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A diamond in the rough

West Linn man renovates a 900-square-foot home from 1925


by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE  - Tom O'Neill purchased the home for $68,000 in June. In addition to many other renovations, he built the wrap-around porch.Tom O’Neill’s real estate agent told him he was crazy. He didn’t listen. O’Neill saw a diamond in the rough in a dilapidated 900-square-foot house in West Linn. Despite reservations from his agent, family and friends, he purchased the home for $68,000 in June 2012.

“I was looking in Southeast Portland, but when I came across this home I really liked it,” O’Neill, 28, said. “Everybody told me it would take longer and cost more money to renovate, and all that has come true, but it’s been fun. I wouldn’t say I have any regrets.”

O’Neill is a first-time homebuyer. His diamond in the rough is a one-bedroom house built in 1925 on a corner parcel in West Linn.

He jokes that employees at Home Depot now know him by name.

When he purchased the home, the front face and westbound side of the building was completely covered in plywood. The heating system was outdated, it didn’t have electricity or insulation and featured original knob and tube wiring from the 1920s. In the kitchen, in between broken cupboards and tattered sheets of laminate flooring, you could see through the floorboard to the foundation.

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE  - Tom O'Neill sits in the unfinished livingroom turned workspace while his house is under construction. “Nobody wanted to buy it,” O’Neill said. “The home had been bank-owned for about a year and it had just fallen even further. ... I had the roof and foundation inspected and it was in good condition. For the most part, it’s just a beat-up old house but it’s in good condition.”

Renovations began immediately after the sale closed. For the first few months, O’Neill and his father, Don, used handsaws and worked without electricity. The duo has worked on the home almost every weekend since last June. Today, a makeshift workshop — at its cornerstone is a table saw — is set up in the corner of the living room.

O’Neill stripped the house of all its contents, added studs in the walls, new doors and Energy Star windows. Professional electricians rewired the home and O’Neill and his father installed sheetrock throughout the entire house, floor to ceiling.

“Goals and timelines have changed,” O’Neill said, chuckling. “I was originally looking at homes under $100,000, so I knew buying this one for quite a bit lower would allow me to put money into it and still come in well under the $100,000.”

New fixtures have been installed in the bathroom — the plumbing was in decent shape — and the father-son duo laid ceramic tile on the bathroom floor, shower and kitchen floor.

O’Neill plans to restore and refinish the original hardwood floors, buy prefabricated kitchen cabinets and build a custom bench for the breakfast nook just off the kitchen.

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE  - O'Neill and his father completely gutted the kitchen. They plan to install cupboard, appliances and a custom made kitchen nook. Outside, O’Neill built a rock facade around the house. He has removed invasive ivy and sticker bushes in the back lawn, built a wrap-around porch and a pathway leading to the driveway. He has plans to build a fence around the plot.

The work, has not gone unnoticed.

“Literally all the neighbors have stopped by and said, ‘This is so great. Thank God someone bought it and is cleaning it up,’” O’Neill said.

Through all the countless hours of renovations and a few setbacks, O’Neill is still pleased with his purchase. The home, he said, is even growing on his friends and family.

“I guess I don’t have any grand words of wisdom,” he said, referring to the renovation process. “I think you just got to be prepared, know what you’re getting into and just have good help.”



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