Sunday, March 28, 2010

Prepping for the Move

Today at the Delaney House, we removed the 1904 chimney.
The chimney can't be moved with the house. First, an old chimney is a precarious thing, and the chimney would most likely collapse if we attempted to lift it.  It also weighs an incredible amount, so moving it would be extremely difficult. Phil made it clear to us that, if we're going to move the house, we have to remove the chimney.

We started yesterday. Tom was up on the roof, chipping out each brick. After the 1989 earthquake, the former owners had the chimney rebuilt above the roofline (this was a common occurrence in Berkeley), so the bricks were held together by new cement.  It took all day for Tom to chip off the mortar, and throw each brick over the back of the house into the yard.  

Then today, the work started moving.  We removed about 20 feet of chimney, starting at the roofline and going all the way down to the basement.

Old chimneys tend to have seriously crumbling mortar (part of what makes them dangerous). The Delaney House was no exception - the bricks are deteriorated, and the mortar was easy to separate.  Each brick lifted off relatively easily.

The problem, then, is what do you do with the bricks?  Above the roofline, Tom threw them, but after getting down into the attic, we had two options: lowering them, in buckets, through the hatch into the bedroom, and then carting them outside; or dropping them down the chimney and removing them from the basement.

We opted for the basement drop.  Tom lifted each brick off, and dropped it down the flue into the basement, where I pulled the bricks out of the clean out door.  It sounds simple, but it's filthy work: Tom was coated with dust and soot, and as the bricks tumbled to the basement, they dislodged more soot, more mortar, and often turned to dust themselves.  The basement quickly filled with dust, coating me.  (Nowhere is there a more happier crew than them what sing chim chim cheree chim cheroo)

It took several hours, and the more we dropped the bricks, the more unstable the walls of the chimney in the basement became.  We had to be careful that the walls didn't collapse before we got down below the first floor.

Late today, we finally removed the fireplace bricks, and got down to just below the floor joists.  By this time, the north wall of the chimney was mostly gone, and several bricks were missing in various places around the remaining chimney.  We disassembled two of the remaining walls, and the west wall fell over into the basement.  

Now the basement is full of dust, mortar and lots and lots of brick.  We tried to keep the bricks from breaking, so we can reuse them as planter walls (like we did on Parker Street) or pathways (like we did on Fulton Street).  

Then we went back home and took long showers.  We're exhausted, and our arms and legs are sore from all the lifting (we figured we had to move 1500 bricks today).  But now the Delaney House is really ready to move.

However, every silver lining has a dark cloud: we have to do it all again next week. The Cheney Cottage has a chimney too.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Univeristy of California - 1/City of Berkeley - 0

We have been working to move the Cheney Cottage, and the City of Berkeley has become a major roadblock.

The City staff all agree that this is a worthwhile project: we're restoring a dilapidated house in a low income area, and moving a historic house onto the property to save it.  Seems like a win to everyone.

But the City has it's own requirements, rules that it claims cannot be bent, and they are implacable about this.   And because of this, we are going to put the Cheney Cottage at increased risk, and spend extra cash putting it through not one but two moves.

Here's the story: in order to meet the April 21st deadline, we have to get the city to agree that we can move the Cheney Cottage to our land, and put it there, on blocks, until we complete the permitting process.  This has been done before, by other developers, but now the City is unwilling to consider it.

The City is claiming that these are the rules, that must be followed, but we know this has happened before.  What has changed?  Ryan Lau.

Ryan Lau is a staff person to Councilmember Darryl Moore, and he used to be on the Zoning Adjustments Board (until last week).  It recently came to light that Lau had torn down his garage and built another structure on his lot with no permits from the City.  Evidently, this was not just an oversight on a simple garage remodel - he completely removed the existing structure and replaced it.

This story has gotten a lot of local press, and the City, and particularly the Planning Department, are embarrassed by it. So as a result, the rules have become stricter - there will be no exceptions, so the City is not at risk.

