Saturday, March 7, 2015

Annals of Real Estate: Saturday Open Houses

Oh. boy! Thanks to a half a sack of sidewalk salt, we were finally able to get our little car out of its icy parking spot in the alley. It had been sitting there for five weeks. We went to open houses in Brookline, Charlestown, and Cambridge. It has been a long time since we had any open-house options at all, let alone three — and on a Saturday. The spring market is finally getting into full swing and we are hopeful that our five-year quest will soon be over.

In Charlestown we saw a little house built in 1799. It was low-ceilinged and narrow, with many fireplaces and original floors, and a miniature brick patio hiding under snow piles. We were charmed by it, but it could not hold my husband's big, fat academic library:

When I say it is "narrow," I am not exaggerating.

In Cambridge, we saw a two-story wooden French Mansard Victorian that needed a tremendous amount of work, inside and out. I loved it in all its cracked, peeling, knob-and-tube, 1960's kitchen wreckage; my husband did not. He pointed out that we could not afford to buy the house and do all the work it needs. And since it is a house in Cambridge, it will likely sell for at least $200,000 over the asking price anyhow. Sigh:

The living room, with original floors, fireplace, and two tall bay windows, was the nicest room by far.

In Brookline, we saw a brick house from 1905 that had been gut-renovated with more taste than usual, so it still had a lot of character. It's out of our price range; we just wanted to see it to cheer ourselves up with the knowledge that there are builders with style that doesn't run to whatever is on special at Home Depot. While I'd still want to change all the hardware (trendy "bronze"), the lighting (er, lots of what can only be called "boob" ceiling fixtures), the gas-fireplace inserts (the kind that look like flat-screen monitors), and couple of other things, it was still one of the better gut-renos I've seen. They kept original moldings, doors and doorknobs, mantels, and built-ins, for example. Most builders also go crazy with recessed lighting everywhere and flat-screen TVs mounted above all the fireplaces; this one restrained himself.

A moderately sized, detached brick house — unusual for the Boston area. 
Did I mention that it was dangerously close to Kupel's Bakery? (Closed for Shabbat.)

The entire interior was done in white and light gray. Living in a house painted and furnished like this might feel like being stuck in an old B&W television series, preferably more like "Burns & Allen" than "The Twilight Zone." Unfortunately, we won't have a chance to find out for sure.

7 comments:

  1. the third one is gone already?

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    1. Not yet, but the very nice agent told us honestly not to bother: she expects a bidding war with offers over the asking price. We told her to let us know if that magically didn't happen, since we can't afford the asking price! It apparently cost a great deal to renovate the house because of unforeseen problems, so the builder had to price it accordingly. Back to Square 1....

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  2. Ooh, that Cambridge living room with two bay windows looks wonderful…I can see five cats and two owners luxuriating at the window seats, books in hand (and beneath bellies). How about this for a solution: instead of repairing the walls, just line them all with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Your book collection can expand as needed, the shelving will hold up the walls, and you won't have to worry about peeling wallpaper or holes in the plaster. Voila!

    Of course I'm being facetious. But here's a thought: It might be useful to talk with a good contractor to get a realistic idea of what different sorts of renovations cost and why. Not necessarily for this place in particular, but just in general. Repairing plaster walls, for example, might not be as big a deal as you think, but electrical rewiring could be a headache in a historic home in Charlestown vs. Cambridge townhouse, etc.

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    1. Actually, VL, I got the same idea after seeing the lovely Charlestown house with two kitchens. So I signed up a contractor who was recommended to me by an agent I trust. He says he'll be happy to visit likely prospects with us, to give us an idea of what fixing them will cost. I should have done this long ago. This Cambridge house, though, was in bad shape both inside and out, so we knew we were out of our depth at that price. And Cambridge houses always sell for a lot more than the asking price.

      I did imagine a whole lot of bookshelves in that sunny room, with cats in the windows and old Persian carpets on those original floors....

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  3. Wonderful; you're all set, then. I will keep my fingers crossed that the right house shows up soon. Perhaps the 100 inches of snow will keep less determined house-hunters off the market and improve your chances!

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  4. I'm curious, when you submit your bids, do you make it known you are a local couple who want to live in and keep the charm of the house the way it is? I know that probably won't matter to a lot of sellers, but there might be one or two out there that this matters to.

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    1. Oh, yes. I write a friendly letter describing us and my community involvement, and praising whatever is original or charming in the property. (And then there was the time, with the co-op, that I wrote about cat food, as you'll recall!) With the recent, very well-preserved place that had a smoker living downstairs, we would have promised not to change anything beyond one paint color, which would have pleased the sellers, who are professional preservationists. (We have mutual friends.) But we never made an offer because of the smoker.

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