Sunday, September 27, 2009

Short Sales R Us

The Husband had to work, so I'm on my own for open houses. I have a list of five houses to see in two hours; Richmond, El Cerrito, and Albany. And it's hot out. I fill up the water bottle, roll down the windows, and head out.

I am immediately sidetracked by an open house sign just a block away, I follow the sign bread crumbs to a place tucked away in a cul-de-sac in EC. The house looks 50s era, not bad on the outside. There is no agent immediately apparent when I walk in, so I call out - he's sitting reading a book in the living room. He tells me right away that it is a short sale, and he is covering this open house for a friend. The living room has big old aluminum windows that frame a view of the bay; the three bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs aren't too bad, just need the floors refinished and a coat of paint. I head downstairs, and the door to the outdoors has a sign that tells me not to let the cats out. The bedrooms on either side make it clear the cats have not been out a great deal. And perhaps they do not have a litter box. Stains, scratches, and an unmistakeable smell. But the rooms are big, and of course, an unfinished, unpermitted bathroom. I come back upstairs, and stop in the kitchen - an ancient oven from the seventies, a rusty refrigerator - and a ceiling with a swirly gray pattern that puzzles me. Then I figure out they had a kitchen fire, and the swirls are where they tried to clean the soot off the ceiling. Asking price: $469K.

Second stop is in the Richmond hills, a very sweet little house, just over 900 sq ft, but a double garage, which makes the house look a bit lopsided. Nice yard, but a peek into the storage area off the garage shows a huge crack in the retaining wall. The structural engineer's report says it must be replaced, but only to the tune of $27K. $15K pest report, and it needs the sewer lateral. The bathroom is so itty-bitty that there's no way both the Husband and I could stand in it at the same time. Asking price: $299K.

Back down the hill to the flats of El Cerrito. Another nicely maintained house, but even teenier at 800 sq ft. They've kindly done all the pest repair and the sewer lateral. There's a covered, walled patio stuck on the back - just wood walls and ceiling and plexiglass windows, cement floor. A real addition would have been nicer. The agent offers me cold lemonade, and I am tempted. But neither bedroom could fit a king bed, so where would the two of us and our small dogs sleep?? I say no to the lemonade and to the house. Asking price: $449K

I head over to Albany for the next one. The block is lovely, well-cared for little houses, near Solano Avenue. The house is not lovely or well-cared for, for many years. Paint and refinished floors could do a lot; stripping the western-themed paper from the kitchen would help. The downstairs is huge, but cheaply done walls and linoleum, and the by-now standard unpermitted bathroom. I would like to line up everyone who does unpermitted work and slap them silly. I chat with the agent standing outside in the shade. It's another short sale, scheduled to go into foreclosure in November if they can't come to agreement. This house needs love, but not sure the Husband would go for such a fixer-upper. Asking price: $500K.

Last house of the day is on the other side of Solano, and very pretty on the outside. Tiny rooms upstairs, though the closets are nice-sized. They've finished the basement, two rooms bigger than anything above, and a (Praise the Lord!) fully-permitted bathroom. Absolutely no flow to the place, The backyard is half cement, half taken up by three enormous palm trees. The pest report is a jaw-dropping $50K. I walk around the outside, and see that the chimney has cracks where it meets the house, the porch has cracks where it meets the house, and there is a crack big enough to stick my pinkie in along the side of the house. Can you say can of worms? Asking price: $449K.

I'm exhausted by the time I get home, and sweaty. Might have to have the Husband and F. look at the two fixer-uppers, just to tell me that I'm crazy.

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