Thursday, August 27, 2009

1531 Morton St. Knife Catching Again

Read This:The following review is just my opinion and only my opinion I am not a professional house appraiser or inspector and I am not a structural engineer. The opinions expressed in this review are based on my own inspection of the property, the publicly available facts from aggregator sites such as Redfin and Zillow and the online permit database for the city of Alameda. I am not responsible for incorrect or missing data that appears in these sources. In fact, its probably best that you just ignore everything you read here as the lunatic ravings of an unbalanced mind.

Up for consideration is 1531 Morton St. $1,099,000 4bed 2.5 bath 2700 sq ft house that's $407/sq ft. built in 1910. The official knifecathers blog has already covered this house but since it was already in my Que to finish I thought I'd do it anyways, so here's my take on it.

I gotta say, this place is the most crack-smokingest craziest price of ANY house I've reviewed.

There's a story behind this one that is just too funny-greed gone way wrong I think.

Here's what 1531 Morton looks like from the front. When built it was a nice house on a large 6500 sq ft lot. BTW I guess the realtor got fired as the house is now listed as FSBO....I bet the realtor tried to talk some sense into the owner and some owners just don't listen.

Here's the google sat view of the place before the new 'addition'. You can see plenty of space and a little garage in the back corner. If I had a satellite view of the place now it would show an entirely NEW house in what was the backyard.!!!

The Story (from the realtor showing the house on the day we toured): Typical Alameda story, older women living alone in great big house can't take care of it anymore so decides to sell. Records show the current owner (which is some kinda fancy-pants green design-build firm outta Berkeley) got the place for a steal at the height of the market, bought for $550,000 back in '06. That number is suspiciously cheap for that time....bringing up the specter of someone taking advantage of a little old lady.... This firm then somehow convinced the city planning dept to let them build an entirely new house in the backyard (1533 Morton on sale for like $800,000+) and call it a 'condo development'??? Its ridiculous, I don't know how many palms they had to grease to get that pushed through but I just don't get it.

Anywho, fancy-pants developer builds new house in backyard (all spiffy green like) does an aerosol overhaul on the original house and lists them both separately, the original place for $1.1mill and the back house for $899,000!!!!

How much crack did he have to smoke before he though THAT was going to fly? I suppose the developer thought the market was going to keep go, go going the way it was and people would be jumping all over themselves to buy either of the places... Lets just say that, that's not happening....We've been to two open houses there and the reactions from the people touring the houses is just priceless.... '$1.1 mill FOR JUST THE FRONT HOUSE!!!, they must be joking' I must of heard 20 different couples say basically the same thing and just walk away shaking their heads...

So, this development company bought the place in '06 for $550,000, then sunk a bunch of money into fixing up the original house and then building an entire new house. What do you think the carrying costs of all this were? Its 2/3rds of the way through 09 and no one is jumping to buy these places. I bet that the developer is losing its shirt on this....and that doesn't make me feel bad at all!

Okay onto the house review:

You are greeted by these front steps...Very not original and VERY not allowed by the city...I wonder how they got this past the inspectors.

The front porch did have this cool hanging light though.

Just inside the front door were these original looking light switches..They looked neat and they still worked.

For some reason I forgot to take pictures of the main stairway and the main hallway...this room is just off to the left. One big giant room with two doors...guess what that means...yep they took down an interior partition wall (without permits) to make a 'great room' how McMansiony of them...

Here's the gas fireplace in the 'great room' Talk about McMansiony...that marble surround is so not period correct and it really sticks out like a sore thumb...

This is the room on the other side of the hallway from the great room. The house had lots of cool built-ins.

More ugly marble but a cool original built-in.

Walk down the hallway and into this modern kitchen. I thought this was pretty nice. All the high end fancy stuff. I liked the glass subway tile back splash.

Off the kitchen was this little deck space. See the house behind this one??

Just past the kitchen on the left was this tiny little half bath.

Also off this area was this little tiny room with a nice little built-in. They are counting this as a bedroom I believe and that's being a bit generous.

On to the upstairs, the bedrooms were good sized with decent closet spaces.

Nother bedroom.

Funky closet space in the main upstairs hallway without any doors or anything...looks kinda like they ran out of money before they could finish it.

There is this cool maids stair going down to the kitchen area.

Guest bath on the upper floor. Looks new..though I didn't see any permits pulled for this either....

This is the master bedroom. It had decent sized closets. Through the door on the right you get...

