Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Got Patience? Can You Loan Me Some??

I am doing surprisingly well not thinking about the Richmond house every minute - helps that I'm crazy busy at work. But at lunch today I found myself shopping for window treatments that would just happen to fit the large windows in a certain unowned-by-us house. And watching Sweat Equity on DIY has become an obsession, especially since it's bathroom and kitchen week!!!

The Husband and I cruised five open houses on Sunday. The first was a smallish (870 sq ft) mock-MacGregor in El Cerrito. Tiny living room with a ginormous kitchen behind it, with a sadly neglected O'Keefe & Merritt stove (neglecting a stove of that vintage should be a felony). Built in 1925, it had another interesting feature; the bedroom closets had multiple short bars that were perpendicular to the back wall, instead of one long one parallel. Death-defying back stairs to the yard and the back door to the basement semi-finished, very damp, and we looked around for a coal chute for the ancient furnace. The very nice agent sitting in the kitchen told us he had gotten estimates for pest, electrical, new furnace. Asking price: $419.5.

We headed up into the hills for the second house, up above the Arlington at the north end, where El Cerrito becomes Richmond. The flyer said "generous fixer," and they weren't kidding about the fixer part - a huge living room with big windows toward the Bay, but the view mostly blocked by the birch trees planted in the front yard. And there was a definite slope downward on all the front rooms, severe enough that closet and bathroom doors would not close. Little hallways ran off in all directions, a bedroom here, two or three there. All with shredded, threadbare carpet, tatty old wallpaper. There was an attempt to modernize the dining room in the 70s, I guessed, because the built-in cabinets were painted avocado green, with glued on rocks for a mosaic effect. The kitchen had dark brown cabinets, dark brown appliances, dark brown floor - gave the feeling of a muddy tunnel. All this could be ours for just $299K.

Down the hill into northern El Cerrito to look at a little bungalow built around 1916. Two bedrooms, and the owners have done a lovely job with color and design updates inside; the driveway is closed off to make more of the yard, and it is a bit over-landscaped; the Husband starts pointing out what he'd pull out. A closer look at the outside shows many, many cracks in the stucco, and there are holes right under the eaves. We chat with the agent, who it turns out, was the agent for the pink house in Richmond Annex (he kindly tells us we made a very nice bid, but we hear again that the folks who got it bid $2K more than we did and waived inspection, so paid for the $13K in section 1 repairs out of their own pocket. Bygones.). He tells us that these owners are tough, but will pay for the new roof that's needed, but will not cover the sewer lateral or the plumbing repairs that need to be done under the house. We like him very much, but it is clear to us that these owners did the cosmetic things and ignored the bones of the house. Asking price: $479K.

There's an open house catty-corner from this one, we decide to peek. The flyer calls it and elegant 1920s "Exec Home," and we are wowed as soon as we step inside, see the high ceilinged foyer with a sweeping staircase curving up the back wall. Huge living room, huge dining room, I could see Don Draper from Mad Men buying this place to entertain. There's a maid's bedroom and bathroom off the kitchen; the master bedroom upstairs has a walk-in closet for clothes, and another closet with all kinds of cupboards for accessories. Not a single thing has been updated in the kitchen or bathrooms, and it's still lovely. We look out the back window, and our hearts fall - the entire backyard has been paved in cement, and the entire width of the back property line is an open, four-car garage. Not a speck of green anywhere. Who turns an entire yard into a driveway? The binder in the kitchen tells a sad story of new roof needed, $30K pest report, new electrical estimate. I stop in the foyer and say to the Husband, "If we had more money, we could fix this up beautifully." He says, "If we had more money, we'd buy one already fixed." Therein lies our respective feelings about houses, in one exchange. Asking price on this fixer: $599K.

We're headed for home when we see an open house sign for one of the ones I looked at with F. and ruled out - the fixer filled with creepy reminders of sad occupants. The Husband wants a peek, so we park, walk through the open garage to the backyard, in through the utility room door, and explore the whole back of the house before we encounter the agent sitting on the old plaid couch in the dining room. I am immediately reminded of Mama from the movie "What's Eating Gilbert Grape." She is very large, in a loose-fitting muu-muu of a top, sunk into the couch like it's eating her whole. A young girl in the room with her hands us the flyer, and the agent never moves from the couch (I'm not sure she could, without help), chatting us up. I'm getting a fresh set of the creeps. We can't get out the door fast enough.

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