25 October, 2008

Basement Windows, or Why I Will Never Complain About Our Spiders Again

Our basement windows are in terrible shape. They are the kind that swing up and inward, attaching to a hook in the ceiling to stay open. They are as old as the house and completely inefficient. Many are broken or rotting and they leak like nobody's business. They were never meant to seriously hold back the elements, and it gets quite cold down here. And while the previous owners installed heavy-duty security bars that do keep people out, they also prevent us from using the windows as any sort of egress. Although we can't turn any of the basement rooms into bedrooms unless we create full-sized egress windows, we do have our offices and workshops down here, and we'd like to stay warm and be able to squeeze out in case an emergency of some sort prevents us from using the stairs to the exterior.

But the biggest problem with the windows is that they let all manner of bugs inside.

We fought a long, valiant battle this year against the spiders that infest the basement of The Box House, ridding ourselves of thousands (I'm not kidding) of egg cases. How did the previous owners stand it? By summer's end we were definitely down to a handful of the creepy crawlies. I suspect we'll see a reemergence in the spring, but it can't be anywhere near as bad as it was.

In the last few months I've (reluctantly) squished or tossed outside more spiders than I have in my entire life up to this point. Ick. I've found them walking across my keyboard, sitting next to me on the sofa, peering at me from the rim of my coffee cup, and popping out from behind the washing machine. It's like some seventies b-grade horror film. Attack of the Basement Beasties, or something. Some of the spiders are quite large, too, big enough to put up a good fight as I try to scoot them out the door.

But none of The Box House spiders are anywhere near as big as this Golden Orb Weaver, photographed in Australia recently:

Yes, that's a bird. The spider is eating a bird. You can go to the original story to see more of the gruesome pictures.

I will never complain about our arachnids again.

24 October, 2008

Wazzup, 8 Years Later and the Vet Who Did Not Vet

I almost didn't get to vote this year.

The original plan was to get up early and vote in our old Uptown neighborhood, a few miles down the road, and then go to the Golden Pancake House next to the Riviera Theatre for breakfast. It's an election day tradition. I hadn't switched my voter registration over to the new address yet, so figured I would just vote at my old precinct. (We still own the condo there, so I thought it would be okay.) But I didn't realize that when I submitted my change of address card to the post office, that information would end up getting forwarded and sold to all sorts of people, including the Cook County Board of Elections. My old registration was invalidated, which I didn't realize until after the October 7 deadline for registering.

Luckily, there is a loophole. I was able to go to the Cook County Assessor's Office in person this week to change my registration and vote the same day. Only, I needed an updated Driver's License to do it. So, on the last possible day for doing so, I waited in line at the DMV, and then sped down Golf Road to get to the Court House building. Talk about cutting it close! I threw most of my stuff at Ted so I could get through security quickly and then ran down the hall to the Assessor's Office, making it with--literally--two minutes to spare. Ted walked in just as they were locking the doors. So, along with dozens of other slacker voters, we waited in line for over an hour so I could vote. (Ted already changed his driver's license, as it had expired, so he'll be voting on election day.)

If it were for any other election, I might have just blown it off. But this year's presidential election is so important, I had to cast my vote.

Anyway, I make no apologies for getting political here this week on the house blog; so close to the election I'm sure y'all will forgive me. I'll give an update on the house-related projects over the weekend, we have been keeping ourselves busy. :-)

So I'll sign off with two videos that are worth watching. To put the first one in context, you may need to watch the original "Wazzup" Budweiser commercial from 2000. In the following video, we catch up with the guys eight years later:

Ted found this next one on Andrew Sullivan's blog: The Vet Who Did Not Vet: A Cautionary Tale. It's a bit Dr. Seuss-like.

15 October, 2008

Waste Not, Want Not: A Tale in Mint Green

When I was in junior high, my dad said he would paint my room whatever color I wanted. I chose chocolate brown and mint green, thinking it would look like an Andes Chocolate Mint, one of my favorite candies at the time.

