27 September, 2008

The MLS, Ladder Safety, A Hornet Nest, and Outdated Kitchen Cabinets

What is it about a whopping big hornets' nest that just makes you want to poke it with a stick? It must come from the same primal part of the brain that makes you think, just for a moment, that jumping from the top of a tall bridge would be fun. Some kind of suicide-is-cool death wish.

This picture doesn't do the hornets' nest justice, either. It is freakin' huge, maybe twice as big as my head. And I have a big head.

I didn't end up whacking it like a pinata; instead, I saturated the thing with wasp and hornet spray, which *supposedly* you can use at a distance of 25 feet. Ha! Maybe if it was below me or on an even level could I get it at 25 feet. I was lucky to get a 10-foot range from the can, so I was standing just below and maybe two feet out--way too close for comfort. Sure, it was after sunset, and the hornets were all slumbering quietly, unaware of their impending doom. But I was a wee bit paranoid all the same.

It was just one of the fun tasks Mom and I took on this week at her other house.

We had taken a few days off to roadtrip to her place and do a little more work on it. We pulled the house off the market at the end of June, after firing her agent; it's been 90 days now, so we could relist it in the MLS with a new number and it would show up as fresh. However, with the economy tanking and no one able to get a mortgage, we're not hopeful. Instead, we'll be strongly pushing the rent to own or straight rental option. In a year or two or three, when prices (hopefully) improve, we'll revisit the idea of selling. It's not where we wanted to be, but at least the house is paid off. There are a lot of people in worse shape.

So, between general maintenance and priming and painting various things (the first time the garage had been painted, um, ever), I dug up the St. Joseph and Buddy Christ statues we had buried in the yard to help with the sale. They'll get a good bath and get reburied next week, with new prayers said. C'mon guys, do your stuff! If any of you out there have another charm we should try, let me know.

These are the kitchen cabinets. They are extremely outdated, the last remnant of a kitchen which once sported funky green and orange seventies wallpaper with chickens on it, or something. I'm not sure what that architectural feature above the cabinets is called. I call it a waste of space. It juts out into the room, taking up valuable space that could have been used to stack stuff on top of the cabinets.

We thought briefly about doing some sort of treatment on them; I don't know, paint them or something. But now since we're focusing on rental instead of resale, I don't know if I can be bothered. I doubt it would make the house rent out more quickly if they were freshened up. Still, they just bug me whenever I'm there. (The stained glass window, however, always makes me smile; it was done by my grandmother. We're taking that with us to put in The Box House somewhere.)

I checked out rental prices on Craig's List, and there's some good news and some disappointing news. Average rental prices are higher than I expected for the area, but there also seems to be a lot--as in a ton--of rent-to-own options. Last time I checked, back in the spring, there was only one listed for her town. Now there are seven or eight. So, perhaps a bit more competition than anticipated.

The only thing we have to really decide on yet is the carpet. When we were trying to sell, we had offered a carpet allowance, to be paid at close, so the new owners could rip out the stuff themselves and choose what they wanted. Now that we're focusing on renting the house instead, the carpet seems to be a detriment. It's very old, and has seen its share of pet action and spilled cokes. One room even has the original carpet yet, a not-so-lovely shade of peach once popular in the seventies. If we replace the carpeting with something cheap, we might be able to command a higher rent overall. And we could recoup the cost with a few months' worth of rental income. Does anyone have an opinion on that?

All in all, it was a productive couple of days. The only hitch was when Mom and I got into a bitching session, mostly my fault, and instead of staying at the house with me she went up the road to stay with my Aunt Marsha; she actually called her and said, "Joanne's being a bitch, I'm staying with you tonight instead." Sheesh. But it was my first night to myself in a long time, so I'm not going to say I felt bad for the spat!

On the way back to Evanston, we took a few pics. Sorry for the bad quality, as they were taken in traffic. Look closely at the house on the left. Go on, click the images to enlarge them. The top window actually shows the attic with the chimney right up against the window. It's very odd, and I don't think I've seen anything quite like it.