We have tried to talk to Planning Staff, but they remain implacable about it.  They claim this has nothing to do with Ryan Lau, and that these are the rules.  I pointed out that these rules weren't exactly handed down from Moses: they are City established, and the City can be flexible in a situation that is deserving of special consideration.  And, I argued, the combination of restoring the Delaney House, and saving the Cheney Cottage, all on 62nd Street, is a powerful motivation to give this a special look.

But no go. The City says that, if the house is put anywhere within the City limits, we will need the permits first - and the only way to avoid this is to either keep the house on the University's land, or move it entirely out of the City of Berkeley.

Is this any way to treat a Historic Structure??

Meanwhile, up at the University, we have had a very different reception.  The April 21st deadline, which has to be met so construction on the Memorial Stadium can move ahead, has caused the University to put a lot of time and energy into helping us save the house.  Kevin Hufferd has really turned out to be a great ally in all this.  Kevin has helped us identify a piece of land in Albany, at Albany Village (a University-owned housing development) where the two pieces of the Cheney Cottage can be stored between April 21st and when we finally get all the permits from the City of Berkeley.  The University has even come up with money to cover additional costs for us.

Our big concerns now are: that the house has to be moved not once but twice; that moving the house to Albany and then back to South Berkeley will put significant strain on the house (it will probably travel 10-15 miles as opposed to 1.5 miles); and that the house may be vandalized while sitting down at Albany Village. 

But that is now the path we're taking.  We'll spend additional money and put the house at added risk to satisfy the City of Berkeley's processes.  The University is working with us.  But the City of Berkeley, which claims to be a place where preservation is valued, may not exactly be working against us, but they're certainly not a partner in this.  Saving the Cheney Cottage is really up to the University of California and us.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Time's a-wasting

Tomorrow is the day the main Cheney House is being demolished.  

The two houses were offered for sale by the University, and, as blog readers know, only the Cheney Cottage was purchased.  So tomorrow, the University will demolish the Cheney's house, which was built in 1880.  It's a beautiful old house, and a real tragedy that it has to go - but no one stepped forward to buy it, so it's going to be taken down.

We've asked Noel, the project manager for the Cheney Cottage move, if he can salvage the front and back doors for us. The Cheney Cottage has doors that are not original, and we'd like to preserve the front door of the Cheney House and use it on the Cheney Cottage.

Tom asked if I wanted to go watch the demolition tomorrow - and although I will of course be there for the move, I can't bring myself to go watch them tear down that beautiful old house.

So now we're even happier that we're saving the Cheney Cottage.  It will be a beautiful addition to 62nd Street, where it will hopefully spend its second century being well cared for.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

All Systems are Go

The Delaney House reached a milestone this weekend, when we got the kitchen sink working.  With this, the mechanical restoration of the house is largely finished.  All the plumbing is working, and the electrical system is working.  (The heating system is not working - there is no heating system in the house - but it's spring and we live in California, who cares about heat?)  We even installed some kitchen cabinets and counters.

So now most of the work is on cosmetic finishes - replastering walls, refinishing floors, painting. The house is completely functional.

Meanwhile, we're working with the City and the University to get the Delaney House moved to the back of the lot, and the Cheney Cottage moved over.  The University staff (particularly Kevin) are all being very creative, trying to figure out any way we can get the house off the property by April 21st.  The City staff are also trying to be creative, but the City's requirements are getting in the way.

So we're working with lots of people: Planning, Landmarks, The City Manager's office, our Councilperson.  Everyone agrees that what we're doing is the right thing: restoring a blighted house; saving a historic house; creating additional housing in South Berkeley.  

But will it all happen by April 21st? We're moving the house off the University's land, one way or the other.  It's a nail biter.

Great Progress, Few Burns

Saturday was a pretty successful day on 62nd Street.
  • All of the overhead lights in the house are now working again.  (There is still no light in the kitchen pantry, but there never was a light in there.)
  • The kitchen sink drain is now hooked up and operable.  This includes fixing the drain pipe in the backyard that had a hole in it (Tom once again demonstrating his skill with a SawzAll).  
  • There is a toilet paper dispenser and a towel rack in the bathroom.
  • Elliott's room is set up: he has a bed, a desk, a place for his clothes.  (We're picking up more furniture soon from Miriam and Ben, who are donating, among other things, a dresser.)
  • We hooked up the stove, and got Elliott some rudimentary cooking supplies.
One of the tasks we also accomplished was mowing most of the lawn.  The lot around the Delaney House was thick with onion grass, and now one can walk out in the backyard and wonder around without having to slog through it.  

