Category Archives: Home Improvement


treeIf there were yet one thing that makes a home less than attractive is the sightings of paint drips and over-painting on door frames and baseboards. Last week I went to inspect a paint job of a home that is being readied for sale and was a bit shocked by the sloppy paint job. The owner had have the home cleaned, so I suggested having the cleaning people work on getting the paint off the wood surfaces. Luckily the paint hadn’t dried completely so the four hours of removing the paint splats and drips could have become more of a nightmare had it fully dried.

It would be great if there were some sort of State certification where professional and semi-professional painters would have to get to show proof of their knowledge of preparing homes for painting before the paint can is opened. Owners are equally to blame for the sloppy paint jobs they do on their own homes. I believe in having painting parties, but the beer should not be passed out until all the painting for the day is done.

Some years ago I recommended a part-time painter to do some work for an elderly woman whom I knew would do a good job. Not too many days later, the owner said she was a little disappointed with the painter I suggested. I asked why and she said, “She is such a slow painter.” I then asked her if she appeared to be doing a good job and she said, “Of course she is.” I went on to tell her she should be thankful that the job is done and done well rather than having a poorly painted interior.

Some people believe it takes me far longer than normal to complete a project, yet it really doesn’t affect me because I would rather work longer at something and have a good job done that I don’t have to re-visit for touch ups. I’ve been a firm believer that if you can’t do something right, then it shouldn’t be done at all. Too much time, effort, and sometimes real value is lost when an attempt at improving turns into an eyesore.

Nature in its infinite beauty creates with the brush stroke of a master. Lets all be a little more careful about the drips.

The Summer of Storms

SEA_0338Last year we endured the record breaking summer of drought. Not only did the crops suffer but also the livestock that supply food to our tables. Many don’t know what also suffered, were some of the homes here in North Iowa that had basement foundations that sank due to the extremely low water table. When something is built on soil that has an average moisture content and remains that way, it gives stability. But, if the moisture content is taken away, the soil shifts and contracts which then causes footings to sink and subsequently walls to crack. There are some homeowners that are now faced with dealing with cracked foundations.
Now comes this year’s North Iowa weather. I had an appointment in Worth County this afternoon and in coming back, I decided to travel the blacktops back to Mason City. Wow, what a sight! I didn’t realize how much the ground is still saturated from the rains of last month. I came up over a hill and when I looked out over the fields below I saw large ponds of standing water in nearly every field. Remember, almost every crop field has some sort of tiling system in it. Well, it appears the tiles are still attempting to drain away water from our last rain. I’ve heard many reports that in our area at this time, we are at the ground water saturation of the flood of 2008. It’s no wonder why I get really nervous every time it starts raining. It seems these bands of showers are heavier and longer lasting. I had appointments to show homes this morning and was drenched by the time I was finished. What makes me even more sad is that I see some of the gardens and fields are damping off as well. Too much water basically drowns the root systems of plants.

Last summer was The Summer without Rain. This summer is The Summer of Storms. Anyone up for writing a book?

Tips for going Green

Sharing knowledge is rewarding. There are so many people who know much but don’t want to share because they believe that with that knowledge gives them extra power. Such a selfish idea when they really must understand that we all must attempt to work together in the job of living. One of my customers asked be about a week ago if I knew a plumber to call to get his shower heads working.

I asked him what was wrong. He said that the water doesn’t spray like it should. I told him he didn’t need a plumber but rather unscrew the shower head and soak it in some white vinegar because it was likely limed up. The acid in the vinegar will dissolve the lime. I also told him that it can be used around faucets and other areas of the kitchen and bath that have lime build-up. I received an e-mail from him today thanking me for the great tip because now after acting on my suggestions, his shower heads are working just fine now and also said he hated using so many different cleaners because of all the ingredients in them. I remember so well helping my parents wash windows with just vinegar and water. They were just as clean as a window washed with a name brand window cleaner. I laugh to myself when I show someone a home that has a linoleum floor in the kitchen or bathroom that has yellowed. I tell them that if they would scrub it very well with ammonia and water and give it a good rinse, it will likely look just like new. One of the big things that most people don’t know about is something a custom builder told me many years ago about keeping ceramic tile clean. He told me that using commercial tile grout cleaners is a waste of money when a person should just use pure oil soap maybe once or twice a year. You just wipe it all over the tile and leave it stand over night then wash it off. When I did it for the first time I was shocked. The tile and grout looked just like new. He said the oil in the soap helps to protect the grout from getting water logged. These are just a few tips that I hope I can share over the course of posting my articles. Just because it isn’t advertised on the television doesn’t mean that it’s bad—it just doesn’t make big businesses money.

Protecting our ourselves and our environment is what Going Green is all about.


I spoke with one of my colleagues today about several of my new listings that are value priced.
She said that she as well, has been having more of a problem selling older 2 story homes. Like myself she can’t understand why the buyers today are shying away from the older well built and maintained homes. Being fully aware of the pros and cons of older versus newer, I still prefer the older well built homes over the newer. Having been in real estate for well over 20 years, I remember when some of the newer subdivisions were being opened. I drive thru them today and see homes that look far older than they really are. Plastique does not last forever. I laugh to myself whenever I hear someone say their plastique vinyl siding is permanent. Give it some years of exposure to the elements and we will see.

