Saturday, June 19, 2010

Garden Report June 19th

Okay here's a post that should not cause any controversy....unless there's a National Association of Heirloom Tomato Growers' that are going to object to my lack of gardening skill...
All the tomatoes are doing well and getting bigger with lots of flowers on them. The sunsugar even produced a ripe tomato already! I felt that the tomatoes are big enough to take them off of their stands and I even tied a couple of pieces of string to start training them to use the deck rail as a trellis. Its been super-crazy windy here the last couple of days and I was a little bit scared that a couple of the bigger plants would get blown over.

Here's the Green Zebra. This was the smallest most sickliest plant of the bunch when I first bought them. Now look at her! Shes' the biggest and healthiest with a good amount of flowers. Are they called blossoms also?

Here's the Pineapple. Its the 'rangy-ist' with several long uh shoots I guess? This is one of the plants I tied to the fence for support.

Here's a shot of the sunsugar Cherry tomato plant. Its the bushy-ist and has by far the most flowers. I'm hoping to train it to grow all over that little enclosed nook its in.

Just for the heck of it here's a shot of the first ripe tomato of the season. This tomato is an over achiever as there aren't even any other tomatoes on the other plants.

The Basil and Pepper pot. So, I guess I screwed up here and didn't pinch off the basil. Instead of having big bushy plants I got tall scraggly ones with a ton of flowers...

The Basil-Pepper pot after I did my pinching. Hopefully I can turn the basil back into a bushy form with a lot of leaves. But look how great the peppers are doing. They look totally healthy with lots of flowers.

I can not wait to make salsa with these tomatoes and those peppers..yum, yum. And of course there's the basil-tom-fresh mozzarella with balsamic vinegar salad that we love.
Hurry up and get ripe dang it!

Okay now back to our regularly scheduled inflammatory rhetoric...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Knife Catching 1525 Gibbons Drive.

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.

Well I honestly was not ever planning to review 1525 Gibbons Drive. We can't afford a house on Gibbons but it is a pipe dream for us to live there so we wanted to go check out the house just for the hell of it. But, being barred from entry and being told that the house owner specifically asked that I not be allowed admittance has rubbed me the wrong way.

To reiterate, my opinion is that people with nothing to hide wouldn't have a problem with an impartial review of their house. I've decided that for every open house that I am barred from I will write a fictitious and satirical review.

Knife Catching 1525 Gibbons Drive.

Unbeknownest to the homeowners and Realtors I have the ability to astrally project myself to where ever I please. After being barred from this house we went to Franklin Park and as the wife and baby played in the sandbox I took a nap in the shade and was able to astrally project myself to the open house in time to view it. Since I can not take pictures in that state my review will have to depend on my ability to form pictures in your minds with my words. But to help, here's a link to the listings website full of pretty pictures and verbiage.

I was able to 'get' to the open house just minutes before they ended for the day. As I moved around the house I thought to myself that the house was nice enough....what I saw after the doors where closed and all the looky-loo's where cleared out is what I feel I must talk to y'all about...before its too late....

The Realtor went into the backyard and pulled a small metallic device from his pants pocket. As he did the air in front of him shimmered and a small, I'll have to call it a craft, appeared. The craft was saucer shaped and was shiny and mirror-like as if it was made out of liquid mercury. As the Realtor slowly approached the ship a section dissolved to form a doorway. I noticed that with each approaching step the Realtor's human features seemed to be slowly melting away
and where being replaced with reptilian features. Actually if I had to peg it, I'd say that he looked like a meaner, scalier version of a sleestak with a double row of razor sharp teeth like a shark. As it reached the saucer door the transformation was complete and I gasped with astonishment. Just then the now Reptilian Realtor whipped his head around and started tasting the air with his long forked tongue. It was as if he could sense me some how and I froze in fear. After what seemed like an eternity the fearsome creature turned and entered the craft.

Half scared outta my wits but knowing that I had to 'do' something I followed the Reptilian Realtor into his ship. Upon entering I was shocked to see that the inside of the craft appeared much, much larger than the outside!?! I'd guess the exterior dimensions at about the size of a big SUV but the interior room I was in was at least 40' on a side. I followed the strange creature to a large table in the center of the room where there were already several of the creatures seated. They fell silent as the Reptile Realtor I was following took his seat at the head of the table. From this gesture I assumed he was their leader. The creatures started talking in the strangest language that I'd ever heard. It sounded like a cross between the Australian aboriginal pops and clicks with different styles of snake like hissing. Just hearing it made my blood run cold.

