Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What School District Is this House In???

I think that when I am at open houses I hear that question more frequently than any other...
I mean if you are a parent with children and you are considering moving into a new neighborhood what's most important to you?

1. You want to know what condition the house is in.
2. You want to know if its a 'nice', safe neighborhood.
3. You want to know if the schools are good.

I hear people ask this question all the time and I ask it all the time....guess what answer I ALWAYS get back?
'I'm not sure you'll have to check with the school district.'

Seriously WTF?

If you are a Realtor showing a house how in gods name can you not know what grade school district the house is in? It's not a black science is it?

So, for everybody out there here's links to the two main things prospective buyers are going to want to know about the schools in Alameda.

This link is for the recently published API scores.
The scores show that on the main island you want to be in either the Franklin or Edison school district. If we could afford one of those cool houses on Gibbons drive on the East End we'd move there in a second so our child could attend Edison.

Here's how I read the ranking of the alameda grade schools.
1. Amelia Earheart
2. Edison Elementary
3. Bay Farm Elementary
4. Franklin Elementary
5. Frank Otis Elementary
6. Paden Elementary
7. Donald D. Lum Elementary
8. Henry Haight Elementary
9. Ruby Bridges Elementary
10. Washington Elementary

Here's the official map of the grade school districts of the island.

To find out which school district you're in just look up your address on this map, takes all of five minutes.
We are in the Franklin School district. We are way out on the gerry-meandered outer edge of it but we are in the district! That is no accident. Before buying the Chez we checked the API scores and the district map and new we were getting a bargain on a 'contractors special', the worst house on the block but in one of the best school districts. Being in the Franklin school district was a huge plus for us. We even turned down a different house that was is the Washington district-the scores where just too disparate.

Being in Franklin now I don't know what kinda deal we'd have to be offered to move to a house in the Washington district.

But the question remains: Why do Realtors play stupid about school districts?

Friday, May 21, 2010

KnifeCatching 1832 San Antonio

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 this house is actually the house that started me back on the knifecatching we were leaving the house a Realtor was taking a young couple in. The wife recognized us from this blog!?!?! and stopped us to ask us what we thought...I gave them my quick synopsis (no spoilers) and their Realtor overheard. As they rejoined the Realtor I could hear her say, 'Oh its not really necessary to replace the foundation.' This was not the sellers Realtor but the buyers Realtor giving this shockingly horrible advice....what do you think the Realtor was really thinking about? Getting this nice family with a couple of young kids the right house or getting herself as big of a commission as quickly as possible? Arrrrrrrgh!

Up for review 1832 San Antonio Avenue. A 3 bed, 1.5bath, that is 2413 sq ft on a nice 6k+ sq ft lot built in 1895 for $815k.

My sources told the me the story on this place. Elderly gentleman owned the place and lived here alone for many years keeping the place up by himself. He unfortunately DIED in the house (a fact that the selling Realtors were not making obvious) and the house was left to his heirs. The house is long paid for with astonishing low property taxes. The heirs did a general clean up and paint of the house and put it on the market trying to squeeze as much money as they can from their windfall, sound familiar? Heirs have almost no money in the house and they are trying to sell it for a price that honestly is just not reasonable. Don't believe me? According to ZIP reality its been on the market for 79 days! What's that tell ya? Baring the Zombie Apocalypse if a house isn't in contract within 30days it ain't priced right.

The house looks gorgeous from the street. I was impressed with how nicely kept up the outside of the house appears to be and how nicely kept up the lot is. The house has a lot of fancy trim that all looked pretty original to me.

the front door looks to be the original in good shape with its original stained glass.

I'd like to say that the house was very original on the inside. Probably the most original of any house we've looked it. There was just amazing period stuff everywhere. All the original hinges, doors, door hardware all really nice. I'm sorry that I couldn't snap any pictures of it cause the battery on the camera was dying....

