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I had seen this house online in February 2011, before we even sold our house.  When we actually went to look at it in September 2011, my hand written note on the MLS page was “nice, but weird updates”  The house was strange, but was in very good condition for a 107 year old house.  It has what they say, “good bones”  as well as some amazing architectural features.  For example –

A fantastic built-in Hutch in the Dining room, and a nice entryway with storage bench

  Hutch in dining room   Entryway

Really great windows, all functional

front windows  LR from hall

The basement at one time had been a separate apartment, complete with full bathroom, kitchenette, and a small bedroom with a big closet.   This came in handy when we were re-doing the upper level.

     basement bedroom     kitchenette

The weirdness started in the yard.  The front yard has a nice three-foot high brick retaining wall surrounding it, but it stops before it reaches the backyard fence.  There is about a 6 foot gap, making it useless for keeping our doggie Sheba in the front yard, and making a convenient entry way for all of the kitties in our neighborhood who were using this yard as a litter box.

There was a nice old red flagstone walk from the steps to the porch.  There were also red and grey concrete pavers, pigmented red concrete – painted white, and some interesting white stepping-stones

strepping-stones

Every place where something could be growing was filled with 6-8 inches of breeze (a very gritty sand, used for walkways) or gravel with landscaping fabric beneath that.  There was very little actually growing in the front yard.  There were six mature lilac bushes on the border between us and our neighbor on the south side. They begin where the wall ends.  They are really quite lovely.  The only other green in the front yard was a tree, surrounded by  a white concrete border, filled with xeric plants.  My least favorite is tall, non-flowering ornamental grass.   I am from the east, where grass is what covers your lawn.  It is not generally used as a decorative element in a garden.  The only useful thing growing there is thyme, which I regularly go out and pick to use for cooking.

front before

The back yard was  2/3 paved with concrete, and pavers covering the rest of it.  There was one tree back there with pavers up to about 2 inches of the trunk.   I’m not sure how that little tree survived!

back before2

  The backyard was our first priority, because our poor dog couldn’t figure out where to pee!  Also, she is a retired racing dog, and she usually has a daily three-minute sprint around the yard.  Not doable on concrete.  She was miserable. We moved in in December, and the snow and ice on concrete became more treacherous for poor Sheba, and for us, trying to get to the garage.   I raked up piles of leaves for her to do her business in.  She tried her daily sprint, only to slide across the concrete and scrape her leg up pretty badly.   We had to get something, even if it was just dirt in the backyard.  This became our first project. Post to follow.

The interior, was infuriatingly schizophrenic.  Many things were meticulously remodeled, with no sense of continuity or style.  Walking through the house, I felt as if each room was done in a different decade of the 20th century. Very little of it matched the style or time period of the house (1904), or even a current style.  On top of that, it  was sadly furnished with the most uninspired collection of Salvation Army crap, that could never be accused of being eclectic.   One particularly disturbing piece was a Keane painting of a street urchin hanging over the fireplace.  Her accusing eyes seemed to follow us through the house.

 walter-keane-helpless-urchin

This picture totally freaked out our Real Estate Agent turned friend Joy.  She didn’t like the house from the start, because of the oddities and the creepy painting.  After she presented our bid to the owner, she said something to the effect of, I hope you guys really want this house, because the seller is going to be a royal pain.  This turned out to be the understatement of the century.  After he accepted our offer, I went to take photos of the exterior and met our future neighbor sitting on his porch.  He, trying to be diplomatic, said that the homeowner (who will not be named, hereafter will be referred to as Voldemort) was, to put it nicely  “difficult”.  We subsequently found out many disturbing details about Voldemort –

  • He had taken our next door neighbor to court because he put dog poo in the dumpster in the alley behind the house.  Where are you supposed to put it?
  • He had taken the neighbor on the other side to court over a dispute over the fence in the backyard, and the brick wall in the front.
  • There were at least two neighbors who had restraining orders against him
  • Residents of the Apartment building across the street told tales of Voldemort and his girlfriend having loud arguments in the street
  • A previous resident of the basement apartment said Voldemort would come down into said apartment, unannounced, feeling entitled to invade his tenant’s privacy.
  • At least two previous offers on the house had fallen through, because of this man’s idiocy.
  • Our next door neighbor said Voldemort used to stand on the little balcony out back and stare into their yard. Needless to say, they spent very little time in their backyard.