The creatures seemed to be discussing some sort of plan. The head creature would wave its hands around in front of him and different graphics would appear in the air, hovering over the center of the table. They seemed to be discussing some sort of plan...but for what I did not know. I did notice the strangest thing, every once in a while a complete sentence in English was uttered. The first time I heard it I thought I had imagined it but I listened more intently and heard the same couple of phrases over and over again...

'Its a great time to buy.' 'Its a great time to sell.' 'Don't worry about the brick foundation.' Where the phrases I heard repeated the most it almost felt like some kind of religious mantra...otherwise, it just looked kinda like any old boring work meeting with the boss but with way fancier PowerPoint.

One of the underlings at the table started to get animated and gesticulate wildly. I think he was trying to 'get the floor'. With a nod from the leader this underling jumped up and starting fiddling with the controls on a nearby wall panel. Two cylindrical objects about the size of a porta potty but made out of the same liquid mercury metal as the ship lowered from some hidden recess in the ceiling. From the pod closest to me I could hear muffled screaming and banging! 'Who or what could be in there', I thought. The technician fiddled with some more knobs and the liquid metal on the pods started to disappear into a door shaped opening. I was so excited that I moved around to in front of the doors to get a better look. As the door dissolved lights started to fade up from inside slowly revealing.....Oh No!!!! I was being pulled away from this incredible scene and back to my body resting comfortably under one of the big pine trees in Franklin park.

I awoke back inside my own body with start to my incredibly adorable 14 month old shaking my tummy with both hands and saying, 'Da! Da! Da Da' for it was time for me to take her on a slide ride.

As I scooped up my daughter I thought, 'Wow this explains so much, why I was barred from seeing the house and why some Realtors use those annoying phrases all the time. But what was in those tubes? What exactly is this 'plan' they are working on? I guess I just have to wait for the next open house I'm barred from to get another piece of the puzzle.'

To Be Continued....

Okay okay so I'm no Bill Gibson....heck I ain't even a Bill Shatner when it comes to writing Sci-Fi..but hopefully you found this amusing.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Knifecathing 1417 Central Ave Redux

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.

A Preface:
Well, apparently my previous review of 1417 Central Ave stirred up a hornets nest....its apparently been bounced around to all the local Realtors and historical society members and it even caused the current owner to fly up from LA to meet with the Alameda city building dept to straighten out the situation.

I myself have been communicating with the head building official in Alameda about this house and he has come to the decision that I am wrong and that he is confident all the alterations I mentioned were done with permits. Since he is officially the end-all be-all for all building related stuff in Alameda I am officially incorrect in my assertions of dangerous unpermitted work. I will say that in my opinion he is wrong on several counts-please see the new review below.

In light of this new information my opinion has changed and I am redoing my review. I will say that in my previous review I expressed my honest opinion based on the facts at hand. I did not know at the time that there is a 'secret' permit history for Alameda houses that can only be viewed on microfiche. I've been informed that the online permit database only goes back to either 88 or 86. I will say that I was so upset at what I saw when viewing the house that I literally had trouble sleeping that night and needed to write up the review first thing the next morning. I will freely admit that I veered into hyperbole in the review as a tool to express my honest feelings about the house at the time.

The original review of 1417 Central can be read here. I suggest reading it before reading the revised review if you'd like to know the entire story. The online permit history can be viewed here.

Knifecatching 1417 Central Ave
This morning I went down to the Alameda building dept to check the permit history not available online. Turns out it costs $14 for a certified permit history which I sure as hell was not going to pay. The permit tech let me take a picture of the permit history that appears below.

Wow, I was honestly surprised that there was so much history on the house dating waaaay back. Its always been my understanding that the major remodeling of houses is a more recent phenomenon of the last ~40yrs. That back in the 30's and earlier people just sold their house and bought a different one that fit their needs.

