Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Addition By Subtraction

Well my friends, we tackled the project of removing the horrendous awnings installed on nearly every window of the house.  It's hard to believe exactly how much better this simple fix made the house look!  Here is a before pic in all her awning-clad glory:

And after!

So much better!  You can actually SEE the stunning art glass windows!  We obviously have a lot of touch paint to do, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Quick Fix: Budget Kitchen Facelift

I have big plans for the kitchen - BIG plans.  But BIG plans cost BIG money, and when facing a whole house renovation, we want to be careful with how we spend our money, especially early on.  Fortunately, the kitchen has solid oak cabinets that are in decent shape, mostly newer appliances, and new (although not my taste) tile. Unfortunately, the kitchen has a serious case of the uglies.... 

We are working on coming up with a good game plan for the house based on the funds we have on hand right now and what order of tackling things makes the most sense.  We know that we want to open up and expand the staircase (the stairs up and down are those two doors right behind the refrigerator) and in doing so, we may push them back into the dining room a bit and stack them so the stairs to the basement are under the stairs going upward.  Kind of like this:

This would free up an additional 3-5 ft in the kitchen, depending on how far back we pushed them into the dining room.  Right now the kitchen is 12'x12' and the dining room is 12'x17'.  Long term, I would not mind trading less space in the dining room for more in the kitchen.  
Short story made long (I'm really good at doing that) there are a few pieces that need to fall into place before the layout of the kitchen can be determined.  Also, the renovation would eat up almost all of the renovation cash that we have on hand and I would rather focus that money towards broader, more impactful changes, such as the aforementioned stair reconfiguration, renovating a bathroom or two, as well as painting and other less costly fixes.  However, this kitchen makes me sad and it just can't stay this way.  Hence the budget face lift plan!

Here are some inspiration pics for what I am envisioning for our temporary, or phase one, kitchen renovation.

Because this is a very temporary fix and we only plan to live with this kitchen for a year or two, I want to allocate less than $500.00 towards improvements.  Yes, I realize that is a VERY tight budget when it comes to a kitchen, but here is my plan.
  • Remove the drop ceiling - 'nuff said.  I hate, hate, hate, HATE drop ceilings!  Who knows what we will find under there.  I already know there is another layer of ceiling tiles.  Underneath that, cracked plaster? More anaglypta wall paper?  Who knows...  If the plaster is not salvageable, then we will have to just hang some drywall.  Maybe some bead board would look nice? I am not really counting this towards the kitchen upgrade budget as we would have to do that anyway for the permanent kitchen.    
  • Paint the cabinets.  I am really digging the trendy green/gray color for cabinetry.  While I would never commit to anything trendy when investing in new cabinets, since these cabinets are not staying, why not have some fun?
  • New, basic cabinet hardware - nothing fancy or expensive.  The 70's style hardware just can't stay.
  • Paint the walls.  I am thinking either a cream color or maybe a warm, silvery gray color?
  • Install an inexpensive white subway tile back splash.  It will give the kitchen a more finished, polished look.
  • Debating on replacing the countertops.  Right now, they are white laminate and in decent shape.  But, we are talking about less than 20 sq. ft. of counter space.  Why not throw in some butcher block?
  • New ceiling light fixture.  This will more than likely stay with the permanent kitchen, so we want to make sure that we get something that we like.  I am currently digging the schoolhouse light fixture look.  
This will definitely be a priority project once we move in.  Stay tuned to see how everything turns out!

J + M

Friday, October 17, 2014

Our House

So, how did we land our house?  Well, it was a bit of an interesting journey at first.  For whatever reason, I had looked over this house when going through the listings.  Could have been the drop ceiling in the kitchen...well no, it was definitely the drop ceilings in the kitchen.  I really hate drop ceilings!  I any event, after all the drama we went through with the past three houses, I resolved to look at the listings with fresh eyes.  This time, our little house caught my eye  -  how did I miss the original woodwork and beautiful stained glass?  So we added this house to the list for our next round of showings.

Fast forward to the date of the showings.  We had just looked at a few houses, but none of them were winners and our house was next.  We knock on the door and no answer...  We knock again.... nothing.  My agent calls the seller's agent and the number rings through to a tax office, but we leave a message anyway. While we are waiting for the seller's agent to call us back to let us know what the heck is going on, we decide to take a look at the back yard.  What do we find?  A lady in her 50's sunbathing in a swim suit in the back yard who has fallen asleep!  Yikes!  So we run back to the front of the house and tell our agent.  After waiting a good 15-20 minutes for a call back from the seller's agent, we decide to try to make contact with the sunbathing lady.  As we head to the backyard, she appears to be walking towards the back gate to the alley in the backyard.  So we call out to her to introduce ourselves, but she totally ignores us and leaves the backyard!  At that point, we call it a day and move on to the next house.