My dad, bless his heart, came back with a can of flat, dirt brown and another of Granny Smith Apple green. I was ungrateful in the way that only a 13-year-old girl can manage. I grumbled, I complained, I wrung my hands and sobbed. I tried to get my mom on my side, but she was smart enough to stay out of it. Despite all my dramatics, there was no changing things. Dad just growled at me and said, "The paint's fine, we're using it."

I was stuck with these colors throughout most of junior high and high school, until I convinced my brother to change rooms with me my junior year. His was painted in shades of navy and baby blue, much more pleasing colors overall. Even though he was less-than-thrilled with the brown and green color scheme, he was willing to swap because the window to my room opened a few feet from the garage roof, and after a bit of practice he was able to swing out onto the roof and escape down the mulberry tree to go off to whatever mischief it is that teenage boys in suburban Chicago go off to.

As an adult now, I realize I was battling my dad on a few fronts. The first was probably simple pride, or stubbornness. He didn't want to go back to the Ace Hardware and admit he got the wrong colors. I understand that. I hate admitting mistakes, took. The other front was financial. Paint is expensive. He would have had to shell out money for more paint, doubling the cost of the project. Why do that when the paint he bought was perfectly good? So what if it wasn't exactly what I had in mind?

Fast forward 27 years, and I'm standing in the basement of The Box House, staring at one of the walls in the storage room:

About 25% of the walls down here are made of tongue and groove boards. They're pretty cool, although they are all covered with paint, a blah, dingy, dirty whitish yellow. Two of the walls in Ted's office are comprised of these boards, the other two are brick and concrete. We are toying with the idea of stripping his walls to show of the wood grain. I think that it would look very cool. (The walls in my office are/were plasterboard.)

Stripping the walls of the storage rooms would be a waste of time and effort. But they are so dingy, and it would help me feel like I can keep our stored items cleaner if I could paint the walls.
If I had my choice, it would be a pleasing neutral color, something that reflects what little light filters into the back of the basement. But with all the other expenses going on with the house right now, it doesn't seem prudent to buy several gallons of paint to paint a room no one else will ever see--in fact, once we cram all of our stuff back in, we won't see the walls, either.

Now, the previous owners left behind nearly thirty gallons, quarts, and jars of paint. We've been grumbling about this, because the paints are, for the most part, too old to bother with or are some gawd-awful hideous shade, like mustard brown. We need to get them to the recycle center to dispose of properly.

But poking around the cans of paint this week, I did find nearly a full can of mint green paint! It's pretty much the exact shade of my childhood fantasy room. There isn't a single mint green painted surface in this house, so I'm not sure what it's doing here. I tested it out on a few surfaces. These pictures were taken at night, so the lighting isn't at its best. However, if you close your eyes and picture the cool minty goodness of that delicious layer in an Andes Chocolate Mint, you'll have it.

For the bottom picture, I dashed on a few streaks of white paint, which I also found in the basement, to give it some extra texture.

While I am sort of grooving on it, Ted is not overly impressed with the color. And I find myself saying things like, "We've got the paint, it's perfectly good paint, and we should use it rather than throw it away and buy something new." Dad, if he were here with us now, would probably laugh at me, because I now sound just like him.

Ah well, at least I finally get a mint green room. I'm thinking of painting the door and window frames a delicious chocolate brown.

13 October, 2008

Bugger the Roofing Contractors

We decided to hold off on getting a new roof until we can sell one of the other properties. Twelve to sixteen grand is more than we're willing to pay this year. This crappy housing market has us in a holding pattern. The rental income keeps us from hemorrhaging on the condo, and when we rent out Mom's house that will take care of expenses there, but none of us are willing to do major work on The Box House if there's a possibility of putting it off.

We had a few lower-end estimates for some simple patch work, but after investigating that further, it turns out all they were going to do is stuff cement in a few holes or add an extra patch of bitumen. And nobody was willing to guarantee the work. It didn't seem worth spending $800 for a temporary fix that might not even work. The contractors weren't all that excited about such a small job, anyway, and when I called one back to try to schedule him again after the heavy rains we've had, he didn't even remember who I was or what house I meant. Arggh.

So we read up on what would be necessary to fix our type of roof, and decided to do it ourselves. Really, it's already leaking, what can we possibly do to screw it up more?