But it's this picture that takes the cake. We drove past this house on Oakton Avenue, where the residents are obviously taking out a very large tree. Several major limbs had been cut with a chainsaw. But it's the ladder I want you to look at. The bottom is resting against a lower branch and is at least eight feet off the ground, and sort of tied to the main body of the tree. I ask you, would you really want to be wielding a chainsaw from such a set up? Talk about an accident waiting to happen!

Really, it's worth renting a big ladder from Home Depot.


Karen Anne said...

Now I'll be wondering about that chimney :-) No accounting for what some owners of houses do.

I think I might replace the handles on the kitchen cabinets. The cabinets look okay to me (what do I know, I like older stuff), but the handles look a bit odd.

Do you have to do a rent to own, what about just renting it until things get better. Maybe people aren't looking to buy and don't want to deal with that extra stuff.

No matter how low prices go, they aren't making any more land but they are making lots more people. Long term, house values have to recover. Just imho.,,

Karen Anne said...

p.s. What's under the carpet?

Anonymous said...

Pretty stained glass in the kitchen window!

Joanne said...

Karen Anne--It's just a plywood subfloor under the carpet, pretty boring! The house was built in '78.

Even with housing prices so low, we try to look at the positive side, and that at least (a chunk of) the investments are tied up in land, not the stock market.

Regarding renting, since the house is paid for, we'll be happy to just rent it out to cover taxes, expenses, etc. We'd be even happier selling it, though.

Jennufen--Thanks! Although the window was made to fit the kitchen specifically, we don't have another one by my grandma, so we're taking it with us to the new place, even though we'll have to make it work somehow.

Jennifer said...

What about putting laminate down in the main living areas and cheap carpet elsewhere?

I agree on hardware replacement on the cabinets... I also think painting them a nice crisp light apple green would look nice... but what do I know!

Joanne said...

Jennifer--I just saw a magazine spread with apple-green kitchen cabinets, and they looked great. It would really lighten up the kitchen, I think.

Anonymous said...

That hornets nest is crazy; I have a deathly fear of bees.. especially any type of bee in large quantities.

For the kitchen cabinets: we've done the painting route here. we sanded, primed, and brush painted. Took for flippin' ever due to all the edges and because we used Behr Paint (bad experience). Later, I bought a paint sprayer and am convinced that is the route to go if you're going to paint the fronts ... just take them all outside and you can finish them in no time with a sprayer.

Anyhow, while we're marginally happier with the painted cabinets, the reality is that they don't look *that* good, and I think you might be right about the rental value - probably not a huge increased incentive for renters of the cabinets were a different color.

As for the architectural feature above the cabinets - that's a bulkhead, and sometimes they're used to hide plumbing/electric (particularly when they are drywall). I haven't see one like that before in brick. If its real brick, its still possible there's a cavity with stuff inside -- if its fake brick over sheetrock, I'd almost guarantee there are wires/pipes inside.

Joanne said...

Fred--So it's a bulkhead, thanks! I could not think of what it was called.

It's made of drywall. The brick is really some cheesy thing my dad put up in the eighties, called Z-Brick. It was pretty easy to install, but I don't think it ever looked like real brick (perhaps they've improved upon it since then). About a decade later, my brother painted over it.

After a big blow out with my mom about painting the cabinets, we've decided to just give them a thorough cleaning. Renters will probably just be happy they're clean!

Tune in to the blog later this week. Be just finished our first year as landlords and we've checked out our first batch of tenants at our condo and welcomed a new set, so I'll be chronicling a few of those experiences.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the St. Joseph statue: You're to bury the statue upside down, and facing the house. Sounds macabre, but his feet are supposed to point towards Heaven. I don't know if that will help you (you probably already knew) but every little bit helps, I say.
I'm enjoying finding your blog and catching up on your progress!