Category Archives: 1885 Victorian Renovation

Hey, folks. I’m back,…

Hey, folks. I'm back, after being swallowed up by four days of Kriti. Which was great, but I'm going to save the details for the next post. This one's about housing.

We got an offer on the condo on Friday. It's a lowball offer -- something like 12% less than our listed offer. We countered, and they countered again, now up to around 10% off the listed price. I know everyone's bargain hunting right now, and interest rates are going up, so maybe that's the best we can do. Yet at the same time, our condo's only been on the market two weeks, we've had a bunch of other showings and some interest at the open houses, and we don't actually have to move anytime soon -- not even this year, or next year. Not 'til Kavi's five, really, and ready to start school. On the other hand, we did all this work to get stuff into storage and do staging, and it'd be nice to feel like it was to some purpose. But on the other, other hand, that's really sunk costs, and probably shouldn't factor into our decision. Conversely, on Myers-Briggs, I am a strong J, which means that I really prefer to get things taken care of and move on with our lives, rather than linger indefinitely over this sort of decision! (Kevin is a strong P, so would normally waffle forever. Although he hates dealing with cleaning up for showings, etc., so that may factor in.)

I just wish we had more data -- at this point, we just don't know if this is the best offer we're likely to get (or even typical of the kind of offers we're going to get), or if this really is some random lowball outlier, someone who's just hoping to pick up a bargain in this market/economy. Want data! Can't get it in time, though. We're probably going to counter again today, which may lead to a) a better counteroffer from them, b) them holding firm at their second offer, or c) them walking away.

We're torn -- do we take this offer, just to be done with it and go ahead and hopefully buy and move before the end of summer, so we don't have to deal with all this again next spring, when we have a new infant? Do we wait, and see if other offers come in this summer? If the 231 Wesley Victorian were still available, I think we might just take this and go buy that house, but it's definitely gone (we called once more and checked on Saturday). And while we've seen several other houses in Oak Park that we think would work, so far, there aren't any others that we've fallen in love with.

We're going to look at three more houses today. Maybe we'll fall madly in love with one of them, and that'll make the decision easier. But any thoughts y'all have at this point on either the sale, or the houses below, would be really welcome. (Click on the houses for more details.)

This first one (which we've taken to calling the Mad Hatter house, aka the Red Barn), I love the look of the exterior, but we can't figure out why it hasn't sold yet at that price -- we're worried there's something really wrong with the interior. Or that the whole being-across-from-a-middle-school is more of a problem than we think it'll be. I don't love their interior decor (at all), but that can be fixed. The woodwork seems to be medium-toned instead of dark-toned, which we would have preferred, but at least it's not light-toned, which I really dislike. (Too modern for me.)

This one isn't quite as pretty on the outside, but is fine. And I love a lot of the interior details, including the fancy stained glass front door, it looks like? (Yes, I do know that I can add a stained glass door to any house I like. :-) It's a little worrying that they don't really give a picture of their kitchen, which makes me think it's in need of serious updating. I'm also not thrilled at what they did with the glass block and tile on their enclosed porch; too modern for the look of the house. But maybe that wouldn't be too expensive a fix. Of course, the list price on this is a lot higher than the one above.

This third one, Kevin saw at an open house yesterday (while I was finishing up Kriti), and quite liked. The photos don't look super-impressive to me, but he keeps telling me that these photos are really misleading, so I'm trying to reserve judgement. It's priced less than #2, but still notably more than #1. But as we're seeing with our place, list prices are misleading, and may have little to do with final sale price.

Appts. at 11, 12, and 1 today -- we'll see what we think. Opinions?

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We saw the three houses,…

We saw the three houses, and I think house #2 is out of the running. It has many good features, including a gorgeous butler's pantry, but the kitchen is not only outdated; it's just too small, and I can't even figure out how to renovate it to make it functional. Right now, the fridge is jammed into the pantry. Sad.

