26 June, 2008

Tuesdays Are for Agents Only

When we first saw The Box House last summer, our agent, Joel, was able to personally recommend the neighborhood. After all, his grandmother had lived across the street for decades.

At first glance, you wouldn't know her circa 1931 Georgian is actually a two flat. "Too bad that one's not on the market," I said. "It's adorable." Shopping for a two flat had been tough, because they're not as common in Evanston as they are in Chicago and they just don't come on the market as often. I would have liked to have seen this one.
I love this front garden! Unfortunately, we can't duplicate this kind of look ourselves, even though we have the same number of stairs leading to the front door, because of the basement windows--we certainly don't want to block them.

Well, the current owner of that house stopped by to chat and introduce himself while I was working in the yard last week. He pointed out the house and said it was going up for sale.

"No way," I thought. "What are the odds?" I was dying to go inside and take a peek, because, like I said, there aren't many two flats in the neighborhood and I was curious about the place because it had been in my agent's family. But I didn't want to just say to the guy, "Hey, I know we met like five minutes ago, and I'm covered up to my eyebrows in garden dirt and sweat, but can I poke around your house?"

But on Tuesday, as Ted and I were getting ready for a round of errands, we noticed that there was an open house sign and a steady flow of people coming in and out.

"What an odd day for an open house," I said.

"You're right," Ted agreed. "But let's go check it out."

So we walked right on in and said hello to the selling agent. "We live across the street in the other two flat, and just wanted to see this one for comparison," I said. Usually, when we go to open houses, we sign in as Dirk and Mimi. Really, we do. It's hilarious hearing someone say, "Well, nice to meet you, Dirk." But for some reason or other, I fessed up that we were just curious neighbors. What is the etiquette, anyway, for open houses at the homes of neighbors that you don't really know but whose house you can see from your window? How invasive is it to go and have a look around? How nosy is that?

Speaking of noses, the agent looked down hers at me (she was pretty darn tall, so maybe it wasn't intentional) and said this open house was "for agents only." Sunday open houses are for the public, but, apparently, ones for agents fall on Tuesdays. I'm not sure how I ever missed this critical bit of real estate culture before. But it's not like the open house sign out front said "agents only," how were we to know?

She tried to be gracious. "Well, you're here," she sighed. "You might as well look around." But it was obvious that she wasn't thrilled with the idea.

So we took a quick peek around. The layout is quite different from The Box House, but the size of the rooms is roughly the same. Whereas our bedrooms are all on the north side of the building, with the dining room, kitchen, and living room on the south side, this house had the rooms scattered:
It's a good layout, and keeps the public areas separate from the sleeping areas. Although I'm not sure how it was determined the kitchen was 19 feet long, unless it's from doorway to doorway and counting all that dead space.

The living room and dining room of the Georgian are at the front, so each of those rooms has windows on two sides. And the LR has a real fireplace. I was jealous of that; although I do love our 1920s electric fireplace (which gives off light but not heat), I miss a real fire.

The living room at the Georgian. Like all real estate listing photos, it makes the room look deceptively large. It is really about as big as our living rooms at The Box House (below).

While the rooms are the same size, our living room has a lot more light. Our floor plan is also more open; there is a large opening between the dining room and the living room. This does give us fewer options for arranging furniture. Other differences include our stained glass piano windows, the relative placement of the radiators (theirs is below the window), and our unpainted wood trim.

Our living room with some of our furniture in place and Maggie watching out the window.

The downstairs kitchen of the Georgian still had a 1930s style sink (way cool) and they had installed a dishwasher in the pantry. We've been trying out a few configurations for a dishwasher in our head, but hadn't thought of the pantry before. It's a novel idea, but wouldn't work for us because we still have the original ice boxes. Also, while they have the original cupboard for the ironing board, it had been removed and converted to a spice rack. Ours were recently restored by Ted.

Again, this photo makes the room look deceptively long. I think our kitchen actually has a little more space. But oy! We have a long way to go to updating it (below).

This is actually the upstairs kitchen; I just realized I haven't taken a photo of the downstairs unit yet with our stuff set up. The configuration is slightly different, with the sink and stove on the same side and the radiator below the window. Oh wait, I do have the one from the original listing:

Yes, we still have that fug wallpaper and tile. We've done nothing to this room yet, and won't until my mom's other house sells.
This is one of the bedrooms of the Georgian. I think it is the same size and layout as my mom's sewing room. I like the windows of the Georgian better in this room, but again the sewing room has more light. I think it's the difference of having a corner lot.

This is another bedroom of the Georgian, which is a mirror image--right down to the size of the closet--as the one my mom is using (below).

This is an image from the original listing for The Box House. I haven't taken one with her furniture in it yet.