Andus also brought his "Building Beneath" class by today to see the house.  The Owner Builder Center offers classes to DIY-ers, and this is the second one to happen at 62nd Street.  

I do kind of enjoy watching people walking up the rickety front steps and into the house, taking it all in.  They haven't read this blog or seen the house before, so all they can see if the work left to do.  Most people look at the floors and see they need refinishing (but don't see the wide planks of redwood). The walls all need the three P's - patching, priming and painting (but all the wallpaper is gone, except in the back bedroom).  

Andus drew up a streetscape view of 62nd Street, showing what the block will look like when the Cheney House arrives.  As he showed it to the people in the class, I could see some of them shaking their heads, thinking, "These guys are nuts!"  (Craig Chiu, who is the engineer who did the engineering on the third floor addition on Fulton Street, was at the class, and he said "Wow, you guys have become serious home restorers!")

But soon, the exterior work will begin in earnest.  We'll start prepping the Delaney House for paint, and it will lose its bland white facade and return to its former luster.  The Cheney House will arrive, and the restoration of it will begin.   Eventually, landscaping will be done, and both houses will settle in to their new foundations and their new lives, housing people on 62nd Street.

What I've noticed about Tom and I is that we have selective vision: we can only see the end result.  When we restored the MaGahey house, we didn't see the rats, the cat piss soaked woodwork, the powderpost beetles.  What we saw was how the house ultimately would look, and what a gem it would be for the neighborhood.  Now that Noah and Galienne are living there, that vision has come to reality.

It's the same on 62nd Street.  I guess other people only see the cracked plaster and dirty floors, and they imagine all the work that will go into bringing the house back.  All Tom and I can see is what the house is, a diamond in the rough, and how our work will bring back its luster.

Tomorrow (or rather, today) we'll do the final hook up of the kitchen sink, and install the cabinets and counters in the kitchen.  And hopefully, we'll take some time off.  Yesterday we worked from 9 30 until 6:30, and we're pretty tired. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The New Occupant

For the first time in 20 years, someone is living in the Delaney house (legally, that is).  Last night,we moved Elliott into the Delaney House.  PG&E came out and turned on the gas, so the house now actually has hot water.  

This is definitely a "roughing it" scenario.  There is still no running water in the kitchen, and the stove is not yet hooked up (that should happen today or tomorrow).  The light in the kitchen still doesn't work.  The bathroom is fully functional, but doesn't have towel bars, a toilet paper holder or a soap dish.  None of the rooms have been painted, and most have places where the lathe still shows through the plaster.  

But it's a big step having someone there.  When we got to the house to move his stuff in, there was mail in the mailbox - another sign of life.  We've even taken the padlock off the front gate.  And by the end of this weekend, we hope to have the house much more habitable, with pain on some of the walls, a working kitchen sink, etc. 

Meanwhile, we're working with the City to see if we can get the Cheney Cottage moved prior to the 4/21 deadline.  It appears there is no way of getting the various City Commissions to act faster to get the project done on time. so we've approached the City to see if we can post a completion bond, and move the houses before the permit process is completed.

Since we have not gotten any objection on our plans from the neighbors or from the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, and since we are racing to save a historic structure, it seems entirely appropriate that the City help in making this happen by letting us do the process in a somewhat unorthodox manner. We don't plan to circumvent  the permit process - we will get all the permits required - but we will move the houses prior to the permits being issued.

Assuming this happens, we may be moving the houses sooner than we had thought.  Ideally, we'd move the Delaney House back in the ext two weeks, then get the Cheney Cottage off the University's property well before the 21st of April.

Keep your fingers crossed.  We still have many hurdles to jump.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Weekend Worn out

The clock is ticking, and we're rushing to get the Delaney House ready for occupancy - Elliott has to move out of his place on Monday.