Okay so here's my list of unpermitted work from the previous review. We'll go through it one item at a time. One problem with these old permit histories is that the descriptions are much, much more vague than what they require now a days. This vagueness I believe can lead to different interpretations of what is what. The two entries that just say 'alterations' could be just about anything.
1. Replaced the windows and siding with vinyl.
From the record it looks like I was wrong I can believe that the vinyl siding was done in 79 but to me the windows look MUCH newer than that.

2. Rebuilt foundation.
From 63 there is a permit for a raising of the foundation? I honestly have no idea what that would be. But I suppose the Alameda building official is taking this to mean that the old brick foundation was replaced with concrete. But then why doesn't it just say that? This ones a push. To me the work done seems newer than 63.

3. Made MAJOR structural changes to the main level by removing load bearing walls.
I don't honestly see a permit here that shows this. Here's my thinking...pre-86 I don't think that the concept of 'open floor plans' or 'great rooms' really existed. It certainly didn't exist in the 20's and 30's. From the work that I saw I still can't believe that the beams and posts spanning over 20' where done with permits or with input from a structural engineer. The posts go no where. They appear to be bearing on the original mid-line brick foundation and stemwall. The increased point load from these posts NEEDS to be picked up by beefy foundation pads or piers. I see no evidence of this so my opinion of the houses safety in an earthquake is not changed. I still believe that the house is unsafe.

Here's the shot of the mid-line load bearing foundation and stem wall. I believe the posts bear on this directly with no evidence of large pads to carry the load. Or even that the posts continue through this stem wall.

4. Added a 2 story addition to the back of the house.
Yep I was wrong, plain as day on this permit record the addition was done in the 20's. Though it doesn't say if it was a 2-story addition or what...

5. Built a deck off the back of the house.
There is no permit for this that I can see. I can also say that the construction of the deck absolutely appears to be newer than 86.

6. Remodeled the kitchen.
OK there is a permit for a kitchen remodel from '69. Take a look at this picture of the kitchen. I'd eat my hat if that was done in '69. The kitchen and the new open floor plan scream mid 90's construction.

Does anything about this kitchen say it was done in 69?...

7. Remodeled the 2 baths.
A permit was pulled in '69 to remodel a bath along with the kitchen. Take a look at these 2 remodeled baths...when do you put their construction at? Do they all not scream mid-90's to you also?

Off the great room is this full bath with a super great circa mid 90's feel...

Here's the kids bath.

8. Added a master bath.
No permit that I can find for this either. The remodeling of the master bath does also appear to be from the mid-90's.

Super disco master bath..with groovy gold-toned hardware...was there a time when gold-toned metal actually connoted luxury?

9. Completely redone the elec, waste and plumbing lines.
Okay here I admit I missed that the elec service upgrade is actually permitted. But I do not see a permit for the DWV and plumbing line redo.

I just don't really think that its a coincidence that their appears to be 2 complaints on the permit record from people saying that there is unpermmitted work going on from 93 and that to me the work done really looks like its from that era? You view the pictures and you decide.

Conclusion: Without veering into hyperbole my opinion is not swayed that there was a major redo of this house completed in around the mid-90's without permits. That, if you are a serious prospective buyer of this place that you should hire a consulting engineer to come out and look at the major structural mods to the house and have him sign off on them before you close escrow.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

We've Been Banned!?!?!?!

I was sorta wondering when this was going to happen but dang it caught me by surprise today!

We went to look at a listing on Gibbons drive today. When we walked into the house the listing agent told us that the owner of the house specifically requested that we not be allowed access!?!?! Holy Fricken Moly we've been banned! Or barred I guess you could say.

I should of known something was up when there was a sign posted at the entryway declaring that taking pictures of the house was not allowed! Never seen that before....

The listing agent who is also the listing agent on 1417 Central was VERY unhappy with my review of the Central Ave house.... It looks like we're, me, my wife AND my baby are not going to be allowed into any listings by Alain Pinel realty company. Even after I told the agent that we were just looking and that I wasn't going to 'review' the house we where still not let in.

I go back and forth about this where I feel cowed and just want to give up the reviewing to getting my Irish full up and wanting to do something ridiculous in response....what I did tell the Realtor was that first thing Monday morning I would go down to the permit office and check the permit record and redo the review if any new information changed my opinion of the house.

