Here’s one for Eichler cult members

#390 in a series of true experiences in real estate
March 2002, Hills Newspapers

My last thoughts before falling asleep these days, also the first that I have in the morning, are about three houses we will soon be marketing. What I am obsessing over is what should be done to prep them – how far to go, how much money it makes sense to spend, who should do the work, how long the work will take.

One of these houses was built in El Cerrito in the 1960s, not my favorite architectural era certainly, but it happens that my own house was built at this same time, and during the ten years I’ve lived in my skimpy-baseboard and metal-window house, I’ve thought a lot about the style.

I’ve done my best to change my Plain Jane detailing, to add visual complexity, and I’m glad that I did. But probably an argument could be made to leave such houses as the contractor who built them intended. Neither my house nor the one I currently dream about are classics as those built by Eichler have apparently become. I have read that there is a near-cult demand for Eichlers, at least for those that are still original.

The El Cerrito house I’m lately concentrating on seems still to contain all of its original elements, although many of them are now quite worn. The wood paneling and high open ceiling in the living room are as they were built. The galley kitchen with its blond wood cabinets still contains built-in double ovens, cooktop and dishwasher, all dark brown metal, the “in” color at the time of construction.

The owner did add wallpaper in many rooms, wallpaper that she and Anet and I agree should be removed. The vinyl flooring in the kitchen and adjacent family room and in the main bath, a sort of fleur-de-lis pattern, is still there, but its formerly shiny surface is dull and cracked.

The wood floors are also worn and stained, and the owner says she’d like to see them refinished. She feels that this, at least, should be done. And so we start there.

We got a bid for repairing, sanding and coating the wood floors, and the bid is quite reasonable. While we were at it, we asked what the cost would be to replace the vinyl in the kitchen and family room with hardwood. This last is too much to spend, we think, almost $5,000 by the time the old vinyl is removed and the baseboards are dealt with.

And so, we investigate linoleum, not vinyl, but the new, real linoleum which comes in both sheet goods and tiles and in beautiful retro patterns and colors. The lino man hasn’t gone to the house to measure yet, but it looks like gorgeous linoleum can be had for around $2,000.

We met our painter at the house a few days ago and walked through talking about what might be done. Much of the wallpaper is loose and must be stripped. We are reluctant to paint the blond kitchen cabinetry, but restoring the surfaces would be a huge job and, we think, not cost effective. (Eichler-like followers will be disappointed, I know.)

We think that the cabinets should be painted, inside and out. While the living room ceiling is in excellent shape, the wall paneling is badly faded in spots, a fact we discovered when our painter took down some of the artwork which has been hanging there for some 40 years.

We think the paneling must be painted as well, but the wood fireplace mantel and adjacent bookcases can be cleaned and left bare. In my nightly musings, I can imagine how very good the house will look with newly redone surfaces, but I get stuck on other details.

There is some gardening to be done, mostly tree pruning. Also cleaning of appliances, showers, window glass and the metal window frames. At least one new light fixture will be needed and, to show this house to best advantage, some professional staging. I really enjoy thinking about what the stager will bring into the house. The owner has some marvelous things of her own which we would love to use but, unfortunately, they will already be in the owner’s new residence by the time we would need them.

I spent an hour on the Internet searching for 40 handles and pulls for kitchen and dining room cupboards. The ones there now are not in good shape, and they’ll look bad when everything around them looks new. It may seem an easy task to replace handles but, I’ve found, it never is. This is because whatever is currently on the cabinets, that size isn’t made anymore.

The screws for these particular handles are on three-and-a-quarter inch centers. All of the handles I’ve been able to locate are, of course, different. We will probably have to plug the old holes and bore new ones, and this will cost something.

What about the brown appliances? As long as I’m dreaming, I might as well consider replacing them. One of the ovens no longer works, one cooktop burner is broken, the dishwasher is old, and the color looks dated.

Often we tell sellers, because we believe it is true, that an outdated kitchen or bath, if light, clean and workable, will be seen by buyers as something they can live with now, that they’ll plan to fix it themselves later. And that may well be the truth here.

Still, we are curious, and therefore we are exploring the costs and ease of replacing some or all of the built in appliances. We do not know yet, for example, if new ovens are readily available that are the same size as the existing ones.

Another question concerns the cooktop, which is electric. Most houses built around the time that this one was had electric appliances. But buyers in our area almost all prefer gas, so if the seller did go ahead and put in a new cooktop, should it be gas? While both types of cooktops seem to cost about the same, what would a plumber charge to run a gas line?

Before any decisions are made about preparing a house for sale, there are many considerations. Some sellers have the time and money to make upgrades, but many do not. It is often the case that improvements do pay for themselves, and beyond, but not always.

We’re still working on gathering information and using our experience and imagination. We want to make good solid recommendations to our client.

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