So, we got a lot done this weekend:
  • The bathroom now has lights, a working outlet, and a shower curtain
  • There is a stove in the kitchen, along with some cabinets (and the refrigerator)
  • The basement has more windows with glass in them.
  • The front bedroom is ready for paint
What is still missing, however, is hot water.  The hot water heater has been installed, and water comes out of the tap when you turn on the hot - but the water itself is cold.  We found out this weekend that, when PG&E turned on our service, they only turned on the E - no G.  So we are without gas, which means the stove won't work, and the hot water heater is just a big cold water storage tank.

Tuesday, PGYE is supposed to come and turn the gas on, so that problem will be resolved.  This week, we'll probably try to be at the house some nights, painting Elliott's room, hooking up the kitchen sink, and painting the bathroom and inside the kitchen closets.  We'll also be moving all of Elliott's stuff tomorrow, and he'll stay at our house until his house has hot water (a requirement with Elliott).

Next weekend, we'll try to get all the kitchen work done, and prep the living room for painting (maybe even the hallway too).  Johno might come back to strip wallpaper in the back bedroom (the last room to do).  

We also have two chimneys to dismantle.  The Delaney House and the Cheney Cottage both have brick chimneys, which have to be removed before the houses are moved. So we might spend a day on campus, talking down the brick chimney of the Cheney Cottage.

Fortunately, chimney removal, in houses as old as these, is relatively simple. The mortar has generally worn away, and so the bricks can easily be lifted off, one at a time, and then either dropped down the chimney to the basement, or tossed over the edge into the yard.  We removed the chimney at the MaGahey House back in 2003, and took down the chimney at our Fulton Street house (to the second floor) when we added on the third floor.  It's relatively straightforward work, and the nice part is we'll have plenty of bricks to use for walkways and patios later on 62nd Street.

Tonight, we're taking a break.  Malcolm and Michael, Joe and Johno and Tom and I are all going out to dinner.  We have to wash the cobwebs out of our hair, scrub the dirt, wood dough and wallboard compound from our hands, and then we get to have a lovely italian meal.  

It's going to be quite a week.  

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Blind guy with power tools

It was my sister who asked me once: "What part of 'gay', 'blind' and 'jewish' makes you think you should own and operate power tools?"

Although the gay and jewish part are just stereotypes, which I refuse to dignify with an answer, the blind part does make life interesting while working on 62nd Street. As my vision has deteriorated, I have had to re-learn how to use the tools that Tom and I have had since we moved into the Wool Street house back in 1983.

Some tools are relatively easy. A drill, for example, is pretty simple for someone who can't see well. Once you line up the bit with the spot where you want to drill, you don't really need to be able to see to make a hole.

Nails and screws are harder. When I use a drill to put in screws, I do a lot of it by feel: I can tell when the bit seats in the phillips screw head, so then it's just like drilling. (Standard screws are a lot harder.) When driving nails, I often miss the nail, but I've gotten pretty good at figuring out where the nail is, and then whacking it repeatedly. One trick you learn with vision like mine is how to hold the hail when you hammer it: you don't hold it between your thumb and forefinger. Instead, you hold the nail between your index and middle finger, and you put the back of your hand against the wood - so if you miss the nail, you hit the soft part of your finger (not nearly as painful, and you don't end up with black marks on your nails).
The nail gun is also pretty usable by someone with low vision. Again, it's just point and shoot - I don't have to get that close to it. When using the finish nailer, it requires more care, but even that I've been able to do without shooting a nail through a body part.
Some tools I have pretty much abandoned. For example, the circular saw. In order to use it, I have to be able to see the line that I'm cutting - this means I would have my nose within inches of a rapidly spinning blade with no guard. So when trimming doors down or cutting plywood, I let Tom make the cuts, while I hold the work.

Other tools we have replaced. We bought a good chop saw that has a laser line in it. I can put the wood into the saw, and see with the laser exactly where the blade will cut. Once I have it lined up, I can sit back, and just cut the wood smoothly.