IKEA-riffic-ness. Another closet? A dressing area? I'm not sure what the purpose of this room is.

The master bath is right off the IKEA closet. It looks fine, very modern.

This is the view out of the master bedroom window. Look how close that house is! Woulda been a great spot for a garden. I think that there is maybe 30' between the houses. $1mill for a house and you don't even get a backyard...or a garage...

The bottom floor is not legal living space even though its set up that way... Okay the carpet in this area was not installed correctly!! Its a million dollar house and I almost tripped and broke my neck TWICE on the bulges in the carpet!! Through the door to the left you get..

A sewing room? I have to give the seller credit every room in the big ole house was staged...must of cost them some money....I'm sure it helped sell the place quickly....not.

the other side is set up like a man-cave with a poker table ready to go. The head height in this area was not 7-6 it was shorter than that. I also learned that the floor down here is the original wood sleepers on concrete!! A $1mill dollar house and they couldn't be bothered to put in a real slab? Also the foundation is the original concrete foundation from when the house was built...that's not too bad except it probably means no foundation bolts, no rebar in the crete and no drainage.

talking to the realtor I learned this gem... The roof on the place has to be replaced in 5 years!!! Yes you heard that right, they want $1mill for a house with a roof that is basically failing....Why in the heck would you not put a new roof on? To my way of thinking the fact that they didn't put a new roof on, or the slab in the basement calls into question all the work they've done on the place.


$1mill house with a bad roof, no parking and no yard.....and condo fees!!!

Its sad really, the original house was nice at one point. Heck, I would of loved to of bought this place in 06 for $550,000 that's less than we paid for our crap shack in 07. To make this house work for us we'd first have to invent a time machine and go back in time and buy it before this 'developer' ruined the place when they 'freshened' it...

This coulda been a nice place with a sensitive restoration and nice grounds...even if that woulda happened it would not be worth $1mill today...

Man, whoever thought that this was going to be a money making venture really needs to put down the crack pipe. This developer would be lucky if he gets $1.1mill for both places...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

We Have an Attic Office Greg Brady Would be Proud of!

At least that's what our friend Mark said when he saw it....

The front room of our house was getting a little bit crowded with all our computer stuff and all the baby stuff...something had to change! Especially since we are having the nanny-share here 3 days a are we going to fit two babies plus a nanny in this room? Answer..we're not! We decided to move all our home office stuff upstairs and devote this room to strictly baby stuff.

First, we had to clean up the top floor....We had already moved all the tools and house supplies to the bottom floor and now we just had to go through the wood we were saving and keep the good and be brutal and toss the old. That rats nest of wiring on the lower right was all the old scary wiring that I pulled out. They didn't use any bushings at the metal boxes and the wire was chaffed through at all the boxes!! Hello fire!

After we cleaned everything up we decided that we needed to go around with spray foam and fill all the large cracks-gaps-crevices where the roof didn't really meet the walls. There was a pretty stiff breeze blowing in through all the cracks and we knew we were going to freeze our buns off come winter. It took three cans of spray foam but I think I got all the big gaps. There still is some spots that could use some caulk but with the windows closed theres no breeze so that's going to be a big improvement.

We sorted all the wood and stashed in on the other side of the knee walls. Here's a shot of the room all cleaned up and ready for carpet.

Before we put in the carpet we needed to install several circuits for the office. We installed an overhead light with a switch at the door, two 15 amp circuits to outlets (so we can run two seperate space heaters or the AC) and one 15amp circuit for the computers.

Here's me wiring the computer outlets.

And magically its all done! We got a good deal on GFCI outlets so we used those...especially cause I'm not sure how dry those outlets under the window are going to stay.....lotta daylight coming in, in that area...You'll notice that the light is in fact working!

While I was doing the electrical Irene tackled the super-gross job of cleaning the door to the attic...we never cleaned this side cause well.. the attic was just storage but now the attic is officially going to be clean (shoeless) space so some cleaning was in order. Remember the black smudges are from the previous owners unwashed hands touching the door trim as he went in and out of the room....years of old man hand funk...bleh

Yummy! Nice contrast with the white paint underneath no?

We also re-foamed our lame-o chimney patch job. We also installed this high-tech water catchment system...We're hoping it won't leak so much this year but if it does this should funnel all the drips into one easily changeable more having 36 containers spread around to catch all the random drips...we're just going to have to make sure we keep an eye on it as a single container will fill faster.

We bought some more cheap-a$$ Home Despot carpet and put it in.

