Mike and Amy headed back to Vegas, I stayed in Chicago to get the ball rolling. I didn't know how long I'd stay, I only knew there was a lot to do. I first thought I'd stay long enough to collect my dad's cremains. I planned to begin cleaning and sorting through my dad's place to pass the time - I figured I'd have to wait for probate to sell the condo.
My hope was to drive my dad's car while in town, but his brakes were barely functioning. I had a friend that is a mechanic give it a look, it definitely needed brakes and calipers. Plus, a whole lot more. More than the car is likely worth. I thought I had no choice, but to extend my rental. However, my aunt kindly offered to let me use her vehicle. I quickly accepted knowing I'd be amassing a great deal of debt handling my dad's affairs. No will, no beneficiaries, assets and real estate meant probate was unavoidable. It was new waters to navigate. I was fortunate to settle my mom's estate with small affidavits and avoid legal fees. I gained a great deal of knowledge in Nevada, but I'd learn little applies in Illinois.
In short, Illinois is racket. Everything is more costly and has more red tape. The cost for direct cremation, for example, was nearly double in Illinois compared to Nevada. That was after a slew of phone calls, too. The first few quotes through funeral homes were four, yes 4! times as much as we paid La Paloma in Las Vegas. It was a pill I couldn't swallow, we persisted. By cutting out the middle man, we saved a bundle by going to Skyline Crematory. They were professional, timely, compassionate and I was very appreciative they weren't out to take advantage at such a vulnerable time.
I began by finding a probate attorney on Avvo. It's like Yelp, but for lawyers. I weighed options, got Mike and Amy's input and ultimately decided to get started right away. I pulled as much paperwork as I could for the appointment, and only had to follow up with a few items. The consult was a whirlwind. Naturally, I was overwhelmed. I have already carried the costs of my mom's estate since she passed, and the burden of my dad's was far greater. Cook County has incredibly high taxes, even for a modest condo in the 'burbs. Fortunately, there was no mortgage. But once you combine the taxes with the monthly HOA, insurance and utilities; I was looking to carry at least a grand per month. At least, I did not have to wait for probate to list the condo. I only had to wait to petition the court before I could sign the sales contract as representative of the estate. Initially, it was a relief to learn this, but it solidified the fact that I had an insurmountable task ahead of me. Time was of the essence. Though, I was grief stricken I knew I had to be practical and sensible.
The attorney recommended a real estate agent. I followed up with her to gauge how to proceed. She was helpful and informative. The market has grown stronger, but it's no where near the level we are experiencing in Vegas. I also realized I was heading into the second slowest season for real estate sales. School was just about begin, and winter was coming. My fear was confirmed, I was in race against time. However, she was encouraging and said that life happens, even in stale markets. You just never know.
My dad lived in his condo for 20 years. He was a smoker, he rarely opened the windows and never used the A/C. The condo was nearly thirty years old, it had been in our family since '93. My great grandparents bought the place for my aunt to live. She passed, shortly before my parents divorced. My dad moved in, inherited her belongings and collected his own over the years. My brother and sister had both lived with my dad for periods of time. My brother's room was the master with attached half bath. My sister had the other bedroom. My dad had always preferred the couch to a bed, and that didn't change when he had the place to himself. The rooms have pretty much been frozen in time. The living areas were neglected since my dad had lived in Vegas the majority of the past two years. I bought cleaning products with the intent to scratch the surface so I'd know how to best proceed.
Frank flew in late afternoon on the day I met with the attorney. After picking him up at the airport we grabbed dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant, Gum Wah. I rattled off everything that occurred and I learned so far. Prior to his arrival, I told him I was okay and it wasn't necessary he come. I knew he had a lot on his plate with work, I didn't want to burden him with being away and knee deep in all that was mounting around me. He didn't hear of it. I was happy he came. The hug was worth the trip alone, but little did I know how much was ahead of us, and how much I'd rely on him.