Here's Mom's room right after we refinished the floors. Although you can't really see them well in these photos, there are two original cast iron sconces between the windows, which I'll strip of the white paint and restore one of these days.

The agent was following us around while we made our mental comparisons, making me generally nervous, so we (read "I") decided it wasn't necessary to see the other unit, which was identical in layout. But it never crossed my mind to check out the basement, and I'm kicking myself. We're going to work on our basement soon, and I really want to compare theirs to ours to see what they did with it.

The most interesting bit during the whole impromptu tour was a conversation I overheard between two of the visiting realtors. They were discussing a "dark brick" two-flat across the street that had been for sale last year and how it hadn't been updated with modern appliances, either, and didn't necessarily show well, but had a "lot of good potential" because of all the vintage details. Well, there isn't another brick two-flat on the block, so it had to be The Box House they were discussing. I would have loved to have heard more of that conversation, but they had moved to another room and the agent for this house asked me a question. But oh, the things you can learn when you least expect it! I'm glad other agents thought The Box House had good potential, because our floors sure looked crappy when we moved in.

The Georgian is currently listed for much more than what we paid for The Box House, and I honestly think it needs a lot of work as well. The rooms look freshly painted, and show very well in the photos, but the floors would need to be refinished eventually, and all their woodwork is painted white (and repainted with a few coats) and needs to be stripped and redone. The appliances are outdated and the windows might need replacing, whereas our floors have already been done and the windows were replaced about three years ago.

All in all, I think the Georgian is a pretty good comp for ours. The bathrooms, for example, are nearly identical, and I like how the subway tile looks in theirs, so it's easy to visualize what our end result will be when we have the time/funds to work on it.

Theirs. I really like the subway tile. If there ever were sconces beside the mirror, they've been removed.

This is the bathroom in the upstair's unit of The Box House. It's the same size as the Georgian bathroom and has the original hex tile, but has been finished off with a gawd-awful pieced together tub insert and oversized vanity. It was nice to see the other bathroom with a pedestal sink in place, and how much roomier the room feels with it instead.

If the trees weren't leafing out in this photo, you could see the Georgian from our porch windows. But what you can see in this photo is the roof of our garage and our PT Cruiser sitting on the driveway. Most of the homes on our street are bungalows; I'll have to take some neighborhood photos some time.

Joel's grandmother's house certainly is a charmer, and could work as a single family or be kept as a two-flat. (Square foot for square foot, buying a two flat is often cheaper than buying a single family home. And you have the added bonus of a second kitchen!) I look forward to seeing what it finally sells for and who moves in. It's a great neighborhood.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you two became "agents" for a day. I love looking at houses and that was extremely interesting!

Sandy K.

Jen said...

I have been to several open houses in our neighborhood. Actually everyone. The agents probablly hate me and kinda snarl when I tell them I am a neighbor and I was just wanting to see what was done to this house for comparision.

Anonymous said...

Good job on the comparison - you'd make an excellent agent, if you were able to hold back on the "true" shape of things. Nice tour, Mimi!

Andy said...

If you take bungalow photos and put them up on Flickr or something, definitely let us know! :)

Jennifer said...

Cute house! Nice to see some ideas for your house, too.

Joanne said...

Hey Sandy--Thanks for stopping by the blog. We're looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks!

Jenni--Glad we're not the only ones who like poking around neighbors' homes. My mom calls me "Gladys" and I call her "Mrs. Kravitz" after the nosy neighbor on Bewitched.

Marilyn--I have thought briefly of getting a real estate license, if only so I can look at other people's houses any time I want!

Andy--I never thought of using Flickr to search for home improvement before and afters. Searching for "Chicago Bungalow" resulted in some good ideas. You inspired me to sign up for an account!

Jennifer--The one thing that other house made me hyper aware of is that we can definitely use some color at The Box House. I think painting will be a good winter project.

Amalie said...

I just want to say that every time you show a comparison photo, I like yours better :-)

Though I have to admit, that sink in the other house is A Maze Ing. My mom's office is in an old house and they also have the original sink like that and the cabinets with inset doors. Love.

Next time you show up at a Tuesday open house, you'll have to sign in as representatives from the Dirk&Mimi Agency.

Amalie said...

Th kitchen sink, I meant. The pedestal is nice too, but those farm sinks with the side drainage are awesome.

Joanne said...

I LOVE those farm sinks, and when we redo our kitchen, I'd like to include one. Ted's not loving that style as much, though, so we may have to compromise.

Andy said...

I started a group on Flickr called "The Bungalow, Chicago-style"...search for it under Chicago Bungalows, join, bookmark it, whatever...if you have any pictures to submit, do so. (Or don't, whatever works!) I might actually start walking my neighborhood and just start snapping pics of bungalows for that group. Hopefully no one will question why I'm photographing their house. ;)

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