New House Tour: Main Floor

Thanks for dining at Palermo’s Pizzeria! Jarrod’s your waiter and he’ll be taking care of you this evening while we tour the first floor of our new house.

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Let’s start in the kitchen. It’s the best room of the house right out of the box, which isn’t to say it’s perfect, but it’s functional and is the closest to being pretty decent!

In case it’s not obvious, that’s not our table nor our curtains. The house had been vacant since October 2014 and was mostly empty except for a lot of junk in the garage and basement. I think this table was an attempt at staging, to make the place seem homier. It disappeared the day before we closed; the junk unfortunately stayed put. (The house was sold as-is, so they didn’t have to clean it.)

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We’re not going to talk about that enclosed back porch right now: please pretend that moldy mess doesn’t exist. That’s what we do every day.

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The kitchen cabinets are kinda nice: the drawers are full-extension and everything’s sturdy, but they were also put together poorly and some weird choices were made. That upper cabinet to the right of the sink, for example, is a base cabinet: it’s way too deep to be up top and Jarrod is definitely going to ram his head into it while loading the dishwasher.

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That island is gigantic. I’m excited to have so much counter space on either side of the stove and four matching stools lined up at the bar.

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Another “Good ’nuff!” paint job from the previous occupant. That door on the right leads to the basement.

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Past the kitchen is the staircase I love, terrible beast of a project that it is. Looks like someone started stripping that sixth baluster and then said “Fuck this!” A few months from now, I’ll probably do the same. My only saving grace is that I don’t want to strip to the point of re-staining (that would kill me and/or I’d set my house on fire), just to the point that it can be a clean paint job. I want the risers and balusters to be white, with the handrail and stair treads stained brown.

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There’s a half-bath next to the stairs. The toilet flushes and the sink drains water, and that’s about all it has going for it currently.

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I’ll make it as nice as possible with a minimal amount of money, and then do a full renovation down the road. This bathroom renovation will take priority over the upstairs one because more people will use it and it currently feels crummier.

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downstairs11Moving on to the living room. I love this view.

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Blogging is weird: it’s hard to know what balance to strike between “We’re excited about this house we bought!” and “Look at this messed up thing! Here’s another bad choice! And why in the hell would someone do this?” Just know that while I point out all the flaws, I’m excited about the overall promise of the house and still think (85% of the time) that we got a good place! Like George Harrison said in that weird music video that creeped you out as a child: It’s gonna take time, a whole of precious time, it’s going to take patience and time, to do it right and undo all the things some idiot did before you.

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This decorative fireplace will be nice eventually. I’ll paint the brick (it’s already painted – that’s red paint with hand-drawn gray “mortar” lines) and rebuild the shelves. Art — not a TV — will go over the mantle. Nothing against TVs, I just don’t like them up high.

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I’m a little overwhelmed by how to arrange furniture in the living room. There’s a lot of room to work with, but the space is divided visually by the entryways. Neither half is big enough to contain an entire seating area, so whatever couch + chair arrangement we come up with will have spill into the middle of the room. My friend’s mom (hi, Mrs. Priebe!) is an interior decorator and I’m roping her in for advice.

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The front sunroom used to be an exterior porch. It was enclosed a few decades ago, with cheap linoleum on the floor and cheap acoustic tiles on the ceiling. All of it will get changed in time. It’s a sunny bonus room and I look forward to having some comfortable chairs out there for reading and coffee. And lots of plants!

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The brick on the original exterior wall is real. The “brick” on the interior side is not.

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Those are plastic bricks, glued to a thin layer of concrete, which was applied to a piece of wall panelling, which was stuck to the plaster wall. Yeesh. This was one of things we were able to tackle prior to moving in, so it looks quite different now. Pics to come!

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The next post will tour the basement and outside, where we’ve already done a lot of work, so there will be before & after photos of some unglamorous but very necessary changes.

New House Tour: Upstairs

It’s time for a house tour! Let’s start upstairs. There are two bedrooms, one on either side of the bathroom.

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Both of the bedrooms are gigantic: approximately 20’x12′. They’re in decent shape, albeit filthy.

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Those mirrored closet doors have to go! When we* paint, I’m going to paint the angled walls the same as the wall color — not the ceiling color — which I think will make them look less steep.

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*Full disclosure: we’re actually not painting. I’m paying someone to do it for the first time! It’s simply too huge a job for us to tackle ahead of move-in (mid-August), as every single thing in the house needs to be painted: ceilings, walls, closets, doors, and trim. More importantly, I want to have a professional paint job for our first home. We have to spend a lot of money on not-fun stuff that we can’t even really see (more on that another day), so it’s worth it to me to splurge on one thing that will make a huge difference in how we feel about the house on move-in day.

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The huge window has some water damaged trim, but that’s nothing primer and paint can’t fix. There’s no evidence of mold growing (unlike our basement – more on that another day).