After several hours of hauling things upstairs and Irene making a window shade outta an old Jack Skellington bed sheet (so ghetto) we're done!! And it already looks like we've been there a while with stuff everywhere.

What home office would be complete without a twin size air bed, a globe bar and a make-up station! Not ours that's for sure! Maybe this could be a guest room for one brave soul...they'd have plenty of booze to keep themselves warm that's for sure.

Using some 1" gas pipe that was left over from the 'great gas pipe' experiment I made a closet rod for all of our winter coats. They were taking over the coat rack at the front door and making the space feel crowded. Like the reflection from my motorcycle leathers?

Here's the home office from another angle showing my already messy desk. We had to install an AC unit in the window as its summer time and MAN does it get hot up here....Wow, with no insulation and the sun beating down the little shed dormer roof just radiates the heat. Check out my cardboard and duct tape air diverter! Classy!

And finally, The New Babies Room!!! We got room for the pack and play, the crazy swing, the nursing chair, tons of baby toys and those cool padded cubes that make great seats for adults or blocks for kids. Of course Tiny is staying where she's at. She likes to watch the kids...

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Last Dump Run!

So along with stopping all the major work on the house the last thing we had to do was.....


Ya, I know it doesn't sound super exciting but for do one final purge and get rid of all the junk was sounding very exciting. We've done, many, many dump runs in redoing 'The Chez' and I think we'd be fine if we never had to ever drive out to the Davis St. 'Transfer Station' again.

Stuff like the ginormous amount of Styrofoam that the elliptical trainer was packed in...

We were brutal and went thru all the 'old wood' that we've been saving and tossed all the crap.

We've also been using the side of our house as a 'temporary holding area' for junk. Its all gone now!

We even tossed the big chunks of wood that we were saving from the tree that fell what the heck were we going to do with them anyways? Look how full the dang truck is? It was full! After we tossed in all the concrete chunks and broken bricks and what not.

Our good buddy Ian came over to help me load the truck and then unload it at the dump..(my kingdom for a dump bed)...except that the dang dump is now closed on Sundays!!! Stupid budget cuts! We've always gone on Sundays cause that gave us a weekend day and a half to load up the truck but not anymore. So we parked the truck and had to wait till the following Saturday to unload it. Nice thing was, when you get to the dump early on a Sat morn there was no waiting! It was the most trouble free dumping experience I've ever had.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

1221 Sherman St Knifecatching Again

Read This:The following review is just my opinion and only my opinion I am not a professional house appraiser or inspector and I am not a structural engineer. The opinions expressed in this review are based on my own inspection of the property, the publicly available facts from aggregator sites such as Redfin and Zillow and the online permit database for the city of Alameda. I am not responsible for incorrect or missing data that appears in these sources. In fact, its probably best that you just ignore everything you read here as the lunatic ravings of an unbalanced mind.

Okay, today's house review will be a little bit different and I am admitting that from the start-so no hate mail necessary.

We have 1221 Sherman st. A 5 bed 3.5 bath 4095sq ft house on a humongous 11,250 sq ft lot! This house is located on one of the nicest blocks in the gold coast with a purchase price of...wait for it....

$2.5 Million dollars!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I almost fell outta my seat when I saw that price....

This house has a great front porch. On Halloween the owners fill it with lit pumpkins and it looks awesome.

Huge lot with lots of nice landscaping.

Unfortunately those are the only two pics of the house I will post. The owner has smartly decided to not have any open houses. On a property like this it would be a madhouse of looky-loos.

Since I can not inspect the house myself I can't speak to its condition like I normally do...

But, if you go here check out the redfin page with lots of pics that are supposed to be flattering of the house....I say supposed and that will make sense once you see the pics...

First off, notice that the house was listed on July 6th for $2.49 mill...then on the 16th the price is dropped to $1.569 mill. Dang, that's gotta be the fastest-steepest house price fall I've ever seen!

What's really interesting is the house was most recently sold for $739,00 in '92. WOW, doesn't that seem like a lot of money for '92? I mean what's $739,000 '92 dollars worth today?

If you haven't yet looked at the pictures on redfin please do so now. Okay this link has better pics of what I'm talking about.

Okay, now, since I can't see the inside of the house myself I only have those pics to go on.....

Wow, the grounds look amazing, wow, the house looks amazing on the interior. Most of the woodwork is not painted and dig those interior transoms. This definitely looks like a grand scale house.

