It started on the night I was fired. No- seriously. I was driving home after having lost my job, when my husband called my phone and said something along the lines of: "I found the perfect piece of property- we need to put a bid on it tomorrow." I had to follow that up with- letting him know I lost my job and I was worried about having to change up our mortgage application. Admittedly, I needed to be fired from this job- it was a two hour drive away and included a ferry ride or driving all the way to Tacoma and crossing the bridge. It was a somewhat unworkable situation, but it was a good position, so I did my best to force it to work.
We had been in the market for a couple of months for a piece of property where we could build a music studio. We wanted to create a place that kids enjoy, while still getting a rigorous musical education. We also wanted to include a relaxing atmosphere for waiting parents. It was also important that we be in a location where we could be close to nature- we enjoy raising chickens and gardening, and are hoping to add bees to our family as well. We were primarily looking for homes on 1 acre or more, with either a detached garage/shop, or a basement with a second entrance. Parking was also important.
Anyway... I got home, and he showed me this:
Yes, that's right, in Snohomish you can get a single acre with an uninhabitable 1982 single wide trailer for $167,000. AND when we went to see it the day after it was listed, the owner already had a cash offer of $150,000 on the table. Seriously- the real estate market is crazy! But, it was still pretty much perfect- the location makes it an easy commute for students coming from Everett, Monroe, or Lake Stevens in addition to Snohomish. It was a 1 acre parcel with a circular driveway that plenty of parking, AND, it had an 1,100 square foot garage on the property with a half bathroom and a heated office! We put in a full price offer on March 19, 2016. And this date is fairly important as we didn't end up closing until July 27th. It was a pretty stressful closing process which took the entire summer.
Our original offer had the closing date scheduled for the end of April- allowing 30 days for the closing process. But, we'd never built before, and had NO IDEA what we were doing. Unfortunately, our realtor (who was extremely nice, and worked very hard for a deal where she made very little money) had no idea about how to go about a build project either. She suggested that we look at rehab loan possibilities, and so we went shopping for lenders, and put together a project "start" budget.
We had a goal of keeping our mortgage at or below $300,000- which we came close to. In order to stick to our budget, we decided to go with a manufactured house (or double wide)- it was the least expensive, and quickest option. We got quotes from 3 different builders, and 3 different factories. Our original lender Quicken Loans (who was our mortgagor on our last house) doesn't do construction loans, or manufactured homes, so, we had to go loan shopping. We talked to several lenders, and to our 3 builders to get recommendations. 1st Security Bank in Mill Creek was hands down the one that was recommended by everybody. We went to them, got approval, and went forward. Unfortunately, 1st Security Bank informed us that the process to build was more difficult to lend for (truth!) and the closing process would take at least 90 days- we were told we would need to shift our close date to June 15. The seller freaked out- and I can't really blame her, she had just gone through a divorce and desperately needed the money.
Our realtor called some other lenders- in particular one we'd already spoken to and that she already know. This lender promised us she could get us a close date of June 1st. This was the best we could possibly do, so we switched lenders, upped our earnest money deposit, and released said earnest money to the seller.
We were super excited to move to Snohomish- We LOVE Snohomish! On our first Washington State visit (to see if we wanted to move here), we made sure to visit Snohomish- even though job interviews were happening in Edmonds. My hometown- Sharpsburg, Maryland is an old historic town right off the Potomac River. As a family, our adopted hometown- Cumberland, Maryland (also off the Potomac River ) is proud of it's historic district- which we loved. Snohomish- with it's beautiful mountain views, proximity to both the Snohomish and Pilchuck Rivers, it's charming historic district, and commitment to historic preservation really felt like home to us. Our son loves Harvey Airfield, the Aquatic Center, and trips to Pilchuck Park, so we were super excited to begin preparing to move to Snohomish!
April, May, June, July
Unfortunately, June 1st came and went. Then June 15th (our original lender's closing date) also came and went. We went through no less than 8 extensions after our original offer on March 19th- 4/20, 5/27, 6/10, 6/24, 7/1, 7/8, 7/15, 7/25, and then we finally closed on July 27th. Our lender was the WORST! She had no idea what she was doing, and put off doing the leg work until the last minute. We found out she had never done a loan for a build before and her company was planning on selling our mortgage to a different company, so she needed to clear everything through them. She had no idea what paperwork she would need, and we'd get last minute messages requesting various forms or paperwork that needed to be submitted IMMEDIATELY before the east coast office closed... it was extremely stressful, and costly. We released a ton of earnest money, had to cancel our vacation plans, and eventually had to pay a "breech of contract" penalty to our seller. Eventually though, we did close- nearly two months after this lender promised us we would close.
As part of our agreement, the seller had the right to remain on the property for one week post closing to allow her to receive the cash from the sale, purchase her new place, and move her stuff off the property. So, we didn't actually gain full access until August 2nd. The deposit and everything moved forward with the factory regarding the house, and it started being built in Oregon on August 20th. Our contractor applied for our building permit, which was denied the first time because the septic system needed to be replaced! (Grrr... one of the primary reasons we paid so much for this property was because it was "developed"). Anyway, we applied for and eventually received our official building permit.