Here's the view looking in from the front door. Nice looking stair case The carpet and white paint appeared to be new to me. What really kills me is that in a lot of places it looks like this gloss white paint was the first coat over the original woodwork!! Why God Why would you do that!?!?!?!?!?!?

The women peeking around the corner there is the listing realtor...she kinda reminded me of the mom from 2.5 Men after talking with her. She said she recognized me and was giving me grief for taking pictures of the house?!?! I thought the jig was up. But, it turns out she remembers me from when we bought our current house. During the 'open house' for the Chez she wouldn't come off the sidewalk to get any closer and sent her poor clients into the rat hole without her.
When did it become a capital crime to take pictures during an open house?

The house has double front parlours. This is the front-est one with nice working pocket doors with gorgeous hardware.

Its a good sized room with decent carpet probably covering matchstick oak that just needs to be refinished...cheaper and faster to just throw carpet down ya know...

This is the 2nd parlour with non-working coal burning fireplace. The door on the left leads into the kitchen. Nope I'm mis-remembering it, sorry, through that door is the formal dining room that I forgot to take a picture of...I think...its a good sized dining room but as the layout of the house stands it would need to be repurposed as the family room to make the house work for an actual family.

Both of these rooms together give you a pretty good amount of indoor entertaining space.

Down the hallway a bit there is a nice sized closet under the stairs with its own window.

Here's the kitchen, vinyl floor, Formica counter tops...I believe the area inside that opening is probably the original kitchen. It looks like the original cabinets it even had a cold cabinet with venting to the outside. the area in the foreground I'm not sure what it was originally but its sorta hodge-podgy kitchen now. This entire space if redone would make a good sized eat in kitchen I think. Problem is, its GOTTA be redone as its way below par for houses in this price range. Formica does not sell...through the doorway you can just barely see to the left of the range.

Is an addition. This is a weird space. Its long, and skinny and awkward. Not sure what it would be good for.

Its sorta set up with the TV on one end and a couch on the other? You'd need binoculars to watch it. This would make a decent home office though.

Through a door in the kitchen to a nice covered side porch (with the half bath) there is an interior stair down to the basement. The basement is split into two rooms of reasonable head height. Notice that galv plumbing...see how the fridge is up on blocks? Thats gotta be evidence of habitual flooding.

The other basement room thats the base of the chimney behind those shelves.

Through the door on the left is...

Pure ugliness...thats a brick foundation with lots of water movement thru it...

More scary brick foundation...I say scary because to me it looks like water infiltration has already done a pretty good job of turning the mortar back into sand. Scroll back up real fast to the top picture. This is a full 2 story house with 12' ceilings on each floor. See how long and skinny the house is? This house needs a real foundation, earthquake retro-fitting and water remediation really, really badly. In my opinion this is not optional...

Back up from the basement and into the back yard. Which is really good sized and well kept. Perfectly adequate for us. its even got a couple of different types of citrus trees. The little garage on the left would fit a car and our motorcycles. It was locked and FULL of crap so I could not determine its condition.

For us, we'd want to raze the garage so we could have garden, koi pond and plenty of entertaining space.

Now to the second floor. At the top of the stairs you have this sorta landing.

The top of the floor is weirdly set up. The part you see in this picture (the back half) is kinda set up like a apartment. I'll get to this in a sec.

Here is one of the bedrooms this bedroom is on the street. Its decent sized with a decent sized closet.

Its also right next to...

The only full bathroom in the house...small cramped, I'd guess the tub is probably original. But this needs to be redone badly...

Here is another bedroom. There is a pocket door between this bedroom and the bedroom above. Its a good sized room with a decent closet. The pocket door between them is odd...doesn't seem very private.

Okay back to the odd part of the layout. I think that this is the third bedroom. Its really, tiny....but it does have a closet.

Then off this room is this...

Weird pseudo kitchen.

More vinyl but a cool porcelain sink with built in drain boards.. Through the door on the left is a pretty cool feature...

A roof top deck!