Problem is, after having seen this house from the exterior, I was smitten and needed to get inside!  Despite our Realtor telling us that it was a waste of time and this house would be no good.  In fairness to him, we had been seeing a lot of crap, so he very well could have been right.  However, I just couldn't let it go.  So my husband and I decide to take matters into our own hands to line up a showing.  It turns out that the house is listed through a tiny real estate company that works out of a tax prepares office and the listing agent's cell phone indicated that he is out of the country for the next week.  At that point, we had to get creative and tracked down the cell phone of another agent at the firm. That person was kind enough to refer us to the agent that was covering the listing for the listing agent.  We contact him and are able to set up a showing.  They ended up having the owner show the property (classy) but she turned out to be super nice.  Oddly enough, she was not the bather...we honestly don't know what that person was doing in the backyard?

We walked through the house and it was just what we were looking for - a cosmetic fixer.  The house has a new roof and updated plumbing, but a lot of the decor and finishes are dated, so there is a lot of opportunity for us to put our own spin on things.  We put in an offer and after a bit of back and forth, we ended up locking down the property for $14K under asking...nice!  Next was the inspection.  The house looked to be in pretty good shape to us, but admittedly, we are not professional home inspectors, so we were a bit nervous!  Turns out, the house was in great shape!  Aside from a few super minor things (two ungrounded outlets, no back up sensor on the garage, and a small cracked in one of the panes of glass in a basement window) everything looked good.  We were happy campers to say the least.

J + M

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

We Bought a House!


We bought a house!  Or, we are in the process of buying a house, rather.  It only took, three months, 4 offers, and a whole of lot crazy to get to this point - but we're here!  We are currently in escrow on a beautiful 1925 brick bungalow in the Portage Park neighborhood of Chicago.   It has 4 bedrooms and three bathrooms (one on each level).  There is 1,840 sq. ft. above grade, with another 1,230 sq. ft. in the basement, for a total of just over 3,000 sq. ft. of livable space.  It has new copper plumbing and a new roof (score!).  Truth be told, what really sold me is that it has all hardwood floors (not a stitch of carpet to be found in the whole house), all the original molding, casings, doors, windows and door hardware, and 4 (yes -1, 2, 3, FOUR) stained glass windows PLUS 6 leaded glass windows in the living room.

We looked at probably 25-30 houses during our search and I must say, we kissed a lot of frogs before we found our prince charming...  Our first day out, we came across a beautiful home that was in good shape with tons of original details.  We fell in love and put in an offer at full asking price.  Instead of accepting (which we were sure they would, there were no other offers!) they countered that they would take full asking price ONLY if we accepted the house "as-is".  Really?  Who does that!?  There was no mention of the home being sold "as-is" in the listing details or the property disclosures, and the seller's agent never mentioned it to us when looking at the house.  At that point, we figured that they knew that there was something wrong with the house that they didn't want to disclose...  So we countered again stating that we would take the house "as-is" but wanted $5,000.00 back in closing costs.  We figured having a little extra cash on hand would give us a bit more confidence going into the deal as we were now pretty sure there would be some "surprises" on the inspection.  Well folks, they declined our offer.  Funny thing is, the property is still on the market almost three months later!  Karma?