That night we went to my dads. We cracked the windows - literally, the wood splintered all along the frame. Fresh air seeped into the place, but the smell of cigarettes was still so thick it stung your eyes and lingered in your lungs. I got to work on the kitchen. I started with the sink (and moved on to the counters and stove). If I could turn that around, I'd had hope for the rest of the place. Low and behold, I had it looking like new. Elbow grease and SOS pads to cut through the gunk. We can do this. I guess you could say, it became our first flip.
We returned in the morning, with Frank's mom, to begin packing. Frank also arranged for a dumpster and we planned to pack and move whatever was salvageable into my mother in law's storage shed. When the condo was empty, we'd paint and replace the carpeting. Once we got started, we didn't stop. I put in ten full days and nights. I'd get to the condo by 9AM and I'd stay until at least midnight. Frank was only going to stay a few days, but he kept rebooking his flight due to set backs.
Wednesday, we started the day shopping for carpet. It was tough to find a place that could install in a hurry. The big box stores and name brand places were no help. We found a hole in the wall place nearby, they had cheap carpet in stock that looked nice. An appointment to measure was set for the next day and we scheduled the install for the following Wednesday. With that, the deadline was established. The rest of the day we packed and loaded as much as we could ourselves. Our friend, Bill, loaned us his pick up truck. It made the process much easier.
Thursday, the dumpster arrived and real progress began to happen. We met the neighbor, Mike, during one of the numerous trips to the dumpster. He lives in AZ, but had been in town for a few weeks cleaning out his mom's place. She had passed suddenly too. He offered some rags and such that we took knowing we could use for cleaning or painting. The dumpster was full midday and we just kept adding to it. Lesson learned get the bigger dumpster. That evening, Frank enlisted the help of our friends from high school. The extra muscle allowed us to clear the condo of furniture in a hurry. After showering, we took our friends to Beggars for dinner. It was nice to catch up and relax.
Friday, Frank took the ride with me to pick up my dad. When we returned, we moved what was left, shopped, pulled toilets, patched holes and began to prep for paint. We grabbed dinner with friends, and planned to begin priming with Kilz after. Our friend, Dan, was coming by to lend a hand. Bill had also loaned us his painting supplies so it saved us a fortune. We returned to the condo to find the bathroom under a few inches of water and it was flooding the back bedrooms. The carpeting in the hallway was completely saturated. We couldn't stop the water, it just kept coming up from the shower. Snaking the line didn't have any success, it was well after hours, so we had no choice but to place an emergency call with Roto Rooter. There was a soft blockage in the main line. Very common these days with so-called flushable wipes, paper towels, etc. We sit on ground floor at the lowest elevation so we took the brunt of it. Joy. No amount of rags could dry this mess. Believe me, I tried.
I wish I could say I was stoic, and thankful, we were here to find it. But no, I lost it. Complete meltdown. The flood brought my anxiety to new heights. What if this happens after the new carpet is installed, when I'm back in Vegas, etc. Frank calmed me, he and Dan, took control of the situation. We borrowed fans and a shop vac from Bill. Not only are we fortunate to have him for a friend, but he also lives around the block and has better inventory in his garage than Menards. Which by the way, is the poorest excuse for a home improvement store. That place infuriated me on the daily. Life would have been much easier with a Lowes or Home Depot nearby, but I digress. Rather than painting, the evening was spent sucking up as much water from the carpet as possible. We left leaving the fans run all night.
By morning, it had not dried one bit. As the day went on, the smell of mildew grew stronger and stronger. Still, we pressed on. We had 5 gallons of Kilz on the walls. Thanks to the help of my Aunt Sandy. Trouble was that the walls were so parched they gulped the primer like a tall glass of water on a hot day. Worse, yet, the smoke stains kept bleeding through. We added coat after coat, Frank tried buying a sprayer to speed up the process but it was garbage. Brush and roller was the only way to get the coverage that was needed. That and 50 coats, maybe?
