January 11, 2013 by 8junebugs
Oh Em Gee, y’all, I’m pretty sure I just bought a house.
Escrow began yesterday. Pending inspections and the appraisal, we could get the keys as early as February 8.
The house is in Oakland, in a neighborhood that doesn’t seem to have a name of its own, poor thing. It’s nominally in Fruitvale, but it’s not, really. That’s just the nearest BART station. It’s near Fruitvale Ave., sort of midway between that and Coolidge Ave., a few blocks below 580, a block or so outside Upper Peralta Creek…and a few blocks below both Laurel and Lower Dimond (I know, but that’s really how it’s spelled), two of the more desirable Oakland districts.
Shorter version: Half a mile to the northeast, this house would’ve been about $100K higher and off the market in 30 days or less. Instead, we got it for under asking after it sat for five months. The neighborhood is a little patchy, but well within our safety threshold.
Yes, we have a safety threshold. We like Oakland a lot, but we’re not that naive. Some neighborhoods were off-limits, but we’ve learned a lot in the last two years, and this experience just added to that. We also chose an agent who lives in and loves Oakland; he steered us away from at least one listing and was able to sort of micro-target our search and give us more info on the trajectories of certain areas. This house is beautifully protected — ADT is already installed, the fence and gate are in excellent condition, and there are bars (with internal safety releases) on the lower windows…which can’t be seen from the street anyway.
My dad texted me the other day, suggesting that I might also consider looking at the crime reports for the area, too. (I sent him the listing and he was feeling all…parental.) Consider it? This is fucking Oakland. I looked up the last year’s worth of incidents within a five-block radius of every property we viewed…before we viewed it. I learned two things:
- Our realtor was spot on about crime/safety really being a block-by-block thing.
- July is a bad time to be here, no matter which ‘hood you’re in. Everywhere else, that would be correlated to heat waves, but we don’t get those until almost September. Theories welcome.
So why the title, you ask? This house is part of an estate. The previous owner lived in it for 30 years and loved it well; in August, she died there, peacefully, of natural causes. The sellers are her kids.
I KNOW, RIGHT? But for probably a half-generation age difference, the sellers are me from 2009.
So I wrote a letter. I remember, viscerally, how much their situation sucks. It wasn’t that long ago that I was in it, and even if it were, it left an indelible impression that soured me on real estate for years. Trying to balance market value with sentimental value is the worst. There’s no offer high enough, ever, to cover all the memories that make a house someone’s home.
And yet. You’ve got to move the damn house.
I told them I’d been there. I told them about how my folks built their house, about how I learned to walk on plywood before they laid down the floors, about how we built a pool and closed off the garage and had half a lifetime of Christmases and birthdays there. I told them how hard it was to know — and manage to understand — that Mom had put her money into big repairs like the roof and the furnace instead of the granite countertops and stainless steel appliances buyers seem to expect these days.
(I didn’t tell them, although I was thinking about it, that Mom had somehow managed to keep the original 1977 orange congoleum floors in the kitchen, paint the walls teal on the bottom, then find a border that used both goddamn colors in harmony. Who DOES that? Someone who loves their house as a home rather than an investment, that’s who.)
I told them all that, and I told them that we’re just starting to build our family. I told them we liked how there were two bedrooms across from each other on the main floor, even though we know our son will want to move to one of the rooms in the basement when he’s older. I told them that their basement build-out gives us the space to continue working from home, which makes it easier to be there for our son when he’s small (even though only one of us will be on baby duty during business hours). And I told them how safe we would feel bringing him home in April, knowing how well their mother had kept and maintained her home.
They accepted our offer with a couple of minor conditions, the biggest of which being the sewer lateral inspection/replacement. Oakland has an ordinance in effect, and they don’t want to be on the hook for that cost, should a replacement be needed (it will probably be needed). It’s annoying, but expected. Thing is? I also sold Mom’s house as-is…I completely understand not wanting or being able to do any work on the house, regardless of what comes up in the inspection reports. You just need it to be done…and that’s what additional price negotiations are for.
We’re hopeful about the inspections, based on what we’ve already seen. Almost everything checked out in their August inspection report; there was a problem with the water heater, so they replaced it with a tankless (which I’ve never had and think is BRILLIANT).