We have a low slope, built up roof. I found an excellent article on Old House Web about low-pitched roofs. It's not cheery news, overall:

Built-up roofs are composed of several layers of roofing felt lapped and cemented together with bituminous material and protected by a thin layer of gravel or crushed stone. Built-up roofs vary greatly in life span, but those used in residential buildings usually last about 20 years, depending on their quality, exposure, number of plies, and the adequacy of their drainage. Because built-up roofs are composed of several layers,they can contain moisture in the form of water or water vapor between layers. Moisture not only accelerates deterioration, it can also leak into a building. Look for cracking, blistering, alligatoring, and wrinkling, all of which may indicate the need for roof replacement or repair.

Yeah, our whole roof is alligatored. And it has more wrinkles than I (thankfully) have. Although mine are laugh lines.

The roof of The Box House is built of a deck, felt, bitumin, some kind of coating, and a silver coating on top. Where the previous owners failed at some point is when they took the roof membrane all the way up and over the back of the parapet wall. You can see previous repairs that look like someone just dabbled cement on with their fingers.

It's not really adhered to the wall, so it forms a big air pocket behind it, and a place to catch water. A few more tears developed since we spotted this one, and one of the roofing contractors created a big ol' hole when he ripped out a chunk to get a closer look behind the curtain. Grrr.

We went to Lowes for a little consultation and advice on what to do. What we came home with was roof fabric and three cans of Black Jack Roof Patch:

A roll of Peel and Seal Self-Stick Aluminum Faced tape:

A Roofcoate Three Knot Brush:

And aluminum roof coating, similar to what's pictured:

The area we were most concerned with was around the chimney. It was just to the right of the chimney that water was leaking into the tenants' unit below. None of the roofing contractors could say with certainty how it was getting in, but planned to patch all the way around it. So that's what we did.

Ted put down a layer of roof patch cement, and then reinforced it with strips of patch fabric. He then did another layer of cement on top of that. At the top, he used aluminum tape and cemented around the edges.

It wasn't leaking on the opposite side of the roof, but there was a spot on the plaster ceiling below that was soft, as if it had taken on water in the past. Water had been getting in through slits in the membrane, so we patched those up with aluminum tape as well. This stuff is amazing--very thick, very durable, very sticky.

Some of the strips we used were long, about two feet.

Afterwards, Ted cemented the entire area above the soft spot, and around each of the strips of aluminum.

We left the cement to dry overnight. In the morning, we found pools of water on top of the patches on the parapet side of the roof. (Sorry, no photo.) The water had washed away some of the patch material.

We assume that there is still some moisture trapped behind the membrane, working its way out. Ted soaked up the water with paper towel and I started silvering the roof with the waterproof aluminum coating, starting from the top of the slope.

Yeah, I thought the picture of me throwing sticks at hornets' nests looked awkward; this isn't any better. Notice I'm wearing my good (okay, better) shoes, which are now flecked with silver.

The smell of the roof coating was very reminiscent of the tar my dad once had to apply to our asphalt driveway. This job was fun for about the first 15 minutes, until the heat started zapping me. Eighty degrees and unrelenting sun. But the silver-colored coating does fill in all of the alligatoring nicely. With luck, it will help get us through another winter or two.

I had hoped to silver coat the patches near the parapet today, where the water had pooled, but there was more water working its way out through the cracks this morning, in pretty much the same area as yesterday. Again, it was just enough to wash away some of the patching compound. It's going to rain tonight, so there's not much else we can do for the moment. However, now that the big tears in the parapet are covered, and much of the rest of the area is patched and silvered, I can't imagine much more water will get to the felt underneath--touch wood. Our theory du jour is that with all the patches we've put on the roof, we're channeling what moisture is left so it's all coming up in one spot. We'll see.

So, for less than two hundred dollars, we patched a wider area of the roof than any of the contractors bid for, and silvered (or plan to silver) a great deal of the roof surface, when the contractors didn't plan on doing that at all. So what if it's taken us two full days so far, at least it's not costing us more.