This deck faces south and that
silverized water proofing membrane on the floor was reflecting the heat and making it unbelievably hot up here....If you want to use this at all in the summer you are going to have to add shade... this could be a really cool space with a nice container garden.

Off the kitchen-like room is this weird huge dressing room sorta thing. This is not original and was added sometime later.

Okay so to make this house work you'd have to take this last three rooms and reconfigure them into some sort of master suite with its own private deck...doesn't that sound nice.....and expensive?

Not pictured but from what I could see the roof appears to be failing with shingles curling up in abundance.

Reports: Uh, didn't write it down (sorry I'm human after all it seems) but I remember that the termite report was substantial. They did have a couple of foundation redo quotes a couple of total B.S. ones and one real one from our buddies at Alameda Structural.

Conclusion: Its a gorgeous mostly original Victorian like you hardly see anymore. That's good and bad. All the original trim is there but its also still got its original brick foundation, galv water pipes, etc. Its got a good sized front lawn and great backyard in a nice neighborhood...better than our current 'hood.

To make this house work for us it would need:
1. A new full foundation and dig-out, possibly adding a garage door and driveway so we could get rid of the garage out back. $120,000 easy.
2. New roof- ~$16,000
3. Complete Repiping $20,000
4. Remodeled kitchen $40,000 easy
5. New master suite...~$100,000
6. Redo existing bath $20,000

So lets see thats uh,.. $196000 plus what ever the termite report was for plus the cost of redoing the electrical.

Buying the house at asking puts us at just over $1M...there is no way that neighborhood can support $1M+ houses that are only 3-2.5 and ~2400sq ft...that's not even a big house really.

So, to us, the place is only worth $615k.....think they'll take it?

I asked the Realtor what they'd take for the place and she said, 'I think that they could be bargained down to $770k.' and I just laughed...

Really it can't just be me. Sellers need to figure out that in this more rational market they have to price a house based on its actual condition!

Actually the Realtor and I got into kinda a shouting match when she tried to use the, 'The foundation doesn't really need to be replaced, its optional.' line with me. I read her the riot act in front of like 5 other people....she was not pleased...I don't think I'm on her Christmas card list anymore....

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Garden Report May 20th

Actually this is mostly pictures that Irene took when she set up the initial watering system...that I didn't know she took and then that I got a little in trouble for not posting on the original drip watering post....something about efforts being glossed over.......ahem....

Here is Irene's super fab drip watering supplies kit all ready to go!

Irene added these flavor crystals to the soil to help retain moisture.

She set up the drip watering rings around the plants.

Hooked the different rings together with a manifold of her own making.

She ran the tubing inconspicuously....see, no trip hazards!

Here are the new adjustable shower head fountains I bought at the despot for a whopping $.97 each.

I yanked off the soaker hose (which was surprisingly hard!) and installed the adjustable shower heads.

There was some fiddling back and forth to get them to all deliver the same amount of water. But look here it is! That's not a bad looking tomato is it?

Nother sexy tomato shot with watering action. This Zebra is looking pretty good no?

and the pineapple tomatoes with the little basil that couldn't.....this plant looks a little funky still.

I left the soaker hose on this last planter cause it was doing a fine job before...though I don't know if it is still cause its kinda hard to tell how much water is being emitted.

So after all that work and getting the water tuned perfectly its been raining off and on for the last several days and I haven't really needed it....of course.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Knifecatching 1200 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.

Okay I wasn't really planning on doing a review of this house but was goaded into it be a friend...
Usually I do reviews on houses that on paper look like something we would want to own and in a price range that we can afford....this place is neither of those things.

Today's House 1200 San Antonio Ave, a 5 bed 5.5 bath mansion of 6493 sq ft on a healthy 11,325 sq ft lot! Built in 1910 on sale for a cool $1.795 MILLION!! Zillow says the current owners bought the place in 93 for $845,000...dang that seems like a lot of money back then as that's' before the dot com housing bubble... according to the permit record the only legal work the current owners did on the house was install a spa and re roof....and they're expecting to get an oh 112% increase in purchase price?!?!!?