But what the heck is up with the kitchen? What's wrong with the floor and why does the kitchen look like its got cheapo laminate cabinets. It looks like the kitchen was redone in the 80's maybe. For a $2.5mill house the kitchen seems woefully under-par....maybe that's why it was discounted to $1.5mill.

And you'd think that if they were serious about selling the place that maybe they'd uh......ahem, de-clutter it a bit? Holy mackerel there is stuff crammed everywhere...that kitchen is a nightmare.

Have at it.

What's With All The Foundation Stuff?

That's a question I have gotten several times recently.

People have picked up on the fact that on all of the houses I've reviewed so far I feel that they need new foundations.

They say things like, 'well, it lasted through the 1906 earthquake and the Loma Prieta quake and the house stood just fine!! So why should I spend $100,000+ on redoing the foundation when that much money will get me a super fab kitchen!'

Here's the simple fact that they seem to miss.

In '06 the foundations where brand new!!

There hadn't been a hundred years of water infiltration to turn the mortar into sand or ground movement or freeze-thaw cycles to turn the bricks into dust. Loma Preita was 20 yrs ago-given the right conditions you can turn a lot of mortar back into sand in 20yrs.

Case in point: Our current house. Still standing, but large parts of the foundation had settled unevenly and in large parts of the foundation the mortar had turned back into sand and you could pull the bricks out!! Even in the interior the mortar was failing! The sole plate around the entire perimeter was seriously dry rotted- So badly that we were shocked the house was still standing.

A new foundation is a lot of money and there is a lot of hand-wringing that goes on about whether or not to spend the money on something no one will ever see and most moronic home-buyers don't even care about.

I'm going to make it easy for you.

Consider this scenario;

You buy that big, tall, skinny Victorian that you've always wanted for your new family. It needs a little work but you figure you can swing the new kitchen and bath redo's and the new painting...then you're told that the foundation is looking iffy and you are shocked at the price to redo it much as all the cosmetic stuff you had originally planned to do. You wring your hands and say, 'well, it survived the two biggest shakers in California history so I'm just going to leave it alone.' Then in five years when you've got a couple kids running around the unthinkable happens...there is a big shaker on a Saturday morning when every one's home and the house jumps off its foundation and skews horribly to one side-trapping your children inside seriously injuring or even killing them.

Think about that for just one second.

How much would you pay to save your child? What would you pay to go back in time and redo the foundation correctly with earthquake retrofitting? All the money in the world is what any parent would pay.

How would you live with yourself knowing that you essentially chose this fate for your family because you didn't want to spend the money to do it right?

That, in a not-so-small nutshell is why I would never buy a big fancy house sitting on feet of clay, unless it was cheap enough for us to be able to redo the foundation asap.

That is why I get so annoyed with people who can't imagine their crumbling brick foundation is worth a discount on the purchase price.

Don't buy an old house with a crumbling brick foundation unless you can afford to replace it shortly after close! Or force the seller to credit you back enough to have the foundation redone. Don't risk it, its not worth it.

Okay I'm off my soapbox for now.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

That's it, We're Done!!!

We give up, we capitulate, we surrender!!!

At least temporarily...

People who have been reading this blog regularly (all 2 of you, thanks) might of noticed that we've gotten a lot of little projects buttoned up around the house lately......even with a new baby....

Wanna know why? I (The Madscientist) got laid off of my job. So I've lately had a lot of free time to 'get things done.'

So now we're a one income family with a new baby and a supposed price tag to redo our house of over $500,000....

As we've discussed before that would put us well over $1 mill into this house that sits squarely in a $500,000 neighborhood....

I had the unfortunate job of telling the nice folks at Winnans construction that the $8500 for the designing of the plans is all that they were going to get from us for at least the near future.

So now we're going to get an amazing set of plans that will never, ever, ever, get built in this reality....buuuut, they're really cool plans and it would turn this place into our dream house...

With the $250 kitchen redo and a recent couple of projects (a new baby play room and a new home office) we haven't posted about yet that's pretty much it for us on this place.

We've decided to just live here (for a year) as is and hopefully save some money to purchase a house that is 'turnkey'. It is our belief that even in the nicer neighborhoods of Alameda the prices are still going to fall a good bit and hopefully in a year we can re-evaluate our position.

We'll still be posting stuff here cause we're still touring houses that look promising and still getting let down...latest house is going for $1.1mill and its got a roof that will only last 5yrs more tops!!! What kind of sense does that make?