By Sunday, we had both new toilets installed and 10 gallons of Kilz on the walls. Progress, but there was still so much to be done. The paint fumes weren't enough to tackle the horrendous mildew stench that now overpowered any remnants of cigarette smoke. It was nauseating. We cut away and discarded the wettest sections of carpet to rid the odor and allow the concrete to dry. Midday I was exhausted and my hands were crippled. I came to the realization that I couldn't - we couldn't - possibly finish the job ourselves.
Frank found a guy on craigslist that could come Monday with a professional sprayer. He said he could knock out the unit in a day for a few hundred bucks. Originally, I was going to do the bathroom and kitchen myself, but ultimately, agreed to let him do it all. We stopped painting, and started prepping the condo to be sprayed. My dad's place has gorgeous oak trim, cabinets and doors throughout. Protecting the wood became my obsession. Much to Frank's dismay. But it was in perfect condition. I know oak isn't trendy anymore (give it a few years) but I believe in restoring the integrity of natural wood. It should only be painted when the condition is too poor to otherwise salvage. Deep down, I'm sure my obsessing over the wood work was my way to focus on the tasks at hand rather than dealing with the emotion of the whole experience. So, he humored me and we taped every linear foot. We covered the cabinets and doors in plastic. It was looking very much like a scene from Dexter.
The painter got right to it. There were still areas that needed covering so I fought to finish, but rather quickly the whole condo filled with paint in the air. I could feel the sting in my lungs. It was time to get out. I didn't get every surface covered. It is, what it is.
We camped outside, the lull allowed me to go through years of mail while I sat with Frank while he smoked a cigar in the shade near the dumpster. He had just a couple hours before his flight home, we said good-bye so he could clean up before his mom dropped him at the airport. He never got to see the finished product first hand, but I sent pictures each step of the way.
The painter did knock out the whole place in a day; he also, found the walls to be extremely thirsty. Said and done, there were 20 gallons of paint and Kilz primer on the walls. They were so saturated because there wasn't enough time for the paint to dry. The sprayer left drip marks - all over. There was overspray on the wood trim. The tile in the entry and bathroom were never protected so they were fully covered in paint.
I was devastated. The job was done, but not to my standards. I had taken such care and attention to the priming, and it was all for not. The walls and ceilings were clean and bright (though, in hindsight, I should've went with a much darker color than white) and we were nearly rid of the smell of smoke. Even the mildew smell took a backseat to the smell of paint. So, all is not lost. Sigh. It is, what it is. This became my mantra. I got a rag and bucket and got started immediately cleaning the trim, and later the tile. Fortunately, I had not yet cleaned the wood so the years of smoke and dust provided just enough grime to create a layer of protection. It was tedious and time consuming, but I had it looking like new. While I was crawling along the floor, I realized how wet the carpet still was in the bedrooms from the flood. I pulled up the carpet and piled it in the middle of the room to allow the concrete to dry.
The paint fumes were too strong when I arrived on Tuesday morning, I couldn't get anything done. While I let it air out, I visited an old friend from high school. She had a baby a few months earlier and I was eager to meet him. We had a nice visit and ordered Lou Malnati's. After, I shopped for window coverings, shower curtain and other necessities to finish the condo. When I got back, I ran into Mike the neighbor. We traded notes and commiserated with each other. Loss alone sucks, but this part, is really the pits. With Frank back in Vegas and his mom gone to KY, I was solo. Bill stopped by to look in on me & Mike would ask if I needed anything when he'd run errands. Thankfully, I didn't encounter anymore disasters. I tried to sand the wall to correct the drip marks and repaint but it was too long of a process and my time was up. The carpet installers were coming in the morning. I had to move on. It is, what is. Sigh.