First off, I just want to talk about the open house. We were quite surprised that the place was actually open to the public. The giant gold coast mansions are NEVER open to the common people! We knew it was going to be a madhouse at the open as the house is owned by an internationally famous opera singer. We got their at 1:15 and the place was already full of people! I got to hand it to the realty company they have the fanciest 4 sided handout I've ever seen. They also had a small army working the open with Realtors on every floor (all 4 of them) acting like docents at a museum....That's also why I didn't get any pictures of the inside....I chickened out because of all the docents everywhere and the fact that there were already like 3-4 people in every room of this 4 story mansion! One of my favorite things about the open was all the folks that came super dressed-up in their 'rich people clothes'.....'I know you, you're a checker at Safe Way!' So entertaining all around...

Here's the only picture I have of the place. Go here to see the super duper website complete with the 'ode to joy' playing in the background (gag, how upscale). Actually check out the pics it'll make my review make more sense.

First off the main floor:
In a word pretty damn impressively gorgeous. Lovely woodwork, large scale rooms designed for grand entertaining. The mantles were gorgeous, wish I coulda got a pic of them. There's a nice solarium kinda thing added on to the side of the house. The kitchen was uh, okay I guess....According to the permit history the place was completely remodeled in the mid 80's and not really touched since....What was a fancy kitchen in 84 just looks well...passe now a days..Its got the original white solid color Corian counter tops circa 84'...the cabinets where especially shoddy by today's standards, they were just painted plywood, even the doors!?!

There is a spa in the back yard that the current owners put in but between that and the 5ish car garage there really is not very much backyard....this I don't understand, to my tiny mind if I'm going to own a mansion I want to have a decent amount of land around it. The house is on a corner so they only have one neighbor with an equally big house on an equally tiny lot and the houses were so close you can see right into the neighbors house and blah who wants that?(for $1.8M)

The basement:
There are not one but two separate stair cases down to the basement. Here, they did it right. They dug out the complete footprint of the house when they redid the foundation and added ~2000 sq ft to the house (not included in the ~6k number above). In the basement they have tons of storage, a wine cellar, a really great workout room, a giant man-cave with a working fireplace. I don't know why more people don't do this when they are redoing their foundations. Ya I know it adds cost but storage sells people!

The 2nd Floor:
Okay here's where I'm probably going to draw some flack...but I was not very impressed by the top two floors. There is a grand staircase up to the 2nd floor along with a smaller 2nd stair off the kitchen...This floor had a bunch of bathrooms and big-ass bedrooms and in scale it was very impressive-any of the bedrooms could of been a master suite in a normal house.

I'm walking around and looking at everything and something is just not right I can't put my finger on it right away and then BANG, it hits me. The fit and finish of this floor is comparable to the McMansions in exclusive gated communities they put up all over the east bay hills starting in the mid 80's. When they redid these floors they tossed all the historic stuff and installed, I kid you not, what looks like off the shelf home despot stuff. ALL the doors on this floor were HOLLOW PLASTIC cross and bible doors with the cheapest feeling door handles...all the trim looked like cheap painted MDF. I mean 4" MDF baseboard in a $1.8M house!?!?! The bathrooms where redone with the height of 80's McMansion style toned fixtures (gag) and non-historically correct tile, tile everywhere. The bathrooms suffer from the same plight as the kitchen, what was considered high-class in 84 just looks tacky today.... This final bit will seem super nit-picky but all the switch and outlet covers where cheap plastic off the shelf from the depot....or what ever was around back then. Also all the non-original light fixtures all over the house looked like cheap in-stock home despot garbage....

