Painter’s Progress


I STILL HATE PAINTING, but not so much. The guest room is done — not yet dry, but done. The job got less miserable as it went along because I felt closer to the finish line, though painting this small bedroom — it can’t be more than 100 square feet — took me the entire week.

Here’s what I mean:

  • Last Sunday, I primed the new sheetrock walls and ceiling.
  • On Monday, 2 coats of Ben Moore’s China White on walls and ceiling, except for one short wall.
  • Tuesday, 2 coats of Ben Moore’s Rhythm and Blues on the short wall. Pleasant color – it’s growing on me.
  • Wednesday, I decided to paint a second, longer wall blue as well (and I’m glad I did – it makes the new window pop, and it’s lovely to catch a glimpse of blue down at the end of the hall). That took two coats, naturally — and rendered the two previous coats of China White on that wall unnecessary, but what can ya do.
  • Somewhere mid-week, I put one coat of China White semi-gloss on the window moldings and one set of shutters.
  • On Thursday, I decided to paint a rusty red iron bed glossy black: 2 coats plus touch-up. That was the only oil-based paint I used, with disposable sponge brushes.
  • Finally, today, having come thus far, I went the distance. I painted the worn tongue in groove wood floor white — Painter’s Select Sand Powder, to be exact. Of course, that took two coats, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon.

In between, there was much spreading of newspaper, painstaking placement of blue painters’ tape (still visible in these pictures), and washing up of brushes and rollers.


But it’s done, hooray! I have a feeling of accomplishment and renewed appreciation for painters — not so much for the level of skill involved, but for the Zen mindset required to get through it.

That final floor-painting, when I could have just washed the scuffed floors for now and thrown down a couple of area rugs, turned out to be the most pleasurable part, probably for being the last. But also because bending down with a roller is easier than reaching up, and the paint went on very smoothly and quickly.

Beyond that, covering that last bit of surface area with fresh paint seemed to exorcise the ghosts of the previous occupants, in that room at least. Since my neighbors told me recently that some of them (a series of short-term renters) had serious mental and hygiene issues, it feels especially good to have them outta there.

As my friend Debre pointed out, “Painting makes the room glow. I think it is as much energetic as it is a new surface finish.”

I so agree. Now for a badly needed manicure.


I Hate Painting

I’M THINKING RUSTOLEUM. I have a wrought iron bench on the front deck and an old metal bedstead for the guest room, both in need of some bright paint.

That’s not my bench, above. It’s from Gardenhouse, a site that specializes in reclaiming vintage outdoor furniture and accessories, and I find it way more inspiring to contemplate a project like that than what I’ve been doing for the past two days: painting the guest room.

I’d forgotten how much I hate painting walls (and ceilings – they’re the worst). Yesterday I primed, all the while trying to think who I could call to come finish the job. Today I picked the roller up again, reluctantly, bespeckling myself, my hair, and my glasses with China White. The color is creamier than I intended, but so be it. I can’t run out to the paint store as easily as I did in Brooklyn; anyway, I refuse to extend the process.

Listening to music didn’t help. I missed my daughter, who made last autumn’s painting jag a lot more fun.  The fact that I couldn’t see what I was doing added to the misery (the top coat and primer are close in color, and although I had a clamp-on light, the room was dim by late afternoon, or maybe my eyes are failing).

I vowed this would be the last time…that is, until tomorrow, when I do the trim, including a set of window shutters (shudder), and — saving the best for last — one short wall with Benjamin Moore’s Rhythm and Blues. In a couple of days, I’ll wow you with pictures.

The Importance of Being Painted


THE OTHER NIGHT, a friend and I got to talking about how to stage a house for sale. Trying to sell a house while you’re living in it, as she is doing — the necessity to keep everything in tip-top shape at all times — gets wearing. She’s on a constant de-cluttering rampage, afraid to leave home without making the bed. And after months of prospective buyers parading through, she’s learned not to get caught up in discussions of her avant garde art collection.

At that point, it struck us why professional real estate stagers advise in favor of unchallenging, middle-of-the-road furnishings. My friend’s wild, abstract art is a distraction from the main point: the architecture and construction of the house.

