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.


Anonymous said...

Kurt Larson:

Testify brother Daniel!

Leslie Harvey said...

No way were those baths and kitchen redone in the 60s. No freaking way.

Good for you for knowing when to stand by your opinion and knowing when to admit an error too.

Anonymous said...

In the 90s the main issue with kitchen remodels was the electrical. If you see electrical work for the kitchen in the 90s that's probably the extent of what the city required at the time. They're much more detailed now, both in requirements and in documentation.

That's part of the problem with these types of analysis. You have to examine not just the permit history of a house, but what required a permit at the time a modification was made. You can't just take today's requirements and retroactively apply them 20 years back (if indeed the kitchen is 1990-ish.)

shineyspikeything said...

Totally agree with you. If those baths and kitchen were really done in 63, they might even be approaching "cool retro" by now, whereas those pics clearly show icky early 90s

The MadScientist said...

Ya maybe I need a lesson in reading the permit record? But I agree no friggen way those baths and that kitchen was done pre 86. I don't honestly know what Mr. Head Building Offical is thinking...maybe he didn't look at my blog post?

The MadScientist said...

Well you do have a point and I would never try to hold work done in the 20's, 30's up to modern standards. But my experience with the permit world starts in the later 90's and to do a kitchen remodel you sure as heck needed a LOT more than just elec. Besides why is there a permit pulled in 69 that clearly states kitchen remodel? Where the requirements stricter in 69 then they got easier in the 90's and now they are back to being strict? Doesn't make sense to me.

The MadScientist said...

Hi ShinySpikeyThing,
I would love to find a single person who can honestly say that those kitchens and baths were done in the 60's...

The MadScientist said...

Thank you Kurt,
I'm just trying to keep it reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaal

Anonymous said...

I looked up the permit record after I read this. (Thanks for the link.) Regarding the two complaints in 93 you mentioned, one was unfounded, according to the city. The other was finaled, meaning they checked it out, found a problem, and it was corrected. So, yeah, I see what you're trying to say, but if the problem was fixed it doesn't seem fair to imply it's still there. Wish these records were more detailed, that would help.

The MadScientist said...

Well Anon,
Do you think someone would write up a complaint saying that there was heavy machinery on site just outta spite?

Jessamyn said...

Generally big cities are pickier about these things, but in most places, if you don't change the layout, you don't need a permit. In other words, I could replace my sink and toilet, put in a new vanity, retile, change out the light fixtures, etc. in my bathroom and not need to pull a permit. So it would be a legal updated bathroom, but there wouldn't be any record of it. Ditto for the kitchen - I could change out all the surfaces and appliances, and as long as I didn't move any wiring or plumbing lines, I wouldn't need to get the city involved.

It would be interesting to know the history of permit requirements in Alameda.

The MadScientist said...

Hi j,
I can tell you that for absolutely sure you would need permits in Alameda to rip everything out of a bath and replace. The only break they give you is if you replace everything in exactly the same place then they don't make you adhere to the modern codes in terms of clearance around the toilet and such. But they are still going to require a vent fan or an opening window and a GFCI outlet.

On just changing the countertop in a kitchen I don't honestly know. But if you were going to do a gut remodel of a kitchen they would require a permit and require you to meet modern codes.