Getting an old-timer ready for the market

#211 in a series of true experiences in real estate
September 1997, Hills Newspapers

For the last several months we’ve been working with the owners of a triplex in Rockridge – husband, wife and pre-teen daughter – helping them get ready to sell.

They’re going to be moving to the Midwest where the husband was raised, and they look forward to living closer to parents, grandparents and cousins. They talk about large lots and trees, wide sidewalks for bike riding – a different way of life.

The wife grew up in the large upper-floor flat in their Oakland property, knew all the neighbors, attended local schools, then went off to college. Some years later when her mother died, she and her family had the opportunity to spread out in her mother’s home.

It’s a big space – three bedrooms and large living and dining rooms on a deep lot. This old stucco building was built around 1910over an above-ground basement. Later, with city permits, two apartments were built below the house.

On our first visit there, we were immediately reminded of large San Francisco flat we’ve lived in. There is an unusually long central hallway, extending from the entry to the kitchen, like the ones we remember in those San Francisco buildings. There are oak-strip floors upstairs and a Victorian-look, marble fireplace in the living room at the front of the house.

Although there are box beams in the dining room at the back of the house and coved ceilings elsewhere, the style isn’t Craftsman. This isn’t a wainscot-and-plate rails kind of house.

Most windows are the original double-hung wooden ones, and there is one that is stained glass. Several side-by-side windows make up a shallow bay on the street side of the living room, but the style isn’t Victorian either.

The rooms are laid out well, there is a solid feel to the structure, and the spaces are generous. It takes a shout to be heard from the front to the back. All of this says San Francisco style to us.

The owners wanted to know what they should do to get the property ready for sale. They said that the house roof was old land should probably be replaced. The detached double garage roof and its rafters have failed. Probably the fireplaces need attention and the kitchen has had no upgrades.

No painting has been done for a number of years, and they’d like to replace the window coverings. However, they had replaced the house stairs, front and back, and recently they’d had the steam heating system flushed so the radiators put out their clean heat well.

We looked at the electrical system, noted that there are separate gas and electric meters for the apartments, went into the storage places and downstairs hideaway room.
We saw the yard where a California oak tree spreads shade; we met the tenants, saw their apartments. It didn’t take long to know that we like these sellers very much, feel sure we can sell their house. They want us to represent them, and we welcome this listing.

It’s an old building and it does need work. But many people prefer old buildings to new, and this one is in reasonably good shape. It can be lived in as it is, made better over time. And it is very spacious and well-located on a quiet Rockridge street near BART, freeways, shopping.

Good home-and-income properties are unusual. We are sure that this one will attract a lot of attention because it can be used in so many ways. It will appeal to buyers who need the large living spaces, a deep garden, and income from the apartments.

Or perhaps an extended family will buy it and occupy all of the units. Or it will be ideal for someone who needs office and work spaces at home.

Now we need a strategy – timing, budget, careful thought about how best to go about selling. We tell the owners they should decide on a fix-up budget, and also order reports. We wanted more detailed information from experts before we determine how to proceed.

They got a termite report, written fireplace and general physical inspections. They also got bids for new roofs, electrical and plumbing repairs, painting and tree trimming. Several times we met to discuss budget, go over the inspections and bids to select which work to have done and in what order.

One of the apartments had been lived in by the same tenant for 30 years. Nothing had been done there in that time – no paint, nothing – and it desperately needed attention. The tenant, a friend of the owners, has recently gotten married and is moving. We agree that making this apartment clean and ready for the buyer to live in or to rent out is our first priority.

Using our reports as a guide, we decided to concentrate on repairs to the basic systems rather than prettying-up. We might have done it the other way around but we think that, in this case, our buyer will probably prefer doing his own cosmetics.

New electrical circuit breakers are installed, a larger hot water heater and new venting put in, and a number of small repairs are made. The tenant moves and the apartment is painted, floor and light fixtures redone, some dry rot fixed.

There is still a fair amount that the buyer will have to do. We were unable to have the roofing done. At some point the buyer will probably want to complete the termite work. But we’ve had the trees trimmed, removed old carpeting to expose the wood floors, and we’re hoping to schedule fireplace work before marketing.

The kitchen is still pretty much as it was when built. It has to-the-ceiling wooden cabinets, gas stove, large double-hung windows. There is also a separate walk-through pantry and a laundry porch with a half bath.
The buyer will likely want to renovate these one day, but they are serviceable now, and many will find it an advantage that no one has “mucked them up.”

Adjacent to the kitchen is the dining room at the back of the house overlooking the back yard. This room, with a second fireplace, box beams and a window seat, serves as a family room which might be redecorated. But as it exists, it is a comfortable, roomy space with peaceful, oak tree views.

There is still last minute cleaning to do, windows washed, new curtains hung. There is paperwork that must be completed: multiple listing information and written disclosures. We’re designing our flyer now, setting dates for open houses, making copies of reports for buyers.

We want anyone who is interested in this property to have as much information as possible before deciding if this is the right place to call home.

That’s the best part of real estate: being there, seeing the excitement when it is the right place. We expect to have this one on the market, to be there to see the excitement for ourselves, the last week in September.

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