We'll see how our patches will hold. (At least we'll guarantee the work, and fix it for free if it leaks again.) Cross your fingers, everyone, that this does the trick until we can take on the full expense of a new roof.

Carrying a Big Stick

The problem with working on more than one property at a time is that sometimes you realize you left a critical tool or bit of equipment behind. This week I forgot my paint clothes and a taller ladder. After driving out an hour to get to Mom's house, I wasn't going to go back for them.

Anyway, remember that watermelon-sized hornet's nest we discovered last week?

I had saturated it in hornet/wasp spray until the thing was dripping. That beast shoulda been dead.

Mom and I had lunch near this tree while at the house, and there wasn't a single hornet flying nearby, even though we had a coupla sticky sweet Cokes that should have lured them.

"I guess it's safe to knock out of the tree," I said.

But without the ladder, I couldn't climb up to get the nest down. And since we were showing the house to prospective tenants later in the afternoon, I didn't want this big, paper nest hanging near the front door.

I figured the intelligent thing to do would be to take a stick and whack it after all. Here's me bringing my game face to the challenge. Grrr.

Unfortunately, the stick was too short. So I threw it, javelin-style, at the nest.

Look at that expert form. Ha! I don't think I've seen a more awkward-looking picture of me.

I barely grazed the nest. I was just thinking to retrieve the stick for another try, when several dozen very angry hornets came streaming out. We made a mad scramble for the garage.

So much for the Hot Shot Wasp and Hornet Spray I used. Was the product a bust, or did I wait too long to retrieve the nest? The label said it would kill everything in it as well as anything returning to the nest.

Paint Stripper

I spent a night by myself at my mom's other house to get some more painting done, but when I was ready to begin, I realized I forgot to bring my grubby paint clothes with...

Topless painting time!

Thank goodness for thick blinds and drapes. :-)

Disclaimer: The photo above is a dramatic recreation. I forgot to bring clothes, what makes you think I had my camera?

11 October, 2008

A "Tail" of Two Dachshunds -- Chicago Area Rescue Animals in Need

My cousin Karin has a heart as big as all outdoors. She dedicates her free time to Almost Home Foundation, an all-volunteer not-for-profit organization dedicated to rescuing stray and abandoned animals. A great number of their rescue animals orginally came from high-kill shelters--including our own beloved dog, Maggie, who turned two this month.

Karin has several cats of her own, but she always manages to find a little extra room in her home to foster other cats and dogs. A visit to her place can sometimes be a bit crazy with all the critters underfoot, but there's no doubt that the animals adore her. Many of them have never known a moment's love before. (Although these six-month old siblings, who are available for adoption, have been nurtured by Karin since they were born.)

On weekends, Karin brings the animals to Pet Smart for adoption day, and has placed a number of her charges in their forever homes. She keeps a scrapbook of all her fosters, which is fun to flip through. So many dogs and cats that might have otherwise met a very different, and tragic, end.

Unfortunately, the troubled economy has had an effect on adoptions, and it's taking longer and longer to find adoptive families for the animals Almost Home has rescued. Which means they can't rescue as many new animals as they would like to.

Sometime their individual stories just break your heart. I went to visit Karin at Pet Smart today, and got to meet her latest two fosters. They are Dachshunds, each 11 or so years old. They were used as breeders in a puppy mill that was raided.

Their entire lives were spent in cages. We think that their cages were next to each other, as the inside of their ears are tattooed with a number. Number 10 and Number 11. That's the only name these girls had for years.

My pictures are a little blurry, because I didn't want to traumatize them by flashing a camera in their faces, but even with the poor lighting you can't miss that grin--so happy to be in a better situation!

But there's a sadness about them. What must it be like to spend your entire life in a cage?

I try to imagine everything I've done over the last decade--moved back to Chicago, moved several times in fact. I've had jobs, I've quit jobs. I met Ted and have traveled the world with him. I lost my father, my grandfather, my dog, my cat in that period. And I bought a new house with Ted and my mom. And in all those years, these two sweet girls were in a cage, forced to produce one litter of puppies after another, bred every time they were in heat.