I was showing a newer home several days ago that had a finished basement. To my and the buyers surprise, we noticed the plastique coating that looks like wood grain on the composite baseboards was starting to peel away. Oh how delightful! Whenever I walk thru a newer home, I don’t even have to look close because I can tell if the doors and woodwork are real wood or compressed sawdust coated with plastique. I don’t even want to go there about what I believe is the real health problems homeowners are encountering. Too many chemicals with too many interactions. Let’s get back to the basics and start living in homes built with “real” basic material and “real” finish materials. I suffered for years with allergies until I removed all the carpets in my home and refinished my “real” wood floors.  Plastic is plastico is plastique is plastica is plastikowy… and on and on.  Tried and true old ways are oft times better ways.

All Thumbs

Today I experienced more than just several examples of how our current Age of Specialization has created a lack of broad understanding. A generation or two ago people were forced to learn how to do things on their own due to necessity and cost. In our times, some of the simplest tasks are looked at with wide-eyed confusion and fear. What is even more of a by-product of the lack of learning, is that so many who should know better don’t understand cause and effect. For example, people wonder why their utility bills are high yet when I look at their windows, I see storm sashes either up or completely missing. And on top of that, glazing around the windows and frames pealing off.

Air leaks create drafts which create more energy usage and in the end, higher utility bills. I received from an owner today the utility bills on a very well maintained 90+ year old 2 story home. Those bills were less than many of the newer ranches I have recently sold. Heat rises and the larger the basement, the more temperature variance that exists which subsequently makes the furnace work harder to maintain a stable temperature. I do hope that the charming entry level buyers become learners and doers so we can see the resurrection of the manicured Craftsman and late Victorian era homes of which Mason City is blessed. Whenever I have walked into a soulfully cared for turn-of-the century home, my senses are aroused to the smell of the real wood, the light filled rooms with high ceilings and tall windows and the touch of real brass knobs and handles. The sooner our young buyers get over being all thumbs, the faster we will see the return of the “Painted Ladies.”

Old ways are sometimes better ways

Have any of you thought about why homes that were built the way they were in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s? Features like small closets or no closets, big kitchens with few cabinets or little kitchens with fewer cabinets, screened porches on the second floors off bedrooms, and not to mention cisterns in the basements.  Our material oriented society today has turned us into excess consumers who incorporate those wants and needs into home designs that are currently popular.

I personally laugh to myself when I have buyers tell me that they want a bedroom for each child. Whatever happened to sharing and caring when you have more than one male or female child? The small closets of the past were built to hold two sets of work clothes and likely one or two sets of dress clothes. The fewer cabinets in a kitchen meant that someone had to shop more at the grocery store and likely daily. Isn’t it better to have more fresh food on the table? Even today in Europe’s larger cities it is common for people to do their grocery shopping every day after work. And by the way, they use their own re-useable canvas shopping bags. Upper screened porches in two story homes had a double use; they normally had hooks that were strung with temporary clothes lines to dry their wash, and in the summer when it was so hot, they were used as sleeping porches. I have been in real estate long enough to remember seeing cots with thin mattresses on those upper porches.

Some of you are familiar with cisterns. They were constructed to hold rain water coming off the roof that was then diverted via the downspouts to fill them. That water was then manually pumped by hand back up to the attic where there was a large galvanized tank that was plumbed into the “3rd” faucet of the basement laundry room as well as the bathroom and sometimes the kitchen.

That natural soft water was used for washing clothes and bathing. Water softeners are a relatively new creation. What I not so long ago discovered is that, in California there are more expensive districts with larger yards where the owners have constructed huge underground cisterns to store diverted rain water that is used to water their lawns and trees. I have to give credit where credit is due, California has re-invented ways to save on natural resources.

Re-use and not abuse…

Among my range of interests and abilities, comes my story today. I was in a conversation last week with a gentleman who wants to create a re-use or re-cycled store that will offer all the components of older and very old homes in Mason City and North Iowa. He was saying, and I believe he is correct, when he insisted that Americans have become programmed to the throw away and “buy new” world.

He was preaching to the choir when speaking about this because I have always been an advocate of making every attempt of using and or re-fabricating something that has already been created. From old growth lumber to American forged steel, anyone who is shown the comparison to what the quality was then and what it is now, would become believers.

My favorite lecture about making something from what appears to be nothing is when at least 20 years ago I listed a home near St. Joseph’s Church here in Mason City that was an estate of the mother of a past client. I listed the home and did the normal showing and final sale. But, during the time of the showings, I couldn’t help but notice an old cabinet in the basement that was painted white and trimmed in red. It really was more than used and abused.

When the house sold, the buyers told me they wanted everything out of the house including the basement. Well, when I relayed the buyers wishes to the Executor, he told me he would get everything out of the house and basement. In that conversation, something “clicked” in my mind about that cabinet in the basement.

I asked the Executor about the cabinet and he told me he didn’t want it and would go to the dump. I told him I would take it since he didn’t want it.

Fast forward to about 8 years ago. I kept that scary white and red cabinet stored in my storage building until one summer about 8 years ago I decided that I would strip the paint off it and try to fix everything that was wrong with it. Oh Mercy! The more

I worked on it the more I was becoming possessed. That step cabinet after it was finished now is the centerpiece of my living room. A master woodworker who did only slight work on it told me that that step cabinet arrived in North Iowa on a covered wagon.

I am not being proud or pompous but, anyone and everyone needs to look for the beauty that is hidden behind paint and alterations.

So, if you can find something of quality that has been abused, make sure you bring it back into use.