Next chapter begins for charming old house

#606 in a series of true experiences in real estate
July 2010, Hills Newspapers

When Beth Hobbie was only age 85, she sent us a nice little note in the mail. That was nearly15 years ago. I wrote back, then she wrote me, we exchanged cards and comments, but we did not meet. We drove by the outside of her house once because she wanted our thoughts on pruning a tree but it wasn’t until she turned 100 that we laid eyes on one another.

We were invited to attend her 100th birthday party last summer, and were delighted to meet Beth, her kind neighbors, and her lively family, most of whom had flown from out of state to be there on this fine occasion. Beth had been able to live alone in her house all these years with a few neighbors watching to see she was up and moving around, and Beth’s son, John, coming frequently all the way from Texas to grocery shop and to take Beth for occasional appointments.

Beth did very well. She was not sick and her brain was still excellent. Her handwriting continued to be beautiful: flowing and even. She claimed to have a hearing loss and to no longer to remember “anything” but if so, we didn’t see it. She was tiny, maybe 5 feet tall and 90 pounds, cute as a bug, and she was talkative and fun. We had a fine time hearing about her life from her, with anecdotes contributed by family and friends.

At Christmas she sent an especially warm note and then, not long after, she died. John and his son cleared much of the house, then left the rest to us. He gave us some of Beth’s framed prints that had been hanging in the house, several pieces of pottery, and her unusual bamboo-framed seating sectional, all of which we are pleased to have.

Beth’s house was old and worn, and its size and finishes are modest, but it is in Rockridge close to the BART station, a highly favored location. There was no question that it would sell but we did not put it on the market right away because one of John’s sons was thinking of moving his family to California and would live there but, as it turned out, a new job moved them out of the country.

We had the house inspected before making any plans for fixing. There were good things we discovered – a good roof, copper water pipes, updated electrical main – but the original foundation, made of concrete now quite old, was porous and was unlikely to hold earthquake-retentive bolts. While it was noted that the small one-story house didn’t have far to fall, probably the next owner would want to secure the house to its foundation. Cost of a new foundation and earthquake retrofit: about $40,000.

The sewer lateral, the line that runs between the house and the city connection in the middle of the street was, not unexpectedly, old clay pipe, broken and cracked. Cost to replace it would be $6500. The “termite” report was low, only dry rot in a few places.

Once we knew these things, the question was whether to upgrade the house, make replacements, redo the kitchen and bath, paint and floors, or not. For years Beth had followed with interest our newspaper columns about redoing our listings and she had told John “Do the floors.” We’d have enjoyed seeing the oak floors sanded, all fresh and smooth, but it wasn’t looking like it made sense to do any of these things to the house. We thought keeping the price down would be better for seller and buyer.

It seems we were right. The house was very well received at our open houses, one on Thursday, the other on Sunday. By the following Wednesday, there were 6 written offers.

Everyone loved the location of course but in addition many found the house, even as it was, compelling. They commented on the old wallpaper in the bedrooms, especially the blue pussy willow paper. Many said they liked Beth’s divided kitchen painted very-yellow – pantry with sink in one part, stove, refrigerator and table in a larger room.

For the living and entry room walls Beth had chosen emerald green for the walls with white trim. The wallpaper under the paint was lifting in spots but with new white curtains, the rooms looked and felt good. That good feeling, an old-fashioned welcoming that the house gave, was key. We felt it, too. We liked being in Beth’s house and we told her so every day we were there.

The house is in the hands of a new owner. Anet says she thinks Beth sent him because he’s exactly right for her house.

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