The Top Floor:
Originally an attic was converted into living space during the super remodel of the 80's. I gotta say, this must of been one of the most amazing attics in the world before the conversion, 20' ceilings, windows, and its just humongous. It was converted into a master suite with his and hers marble baths and a nursery. Its huge, the baths are huge, the bedroom is huge, the nursery is not huge however. This floor suffers from the same blight as the 2nd floor-it looks and feels like a Danville McMansion which I find VERY off putting.

Hell, I don't know, looking at this as a non-wealthy person who knows what it costs to restore old houses in a quality way I just can't figure how its worth $1.8M. Maybe its geared towards someone who is so wealthy that they are looking at this as a fixer-upper?
There is ~$17,000 in termite work required also (I didn't see the report but this is what the realtor told me.) The permit history shows that a new roof was put on in 08 and in 85...but looking at the roof to me it looks like the roof was done in 85 so I don't know what the 08 permit was about...The shingles are odd...they look like compressed cardboard possibly impregnated with asphalt...they also all look like they are failing with the edges curling up on the majority of the shingles I could factor in a re-roofing also.

What really bugs me is that everything that was touched during the big overhaul in the 80's was stripped away of its historical character...that's all the baths, the kitchen and the top two floors...and replaced with crappy McMansion, Home Despot crappiness....

I guess the current owners are smart? They bought the place soon after a major, expensive remodel was done...essentially just living in the house for 20 yrs, not doing anything to it and now they expect to get 112% of what they paid for it?

Disclaimer: All the above is just my opinion and only my opinion, so all you worshippers of the owner of this house can just suck it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Knifecatching 2157 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.

So I've got the urge to do some knifecatching again....its that time of year and lots of interesting houses have come on the market recently.

Today's house is 2157 San Antonio Ave, a 4 bed 2 bath 2165 sq ft colonial revival built in 1909 on a gorgeous 7500 sq ft lot for sale for $819,000.

Here's a shot of the front of the house. Its a good looking house. The front yard is good sized with several large trees. We could make it work wonderfully for Halloween.

You go up the stairs to a little porch, which I forgot to take a picture of, into a HUGE huge that it seems like a waste of space (I also forgot to take a picture of it, what can I say I'm rusty).

To the left of the big entryway room is this nice formal room that faces the street. This is the only sorta nice entertaining adults room in the house? Which I find kinda lacking as with this floor plan its forced to be the family room also.

On the other side of the ginormo entryway room thingy is this nice sized dining room with a nice built in and a good sized closet with window.

Through the doorway you can just see on the left is...

The kitchen! This is a nice perfectly serviceable kitchen that appears to of been redone recently. (without permits)

The kitchen really isn't big enough for that table and chairs but around the corner where the ceiling fan is there is a decent sized alcove that would make a great seating area. (again sorry no pics)

Where Irene is standing right off the kitchen is...

One of the full baths....right off the kitchen...This is also not original to the house and also not done with permits. I don't understand the full bath off the kitchen on a floor with no bedrooms? Shouldn't this be a simple half bath? And who wants a stinky bathroom opening into the area where you're preparing food?

Go out through these nice double french doors and there is a nice little deck that I could see enjoying meals on in the summer.

A look from the little deck out at the super ginormous backyard. The backyard really is a park-like setting.

Here's a view looking back at the house from the other side of the yard.

Lots of tree's, plants, its a bit wild but it looks really nice.

In the far edge of the backyard is what was at one time a garage and workshop....this building has not been habitable for quite some time and is literally falling down...This would have to be rebuilt if you wanted somewhere to park a car and or motorcycles out of the rain and have a workshop..Its a good sized outbuilding but its a complete scraper and they landscaped the backyard as to make it impossible to get a car back here anymore..To redo this, if the city would let us..I'd estimate at around $20k to do a slab on grade building with electrical.

Walk along the side of the house and there is a doorway down to this little storage-workshop area. This area has concrete and we were told that it was done in '01 by the agent showing the house but it looks older than that to me. I can not find any permits for this work...Unfortunately only half of the foundation was done. The back half of the house sits on brick that's looking a little worse for wear. But hey, good storage. The giant gravity fed furnace is also located in this area. As well as the washer-dryer hook-ups.

