The Husband, Realtor F. and I take a field trip to see the two short sale fixer-uppers I looked at on Sunday. The first stop, at the Albany house, does not go well. They agree that the block is lovely, that the top floor needs mostly cosmetic work - but once we head down to the lower floor, foreheads start furrowing. F. heads into a part of the basement I did not go into over the weekend, starts pointing out jerry-rigged wiring, plumbing, and ducts wrapped in asbestos. The place is clearly a disaster area. She is getting progressively angrier, and when I ask why, she whips out the financial report on the sellers' mortgages. They bought the place in 1999, had just over $160K mortgage; took a second in 2004, then refinanced every six months on both the first and second, up to over $500K by 2007. F. fumes, "They sucked this nice little house dry, and didn't put a dime of it into upkeep or repair." We flee outside, stand in the cool breeze, strategize. They are asking $500K, the Husband theorizes, but if we offer much less? F. thinks they will get at least $450K (which is what the selling agent told me on Sunday), and it needs over $100K to make it livable. And these are not things we can DIY. We walk away.
The other fixer-upper, in El Cerrito, appeals to the Husband instantly - he loves the walkway entrance, with the lower patio. We are startled when the front door opens - one of the tenants, a nice older woman, tells us that she is expecting us, and to look around as much as we like. She heads back into the living room, sits mending a pair of blue jeans, with jazz playing in the background. We still feel like intruders, stand in the living room for only a minute so the Husband and F. can catch the view, and then move on. The Husband gets more excited as we look at the bedrooms and baths; the windows need replacing, but the lack of cracks and water damage is cheering. We have become cynical, clearly. We head down to Catland, F. notes a downward slope in the floor, and is not horrified by the unpermitted bathroom. One of the cat tenants, a little calico, comes out to meet us. We pet her, then tell her we're headed out the back, and she is not allowed outside, as the sign clearly states.
The yard is unkempt, dominated by an enormous, lovely redwood - if we wanted to grow anything else here, the redwood would have to go, but who wants to cut down a beautiful tree? F. heads around the front, and finds the door under the house. All kinds of intriguing things down there. The space under the unpermitted bathroom is dug out - were they getting ready to pour cement? Don't you usually build the foundation first? Work has been done on the foundation in other places, and a platform that runs the width of the house has been built, with shelves and wood stored in other places. Did someone have a workshop down here? Is that PVC pipe connected to copper pipe?? Many, many questions to be answered. F. will call the selling agent and see if there are reports, but the Husband says without hesitation that he wants to make an offer on this house.