I'm not sure about the details behind the puppy mill raid, what happened to the other dogs, what happened to the greedy S.O.B. who was breeding them to excess. These two were probably a little shell shocked by the time they reached Karin, completely frightened by the new world around them. Because they were from a puppy mill and not a respectable breeder, I doubt they had ever seen a vet. They were so filthy, that when my cousin gave them a bath, the water ran black with grime.

But these two dogs, unloved for so long, seem to be adjusting quickly to the experience of having someone care for them.

Karin let them roam her mother's garden, and at first they were not sure what to do. They had never had a chance to play in their entire lives. They had never even seen grass before! They cautiously walked out into the lawn, and were amazed by everything around them. My aunt said it was a beautiful thing to watch them explore their new world, actually stopping to smell the flowers. They were more like puppies than senior dogs in their pure joy.

I had heard their story before I reached Pet Smart this afternoon, and I was unsure how they would react to me, to anyone, there. So many people and dogs. So much chaos. But while their eyes are haunted by all they have endured, there is a sweetness and gentleness about them. They reveled in the careful stroking I gave their ears, and closed their eyes in contentment as I scritched them under their chins. And they were very attentive of each other. My eyes got all teary as I saw the darker one carefully lick the left eye of the other, which is blind from cataracts. During their imprisonment, they were probably one another's only comfort. Because they are so close, they will need to be adopted together.

Puppy mills are evil places. It makes me so angry, and sad, that this kind of thing happens. I'm just glad there are people out there like Karin who are there to help. In fact, one woman who came to the adoption show today couldn't adopt these girls herself, but she wrote a $1,000 check to take care of their medical bills, clean and fix their teeth, etc. What generosity!

If you are interested in adopting these two beautiful souls and giving them a happy home to spend their final few years in, please visit the Almost Home Foundation web site. And take the time to look at the other dogs and cats; there are many wonderful animals in need of a good family.

Behr Venetian Plaster

You've heard our woes of renting out our condo, including the damage to the Venetian plaster walls caused by the tenants. Repairing the damaged walls, however, was relatively easy.

The original plaster work had been accomplished over the course of two years, the last of it completed in October of 2007. We used Behr's Venetian Plaster, applied in two coats with a trowel. (Follow the link for instructions.) It is a ridiculously easy application, anyone can do it. However, I was a bit apprehensive about the repairs, wondering if they would match the finished areas, as so much time had passed. In this photo series, I'm trying to cover a dark scuff in the master bedroom left by one of the headboards.

But I took a big scoop of the leftover plaster, which had been stored in the basement, and just troweled it on as usual, blending it in.

When it was dry, you couldn't even tell the difference. The original surface on this particular wall had been done two years ago.

All in all, I'm pleased with this product. And while it does provide a texture to the surface, the plaster is soft, and can be sanded down easily. While I haven't tried it yet myself, I've read on other blogs that the walls can be sanded down completely, primed, and painted with a more "normal" paint. Has anyone else tried this?

I love, love Venetian plaster, and we'll be using it in The Box House quite a bit. You know, when we finish with the critical things like leaky roofs and stuff...

Our First Year as Landlords, Part 2

Seriously. Look at that fan. WTF?

When we rented out the condo last fall, this fan was in good shape. Maybe it wasn't the most stylish ceiling fan, but it worked. It had a globe over the light bulbs. It wasn't hanging from the ceiling all dangly-like.

Our tenants never told us they broke it. We discovered it for ourselves a few weeks ago, when we were showing the place to prospective new tenants. There is a dent in the wood floor below, directly beneath the fan. And no glass globe in sight. I'd have been willing to forgive it as an accident if they'd told us about it. We'd have replaced the fan if they'd let us know it was broken. But no. Not a peep, not a hint.

(Not even from their fourth, illegal roommate, who was sitting in the living room as we showed the place, trying not to make eye contact with us. He knew that we knew he had been living there this summer; but from our perspective, it wasn't worth mentioning just a few weeks before the end of the lease period.)

The fan was bad enough. But there were other issues, such as ash and charcoal left in the fireplace.

Large chips in the venetian-plastered walls...