I still use our table saw - something which scares anyone who watches - but using the guide really doesn't require me to see it all that well.
I wonder about how much longer I'll be able to do some of the work I do. Last weekend's soldering incident kind of brought me up short. I have a pretty severe second or third-degree burn on my right ring finger. On Tuesday, while walking to work, my cane caught in a crack in the sidewalk, and I managed to rip the blister off the finger in one fell swoop (or rather, one round of loud swearing). So I'm feeling a little gun shy around solder - maybe I really can't do it that much any more. The water pipes of the Delaney House are pretty much done, but the Cheney Cottage will need all new plumbing too. Andus has suggested using Pex, but I'm a traditionalist, and don't want to use plastic pipe for potable water. So I'm going to have to figure out some new strategies for sweating pipe.

Somewhat battered, but all 10 are still there
Wiring is something that I can pretty much do with limited vision. The hardest part is nailing the romex clips down - each one has two tiny little nails that, if you don't hit them spot on, tend to bend over. But the wiring itself is pretty easy, except for getting the neutral and ground wires hooked up at the breaker panel. But so far, allt he wiring works, and I haven't electrocuted myself.

Painting requires some close work too, but since we use low VOC paint, and there's no power tool around, I'm pretty safe with that. And window work is the same: I can cut glass, put in glazier's points, and glaze the window without using any power tool, so I can get as close as I need. In fact, most tools that aren't power tools are still pretty usable. I have a large print tape measure that helps me make measurements - but again, for important measurements, I let Tom do them.

So for now, the work goes on. I'm not sure when I'll know to give some of this up - maybe when I look at my hands and can only count to 8 or 9.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Another Long Day

There are times when it seems the Delaney House will never get finished. And then, we make progress.

Tom spent more of today getting more neighbors to sign off on the plans for the Delaney and Chaney houses, with a great deal of success. So far, everyone he has spoken with has signed the plans stating that they approve of the project. So we're expecting that the City of Berkeley will respond positively as well - we have been told that, if the neighbors don't object, the City does not intervene.

Meanwhile, I spent most of the day, like yesterday, in the basement. We finished hooking up the hot water heater, and I finished the wiring in the back of the house. The hot water heater is installed: gas, vent, water lines. The outlets throughout the house are live (except there is no outlet in the bathroom - yet). The refrigerator is on and running.

But we didn't get everything done. The walls still have not been prepped for painting. The hot water heater, though installed, has a slow leak from the drain plug, which will have to be replaced.

But we're still moving forward. We'll probably do a couple nights there this week, then really push to get much of the work done next weekend.

We also spent some time today talking to the woman who owns the house next door. Christine is a character, smart and funny and a hard headed business woman. She has owned the house since 1957, when her third son was born there, and has other properties in Oakland. She's had her share of troubles, but has a positive outlook, and still does her own maintenance on her properties.

We talked about the neighborhood, and it always strikes me as interesting how people perceive 62nd Street. I think most people in Berkeley would think that 62nd Street, especially below Adeline, is a rough neighborhood - but the people we've met are all concerned about where they live, trying to keep their houses in good shape, and thrilled that we're taking on the most blighted house on the street.

I don't think that 62nd Street is the safest neighborhood in Berkeley, but we're really enjoying being part of it, and doing our bit to bring the area back. We're enjoying the work, and enjoying our neighbors. We're still not sorry we did this.

Now we just have to get it all done!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Planning and Scheming

While the restoration work goes on inside the Delaney House, plans are moving forward for moving both the houses.  Andus Brandt, our architect, has submitted the plans for the move of the Delaney House, the addition of a second floor (rather, a first floor), and the move of theCheney Cottage

We have canvassed the neighborhood, getting signatures from our 62nd Street neighbors in support of our plans, and the reaction has been universally positive. All our neighbors are so happy that something is happening at the house, they want to support all our plans.  So no one has objected to either lifting the Delaney House or the addition of the Cheney Cottage.  
The Delaney House, with the new first floor

But there is a new wrinkle: Kevin Hufford from UC-Berkeley has requested that, if at all possible, we have the Cheney Cottage moved by April 21st.  The original deal was to move the House by May 15th, which is ambitious but certainly achievable.  But now the University wants us to get the house moved by the 21st of April, which will be a stretch at best.
The Cheney Cottage, after its move to 62nd Street

To give us an added incentive, Kevin has made two offers: that the University will abate any asbestos in the Cheney Cottage; and that we will be given a bonus of $5000 for moving the house early. (Kevin clearly understands how strained our resources are in this whole process.)

