Design, Renovations

When A Setback Is Actually A Setback

When it comes to renovations, sometimes a setback…Is literally a setback!


One thing the ‘flipping’ shows on television get right is that every house renovation project comes with setbacks: The former tenants filled the toilets with concrete.  The house has mold or termites.  The foundation cannot be fixed for less than $10,000.  The plumbing is made of prohibited PEX, the siding is asbestos.  It’s what lends the flipping shows so much drama: The happy couple buys a house with tons of potential in a hot neighborhood, everything is going great and then -BOOM!- They discover black mold behind the walls!  This is lots of fun for the viewer, but pure terror for a home renovator like ourselves.


But one does not get into rehabilitating houses thinking every project is going to go by the books.  Actually, if I had to describe what we do in two words, it would be ‘problem solver,’ and that applies to every aspect of what we do here at Light Box Homes.  We solve seller’s problems with their real-estate, we solve realtor’s problems selling ugly houses, we solve buyer’s problems finding great homes for their families, and most of the time, we solve problems associated with turning old homes into new ones.  


Whenever we buy a home, we have a specific prescription for turning that beat-up old beast into an eye-turning brick-n-morter beauty.  That usually entails taking out and re-supporting walls, creating new bathrooms and replacing fixtures, cabinets and systems like the roof and HVAC.  Each project is unique.  But in the case of 419 Blake Avenue in East Atlanta, our well-laid plans got turned upside down, HGTV-style.  Below you can see what the house looked like the day we closed on it: A humble three-bed, one-bath bungalow with an addition built in the 1950s.  

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From the beginning, we realized that 419 Blake Avenue was too small to update simply with framing changes to the interior.  This project called for an addition; and we decided to go big: Remove the roof and add a second floor master suite with a nursery and laundry.  It was a daring plan, and expensive, but promised to deliver a unique, 2000-square-foot four-bedroom, three-bath property in a part of East Atlanta that was mostly 3/2s.  But you know what they say about well-laid plans!  


A survey revealed a flaw in our plan: The setback line ran right through the middle of the house!  At first, we thought it was an error, but a deeper investigation revealed the origin of the problem: The house was built before zoning was implemented in that part of the city.  Our property being a corner lot put the setback deeper than it would have for a normal lot or newer construction; the imaginary line ran from the front porch through the back stoop.  There was no getting around it.  To stick with our original plan would cost us more money and at least three months of waiting for bureaucrats, meetings with neighbors and city council appearances to get the necessary variance.  After looking at our numbers, we realized it wasn’t worth it.  There was no guarantee the variance would even be granted.  It was back to the drawing board! 

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It’s kinda funny when a setback is literally a setback! Actually, it wasn’t funny at the time. It was infuriating.  But like I said, our business is solving problems, not wallowing in misery.  We had to build more house, we knew that much.  1057 square feet wasn’t enough room to make a three-bedroom, two-bath house.  After a morning sketching our ideas, we consulted with our architect, our expediter, and our contractor, and came up with a bold plan: Build an addition off the back that fits within the bizarre setback lines. Since we couldn’t build past the line, we had to leave enough room for a small courtyard between the existing structure and the addition, leading to the back door.


You can see a preliminary plan below left with the addition highlighted in yellow and the setback line in red.  The Light Box Situation Room is at right.  

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I suppose one day we’ll encounter a problem without a solution and just have to eat it, but it was not this day.  Our architect and permit expediter are busy putting together the details on our new plan, and we look forward to beginning work soon on what will be an entertainer’s dream home.  Like I said, the property is on a corner lot, with the cross street forming a dead-end: Perfect for parking lots of guests!  Furthermore, the back yard is private, big, and crowned with a beautiful pecan tree that will afford the new owner with a beautiful view from their new master suite.  Listing for 419 Blake Avenue is scheduled for early Summer.  


When encountering ‘setbacks’ like this one, I am reminded of a favorite Tim Gunn quote from mine and Lena’s favorite show, ‘Project Runway,’ whenever one designer or another is stuck or has a design that is falling apart: “Make It Work.”  




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    Light Box Homes is a residential redevelopment and real estate investment company based in Atlanta, Georgia. We buy, sell, list and invest in Atlanta real estate.