Now, at this point I was going to go into a detailed dissection of the rather heated conversation we had on the front door step of the rather well attended open house but I'm not. I don't want to get into a pointless he said, she said kinda thing but the showing realtor seemed to be mostly upset with two things. 1. That I misquoted our conversation and 2. that I was representing my opinion as fact.

On the misquoting of the conversation thing. I'm just going to say this. I've been employed for the last several years as what can best be described as an investigative journalist. I'm very good at getting interview subjects to drop their guard and answer questions honestly. After our conversation I immediately went home and wrote up my notes. So yeah, I guess its possible that I could of miss-remembered our conversation. Lets just say that he and I remember having a very different conversation and leave it at that.

I thought that it was pretty clear that these 'knifecatching reviews' that I've been doing are just my opinion and only my opinion. In fact the review of 1417 Central Ave starts off with what I thought was a pretty straight forward disclaimer.

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. You should probably regard this as just the incoherent babbling of an unbalanced mind....

That seems pretty straight forward to me, no? Maybe I should have a 'write a disclaimer' contest. Everybody can write what they think would be a good disclaimer in the comments section and I'll pick the best one and use it on my reviews from here on out.

In the spirit of fairness I'm going to go back through all my knifecatching reviews and add the following disclaimer.

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.

There, what more could the Realtor want? I basically say that I'm a know-nothing moron who should really just be ignored.

Why Do I Do These Reviews?
Why not? In our modern society you can find impartial reviews online for any kind of techo-gadget at cnet. Cycleworld and Road and Track do reviews of new vehicles, but where's the impartial reviews of houses? Our houses, as people say, the biggest chunk of our net worth, most peoples largest asset, yet where are the impartial reviews? The selling Realtor isn't going to say anything that could sour a deal. The buyers Realtor has the same motivation. The house appraiser knows that he will lose business if his reports cause too many escrows to be broken, same with the appraiser...all these people have a vested interest in you (the buyer) staying ignorant. Who's really on the side of the buyer? It just seems like the deck is stacked against buyers. Which seems crazy to me as this is the single biggest purchase people ever make.

The Genesis Of My House Reviews.
Really, this just started off as a way for us to keep it straight in our heads which houses had which features and to help us evaluate the houses. We would do the thing where we would confuse the features of one house with another, so we started taking pictures to keep them all straight in our heads. Then we would sit down and after looking at the reports figure out what the house needs and estimate what that's going to cost. Then we back calculate what we are willing to pay for the house so as to not end up putting way, way more money into a house than it will ever be worth. Isn't that basically what everyone does who's looking at buying a house?

Is it my fault that a lot of the houses do not appear to be priced to their condition?

I want to be clear on something. We are not looky-loo's. We are seriously looking for a 'finished' old house to buy in Alameda in the right neighborhood with features that meet our perhaps unique requirements. We have a big ole hunk of cash saved up for either a down payment on a new house or to remodel our current house. We are officially pre-approved for a loan that's so large it literally scares me. We are serious buyers and as a part of our process we check the permit records and the 'public facts' of any house we are interested in.

Now, vague threats of legal action aside...the Realtors at Alain Pinel have figured out a way to censor me. If all the Realtors on the island decide that I will not be allowed into any more open houses then well, I can't really review them can I? But of course they are also turning down a serious buyer.

One Final Note
It will always be my first, second and third take that someone who doesn't want an impartial review of their house has something to hide. The cockroaches and rats gather where the sun doesn't shine. If, in a parallel dimension, I was a realtor when I did an open house I'd have front and center the complete termite report, the complete house inspection AND the complete certified permit record. I would know all there was to know about the house and represent and price it accordingly. I would have nothing to fear from an impartial review.

I figure that if the sellers think I'm the anti-Christ and buyers think I'm the second coming then I must be doing something right.

And that's the way I see it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

In Ode To An Old Tree

Looking at the 'birdseye' views of our house on Zillow I realized that they are using a much older picture of our house than Google does. The pic below was taken even before we owned the house.

Whats important to notice is that the big wonderful 100+ yr old boxwood alder tree is in this pic. Look how HUGE it was when it was healthy. Its as tall as our 3 story house and its canopy is like half the length of our house! It was a wonderful tree with very interesting flowers that shaded our yard and made it a nice place to hang out in and cool off.