There is an interior staircase to get from this bottom storage area to the main living floor.

I noticed this scary site on the way up the stairs. That's asbestos lining that fuse box and those fuses are bigger than what is supposed to be in there. Not sure where this goes but those old knob and tube wires are carrying more current and heating up more than they were designed to which means their insulation is probably failing somewhere inaccessible... Why have fuses still in a house like this? Got fancy granite in the kitchen but dangerously over-fused knob and tube wiring is okay? WTF? From the reports the electical appears to be a nitemare in this house with open splices and live 240V lines just laying around!?!?!

Stairway up to the second floor is not too crazy steep.

Here's a shot of the hallway from the top of the stairs. Nice-ish hardwood floors on both levels though there were several spots in need of refinishing.

To the right is the only bath on this floor of four bedroom including the master...This was also redone at one time as that tile is not original...I also could not find any permits for this work.

But its a nice enough bath.

One of the bedrooms. decent sized with a decent closet.

Another top floor bedroom.

One of the doors on the hallway opens to this scary site. Well its only scary if you've read the inspection report....

This is the smallest bedroom next to the master bedroom.

The master bedroom occupies the entire front part of the 2nd floor. Its a really good size. One thing I don't get, is that the windows in this room had broken sash cords?

Other half of master with grumpy mommy and baby. Like the wall of books but they used particle board shelves which are buckling under the weight!

There also is no friggen master bath?!?!? Do adults who are paying this much money for a house want to share their bathroom with their teenagers? Isn't that one of the levels of hell? To make this work you'd have to turn the little yellow bedroom above into a bath or but the master bedroom in half and but a bath here where the bookcases are...that would make for a smallish master bedroom and master bath...

In the master bedroom there is a pull down attic ladder that leads to what looks like an awesome amount of storage.

Cept..see how water is coming in along the chimney... and those heating pipes are absolutely covered in asbestos....not so good...

What the reports told us....

After reading the termite and home inspection report I'm a bit befuddled...the house has a TON of deferred maintenance issues. It seems like the majority of the windows are either painted shut, have broken sash cords or dry rot!?!

The inspector says that both heating units need to be replaced and that means asbestos abatement issues...

The chimney is basically about ready to fall down that's going to have to be removed.

There is a ton subterranean termite issues with the house. Termite report was ~$14,000

A lot of dry rot on the exterior where the ground it rotting the siding.

There's plumbing leaks in the bathrooms...

My Conclusion

The house has great front and back yards and nice curb appeal. The lack of entertaining space in the house would be a problem for us as well as the no master bath and no safe-dry-secure parking for our motorcycles and car.

Honestly, the place seems overpriced to me. Its not in a super amazing neighborhood. Its a good neighborhood, central-ish Alameda a little more East than us.

Here's my breakdown on what the house needs;

$100,000 to do a correct foundation job

$14,000 in pest work

$20,000 to do a whole hose copper repipe (galv water lines are looking scary to me).

$25,000 to replace both furnaces and do asbestos abatement.

$20,000 to rebuild the garage and regrade the backyard to actually get a car back there.

$20,000 to turn a bedroom into a mid-line master bath.

$5,000 to remove the entire chimney and haul away the bricks.

If you where to buy the house for the listing price and do all the work mentioned above you'd be into the house for at least $1023000. I don't honestly think that neighborhood can really support a $1 million+ house...even with the great this economy it doesn't seem realistic to me.

So lets see $819,000- all the work that needs to be done is... $615,000.

Think they'd take that much for the place?

What think you dear readers? I'm I totally off my nut with my way of thinking? I unfortunately know how much it costs to fix up old houses so why would I pay more for the house than it would ever be worth after I pay to fix the place up?

It just seems like people are not discounting their prices based on condition do you? Is that $819k a discounted price?