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All of the baseboard and door trim is in rough shape, too. The most recent occupant was a woodworker and he seems to have started a lot of projects that he didn’t finish. The finishing nail holes aren’t filled, there is spackle left unsanded, etc. It’s another reason we’re grateful to have a pro painter on the job.

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It’s hard to say which upstairs paint color is the worst, but I think the red in the bathroom takes the prize.

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The bathroom is fine — we’ve certainly seen a lot worse — and it will be totally transformed by a new paint job. The granite tile isn’t anything I would have chosen, but at least it’s gray and in good shape.

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I’m excited to have a bathroom closet. It’s big! Those abutting doors will be annoying, though, so something will need to change there.

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This sink has hilariously terrible proportions. It will be replaced at some point, perhaps as part of a full bathroom remodel or maybe I’ll cave and replace it earlier. It’s pretty low on our priority list, though: there are a lot more pressing projects!

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This Relax sign cracks me up in combination with that paint color — nothing about fire engine red says “relax.”

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Moving on to the second bedroom.

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We haven’t decided which bedroom we’ll use. We prefer the purple one because it gets evening sun and faces the front yard tree instead of the backyard alley.

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The green room closet, however, is enormous. Probably 6’x10′. It would definitely be nice to have as our primary closet.

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That’s it for the second floor! I’ll leave you with a photo of a very unprofessional paint job. I like that someone got to this point and said “Close enough!”

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House Offer Number 5

The risk with building up to our fifth and final offer is an Arrested Development-style “Her?” skepticism in response to our new house. If you have any doubt upon seeing these photos, you’ll just have to trust me when I say that, after a full year of searching, we know we landed a really great house for us. As I did with the other houses, these are the MLS photographs: I won’t try to make it look any better or worse. In real life, it looks both better and worse.

Offer Number 5: End of the Line

Location: Albany Park. Just south of the river, and so much closer to the train than we ever expected to be able to afford. It’s a 0.2 mile walk to the Kimball Brown Line station. That’s nothin’! We had hoped for the Kedzie stop, but homes simply weren’t being listed in that area. So, it’s the end of the line both literally and figuratively for us.

In addition to the Brown Line, we’ll be on three main bus lines. The Foster bus gets us to Andersonville, the Kimball bus takes us to Logan Square, and the Lawrence bus is a quick trip to Lincoln Square. We have friends along all of these routes and we’re excited to be so easily connected to them via public transit.

Why We Made an Offer: The first floor layout was unlike any other we saw. It felt so spacious and gracious. The living room flows into the kitchen/dining room, but there’s also a nice separation — one of us (Jarrod) can be in the kitchen listening to The Gist while the other (me) is in the living room watching Orphan Black. It’s also on an oversized lot: 40’x125′ vs the standard 25’x125′. In a crowded city, owning some extra outdoor space is a great luxury.

The open, light-filled kitchen is perfect for us. We don’t need or want a formal dining room, and I can see all our friends hanging out around that huge island.

The kitchen, of course, isn’t my style but I haven’t seen a single one that is. Remodeling a kitchen was in the cards for us no matter what, and this kitchen is functional and modern enough to last us several years.

Though it looks formidable in that exterior shot, it’s a great floor plan for us. Roughly 1600 square feet, with two large bedrooms and full bath upstairs plus a half bath on the first floor. Two toilets for the first time in 9+ years of living together: it’s going to be a game-changer.

I love this central staircase so much. If you’ve been in any Chicago bungalows, you know how rare open staircases are. They are usually cramped, steep afterthoughts. This one is sunny and beautiful. This staircase feels like a home.

Listing Price: $339k (no MLS link because, ya know, it’s our new address!)

Our Offer: $340k. We feel very lucky to have purchased this property in this market without getting into a bidding war. We have the tornado sirens and the Chicago Blackhawks to thank: we got into this house on that crazy Game 7 night and made an offer immediately. They accepted the next day and immediately had back-up offers from other prospective buyers.

There’s a great mix of short and long term projects: some expensive stuff we’ll need to pay for right away (e.g. plumbing work), some expensive stuff that will be fun to plan for over several years (e.g. redoing the kitchen, bathroom and, well, everything else), but also lots for me to do on my own. I see so many things that I’ll enjoy tackling without spending a lot of money. That’s what I’m most excited about: it’s a project house that is great and livable now, and I see a clear path for years to come to make it even better. PROJECTS FOR LIFE.

That’s it for now! I wrote this post on Thursday night and hit “Publish” as soon as we successfully closed today (hooray!). I’ll be back with so many more details: the exact timeline and all the drama that happens between offer and close, details about finances, and lots of photos of the house and all my plans for it.

House Offer Number 4

We’ve reached our penultimate offer, which I thought for sure would be our final offer. I was certain this house was The One.