Here you can see the two illegal outbuildings the jackass back neighbor built that killed the tree. Boy I hope his illegal laundry room and his illegal garage were worth it. We had such grand plans for the tree. Would of made an awesome place for a tree-house.

Here's whats scary to me. See the house right next to the tree with the little bump-out that's really, REALLY close to the tree? That's our neighbors master bedroom where they were sleeping when the tree fell. If that thing had fallen the wrong way it would of totally crushed them in their sleep! Actually, its sorta amazing that nobody got hurt, that the tree fell in exactly the right spot as to not kill anybody...unfortunately our possessions did take a beating.

I wish the tree would of fallen backwards and crushed his illegal outbuildings...that would of been poetic justice. But I guess there is no justice as the complaint I lodged against him with the building dept appears to of gone nowhere...bummer.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Why Do You Harp On Permits So Much?

I'm constantly getting emails from people asking why I harp on the lack of permits on the houses I review so I thought I'd explain my reasoning.

Why Permits Are So Important.
1. Its the law!! This should be a duh kinda thing but people don't seem to care that they are breaking the law when they do certain kinds of work on their houses without permits. Sure they are saving themselves some money and some hassle but its not worth the trade-offs.

2. Any work done without permits can not legally add to the value of the house. You converted your attic into a fabulous master suite without permits? So what, its not legal living space and can not count in an appraisers view of the house...and that house has to appraise out if you want to sell it.

3. Insurance companies don't cover losses on unpermitted work. If you don't think your average insurance company is looking for ANY reason to deny your claims you are sadly naive. Heaven forbid that your unpermitted electrical work causes a fire and burns down your house...your insurance company won't pay you a dime. This reason alone should make people never want to buy a house with extensive unpermitted work. Go ahead, call your insurance agent and ask him/her what the companies policy is regarding unpermitted work. I'll buy everybody an icecream cone at Tuckers who can get their agent to say in writing that unpermitted work will be covered.

4. Its not safe. With out the benefits of inspections you have no way of knowing if the work was done up to code, better than code, or waaaaaaaay below code. Having the work inspected is no absolute guarantee that the work is of high quality but it should guarantee a minimum standard. How do you know that you won't get electrocuted in the shower or that your furnace is not slowly killing you with carbon monoxide? You can't! and its hopelessly naive to think that, 'most work done with out permits is better than code.' Which is what the realtor showing 1417 Central actually told me!?!?!?!!?!?

5. If you get narc'd on and the city decides to take a hard line they will force you to remove all the unpermitted work, pay fines, pay the permit fees and then pay to have the work done legally! If you don't think that's like 4x as expensive and 10x the hassle of just doing it right the first time you are sadly mistaken.

#4 and #3 Really pertains to the house I recently reviewed on Central.

So that's why I harp on unpermitted work.

One thing that bugs me about people dodging permits is I think that they are trying to get out of paying their correct property taxes. If you do a lot of work on your house the assessor is going to revalue your house and the property taxes are going to increase. People do not want to pay more taxes so they try to cheat. Man, just in my neighborhood there are a multitude of illegal duplex's that if they were legalized would increase their property taxes. I wonder, if across California if all the people cheating on their property taxes where made to pay their fair share how much effect that would have our current budget crisis...?

Can y'all think of any other reasons I might of missed?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Knife Catching 2132 San Antonio Ave.


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.

People tell me all the time., 'Why are you so negative on the houses, never do a good review.' So folks here it is a house I honestly started out doing a very positive review on...until I did some fact checking.....

Today's house is 2132 San Antonio Ave. A 4 bed 3 bath 2380 sq ft house built in 1929 on a nice 7500 sq ft lot for $799k last sold in '03 for 685k. The public records show this as a 4-2.5 of 1890 sq ft.(foreshadowing)..... The Zillow page has more pics and specs and a super fab description here.

Our Realtor urged us to go over and see the place as he felt it was just what we needed. And just looking at the spec's he's right.

The listing realtor calls this a mission style house...I guess that's accurate. Given its time period I was expecting it to be a bit more Art Deco on the inside. The house shows nice from the street and it has a nice sized front yard that's a good size for Halloween (if we remove the hedges).

