful natural light it receives.

At the back of the first floor are the dining room and kitchen, followed by a half bath and a small pantry with a door to the backyard.

Brackett Flip House Original Floor Plan Original

Foyer

The foyer came with some charming details, including the gumwood stair railing and the little telephone nook above the stair landing.

Brackett Flip House Entryway Foyer Before Brackett Flip House Entryway Foyer Before Brackett Flip House Entryway Foyer Before

Living Room

The gumwood beams in the living room were one of my absolute favorite features in the house. I also loved that the house still had all of its original three-over-one windows throughout the first and second floors.

Brackett Flip House Living Room Before Brackett Flip House Living Room Before Brackett Flip House Living Room Before

Sunroom

Here’s the small bonus room at the front of the house, just off the living room. Thanks to seven full-sized windows, this room gets incredible natural light all day – you can see why I call it the sunroom.

Brackett Flip House Sunroom Before Brackett Flip House Sunroom Before

Dining Room

The dining room is situated on the opposite side of the living room, looking out onto the back yard. Even though the dining room, living room, and sunroom are distinct spaces, the large arched openings connecting the to each other give these rooms an open feeling. And I particularly love the beautiful horizontal accent window in the dining room, mirroring one found on the stairs.

Brackett Flip House Dining Room Before Brackett Flip House Dining Room Renovation Brackett Flip House Dining Room Before China Cabinet

Kitchen

Now we get to the first Major Yikes of the project. Where do I start? Instincts told me the drop-tile ceiling had to be hiding something bad. And the badly stained linoleum floor? It might indicate that the original hardwood beneath had also been damaged beyond saving. Then there was the peeling paint, the old, filthy electric stove, and the fact that the room was too small to even hold a refrigerator – relegating it to the pantry. And maybe the biggest design challenge was the fact that there were five doorways in this small room – to the pantry, basement, foyer, half bath, and finally to the dining room. That left way too little wall space for cabinets.

Brackett Flip House Kitchen Before Reno Brackett Flip House Kitchen Before Old Brackett Flip House Kitchen Oven Stove Before Brackett Flip House Kitchen Before

Pantry

Here is the small pantry off the kitchen. Because of the kitchen’s awkward layout, the fridge ended up in here, blocking the side door to the house.

Brackett Flip House Pantry Before Flip House Mudroom Butler's Pantry Before Old

Bathroom

And lastly here’s the half bath. Even though this space was pretty gross– with broken fixtures and more discolored linoleum flooring– I was excited the house had an existing first floor bath. I’m a bit of a germaphobe, so I hated the fact this bathroom opened directly into the kitchen. But don’t you worry, I found a way around that problem – and I’ll tell you how in an upcoming post.

Brackett Flip House Gross Bathroom Before Brackett Flip House Dirty Old Bathroom

That’s all for today. In the next post, I’ll show you the rest of the Brackett House and the enormous bramble thicket of a back yard. Stay tuned!

*I should note that not all vermiculite insulation contains asbestos. Since the vast majority of vermiculite in America does contain asbestos, I operated on that assumption. I did not have the vermiculite analyzed because the tests are not very reliable.

I have been dying to share some incredibly exciting news – and it’s finally time. I just flipped my first house! I call ...

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