Sunday, August 7, 2011

KnifeCatching 1336 Sherman St.

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.

KnifeCatching 1336 Sherman St.
Up for review today is 1336 Sherman St. which has the official specs of being a 5-2 of 2475 sq ft on a 7500 sq ft lot built in 1883 on sale for the low, low price of 1.275M.

To be honest we where interested in this house because on paper its practically the exact same house as Chez 3.0....and man, does that mean Chez 3.0 is worth 1.275M????  I wish.

Here's the HBR page of the place with super fab photo's and what not.

In keeping with this new 'kindler gentler' thing I'm doing I'll start out with the good.

The Good
The house is gorgeous. The outside looks like its been freshly painted. Its got a turret!! Hurray!!!
The grounds look amazing (what there is of them).
The woodwork on the inside is unpainted! The main floor is really gorgeous with all that unpainted woodwork. There are two fireplaces with original looking tile and very fancy mantles.
The kitchen looks like its been recently redone and it is of a good size.
There is a HUGE 3 car garage in the backyard.
Its in a great neighborhood on a tree lined street. Jealous of the tree-linedness of that block of Sherman.
Its in the Franklin school district two blocks away from Franklin School and Park.
BIG attic for I guess storage...or expansion space.
Decent sized basement area with a full bath.

What The Permit Record Tells Me
Kitchen Remodeled in 95 with permits.
Looks like an elec service upgrade was done in 89 but finaled in 98?
New roof in '06.
Sidewalk work done in '07.
3-car garage built with permits in 07, permits finaled in '10...
Hey, new furnace in '11.

The Odd
That kitchen looks like its waaaaaaay newer than 95. Look at the pictures, does that look like a kitchen that is over 15yrs old?

I love old houses, but the main level of this place is just sooooo cut up into little rooms...I think its actually the most cut up of any old house I've seen. It all looks original, and the house would of always been a grand home so the little tiny rooms on the main floor just seem kinda odd to me. The small room theme is also going on on the second floor. There might be 5 bedrooms but none of them are what you'd call, generous.

No central heat on the 2nd floor? The one with all the bedrooms? The furnace is new but there are no heating ducts to any of the rooms on the 2nd floor. There appears to be just one register in the hallway!?!?!?

No master bedroom-bath?

The place really has no back yard. Its all either driveway or garage. There is a nice little deck off the kitchen but yard. Its all up front.

The Bad
The Realtor showing the house told me that it had a 3/4 foundation replacement? Which she told me meant that 3/4 of the foundation had be replaced. I checked the permit record and this does not show up there anywhere....So....either the Realtor was 'mistaken' (see kinder gentler) or the work was done without permits or somehow a big, huge, expensive, job like this isn't on the permit record.

It would also appear that the basement is finished as living space with a full bath, illegally as I can not find any permit record for that.

This last comment might seem kinda anal to some folks but... Take a look at the picture of the front of the house. That concrete retaining wall looks pretty brand new no? Count how many steps up from the sidewalk. I count 5 yet there is no handrail? That's officially unsafe by the building codes.

 I didn't measure the retaining wall but I'd guess that its at least three feet high. There's no fence around it! I saw that and the first thing I thought of is, WOW how unsafe. It's the only decent sized patch of grass on the lot which means kids are going to want to play on it...Your toddler takes a step over that edge and wow, that seems like a long way down, and that its going to end badly.

Not that my opinion matters but...

Don't you think that for basically 1.3M that the place would have a master bedroom and bath?
That there would be central heat up to the bedrooms? That there wouldn't be possible illegal construction issues with the basement and kitchen?  That the house could still possibly be on brick?

Someone called this house 'turn-key' in an earlier comment but I honestly don't see it that way. We are not of the socio-economic group that can afford a $1.3M house but we have lots of friends who are. No way the wives aren't going to want their own master bedroom retreat...or not have central heat through out the house.

Now the attic is being billed as having 'expansion potential' and that would probably be the logical place for the master retreat. That's not going to be cheap to do...especially on a house that is already costing almost $1.3M. Beside the costs of finishing the space as a higher end master retreat I'd bet that there are going to be serious hidden costs in retrofitting the structure to carry the new load safely..

Soooo, very pretty house inside and out, not turn-key I'd estimate that it would take at least $200k to convert the then is the house worth $1.5M? I don't think so, but maybe more like 1304 Morton and price it closer to $800k.

And thats the way I see it.


Anonymous said...

I agree that this house seems overpriced, and the unpermitted work should be an issue for any prospective buyers. I would like to offer a different perspective on two of your points:

1. No en-suite master bath: I live in a 5/2 in the Gold Coast and we don't have an en-suite master bath. We considered making the neigboring bedroom a master bath, but that would mean turning our 5/2 into a 4/3. In the end, we'd rather walk 6 feet down the hall to the bathroom than lose the 5th bedroom. It's a judgement call, but it's not always wise/feasible to get that en-suite bathroom.