According to the listing agent who was showing the house, the house is a legal duplex. That front left window is the main window for a little studio apartment in that corner of the house. Which the realtor says you could rent for ~$600/month. Hey, we thought, the house is big enough without that space so we could rent it out and have some help with the mortgage....

Like a dummy I forgot to take pics of the studio but I did get a pic of the studios bath...Its got a weird twisty layout...dig that faucet mounted off center. Given the style of the hardware I'd guess this was done a while ago..maybe as war housing.

As you walk in the front door and turn left you have this nice sized room. The windows and trim in this room appear to be original. It has hardwood oak flooring that looks original and still in pretty good shape.

Next is this big dining room. Nice niche there for I guess fancy plate storage. If the owners had spent a little more time maybe buying deco inspired lighting and switch plates and such I think this house would of been more interesting to look at.

Through the double glass doors on the left is the...

Fabulous new kitchen!!!! The kitchen is quite big with what looks like very recent cabinets and such. its too bad that they went with a tiled countertop as it just looks dated now a days. The kitchen is big but weirdly proportioned. Its got this big open space in the middle that doesn't seem big enough for a table so maybe an island...which means you'll HAVE to use the dining room as a dining room...

Through the stairs up that you saw in the dining room there are two bedrooms and one bath. Here is one of the bedrooms which I guess is set up as the master... Its not super big but a usable size. The windows are newer vinyl units. I wonder if the carpet is hiding nice hardwood floors.

Here is the upstairs bath that's between the two bedrooms. No tub so no washing kids up here? This bath looks like it was done more recently than the tile countertops would have you believe...

The other bedroom upstairs. Nice view of the backyard from the windows.

I don't have a picture of the stairwell down but there are two bedrooms and two baths down from the main level also. The ceiling on this level seemed a bit low and it felt like the carpet was laid directly on the slab. These bedrooms do not appear to be original to the house. This one set up as a boys room (dig that ships wheel and impalement spike) was good sized with a large closet.

Here's the lower level bath. Also not original to the house.

The other lower bedroom is also the laundry room and has a door to the backyard. This is a smallish room which we would use as the home office and guest room.

Opposite the lower bath is a doorway that leads down a couple of steps to the utility basement. The house has modern heat, electrical, copper water piping, and newer looking galv gas lines. Which the Realtor assured me was all legal.....

The house still has its original circa 1929 concrete foundation....that's a lot better than being on brick and in my book can be long as the house is properly earthquake retrofitted. Which this house did not appear to be...I did not see any evidence of earthquake retrofit work. So, to be safe you'll need to install anchor bolts, hold downs and shear panels in this wonderful 3' high space...

Another shot of the original foundation...the problem with old foundations is the general lack of rebar...but you can drill down into it and epoxy in your hardware so its not a total lost cause. I'm not sure why someone installed newish 2by lumber in between the studs here?

Now, one of the big exciting things about this house is the backyard! Check out this cool kids paradise here. Your own private mini-park. Whatever the tree is, its big and healthy and shading the play area nicely. It was nice and cool in the trees shade and I lingered a bit...

One thing that's not so great is the fact that the neighbor on one side is one of Alameda's famous 'tear down the original super nice old house and put up a monstrosity of an apartment building that completely fills the lot with not enough parking.'

One thing that's great is that the house has central air!?!?!? Yep that's right central air. I think that this is the first house we've seen with it.

The current homeowners appear to be big into tropical plants. We where blown away by what appears to be some kind of huge mutant bird of paradise palm tree.

Another shot of the fenced in play area from a different angle...One reason why this play structure might of been required is that there is not a public park very near by unfortunately.

Here's a shot of the three car+ garage. This is perfect for us. All the storage and workshop space we need. We'd probably break up and remove the concrete on the far left for a veggie garden.

Original Conclusion:
'Wow', we thought, 'this house could really work for us.' Its a legal duplex that's had its mechanical systems modernized with plenty of storage on a nice big lot! There is only a couple thousand in termite report work mostly for the garage. So the house needs nothing. This is actually the first house we've seen that didn't need ~$200k worth of work. We had to really think about this. The house is generally not a style that we like but if we added the art deco touches we would like it. Its a short walk to Park St. which has lots of fun stuff to do...We should of been really excited about the place but it just kinda felt blah to the both of us...we just couldn't get excited about it. But we felt that we could recommend the place to others...There is no private master bath so you are going to have to share the bath on the top level with your kids and guests.