Wednesday's lesson was that the cheapest price for carpet does not mean its the best. The carpet itself was fine, the color worked better than I imagined. It really tied everything together and the multicolor will hide dirt and traffic marks, which was really great for showings because once it's listed since no one will be there to maintain it. The installers were friendly, but lord were they slow. I figured they'd be done by lunch. I was wrong - it took 8 hours. And, they still had to come back the next day to finish the job. When they arrived they assumed there had been a fire in the unit, fresh paint, wet carpet that smelled of smoke and mildew. "Nope! Just a smoker and a flood", I replied.
That evening I could finally see the finish line. Things were really coming together, but I was falling apart. I was so torn. I was positively crushed that I was moving at such a rapid pace, but I was so proud of what I accomplished. It no longer looked like my dad's place. This fact was so horribly bitter sweet. I was determined to finish one room fully. Amy's seemed to be easiest, but there was one problem. Painters tape that her and Jeff put up more than ten years ago was still there. When I asked her why they never removed it after painting, she said, "it was too hard." Trust me when I say it was no easier all these years later. But my obsession with the trim wouldn't allow me to leave it. I persisted and eventually it was all gone.
The next day, I hung new sheers, vacuumed and one room was finally complete. Not a moment too soon, either. I had scheduled meetings with two realtors for Thursday. I knew I wanted the paint and carpet complete before I let anyone give me a market analysis - first impressions and all that, it had to be clean and smell good to get people through the door. I hoped to have the condo photo ready Thursday, but it wasn't. There was still much to be done. But I was comfortable letting the realtors see the place. It was time to find out what we were working with, and hopefully, all of our hard work was worthwhile. Both were impressed overall. Each had different suggestions to "finish" it like replacing dated light fixtures to painting the cabinets or gutting the bathroom. I valued their opinions, but I was done, I put all the time, money, blood, sweat and tears into it that I could manage. I ultimately decided to list with the agent the attorney recommended. She was familiar with the area, which was important to me because location was the condo's greatest selling point.
Meanwhile, I was down to my final 24 hours in Chicago. Months ago, I had booked Frank and I a trip to San Diego. I actually booked it twice. Because the Mayweather/McGregor fight was announced, and of course, it fell during our trip. I had to rebook to accommodate Frank having to work. Flights were booked on Spirit so I essentially paid for the flights twice for the change. It was important that I go - not just for the expense, hassle, but for my sanity. I had been through the ringer physically, mentally and emotionally since my uncle's call on the 8th of August. I need to get away. I needed rest. San Diego was the perfect distraction.
I was a bundle of nerves when I woke Friday. I think the lack of sleep was really wearing on me. My to do list seemed a mile long. My brother was back in town - I was terrified and thrilled to show him the condo. It was a major change since he left 11 days earlier. He had booked this trip in advance, he was going to visit a friend in MI and stay with my dad a night or two. I was lucky to have him, because I simply could not get it all done. My aunt came over to help, too. They were both shocked by the transformation. Time ticked by way too fast - much of my morning was wasted making returns and running all over trying to get keys made. There were just so many finishing touches. We made a great dent, but the floor in the laundry room was still covered in paint. Tools and whatnot were still scattered about. I hadn't hung the curtains for the patio slider. HOA requires window coverings, I asked Bill to come by and hang it. I didn't have the proper tools to even attempt it. I returned everything that was borrowed, said good-byes exchanged numbers with Mike, and got cleaned up before my brother took me to the airport. Tears welled up in my eyes as I closed the door for the final time behind me.
I was flying Spirit and only had my personal item. I also had to secure dad in my bag (now, there's a story for another time) with whatever else I could fit (photos and important docs). Mike tackled the rest of the to-do list, Bill hung the curtains, and my aunt came by for one last clean sweep before the Realtor scheduled the photographer.
And... That's how we flipped my dad's condo in ten days.
I could not be more thankful for the friends and family that went the extra mile for me. I could not have gotten so much done in so little time without their help. I'm forever grateful.