2. No forced air heat on the 2nd floor: No, my grande dame does not have ductwork to the second floor. Again, that's how houses were built in the late 1800's. We looked at running ductwork to the second floor, but it meant sacrificing one of our 3 fireplaces (for cental ductwork) and ripping down plaster to get into the walls. We decided not to do it, and invested in a pricey high-effciency furnace instead. The second floor does get pretty warm (heat rises), so it isn't an issue for us. I agree that it might seem strange to most "modern" families, but it's not really that big of a deal.

The MadScientist said...

I agree that it can be a trade off. I think that honestly now a days with familes being MUCH smaller on average going from a 5 to a 4 makes sense to give you a master bath. Going from a 3 to a 2 would not.

With this particular house we're talking about finishing the attic as living space so no loss of bedrooms.

Geez if they did the attic legally and legalized the basement stuff the house would be a 4000+ sq ft 7-4! That sounds like it could be worth $1.3M....

On the central heat issue...they did have combo ceiling fan elec heaters in a couple of the rooms upstairs....but still I guess I'm just stuck on the price...that for that much mola they shoulda figured out a way to heat the bedrooms. We've got a Vic also and to heat the upper floors they put a furnace in the attic and vents in the ceiling not ideal but pretty standard. So we have 2 furnaces to heat our house.

Anonymous said...

A few comments:

1) Just because someone updated a kitchen doesn't mean it is "possible illegal" work. I believe others have pointed out to you before that you do not need a permit to replace sinks, cabinets, etc, if you are not changing the underlying plumbing/wiring/structure. If they re-did all that 15 years ago, seems pretty easy to assume that any upgrades since then would have worked off the same infrastructure. The basement, on the other hand is may be another question, but if I was buying I'd just make sure it was well done and to code.

2) There is nothing strange about a 3/4 foundation replacement. It’s not always practical to get all the foundation, and so it’s very common for larger older homes to not have a full replacement. Main issues would be 1) when/how was it done (standards have changed a lot), 2) what area wasn’t replaced (i.e. was the remaining 1/4 just interior portions, or maybe an enclosed porch area) and 3) should more work be done now. Actually, 1 and 3 should always be asked even if foundation was 100% replaced.

3) I disagree with your assumption that people need master bedroom/bath suites at this price range. It is thinking like that that results in people destroying the integrity of old homes just to accommodate modern tastes. People who want those things should be looking at Harbor Bay. It is also unfair to call a house with the original-sized rooms “cut up.” A trademark of many Victorians is small rooms – it made heating easier.

4) Price seems high to me, too, although there have been a few comps on larger homes in the last year that maybe support it. Lack of yard does seem a negative and I would add that being outside of Lincoln Middle School district is a detractor. On the other hand, the attic has a floor and is totally useable right now for a variety of uses (sewing/playroom/storage/guest area/family room/etc). Basement is also useable space whether or not it had permits. So, you have a LOT of useable space here in excess of the official size.

The MadScientist said...

Hello Again Anon and thanks for the comment.

1)On the kitchen front here's what the cities building dept said. If all you are doing is replacing a counter-top then you don't need a permit. Anything more than that and they will require a permit.

2)Doing a foundation correctly is hard, expensive work. If only the porch is on brick thats fine ANY brick anywhere else I believe is really, really not. But still,wheres the permit record of it?

3)I've looked at just about every Vic on the market in Alameda in the last 3 years. This particular house struck me as the most 'compartmentalized' of any house that I've seen. I have owned 3 Vics and loved them all. I just wanted to point out that this particular house is particularly cut up.

We can agree to disagree on the no master bed/bath thing. But honestly, everyone I know who could qualify for a loan by todays standards for a house of this not going to want to share their bath with their kids. Lets face it, the Gold Coast is an expensive prestige neighborhood with very expensive houses. The folks who buy these places are not going to always be old house fanatics...I don't agree with destroying the historical fabric of a house to 'modernize' it. But converting storage into living space seems reasonable.

4) Could you share the addresses of the comps that you think support this price? I've looked myself and can just not see any.
Also the question is, will the house appraise. The appraisor is not allowed to count the illegal living space or the attic storage space as square footage. So, will the house appraise out at $1.4M for a $2500 sq ft house? Man, I don't honestly think so.

Anonymous said...

“Hello again”? Nope, that was my first post here. Although I can see how it is hard to tell when I posted under the “Anonymous” moniker. If I post again, I’ll try to come up with some sort of handle to help you keep track of which anonymous person is which.