New Conclusion:
We saw this place on a lark so I didn't do my usual due diligence work. Then I got home and pulled up the records......

Arrgh!! the freaking Realtor LIED THROUGH HIS TEETH TO ME!!!

The permit record shows that, no, the house is not a duplex but a single family house!
That means the entire studio apartment is illegal!
That fabulous kitchen-not done with permits.
The new elec, waste lines-no permits pulled!
County records show it as a 4-2.5 so I don't know if the two bedrooms on the lower level are legal officially or not...I do know that one of the bathrooms was turned into a full bath illegally.
The bathrooms where all redone with out permits.

The new water piping, the furnace and AC and solar hot water was done with permits. The permit record also says that a fireplace insert was installed but I don't remember seeing a fireplace?

In view of all this unpermitted work I can no longer recommend this house at this price. The sellers should knock off enough to cover the costs of making it all legal...who knows what that will be...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Knifecatching 1417 Central Ave

Warning-this review is based on incomplete permit information. Please go here to read the new revised review.

Today's very special house is 1417 Central Ave. A 4+bed 3bath 3000 sq ft home (public facts show this as a 2-2 2900 sq ft house) on a lot of indeterminate size but I'd guess around 3500 sq ft for $799k. Last sold in 03 for $720k. Check out the zillow page here.

I'm going to put in a stronger than usual disclaimer for this very special house....

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. You should probably regard this as just the incoherent babbling of an unbalanced mind....

If you love your family and value their safety Run, Run away from this house!!! Do not be enticed by its location and size!

Man, where to start.....this house has so much wrong with it that I was literally flabbergasted when viewing it. Ugh... as an exercise count how many unpermitted modifications were made to this house.

Looks okay from the outside right? We were initially very excited to view this house as its spec's seemed right up our alley and the price is in our comfort range. The house is located 2 blocks from Franklin park and school and it has the amazing central ave street trees that we lust after. When we got up closer to the place something didn't seem right.

Damn some jackass clad the entire house in vinyl...vinyl siding, soffets and no original trim left on the outside of the house. There however is a newish electrical service of 200 amps....done without permits.....

Here's a view of the brady-bunch front door...This house is a colonial revival and this stacked stone entryway is so not correct...and the brick porch is wrong also...

I couldn't get a picture of the front room but picture a McMansion great room with a stacked stone brady bunch corner fireplace. Here's a shot of the 'great room' with all this amazing open space-notice there are no interior walls in this entire area-that's going to be important later...look at that fancy kitchen.

Off the great room is this full bath with a super great circa mid 90's feel...redone without permits...

A close up view of the kitchen. Its big and big, the countertops look newer than the rest of the place. Check out that staging..this entire new-fancy kitchen was also done without permits...

Opposite the kitchen is this nice sized dining nook. Which had an interesting slant to the floor.

At the end of the great room is this nice little library room that counts as one of the bedrooms. It has sliding glass doors out to the deck..this room was also built without permits...and when I say built, I mean that this is a 2-story addition to the house done completely without permits!!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Next the the library room is this little laundry area with a door out to the backyard and deck.

Here's a shot of the deck that you can access from the library or the side yard. Speaking of yards...this is it. No yard just a the way this deck was also done without permits....;

Walk down the stairs of the deck and you see this 2 carish garage. It appears to be in good shape...its also covered in vinyl siding...problem is, that they've landscaped the side yard as to make in impossible to get a car back here!

The house is advertised as having a basement... This area is maybe 6'-2" high. Its got a concrete foundation with lots of evidence of water seepage. I guess this could be storage space...when you walk through that opening to where the water heater is it gets weird... I should say that a permit was pulled to do some earthquake retro-fitting!

Walk through the doorway and look right. There is this weird tiered retaining wall thing they've done instead of just doing the foundation correctly.