For me, personally, whether looking to buy or rent, staging would make no difference. I pride myself on seeing right through filth, clutter, and ugly furniture all the way to potential. I even once bought a building that smelled really bad (turned out there was a dead bird above a dropped ceiling). Hell, having a strong stomach is a great way to get a deal in real estate, when those with more delicate sensibilities run the other way.

Many prospective buyers and renters can’t even deal with dingy walls, let alone decaying wildlife. I had this confirmed last spring, when tenants left my 1850s townhouse in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn . I showed it for 3 or 4 weeks, empty but without a new paint job, though it needed one. I was hoping (ha!) that people would see beyond the need for paint to what it could be, and then we would negotiate a paint allowance, or a touch-up job, or maybe even a full paint job. I just didn’t feel like painting a four-story house if it wasn’t going to be absolutely necessary.

I got no serious offers. So I caved, and had the whole house painted top to bottom, including the stair railings, window moldings, insides of closets, etc. Not a square inch remained unpainted. Boom. Next person to look at the place took it.


Coincidence? I think not. Just days later, my Cobble Hill neighbor two doors down called me for advice. She was trying to rent the lower duplex of her identical 4-story townhouse (with a garden, on a coveted park block, fairly priced) and having trouble. Again, it needed a paint job and had been on the rental market a few weeks. My neighbor had powerful resistance to the idea of painting. Like me, she didn’t want to spend the money and didn’t want to be bothered. She thought she’d make a deal, and the incoming tenants would arrange to paint or not, as they saw fit. Again, prospective tenants streamed through and no one bit. I said, you’ve gotta paint. She moaned, I don’t wanna paint. I said, I know, but you must paint. She did. Guess what? First person to look at the freshly painted place took it.

Paint. Paint. Paint. It’s not about the space, my friend and I decided, so much as the perception of the space.

Oh, and paint it white.


Want more insight into what it’s like to own and manage rental property? Take a look at one of my most popular posts, “So Ya Wanna Be a Landlady?”

A Landlady’s Woes

LEST YOU THINK it’s all done with smoke and mirrors, let me re-cap some of the things I’ve had to deal with in the past two months as the owner of four very old houses (two in Brooklyn, two in Philly) and a landlady with 10 rental units:

  • Finding tenants for a very special four-story, 6-bedroom townhouse in Cobble Hill. (Actually, they found me, via this blog.)
  • Painting the interior of that house ($6,000), removing several years’ growth of ivy from the back wall ($1,400), and otherwise getting the place spiffed up and ready for the incoming family.
  • A punch list of additional repairs with which my new tenants very politely presented me, requiring the services of plumbers, appliance guys, and a handyman.
  • A late-night call from tenants in Boerum Hill who’d blown a fuse while trying to air-condition and microwave at the same time. (Yes, a fuse — the only apartment in the building that doesn’t have circuit breakers.)
  • Next door neighbors in Boerum Hill who are convinced their basement floods in heavy rain because of the placement of my drain pipe. (Unresolved.)
  • A notice from the City of Philadelphia telling me of a leak in the water main from the street in front of my South Kensington house to the building’s water meters. Cost of repair, which is my responsibility (as it would be in New York): $2,800.
  • Vacancy in rear unit of the Philadelphia double-trinity house, but not for long: it’s on the verge of being rented to someone who lived in that very unit years ago, when the building was owned by the woman who sold it to me. He saw my listing on Craigslist, recognized it immediately, and is excited about moving back to the same space, renovated and under more responsive management.
  • Persistent roof leak at my 1810 Queen Village building, now reaching down past the top floor apartment to the apartment on the floor below. Tenants tired of catching rainwater in pots. $4,000 estimate from the roofer.

It seems that a lot of old-house maintenance issues occur in high summer and the dead of winter, when extreme weather causes flooding, freezing, and so on.

Then there are the problems brought about by extreme economic conditions, or perceived such conditions. The latest doozy is tenants in Brooklyn asking for a 20% rent reduction in mid-lease because they’ve heard there’s been a softening of the rental market. (Would a landlord ask a tenant for a rent hike in mid-lease because of a bullish rental market?) No doubt there’s a glut of product in some parts of town: mostly unsold, newly built condos now being marketed as rentals. There’s no glut of unique 4 BR brownstone duplexes.

I said an unequivocal ‘No.’