2024 Alameda Ave. ~$1.1M. Good comp. in terms of condition, but inferior location. Would Gold Coast locale command a $200K premium? Maybe.

1000 Grand Ave. ~$1.1M – Bigger house, bigger rooms, more baths, bigger lot. Location on busy Grand a turn-off for some. Needed new foundation and major updating to kitchen, yard, etc. Easily adjusts to over $1.3M when you factor in the up-front work.

1221 Sherman - ~$1.1M – Better house all around although not as updated as 1336 Sherman – so factor in some more money if you want that updated kitchen, etc. Short sale a year ago – presumably (hopefully) market is a little better now.

2904 Lincoln - $1.3 M. Classic Victorian. A little more of both “official” and “unofficial” square footage. Much bigger lot, more bathrooms, Fernside location (better schools). Probably appeals to same kind of buyer.

2935 Southwood - $1.2 M. Smaller house, smaller lot, so you could adjust the price higher. Some people really like those Fernside “Hollywood” homes.

By the way, I did agree with you that the asking price of $1.275 M seems high. I simply pointed out that, all things considered, someone could look at other deals to support that asking price for a house in move-in condition. In other words, it doesn’t come across as ridiculous – just suggests room to negotiate. Seem to have been a number of sales in the Gold Coast over $1M in the last year and 1336 Sherman is maybe a bit better location w/more useable space than some. And, who knows, maybe some people like having a 3-car garage more than having a yard. Those aren’t cheap.

I would assume that the appraiser won’t include attic in living space, but still may attach some value to it as it is a nice feature. Won’t matter either way. Already have 3 floors of living space, attic is just bonus space and is totally useable as such right now. Also have enough range of comps to support whatever price they end up at.

The MadScientist said...

We might be getting into circular logic here pretty soon.

I actually think that all of those houses were fantastically over priced.

1000 Grand needs like $300k in work and how long was it on the market for? A couple of years?

1221 Sherman-needs about the same and it was also on the market for a loooong time no?

I didn't tour the other houses. But 2024 Alamed Ave was supposedly completly redone with all new systems..and it still took 5 months to sell with a price reduction and 500 more legal sq ft than this house.

But that's how real estate value works no? If enough people over pay for their houses then that actually becomes the price for the next houses....

Anonymous said...

"If enough people over pay for their houses then that actually becomes the price for the next houses....." What wonderful arrogance. You want to write off a series of actual sales as just people overpaying. So those buyers are all fools and you are the true arbiter of value. Love it.

By the way, I fully recognize that there are cheaper comps out there too. Buying pool for the bigger Victorians you are reviewing is limited. So, outcome depends a lot on whether you have the ability to wait or need to move it quickly to whomever shows up wanting to convert it to a triplex or something.

The MadScientist said...


Theres two things here. I believe that people overpaid for those houses yes.

And the two houses you mention are not good comps for this place. They are 1000sq ft bigger and on bigger lots.

In what reality is a house thats 1000sq ft bigger that sold for less than what your asking a comp that proves that your $1.3M asking is reasonable?

That and Alameda is a special case where only a couple of realty companies control the majority of listings and I believe that the Realtors have the ability to distort the market in this micro-cosm.

Lesley said...

Hey this is off topic but do you have any take on 3250 Encinal for a family that would like to get into the Alameda market? Maybe could be done with the 203k loan but how much work do you think it would need, just from a quick peek at the listing? We are not as handy as you but willing to live with (in fact prefer) non-fancy but solid materials/finishes. We looked at Chez Neumansky 2 and even though I thought it was the best deal in Alameda, it was over our budget. Thanks!

The MadScientist said...

There is a link to email me directly on my profile page.

Well it certainly is cheap enough...makes me wonder why an all cash type hasn't snatched it up. Its in a good school disctrict.

Looks like its on a brick foundation, and has serious permit issues? Have all those fees-fines been paid? Has ANY of the work been fixed?

IF you're semi serious you should call Luis Moreno who is a 203k expert and he'll walk through the house with you and with one of his contractors to get his opinion.

D said...

I have a serious crush on this house and wanted to make an offer just before this section of the market exploded in 2012. It was way overpriced for the time at $1.2m and was sitting on the market for 1+ year. Go figure that it went pending just as we were getting our act together.

Anyway, it's back on mls today (July 2014) at the same old 2011 price. It may finally be priced to sell!

If any readers are considering this one, good luck and ask a lot of questions!! It's a beauty.

The MadScientist said...

Hi D,
Ya wow back on market for same
price. Wait, did it sell the last time I can't remember. In this market I bet it will sell even with everything I pointed out...
I forgot all the cheeky comments this post encouraged.

D said...

Sold in 2012 (a year after this post) for something close to asking. I can't totally recall the numbers.