A week before closing we noticed that Voldemort had removed a porch swing, that was not noted as an exemption in the listing.  Joy asked him about it, and said that he should return the swing, or he needed to bring cash to the settlement, in order for us to buy a new one.  His quote was “If I have to give the Parises money for a porch swing, the deal is off”.  Pretty darn sure, he would have followed through on this.  The man had some balls.

Apparently Voldemort’s grandfather built the house and the ones on either side.  He grew up here.  When his parents passed, he got the house, even though his father wanted to leave it to his girlfriend. The house went to probate, and Voldemort, who knew how to work the system, somehow got the house.  He didn’t want it, but felt entitled to it.  So he spent the past few years preparing to sell it.  This man had zero sense of style, but also was so arrogant  that he remodeled it for himself, not a potential buyer, and obviously took no one else’s advice.

This is where I begin to get so frustrated, because, he restored the beautiful windows and the gorgeous dining room hutch.  Some of the original woodwork had been stripped and re-finished, some was painted over with textured paint, and some was replaced with new, pre-finished wood trim.   He put a chair rail in each room, but used whatever wood trim he felt like.  None of the rooms have the same trim.   He had textured all of the walls (I guess to disguise any flaws in the plaster, personally, I’d rather see the flaws).

I love color, but the entry way and living room assault you with about ten different colors on the walls. Some flat, some shiny finish.  All three of the bathrooms were painted with the same Williamsburg blue, which is nice, but not really an Arts & Crafts color. The main floor powder room also had wood textured plastic trim, and bizarre printed panelling.  This room was so bad, that I would leave the light off when using it.  It was hideous!  This room was project #2 – post to follow.

The kitchen is very modern and streamlined, and not in any way in keeping with the style of the house.  The backsplash is tiled with a grey ceramic tile, that is not dark enough to be interesting.  The wall color matches the tile exactly.  BORING!   The too tall cabinets are custom-built and solid wood.  They are four inches taller than standard. This might be ok if I were six feet tall, but I am 5’4″. Note the gap below the dishwasher, there is also one below the stove.  See blue step stool that I have to use when cooking or getting anything out of the wall cabinets.

Kitchen      see my step stool

Upstairs were three bedrooms, and one bathroom. The one bathroom upstairs was in two rooms with a door removed between them. One room had a toilet, and tub.   The other room had a single sink, a large shower, and a closet (probably that was a the fourth bedroom before he decided to put a sink and a shower in there)  This became project #3.  It took six months.  Post to follow.

Despite all of the craziness of the house and the deranged seller, there were many redeeming qualities about this house.  It is in a beautiful neighborhood.  There is a large park three blocks to the east.  Within walking distance are – three grocery stores, a movie theatre, resturants, dry cleaners, a hardware store and a 100-year-old elementary school (attended by Mamie Eisenhower and Tim Allen!).  Our block has three lovely, well maintained apartment buildings across the street from us.  There are tons of trees, and most everyone on our block takes good care of their yards and gardens.   Add on to that the fact that Voldemort had been trying to sell for at least a year, so we got it for a very good price (over $100,000 less than any house in the neighborhood had sold for in the previous year).  We also had a chunk of cash from the sale of our house in Virginia that we could use to fix the defects in the house.

Luckily for us, we never had to meet Voldemort, though he sent us an unsolicited email trying to discredit our real estate agent.  We ignored him, and let Joy do her job. For her, I am eternally grateful.  And on November 30, 2011 we became owners of this home.

Sheba & Louie

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Buying the house

Aside

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