In an effort to save money while the build was going on, we moved onto the property and lived in an RV for the 6 months it took to build the house. The garage had power that we could hook the RV up to, and the garage also had a toilet and sink- we only ever used the bathtub/shower in the RV. It was a seriously wet winter too, but we made it work!
According to the factory, the house wouldn't be ready for delivery until around December 20th. In the meantime, we went to work on the garage...
We started out by building a wall about halfway in, carving out the space that we wanted to renovate:
You can see it's a raw garage at this point- the stud walls went up, and we installed two fairly thick doors (thinking about sound proofing). We also added electric to the wall to add a second electric heater. This space is where we put the waiting room. The already heated office space was slated to become the studio. You can also see the concrete floors, and the start of covering the "party wall".
Wood laminate floors went in, and we pulled the counter out of the office to create the built in desk. Here is what it looks like today:
As you turn left, you can see what was originally what we called the "party wall". There was a wall, which had been signed, and painted, and otherwise marred. When we pulled down the fire wall behind the wood stove, we found charred wall board and 2x4s. We had to pull out some of the drywall and replace some of the 2x4s. Because there were nails and coins glued and spackled into the wall, AND we had to do a large drywall patch, we added the beadboard on the bottom, and covered the top with drywall compound creating a unique texture which worked really well for water. Here's what we started with:
There's also a picture of the start of the mural. We already had the chimney set up for the wood stove, and we wanted to keep the heat source, so we had a vented propane stove installed. Here's what that corner looks like now:
I didn't really get any photos of the front half of the garage, which is unfortunate, because we did a lot of work! Most of the previous photos came directly from the realtor and/or assessor. At the time, I was too busy actually doing stuff to document. Anyway- we repurposed the raw wood strips to create the counter top/cabinet. The cabinet door was salvaged from the single wide, and the two floor cabinets were taken down from the office wall. We painted the outside of the bathroom the same color as the outside of the garage- the outside of the bathroom is the same wood as the garage exterior. There was also an old shop/laundry sink which we replaced with a nicer large laundry sink- so we can clean up easier after art projects. Here is what it looks like now:
While the bathroom was pretty gross, we did know we were super fortunate to have a bathroom- especially as we were living in an RV. The bathroom was renovated pretty quickly as we started using it immediately. We pulled up the toilet, detailed it and replaced all the gaskets as it was leaking from the bottom. We laid down flooring (with a microban underlayment), replaced the bathroom heater, replaced the ceiling light fixture, and installed drywall on the ceiling. Then we painted everything. Here are before and after photos:
The studio also went through a number of changes- we pulled out countertops and cabinets (they were repurposed in other places) and, did lots of painting and cleaning. It at least started with lineoleum flooring (which we finally covered with the laminate), and the heater in there is in good working order. Here are some before and after photos:
One of the other important things we did you can see right outside the studio window... we built a place for kids to play while they wait for their lesson, or after their lesson, or for siblings...
The house was scheduled for delivery the first part of January, so demolition of the single wide trailer happened in December. December 19th to be exact (it was my birthday- seriously). We spent two nights in a motel because the water and power had to be cut off to the property while the demolition happened.
We also got snow that Christmas! The new foundation was poured, the electric was trenched, and we arranged to have the new septic system installed. We salvaged the back deck- it was pretty large, and lumber is so expensive! The uprights on the railings were too far apart to pass inspection, so we just kept it open- it turned out pretty nice after we stained it. We're planning on using it as a stage area for some of our summer camps.
The ARK officially opened for business in January! By this time the garage had gone through it's first round of major renovation (we'll be doing the front half this fall. Yay!). The house was delivered on January 10th, so it was an extremely exciting month.
The house was assembled around January 30th. The new septic system was installed by that date as well. We had an electrician scheduled for February 1st to wire the new septic pump and the house. Electricians in Snohomish county are hard to find by the way! They're either booked out way in advance, or billing you an insane amount of money for an "emergency". Anyway... everything finally got hooked up, and we received our final occupancy permit on March 3rd. Yay! And for all those who may be interested, here are some before/after pictures!
We've been loving the yard, and have done a ton of work on landscaping. The biggest job has been pulling out the chain link fence- disposing of concrete is expensive! And it's super heavy! It's been pretty neat to see the gardens emerge though now that the fence isn't running through them! The grass is starting to grow back nicely after having the entire yard dug up for the septic drain lines.
We are loving being official "Snohomies"! We've enjoyed Kla-Ha-Ya days, spending Fridays at the Aquatic Center, Ground Frog Day (I have a thing for frogs), teaching our son to ride his bike on the Centennial Trail and going to The Bakery at First and Union on a regular basis.
It's also exciting to see the studio grow! This fall (once the weather gets too cold and wet to spend it outside constantly), we'll revisit garage renovations again. We'd like to expand the wall all the way to the exterior wall to create a second studio space, and then finish the front half of the garage to make a large classroom space- we're thinking faux brick to give it a "The Rock Pizzeria" feel, and beginning to offer "rock school" style classes. We're looking to do another large expansion in January of 2018.
We're looking forward to more exciting (and busy!) times in Snohomish!
is a professional pianist, teacher, singer, and Music Director currently residing in Snohomish, Washington. She is the Director of Music at Peace Lutheran Church in Monroe, WA, and also teaches private piano, voice and ukulele lessons at The ARK in Snohomish, WA.