Black mold in the shower...

And pubic hair and assorted bodily fluids on the not-inexpensive wood-and-chrome toilet seats...

There were red beard hairs in the bathroom drawers and toothpaste stains on the marble counters. The kitchen cabinets were splattered with food and the oven hadn't been cleaned of grease from the bottom. The baseboards, fan blades, air returns, and window sills were thick with dust. The front sliding glass door was off its track and the back door was scraped from the security dowel rod they had wedged into place. The hundred-year-old mirror that I specifically left a bottle of beeswax for to keep the wood properly conditioned was splattered with zit filling and a bit dry. And the beeswax was nowhere in sight, they had packed it and took it with them.

I could go on and on, but you more or less get the point.

The funny thing is, they thought they had cleaned it adequately. They cleaned the refrigerator and microwave, dusted the obvious flat surfaces--counters, tables--and swept the floors. But that's it.

Last fall, when Ted and I moved out, we had scrubbed every surface till it shown, cleaned out the fireplace, conditioned the marble and granite surfaces, even dusted the flippin' fan blades one by one. The place was like new. (In fact, we had a housing agent look at it last year and he thought it was new.)

I don't think I'm being too anal in my wish to have the condo returned in the same condition the tenants received it. However, while there was more wear and tear in one year then Ted and I caused in six, none of the damage is irreversible, expect perhaps the floors. There are more scuffs and scratches in them, despite the fact that the renters were given explicit instructions on floor care and despite the fact I left them felt furniture guards (giving them instructions in the lease that they were to use them on all furniture). There are still a couple of deep scratches.

But I guess that's what deposit money is for.

From the one-month's deposit they gave us, we purchased a new fan (a modest one on clearance from Home Depot), among other things:

And altogether, we spent about seven hours cleaning and disinfecting the unit for the next set of tenants, who were moving in the following day. And the old tenants will be charged for that, too. I looked up the general cleaning rates online, so they'll get billed at slightly less than that because we did the cleaning ourselves.

We're holding back just enough of their deposit to cover actual expenses. But I really, really hate cleaning up someone else's pubic hair, and feel like charging a punitive fee for that. Ugh. I'm still grossed out at the thought.

But our tenants should consider themselves lucky that we were renting to them, and not some other landlord. Many landlords run a scam when it comes to deposits, keeping more money than necessary, which makes all landlords look bad.

The owners of the other condo unit in our building that is being rented out, the ones I bitched about in my other landlord post for being terrible absentee owners, kept 90% of their tenants' deposit, after waiting six months to give it back to them. Ninety percent. Granted, they left it a mess, with holes in the wall, etc., but those landlords didn't actually clean, repair, or repaint anything, to the best of my knowledge.

Now, if I actually liked their tenants, if I didn't think they were a pain in the asterisk, often making life difficult for others in the building, I might tell them that what their landlords did was illegal. In Illinois, tenants are protected by the Illinois Security Deposit Interest Act, the Security Deposit Return Act, and, in this case, the City of Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance, which states: "the tenant shall be awarded damages in an amount equal to two times the security deposit plus interest" if a landlord fails to comply with the law. Waiting six months to return a mere fraction of the deposit, and not providing a written notice within 30 days, means that these tenants are likely entitled double their full deposit back plus court costs should they take them to small claims court.

But I didn't like those tenants. So they can find all this out on their own. I'm just sayin'.

For our own protection, because Ted and I will be withholding a portion of our renters' deposit, we photographed everything we did with before and after pictures. Right down to the beard hairs in the drawers and the black mold. They won't be able to argue it. We have photos of everything as it was last fall, too, when they took up occupancy.

I know it sounds like all of this is a big hassle, and part of me wishes we could sell the condo in this bad economy. But since we can't, I'm not really going to complain about what amounts to just a few days of work a year. (Although friends of ours who are landlords say that's just because we haven't had the tenants from hell yet!) It's not a bad gig, and the rent covers most expenses as we wait for the housing market to improve. (Please, God, it has to!)

So, gentle readers out there who are also landlords, what is your worst tenant experience?

