Love at First Site //


Some people love dogs, some people love cars, but not me. I love dirt. I'm pretty sure it's not the first thing you think when you see me, but it's true--I really love dirt. Although, I'm picky about where my dirt comes from. Construction sites are perfect, backyards are OK, but the streets of NYC not so much. So now that you know that I love dirt, you may want to know why. I've been on and off construction sites since I was little. And here's a picture to prove it. I recently quit my public relations job in NYC in the pursuit of cleaner dirt. I love home renovations and remodeling, and I've been working closely with my dad who has been in the business for 40 plus years to learn everything I can. I’m also a full-time residential real estate agent in the Greater Fairfield area. I’m dragging my fiancé, Neil, along for the ride too. For those of you who know us, thanks for reading. And for those of you who don’t, welcome to our house flipping, home remodeling, suburbanite lives! Alana Brier | Newtown, CT | 203.304.4235 |
LoveAtFirstSite has written 17 posts for AlanaBrier's Blog

What Exactly is a Short Sale?

At face value, the term short sale seems obvious — the sale of the house is short/quick.  But in reality, short sales may take months and even years to close.  

A short sale happens when money from the selling property fall SHORT of the debt (e.g., mortgage, liens) owed against the property. 

In today’s market, when short sales happen it’s often because people either purchased their home or refinanced their mortgage when the market was high.  Now that housing prices have decreased, when they go to sell the house they cannot afford to repay the debt, and the lien holders (e.g., bank, mortgage company) agree to accept less than the amount owed.  The amount owed, or unpaid balance is known as a deficiency.  

A short sale agreement does not necessarily release borrowers from repaying the debt and will often result in a negative credit report against the homeowner.

And as a buyer, a short sale may be a great purchase, but does not necessarily mean that you’re always getting a deal.  



ROI of Home Remodeling

When trying to justify renovation ideas for our next project, I came across the 2011-2012 Remodeling Cost vs. Value National Report — which compared the average cost for 35 remodeling projects with the value they retain at resale. 

While it was great to see statistics on the most cost-effective improvements (top five pulled out below), I also asked myself a couple of questions:

  • Is the house in need of any “critical” updates?  I suppose if the roof is leaking, and the septic reeks no one will want the house despite its great kitchen.
  • Are the improvements we’re planning to make in-line with other “like” homes?  Do we really need granite counters and inlay cabinets when our competition doesn’t have them?
  • Are there any “curb appeal” issues with the home that can’t be fixed?  If the house isn’t already yours, something things to consider could be the size of the yard and proximity to the street.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

1. Replacing the entry door to steel

  • Estimated cost: $1,200
  • Cost recouped at resale: 73%

2. Attic bedroom (converting unfinished attic space into a bedroom w/ bathroom & shower)

  • Estimated cost: $50,000
  • Cost recouped at resale: 72.5%

3. Minor kitchen remodel (new cabinets / drawers, countertops, hardware & appliances)

  • Estimated cost: $19,000
  • Cost recouped at resale: 72.1%

4. Garage door replacement

  • Estimated cost: $1,500
  • Cost recouped at resale: 71.9%

5. Deck addition (wood, not composite)

  • Estimated cost: $10,500
  • Cost recouped at resale: 70.1%

Charlie driving us around to look for our next house.


You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover

But you sure as hell judge a house by its cover.  So, what exactly did we do to fix up the outside of this lovely house?

  1. Filled the missing section of the driveway in with cement
  2. Installed new vinyl siding
  3. Switched out the old windows with new energy-efficient windows
  4. Replaced the roof
  5. Filled in the storage cellar and created a patio where the roof once stood
  6. Cleared out the front and back yards
  7. Leveled/seeded the front and back yards
  8. Finished the front walkway, and built steps to access it (novel idea)
  9. Installed new garage doors

Investing: When to Say Goodbuy

Understand what goes into “goodbuys” vs. “goodbyes”

Now may be an ideal time to invest in real estate. But, when considering an investment property there are many things to keep in mind.  Here are just a few:

Know the market.  The housing market varies from state-to-state, town-to-town and neighborhood-to-neighborhood.  So, to make sure you’re really getting a good deal you should work with a local real estate agent who knows the market.

Identify the good buys.  A lot of potential investment properties pop up in today’s market. But more often than not, these properties are distressed and as an investor, you need to be able to identify when you need to say goodbye to a supposed “goodbuy.”

Be ready.  Depending on the town, good buys can be snatched up very quickly (sometimes they’re gone before they even hit the market).  If you’re serious about investing, be ready to check the house out and make an offer.

PITI and maintenance.  As the owner of a property you’re responsible for maintaining the property, and paying the mortgage principle, interest, taxes and insurance. A good investment should cover these basic costs, and turn over a profit.

Consider all costs.  When viewing properties, develop comprehensive budgets to track all potential costs (e.g., renovations, closing costs, carrying costs, etc.).

The “me” factor.  While some investment properties may be for personal use, others are not, so make objective decisions about what’s necessary for the property/budget, rather than what you may prefer (e.g., Formica vs. granite counter tops). 