Here's a shot of the center load bearing wall. This looks to me like the original framing on its original brick foundation!?!?! Notice the complete lack of posts and beefed up foundation piers to handle the severely increased point loads from the open floor plan above. Seeing the original sole plates everywhere is a serious red flag to me. All the real foundation contractors replace the always rotted sole plate with treated 3by lumber. Whats with the cement block retaining wall? How do we know its not compromising the integrity of the brick foundation.

Here's a peek through to the other side of the basement that has not been dug out. It looks like a concrete foundation but still with the original sole plate?!?! Okay now I have to drop a major bomb on y'all....all this foundation work, done without permits!!! This just blows me away...but once you know that, the half assed job they did on the foundation makes some sense. They had to do it on the sly. No jacking the house up on steel beams and excavating and forming up and pouring real foundation walls.

Up the stairs to the second floor you have this landing.

Off the landing you have this little room set up as a nursery. Which made me laugh cause those non-original vinyl windows are acting as doors to..

A little balcony-just what you want your toddler to have access to. The balcony did appear to be nice place to hang out and enjoy a cuppa in the morning. I can't say if this is original to the house but it was redone without permits.

Next we have this good sized bedroom. This was probably the original master bedroom. Those windows face Central Ave which is a pretty busy street and it was surprisingly loud in the room-even with the dual-paned vinyl windows shut tight. Don't think I could sleep in there.

Nother bedroom on the top floor.

Here's the kids bath...also done without permits.

Here is the new master bedroom in the illegal addition. Its good sized.

Super disco master bath..with groovy gold-toned hardware...was there a time when gold-toned metal actually connoted luxury? It just seems dated to me. This bath was added without a permit.

Big master closet off the bath. That's it for the pictures.

Okay kiddies lets review all the changes made to the house without permits...
1. Replaced the windows and siding with vinyl.
2. Rebuilt foundation.
3. Made MAJOR structural changes to the main level by removing load bearing walls.
4. Added a 2 story addition to the back of the house.
5. Built a deck off the back of the house.
6. Remodeled the kitchen.
7. Remodeled the 2 baths.
8. Added a master bath.
9. Completely redone the elec, waste and plumbing lines.

The remodeling kitchen and baths isn't such a big deal..But the big structural changes made to the house, including adding a 2 story addition and redoing the foundation without permits are a really, really, REALLY big deal. They removed a significant amount of the load bearing walls on the second floor reducing the shear strength significantly. Actually I didn't see any shear panels in the short dimension of the house...that coupled with the lack of interior walls on the middle floor is a scary proposition in an earthquake.

The cities engineer didn't sign off on any of these modifications...did any engineer? I'd guess no by the lack of posts and piers in the basement to take the added point loads of the open floor plan above. Are those beams and posts, now hidden behind drywall, even close to being correct for their spans-loads? Who knows...there is absolutely no guarantee that this place won't fold like a house of cards in the next good sized shaker.

I talked with the listing agent at length about the house. He confirmed my fears that all of this work was done without permits and or oversight. That the house was completely gutted, a second story addition was added and the house was completely remuddled in the interior and the foundation was redone all without permits. I asked the listing agent, 'How in good conscious can you sell a house in such a state.' He replied that it was all in the disclosures and basically washed his hands of any responsibility. He said that he personally would never buy a house in such a state...He said that the current owners were ignorant and had a bad buyers agent which is why they didn't get the previous seller to correct these issues. What he's looking for is a 'greater fool'. An ignorant buyer with a incompetent or corrupt agent to offload the house onto.

In the permit record there is a complaint from 93 saying heavy equipment is on site and major work being done without a permit. The city appears to of done nothing about it...if they had maybe the house wouldn't be in the sad-scary state its in.

Legalizing this work is a seriously expensive minefield.

If the city wants to play hardball (and they have done this in the past) with this house they can require that the addition be torn off and rebuilt to code, actually they can require that ALL the unpermitted work be torn out and redone to code. That means you'd have to pay the fines, then pay the new permit fees, then pay to have it all removed and then pay to have it all installed correctly. You'd have to hire a structural engineer to do a full analysis of the house. That means opening up finished surfaces so he can see whats there, I don't know how he would determine if the foundation is safe without digging up large sections to inspect....

To reiterate-

Run, Run Away from this house!!!
Don't be the 'Greater Fool.'