More about the house itself below…
Here are the things I love about it:
The SPAAAACE. There’s a little over 1,000 square feet upstairs (2bd/1ba), plus four bedrooms, a small family room, and a full bath in the basement. The listing says five bedrooms in the basement, but the smallest of them encloses the furnace unsafely and will be redone as storage only. The living, dining, and kitchen area, taken together, feel rather enormous. The bedrooms are on the smaller side, but there are enough of them that we won’t have to have any pulling double duty.
The KITCHEN. It is huge and remodeled and meant to be an eat-in. There’s a gas range top and a built-in oven and microwave, all new-ish. (Ohhhh, how I have missed cooking with gas.) There is no dishwasher, but there’s space for one. We’re getting about the same amount of counter space, but gaining more cabinet space.
The LIGHT in the laundry area, which is behind the kitchen. There’s a window there, which is going to make it a lot easier on both of us to see what we’re doing. I also love how much light the front of the house gets.
The NO-MAINTENANCE YARD. The lot is 4,000ish square feet, but the house footprint is only about 1,000. The front plot is drought-proof plants and the back lot is paved, with mature lemon trees (and some others I don’t recognize) and cactus toward the back. There will be no need for a lawn mower, although we expect there will be more skinned knees. Rodney, but for having no grass to pee on, is going to love it.
The GIANT STAIRCASE between levels, which is also where you find the door to the yard. Graham thinks it is too wide and a waste of space, but I think he’s underestimating the overall girth of a parent carrying a kid on one hip and a laundry basket, giant plastic toy, or laptop on the other. The stairs are also carpeted, which makes them easier for Rodney. (We lost out on one house that had a staircase so gorgeous that knowing I would have to put at least some carpet on was breaking my heart.)
TINY AESTHETIC STUFF. The closet in the baby’s room has funky mini-closets on each end that I think are screaming for chalkboard-painted doors. The living and dining rooms have coved ceilings. There’s a small door between the dining room and the kitchen that I was sure would be one of those 1970s drop-down ironing boards, but it’s the access to the attic. (There’s an attic. With a window. Possibilities…?)
Friends who remember my kitchen at The Aspen in Alexandria may recall the “feature” that I called the Dumb Wall — a useless set of 2×4 slats separating the kitchen from my ex’s “office” area. This house has that same feature, but it’s outside, providing privacy and some sun protection to the front door. It is odd-looking, but it serves a purpose.
The SAFETY AND EFFICIENCY measures taken by the previous owner. Look, I wasn’t looking forward to having a security system installed or fixing a fence or putting in a gate or dealing with single pane windows. Having all that in place saves me time, money, and worry.
Here are the things on my Project List:
We’re gonna need more lights. Recessed ones.
The bedrooms all have carpet. I’m okay with this, as long and we steam-clean the hell out of them before we move in.
Paint! Duh. Top floor first. The bathroom looks like my grandmother decorated it…because someone’s grandmother decorated it.
I’m not crazy about the external color of the house, either (brown), but I’m not offended by it. At some point, I’ll pick a color out of the stone in the foundation and use that. Safe bet’s on a pale yellow. (The house next door is a gorgeous chartreuse. I dig that kind of statement, but I wouldn’t do it on my own house.)
Container garden! I sort of want to spend my first Mother’s Day putting in raised beds…
The upstairs flooring is laminate (in very good condition) that looks like tile. It will be swapped out for hardwood as soon as possible, which should warm up the whole place tremendously. We’ll still need some accent rugs, but…wow, that tile-looking stuff is chilly.
The upstairs bathroom has a large shower stall instead of a shower over a tub. That’ll need to be changed at some point, but I may wait until I decide whether to make a proper “master” bath out of it. Right now, it’ll do.
The entryway is awkward. I have an idea for how best to use it now, but I think I’d rather expand the “master” bedroom or its closet and narrow the entryway. Even so, it’s fine for now.
(I have clearly been watching too much HGTV.)
I’d love to knock out at least half of the wall between the kitchen and dining room and put in a peninsula. I don’t know if I can yet — if not, no big deal, but it’s the only thing keeping this house from the open concept we all love. Plus, the kitchen lends itself so easily to a giant island in the middle…
I suspect we’ll want the basement family room to be bigger eventually, which would mean opening up a wall between it and one of the bedrooms. Not a big deal…just an idea.
You guys? I think a paved backyard is sort of begging for a hot tub, don’t you?
All right, that’s almost 2,000 words on this house. Let’s all cross our fingers for the inspections and appraisal, okay? Because this place is kind of perfect for us.