But the other two houses are just beautiful. The interior of the Beautiful Gunderson is much prettier in person than in the photos. The owner does professional restoration, and he's kept his house in gorgeous condition, a fabulous example of the Craftsman style, with tons of details that enhance the look. The renovated attic (master suite) and basement (guest suite) are a little more generic, but that's probably to be expected. I think we could move in there with no problem, and need to do very little to be happy there. It's also plenty big enough to suit our expected needs.

On the other hand, I'm afraid I've just fallen in love with the Mad Hatter house. It's also much prettier in person than in the photos. These people need to get better photographers. It's huge -- they haven't even bothered to finish the attic, and it's still a ton of space -- something like 5000 square feet. Large rooms and plenty of them. And it's just full of medieval-style details; fleur-de-lis art glass windows everywhere, including on interior pocket doors, for example. If the previous Victorian was like walking into a Jane Austen novel, this house is more than a little like walking into a castle. It's got a wood-burning fireplace in the living room, and a gas fireplace in the master bedroom. Even the murals (of which there are quite a few too many) include one I might be tempted to keep -- one room comes with walls painted with gryphons and magic-themed bookshelves; totally adorable. I could rave about the positives for quite a while -- and it's listed at quite a bit lower than the Beautiful Gunderson. But there's a but, of course -- it'd need a lot of work.

Not only would we want to paint most of the interior walls (and that's a lot of walls), but the exterior is overdue for a coat of paint, which may well be around $30,000 all by itself (due to all the fancy Victorian detailing and the hugeness of it), and need to be re-done every decade or so. At least one bathroom sorely needs to be redone, for another $10K, and two others could use some help too. (Of course, that does give me an excellent excuse to redo them all in gorgeous (expensive) stonework and really enhance the medieval feel. :-)

There are a ton of Gunderson-style homes in Oak Park, so if we don't get this one, there are going to be lots more that would work almost as well, or better. Kevin does want to look into at least 3-4 more that are high on his list. But there are very few large Victorians on the market in our price range. This one's been sitting a long time, but as recent experience has shown, that doesn't necessarily prove it's going to stick around. I wants it.

Overall, if they're willing to come down a good chunk in price, we could perhaps end up with the Mad Hatter house costing about the same amount initially as the Beautiful Gunderson, in order to get it into good shape. So that's okay. And it'd cost a bit more every year in taxes and the like, which we could probably live with, though it'd mean tighter budgeting. But Kevin is concerned that although their realtor has assured us that it's in excellent fundamental condition, with a good roof, foundations, etc., that maybe it really isn't. Maybe there are all kinds of cracks and warped wood and other problems, the sort that Victorians are more prone to than Gundersons. Maybe this house will turn into a classic money pit.

Maybe Kevin is just fretting because that's what he does. But I'm hesitant to urge him into what might be a foolish purchase, just because I want to live in a castle. Right now, even with needing to get a bunch of work done before we move in (mild nuisance), this house still looks like a steal to me. But maybe it isn't. I get emotional about these things, and then it's hard for me to think clearly on them.

On our condo sale, we spent quite a while thinking about it, and decided to go with a counteroffer, somewhat against our agent's advice (but with the advice of realtor friends of ours). It just seems too early in the process to settle for such a lowball offer, even if the condo market around here is supposedly quite slow. We'll see what happens.

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They countered our…

They countered our counter, coming up another $5K. Not much, but something, so I feel at least vaguely justified in having tried for more. I don't think this buyer is going to come up any further, so it's a choice between the offer on the table, and waiting to see if more offers come through. The next two weeks of June are usually fairly active realty-wise, but early July is apparently dead on the market, so there's a good chance that if we don't take this, it'll be at least a month or more before another offer. Average market time around here is six-to-nine months.

The question is, is it worth it to us to wait for an offer that's closer to what we think our place is actually worth, which might well take half a year or notably more, or are we willing to take the loss in order to move on with our lives and get the move hopefully done before the next baby comes along? Not sure.

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So, we accepted the…

So, we accepted the offer on our place. It's definitely lower than we think it's worth, but it's also worth quite a lot to us not to have to wait six months to a year, dealing with showings and the like. I know we're very lucky to have it sold so quickly in this market. There's still tons of details to go through, inspection, etc., and Kevin tells me that something like one in three home sales fall through, but it's at least theoretically a relief to have it done.