And then there was the 2nd house and all the drama with that...  So we went to an open house and really liked the home.  While it was a modest home, it felt very cozy and like something we could see ourselves living in.  It was priced a little high, but we decided to put in an offer that we thought was fair, and after a bit of back and forth, we came to an agreement with the seller.  Success!  Or so we thought... Next came the home inspection - oh what fun did that hold for us!  Although there were no major defects found, there were little things here and there, most of which we felt we could tackle ourselves.  The exception to that was that there was 20' of pipe in the basement that was wrapped in asbestos tape.  YIKES!  There are three substances that I don't want to mess around with - mold, asbestos, and lead paint.  Thankfully, we only had one of them happening here, but none the less, we wanted to make sure it was dealt with properly. So we did what reasonable people would do, and we reached out to three asbestos abatement companies and got quotes.  The costs ranged from $2,900.00 - $3,500.00, so not to crazily expensive.  We provided those quotes to the seller and requested a credit for the least expensive of the three, or for the seller to hire her own licensed, qualified asbestos abatement contractor to correct the issue and provide us with documentation of the work.  And that my friends is when things got shady...  The seller started offering to fix other issues noted on the inspection which we didn't ask for, like cleaning out the gutters, installing a GFCI outlet in the kitchen and garage, and taking care of a minor tuck pointing issue.  No response on the asbestos removal....  We thanked her, and said that she could take care of those things if she wanted to, but we don't mind tackling those items ourselves - the only thing that we are asking to be addressed is the asbestos.  Then there was a few days of radio silence.  Finally, the sellers Realtor call our Realtor to let us know that the asbestos issue had been "resolved" so everything is good now!  Fantastic, we thought, and requested written confirmation that the work was done.  And that is when things started to unravel.  It took us several days to get the complete truth, but basically, the seller had her fiance's cousin rip the tape off the pipes and throw it away.

Anyone who knows anything about asbestos knows that is literally THE WORST thing that could have been done.  Since we were really uncomfortable with the thought of asbestos fibers floating around in the basement and possibly other parts of the house, we reached back out to the asbestos abatement vendors to see what could be done to fix the issue.  Basically, the process involved setting up air scrubbers to fun for several days to filter out the asbestos fibers and taking before and after test samples to ensure that all of the fibers had been removed from the air.  The cost - $7,000.00+ depending on how far the asbestos fibers had spread.  That was more than twice the cost to just remove it properly.  We forwarded this information on to the seller, who responded by stating that they feel that the asbestos is no longer an issue.  They also tried to play the card of "it was never tested so no one can prove that it was for sure asbestos".  The real kicker in all of this is that there was a sale before ours that fell through and the seller's agent said it was because the buyers were "really picky".  He had also mentioned that they were purchasing the home using a VA loan.  Putting those two pieces of information together, I am quite confident that the asbestos was noted during that inspection and that the seller know about it going into our sale, but failed to disclose it.  Now that there is no more visible asbestos, some poor sucker is going to buy that house completely unaware of what happened.  Also, I should mention that the seller had already moved out, so I wonder if things would have been handled differently if she was still residing at the property?

After this sale fell through, we were really discouraged, but we kept looking.  Man, did we look at some junk.  Just dirty, nasty, overpriced junk.  Then, we found house #3.  It...was....perfect.  Located on a beautiful block, close to the park, with a nice big back yard, brand new roof, garage, and updated electrical and plumbing, but still a lot of the original details left.  And it was priced AWESOME.  So we put in an offer at full asking price.  The seller's agent responded to our offer and told us that there were multiple offers pending on the property and the seller would be making a decision in a few days time, but if we wanted to get the property, we should up our offer.  So we got bold and provided an offer stating that we would beat the highest offer by $1,000.00 and we were totally thinking that we had this on lock.  Until the seller's agent calls us back to add that the only way that the seller is willing to accept an offer is if the buyer agrees to rent the property back to her.  As we were only half way through our lease at our apartment, we told him that we were open to that idea.  The seller's agent must have thought we were nice people and took pity on us because that is when the flood gates of information opened.

The issue?  The seller was an emotionally unstable hoarder...  When we were looking at the house, I was under the impression that a large family lived there (you know, mom, dad, and 4 or 5 kids) and that they were already packing to move.  Nope - just the one lady and her cat.  All the boxes and stuff?  We were walking into a hoarding issue in progress.  Turns out this house belonged to her dad and he passed away about a year ago and she inherited the house.  She couldn't afford the taxes and upkeep on the house, so she had to sell it.  The agent informed us that she was very attached to the house and wanted to stay there for at least 6-9 months after closing, but could only afford to pay $700.00 per month.  Then he added that he wasn't sure that she would leave the house after the lease expired...  He really probably should not have told us this information, but we are seriously grateful that he did.  Financially, we couldn't agree to those conditions and frankly, I am not sure that anyone would!  The mortgage payment for us was going to be about $1,800.00 per month, so we would have lost nearly $10,000.00 over the initial lease period.  Not to mention possibly thousands more if we had to hire a lawyer to evict her if she refused to leave the house! Needless to say, that killed deal #3...

At this point, we were REALLY discouraged and just drained.  Honestly, I wanted to stop looking for a few months just to recharge!  But we kept on trucking...  I'll follow up tomorrow with the story of how we got our house.

J + M