Offer Number 4: Bernard Basement Bar

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Location: North Park. This house was south east of the property you saw yesterday, and it made a world of difference in how we felt about the location. It doesn’t seem like much, but 0.6 miles vs 0.4 miles to the train is a big difference when you’re trekking in Chicago weather. Bernard is a lovely street with well-maintained houses. It has a great neighborhood feel, with a new public library to the north and a quaint pedestrian bridge to the south. I would have crossed the Chicago River every day on my walk to the Kimball Brown Line stop.

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Why We Made an Offer: We loved this house. We didn’t have to talk ourselves into it: it simply had what we were looking for, both practically and emotionally. It was far from perfect — it reeked of smoke, the garage was falling down, they hadn’t done any major updates (roof/electrical/pipes) — but it was special in a way that made the flaws worthwhile.

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Most of the bungalows we saw had cramped floor plans, but this one felt spacious. It did have the traditional formal dining room, whereas we were hoping for a more open kitchen/dining area, and that’s one of the things I think about now to mitigate our disappointment.

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I didn’t expect to love the vintage bungalow aesthetic, but it was an appealing balance of historic character and a few modern cosmetic updates. Most notably, the kitchen had been renovated in the 90s — obviously not my style, but very clean and generally well laid out.

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There were three rooms upstairs that would have been great for guests. For our day-to-day lives, though, it was an overabundance of space for a family of two.

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I don’t have any photos of the best part: a vintage basement bar, complete with pool table. I’m sorry I failed you on that front! I usually don’t take pictures when we tour homes because I’m too busy asking questions and inspecting everything. I think this is the right way to tour a property, but the wrong way to be a blogger.

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Listing Price: $349k (Link to Redfin listing)

Our Offer: We initially offered $345k, hoping that the smoke, dilapidated garage, and lack of major updates would discourage other offers. In any other market, that would have been a strong offer for a house in this condition in this part of the city. But Chicago’s current market is inflating prices. The seller’s agent asked all bidders to submit their best and final offer. We raised to $360k and threw in a personal cover letter to the seller as a Hail Mary. Our agent responded “If someone trumps this, nothing you could do. Nice job of stepping up!” That made us feel good, and that’s what saves us from having any regret with this property. We did what we could, and offered the most we could given the amount of work needed.

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I want to give props to the seller’s agent, Carmen Rodriguez. She was the best we’ve encountered: she kept us informed at every stage of the process and we were never left wondering what the status was. She even emailed Seth after we lost the house, saying “This was a competitive process and my client did spend time to carefully review and consider all components of each offer she received. Your clients’ cover letter was, in particular, very well received. As it stands, she selected another offer that had a combination of sale price and terms which better suited her situation at this time.” That really softened the blow.

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I received the Redfin update yesterday that the property had sold for $362k. That doesn’t mean if we had thrown in an extra $3k we would have won the house: the price likely was renegotiated after the inspection, and the buyers had more appealing terms (e.g. a larger down payment). So, no regrets! Especially since we close on a house tomorrow that we are just as excited about.

See you tomorrow afternoon for our fifth, and final!, offer.

House Offer Number 3

If you’re just dropping in: we close on a house this Friday and this week I’m recapping each of the five properties we made an offer on. For other Chicago house hunt posts, check out Offers Number 1 and Number 2.

Offer Number 3: Garage By No Bars

5121drakeLocation: North Park.

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North Park is just north of Albany Park, with the Chicago River demarcating the two areas. It’s a nice neighborhood with reasonably-priced single-family homes and historic charm. It’s primarily residential, without many shops and restaurants, and it can be a hike to the train depending on where you’re located.

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The “by no bars” part of our nickname for this house is because North Park is dry. There are no bars, and the few restaurants in the area don’t serve alcohol. As we understand it, we have Mayor Daley’s 1990s vote-dry campaign to blame. Some neighborhood groups are working to overturn the ban: godspeed!

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Why We Made an Offer: This house was solid and filled with light. The owner’s renovations weren’t my style, but they were done well because he expected to be in the home long-term. He had paid for the un-fun, expensive major repairs: new roof, new wiring, and new copper pipes.

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To explain the “garage” part of our nickname: the owner had built a truly enormous garage. At least 18 feet high on the inside, custom oversized door, extra deep. I have no idea what he did in there, but we could have parked five Subaru Foresters. Check out this satellite view to compare it with the two garages on either side! You could see it from space.

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Listing Price: $340k (Redfin link to listing)

Our Offer: $320k. We could have moved into a clean, functional home on a nice street and made it ours over time… but nothing about this house sparked our excitement, and the location was a compromise. It wasn’t a must-have home, so we didn’t offer top dollar.

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When the seller’s agent put out a call for “best and final” offers, we chose not to raise ours — especially because a more exciting house had come on the market. See you tomorrow for Offer Number 4!