I should be happy. But we took another look at the Mad Hatter house today, and honestly, I'm just feeling kind of sick to my stomach. I really love it. I walk in, and it feels like home, like the kind of house you can grow old in. Gorgeous first floor with living, dining, kitchen, and family room all in beautiful condition, fabulous master suite, bedroom for each kid + study for each of us + playroom, 3.5 baths total. 5200 square feet. Everything we want, and then some. Just lovely.

But it is at the very top edge of our budget, we think, what with all the renovation work that'll be needed. And if something goes majorly wrong in the next few decades, some unexpected $50 - $100K repair, we'll be in serious trouble. If we buy more modestly, we'd have more leeway for unexpected disasters. It makes Kevin really uncomfortable to ride that close to the financial edge, and I hate to ask him to do that. And my financial judgement has historically not been so good; I've always tended to live just within my means, not even thinking about saving for a rainy day. I don't trust my judgement on this. We should probably buy a less expensive house.

And yet.

We're going to try to get some estimates on what it'll actually cost to repaint the exterior, and get a thorough inspection, and get an estimate on a fairly necessary master bath remodel. If those numbers add up low, and if the owners are willing to go for a low offer, maybe we can do this reasonably. We'll see. I just don't know.

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Am I crazy? I look at…

Am I crazy? I look at all these perfectly lovely houses that we could just move into. In fine shape, ready to go, even with nice Victorian exteriors. Yet so many of them just look soulless to me. They're old, but they've been renovated over and over again, and now they basically look all the same. Plus maybe a 70s kitchen. And Kevin points out that we can strip the paint off the woodwork and refinish it, that we can add crown moldings to the ceilings, and stained glass to the windows. Heck, I can take a stained glass class, learn how to do it properly, and make some new stained glass for our house myself. I'd get to customize it too, which ought to be a plus. If what I want is beyond my skills, I could get a piece custom made -- maybe a knight on his charger to hang in the dining room, or inset in the front door?

Those houses are more reasonably priced and not in need of nearly so much work -- the Mad Hatter house is desperately overdue for a paint job, for example, which may be a $15K fix, but might be $30K instead, or more, and its garage is an old barn, which may just fall down at some point if not properly supported, and we have NO IDEA how much that would cost, and the master bath is a relic of the seventies, a totally incongruous sauna thing that requires steps to climb into it, so we'd really like to change that out as well. The other houses are move-in-ready. But they're also lacking in the kinds of things that I don't think I can just add back in. Generally no built-ins -- like these original china cabinets in the Mad Hatter dining room, for example. I suppose I could get a woodworker to come and add such a thing, but I have no idea what that would cost, especially if I wanted it to look reasonably true to period. And while I can add stained glass, I can't add bay windows -- or not without a major structural remodel, which I know there's no way we'd actually do.

Am I nuts, to think that those sorts of original details are worth an extra $50K, or more? Am I crazy, given how busy my life already is, to take on a house that is going to be a serious of never-ending projects, in order to rehabilitate it to its former glory? I feel like an idiot, because if I had never looked at this house, I might have been reasonably content with one of the other PERFECTLY NICE HOUSES that we can more easily afford. But now I've seen it, and the beautifully finished Wesley Victorian that got away, and I just am having a hard time believing I could love one of these modernized houses nearly as much, or believing that I really could renovate them back into what I think they want to be.

Kirsten asked me to take better photos of the Mad Hatter house -- I know it's hard to tell from their images why I think it's so lovely. If we go back, I will. But you have to look past all the frou-frou Victorian style they used; they've got layers of swag curtains and the like, all of which we'd strip out. The Victorian style I love is closer to early Victorian, I think it's called, or Gothic Victorian, or possibly a mix of both. Here are a few photos from around the web, to suggest the kind of look I'd be hoping for. The bedroom is my favorite; the two baths are just a bit more stripped down than I'd like.

These rooms have neither built-ins nor bay windows, so maybe I should just calm the hell down. Maybe I could do exactly what I want in one of the less expensive Victorians. I just don't know. Argh.

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