Rustic structure reflects over 70 years of being ’home’

#646 in a series of true experiences in real estate
August 2012, Hills Newspapers

For several months now we’ve been working toward selling a cabin-like house in Oakland’s Montclair and growing more fond of it all the while.

We love going there, especially enjoy sitting inside and looking out. One wide wall of the living room has beautiful wooden windows (most fixed glass but some awning-type windows that open) with a deep view of numerous green trees and one distant house.

I feel as if I’m visiting at a friend’s summer cabin at Russian River sitting inside wooden walls looking out at the trees. The window blinds make a horizontal pattern across the views that holds me and mesmerizes me. I feel very calm immediately.

Our clients are sisters who grew up here. Their parents met at Oakland’s California College of Arts & Crafts, fell in love and married, and in 1940, bought what was then a smaller building. They added on. They stayed. They bought 2 more lots adjacent. They grew old together. It wasn’t until 5 years after their second parent died that the sisters felt alright about selling. We began in January this year.

When we got there, especially the exterior was pretty ragged. Repairs would be necessary because as the house stood, a traditional loan for a buyer would be unlikely.

But first, before deciding what work to do, we scheduled inspections. During our general inspection, on a rainy March day, there was a leak into the living room. The inspector climbed up on the roof to spread roofing cement; we put pans under the interior leaks.

It’s an eccentric house, refined in ways, rustic in others. The exterior is wood sided and shingled and it’s more clean-lined than most country cabins. Not tiny, more medium sized, the house is almost entirely handcrafted of wood. Two bedrooms, one full bath plus a separate shower room. There are doors to the outdoors in the bedrooms and from the living room. The kitchen has a wall of windows and 2 doors to the outside.

The house sits up above the street on a gently sloping lot. When the parents bought it there was no driveway, only a long stair from the street straight up. Later, when they bought the neighboring lots, they had a road put in that curves twice before ending near the back of the house close to the kitchen.

There are tall trees and open spaces with few developed areas or fencing. The extra lots could be sold off , but it would be a shame. When you’re up there in the plain-ness and width of the land, the separate-ness, you know it should be like this.

Between that first inspection and early July when we put the house on the market, the house was emptied. Falling-down carport buildings were removed, a new roof and porch and sewer line were built, plus a bunch of small repairs accomplished. We did almost nothing to change the decor. The house still looks much as it did in 1960-something.

We did get bids, which we passed along to the buyer, for replacement and repair that will likely be needed, including fireplace chimney rebuild and earthquake retrofit bolts and tie-downs.

Among the unusual features of the house is a shower room, added at the back of the house by the Dad because, as his daughter said, “He’d always wanted to have a shower room of his own.” The room is about 10-1/2 feet by 5 feet in depth. Half of that is the tiled shower. No other fixtures are included, only a wall heater.

The main bath is divided into two parts. The toilet area contains the electric clothes dryer which, until very recently, had never been used. Dad bought it but never had it connected. The other part of the bathroom contains a tub and sink done in pink and grey – very fifties.

The kitchen sink counter is off-white laminate, quite ordinary, but the backsplash is fabulous, a broken-tile mosaic, a still life of fruit, flowers and fish, done by Mom many years ago.

The stager brought in exactly the right things, we thought. Rattan and bamboo furniture, boldly striped wool blankets tucked on the beds, flower arrangements of rangy orange lion’s tail and flowering parsley. Japanese lacquerware and modern pieces of dull-glazed pottery. Also, camp songbooks and Scrabble board.

We had an open house for agents but had to limit the number of cars on the driveway road. We didn’t want a traffic jam. A friend stood at the bottom of the driveway and counted the cars, allowed 4 cars at the house at a time. Some people parked on the street, then walked up the “camp stairs”, as we refer to them. On the way they passed close by the “Kumbaya redwood tree circle”.

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