07 October, 2008

Our First Year as Landlords, Part 1

Whew! It's been a very hectic week. I apologize for the lack of any sort of blogging, but we've been busy little worker bees.

It's hard to believe, but it's already been a year since we moved out of the condo and rented it to a group of 22 year olds. It was a risky venture, and we were a little nervous to discover what condition they would leave it in upon check out. While they seemed like clean cut kids and their credit and jobs checked out, we heard from the other owners in the building that our tenants would sometimes have loud parties (no surprise, they're fresh out of college) and--perhaps most unforgivable--they befriended the only other tenants in the building, who were also 22. Two flats of younguns, twice the chaos--especially when they began to date one another. Drama, drama, drama.

I can't really get upset about the partying or socializing, however, as long as they respond to neighbors' requests to keep down the noise and take it inside when necessary, and not destroy our place or the yard. I've attended some very noisy and disruptive parties in that building in owner-occupied units, so it's hypocritical, I think, to take on a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do attitude.

Of the six units in the building, two are rentals, including ours, which is on the top floor. The other owners who are renting out their unit bought it strictly as an investment, with plans to flip it. Silly them. Flipping condos like that is not the smartest of investments to begin with, and with the real estate market tanking these last few years, I'm sure they're losing money. We've only met those owners once; they're very much absentee landlords. They've never lived in the unit, they pay their assessments late, don't show up for meetings, and don't respond to their tenants let alone to any of the other owners. They make renting out our unit more difficult, because a lot of the frustration and resentment other owners may feel about there even being rentals in the first place (there was no rule in our condo docs against it) gets dumped on our shoulders. In other words, we get a lot of general snarkiness thrown our way, even though our tenants are behaving themselves.

Anyway, our tenants--BFFs from college--decided they a) didn't want to live together anymore and b) wanted to move to Lincoln Park or Lake View, two Chicago neighborhoods chock full of other twenty-somethings and a booming nightlife. So we needed to find new tenants for the unit.

We did the usual advertising on Craig's List, and got a smattering of applicants. Overall, not as many as we hoped for, particularly as October 1st is the second-busiest moving day in Chicago. Our best guess is that with the economy, people aren't switching apartments much. In fact, I noticed that the streets weren't clogged with rental moving trucks like they usually are this time of year. We also listed the unit with Apartment Finders and other such services; they didn't bring us a single applicant, which is just as well, since the fee for finding someone is one month's rent. Sure, they do the credit checks and employment checks, but that's very steep.

We did eventually find another trio to take over the occupancy. They are older than our last group, closer to thirty, and are more laid back and low key. I'm more comfortable with this group overall.

I'm dragging a bit tonight, as I spent the day at Mom's house painting--and this after a rather party-harty sort of weekend to celebrate Ted's 40th birthday. So I'll chronicle the condo's condition in tomorrow's post, the kinds of things we discovered and surprises we encountered after we checked them out, and what we did/will do differently this time around for the new group. All in all, this first year has served as an excellent trial run for landlording.

06 October, 2008

McCain and Palin Scare the Hell Out of Me

I try to keep personal politics out of my house blog, but tonight I can't help it. John McCain and Sarah Palin scare the sh** out of me, and I have never been more nervous about the outcome of an election than I am this year.

In the 20-odd years I've been allowed to vote--and I do tend to vote Democrat--I have never witnessed a campaign filled with more hatred, racism, divisiveness, and fear mongering than what is coming out of the McCain camp. I have been watching YouTube videos this evening of McCain/Palin rallies, where people in the audience are shouting things like "He's a terrorist, kill him!" when McCain asks a rhetorical question like, "And who is Barack Obama?" It's obvious McCain hears the audience members, and is saying nothing. It's like a freakin' Klan rally. Politics can be dirty, but this is disgusting.

I've met with friends and neighbors in recent weeks who are Republican, and who are as disgusted as I am. Some won't be voting at all this year, some are jumping ship and voting Democratic for the first time in their lives. What I can't understand or forgive, however, are the ones who say they don't like McCain either, that Palin scares them, too, but who will stubbornly vote Republican because that's how they've always voted. Now how messed up is that??