What I Learned About Tiling

It’s not that tiling is all that complicated, but if Glenno wasn’t there to show me what to do, I think this blog post would be written very differently…for you newbies to tiling, here are some tips I learned along the way:

  1. Whether or not you want them to be, natural stone tiles tend to be uneven (tip — swearing at the tiles won’t straighten them out).  So, even if you yell at everyone around you to use spacers — not that I did this (yes I did), it’s super important to use your eye, and a level, to make sure you’re laying the tile right.
  2. You will likely embarrass yourself if you tell experienced people how to do stuff, when you yourself don’t know what you’re talking about (see note 1).
  3. If you love a bargain as much as I do then check out your local tile stores for remnants – these are extra tiles left over from other jobs.  We were able get our tiles at a 50% discount.
  4. When ordering your tile, keep in mind that you may or may not cut a few pieces wrong, drop a brand new box and shatter some tiles, measure a few wrong (but be happy that you cut them the right size)…  So, make sure to order enough so that you have some leftover.
  5. The prep work can be exhausting, which you may or may not realize until 2 days later when you are so sore you feel like a truck hit you.
  6. Don’t be scared to incorporate a simple design into your tile work!  As long as you plan it in advance, it’s not super complicated and will make a big difference with the finished product.

first time using a tile cutter = success!

design only cost an extra $20

prep work included gutting the bathroom and putting up new “green board” and hardiboard down

easy even tiles 🙂

Breakfast is the Most Important Meal of the Day

To the laborer who showed up at 10:00 am (when you were supposed to be there at 8:30 am), complaining that you were hungry:

  1. I’m not your mother, your wife or your friend — and you’re a grown man, so feed yourself
  2. Seriously, think next time before you complain about the food that someone so nicely buys for you
  3. You’re fired

How Love Turned to Hate – A Tale of Sheetrocking WRONG

There are quite a few things that I love – some more typical than others (don’t get me started on why broccoli is the best vegetable ever, and you already know how I feel about dirt).  Well to make myself sound even more normal, I’ve also always loved sheetrock.  I can remember being on the job sites when I was younger and playing with little chunks for hours (cause isn’t this how every little girl spends her summers?).  

Anyhow, this love quickly turned into HATE when our normal sheetrocker — at the last-minute — decided that he couldn’t commit to a start date.  And, then almost as soon as our back-up sheetrocker began to work, it became obvious that with a little bit of guidance (and let’s not lie, a few more pounds of muscle) I would have been able to do a better job.  So, let me share with you what I learned from this experience:

  • How to kick someone of the job (and yes, it’s awkward)
  • The value of having a father who can fix just about anything (Glenno re-did and finished it all)

  • And I also learned that it’s not a good sign when:
    • It takes the guys an hour to hang one sheet cause they are trying to figure out where the holes for the recessed lights need to be
    • Even after they’ve spent said hour, they still cover up one of the lights
    • They try to fix a bubble under the tape (which you pointed out to them in the first place) by putting more joint compound over it rather than cutting it out
    • The sand created from sanding the joint compound creates so much dust that it breaks the shop vac

Let there be light!

Okay, so after the fact I realized that it wasn’t quite as dramatic as the Genesis, but you would have had a hard time of convincing me otherwise when we re-wired (ah-hem, created light) and fixed up the plumbing at Bunker Hill.

you can’t see Glenno — but he’s in the background yelling at me to stop messing around and load the truck

First, we tackled was the lower level.  Keep in mind, that this space was once filled with refrigerators (b/c who doesn’t need five of them?), bags of clothes, pianos, etc.  But now that it was cleared out and the framing was done, our soon to be family room, bathroom and laundry room were taking shape.  And, the wiring/plumbing was pretty straight forward — this is what we did:

  • Added recessed lighting
  • Hardwired a carbon monoxide/fire detector
  • Installed vanity lights and an overhead light/fan in the bathroom
  • Included outlets throughout per code
  • Hooked up plumbing for the toilet, shower, sink, washer/dryer

Throughout the whole house we:

  • Replaced the copper pipes that had been stolen/cut (if you remember, this happened on my birthday …)

  • Fixed up the wiring/plumbing
  • Replaced old light fixtures with new ones
  • Updated the heat to a new hot water heating system power vented via new baseboard.  Of note, the system came with a defect from the factory – which neither the store we bought it from, or the company representative that came out was able to identify.  Luckily, Glenno figured out the issue and we were able to get resolved.

Learning to Frame

Framing walls is a pretty straightforward process, but just like anything, it’s easy to mess up.  And let me tell you – our framer, Marty, was not shy about pointing out every little thing that I did wrong while “helping” to frame the lower level at Bunker Hill.  So, now I’ll let you learn from my mistakes:

  1. Inspect the straightness of the 2-by-4  before cutting to make sure they aren’t warped – clearly I had too much trust in Home Depot
  2. You don’t actually need to write down the multiples of 16 to mark where the studs should go.  Almost all tape measures have small red lines on them that indicate the spacing between wall studs.
  3. And about those red lines, they indicate the center of where the stud should be placed — not the right or left of where the stud goes
  4. Snapping a chalk line to indicate where the plate should go is much easier than marking the floor every foot with a pencil (not that I did that…)
  5. Make sure to measure the height of each wall stud prior to cutting the wood – just because the wall should be straight doesn’t mean that it will be

Also hold back your damn the man attitude – the studs really do need to be 16 inch on center as this lines up with the width of insulation, the length of sheetrock, etc.

Loser Loved to Weed

Growing up, we had the best cat named Loser — yes that was his name, but that story is for another time. The one weird thing about him (other than his name) was that when we were pulling weeds in the garden, he would walk right in front of us and “mark his territory.”

And, while it may be a stretch to call what we had at Bunker Hill gardens, and even more of a stretch to call what we needed to do weeding, it did bring back these memories of Loser. 

Anyhow, I digress … here are some pictures of what the front and side yards looked like:

And, here was the backyard:

Removing the trees and bushes was quiet the process. First, we had to lasso the top of the trees with a heavy strap that Neil and I pulled on while my Dad cut the base of the tree (you know b/c we didn’t want it to fall into the living room). Then we had to lug this huge metal chain to wrap around the bushes and hook to the excavator so we could pull the stumps out. Let me tell you, all this pulling and lugging felt like it should be a crossfit WOD (and I can say that bc I’ve officially taken 3 classes).

But after just a couple of days, we had ourselves a space that even Loser would have been happy to mark:

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