So we are taking the challenge, and trying to get the house moved by the 21st of April.  It will take some finagling with the City of Berkeley, but I'm hoping that Aaron Sage, the City Planner we are working with, can help us come up with a creative solution to make it happen.

We'll be talking to the City of Berkeley staff a lot over the next couple weeks, as we work to save these two houses and get them located safely on the lot on 62nd Street.  Hopefully, we can get it all done by April 21st.  Stay tuned.

Got Mail?

The Delaney House and the Cheney Cottage both suffer from neglect, deferred maintenance, and lack of color.

The Delaney House was last painted 20 years ago or more, and it was painted white. The only spot of color is the light green used on the window sashes - the rest of it is white. The Cheney Cottage is solid grey, with some white on the windows - it hasn't been painted in years.

So Tom and I both feel that both houses need color. We've been looking at colors for the houses, and we plan to paint them both so their details really show, and so they show off their architecture.  The Cheney Cottage will get a light body color, with the timbers painted a darker color to show off all the millwork.  The Delaney House is going bold, with "Painted Lady" paint colors.

But even without painting the exteriors, we want to start adding color back into the houses. So today, we started right at the sidewalk, when we installed a red mailbox with gold lettering.
It's a small detail - but significant, not only to us but to the 62nd Street neighbors.  The color of the mailbox makes a bright spot in what is still a drab site.  But also, with the high chain link fence locked around the site, no mail has been delivered there in 20 years.  Having a mailbox is yet another sign that the house is returning to life, and that people are in it and caring for it.  I watched out the front window and saw neighbors walking past, noticing the mailbox and smiling.

Today was also a banner day in that I finished installing all the new copper pipe.  The Delaney House now has a hot water heater (though the gas line has not yet been hooked up, so it's not heating anything), and water to all the fixtures. By tomorrow, we hope to have hot and cold running water - a miracle.

Sweating pipe is a lot of work, and it can be fun.  But I've noticed that, as my vision deteriorates, I tend to burn myself more and more.  I have to get closer to the work to see what I'm doing , to make sure I'm really getting the joints soldered.  As a result, when the hot solder drips, I tend to be close by.  I managed to give my self a nasty burn on my right ring finger when a big blob of solder dripped right onto it from a newly soldered joint.  I also dripped solder onto my feet, arm and crotch (fortunately, we're not restoring the house while naked, so I was uninjured).

Tomorrow, Tom will be screwing plaster washers in to the walls to stabilize the plaster, and then patching the walls and ceilings.  I'll work on getting the gas hooked up,. so we can have the hot water heater on and can also hook up a stove.  There is some more wiring to do (the bathroom still has no light or outlet, and I'd like to put some lights on the back of the house to illuminate the yard), and the floors still need refinishing.  But the house is quickly becoming habitable - and soon it will be inhabited, when Elliott moves in.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

62nd Street Trees

As any homeowner in Berkeley will probably tell you, trees are a big issue in this town.

When we bought the Fulton Street house, there was a huge Monterey Pine in the front yard, right on the corner.  It had three trunks and stood a good 80 feet high, towering over the house and neighborhood.  It covered the sidewalks and yard with pine needles; nothing grew under it; and we spent about $1000 replacing the sidewalk which had been heaved by its roots.

The McGahey house had a huge pine tree as well, and one day, we noticed it had suddenly died.  It had been ailing for a while, but within a couple days it suddenly went from being green to being brown.  Monterey pines had been in the news - one had fallen unexpectedly in Berkeley and killed someone in an SUV - so we decided to cut them both down.

We were somewhat unprepared for the reaction of people on the street.  Although our neighbors were pretty supportive of our decision, total strangers were not.  On the day of the tree cutting, one woman wanted to do a ritual in our front yard (we almost had to call the cops to get rid of her), and another man complained loudly that "people should never cut trees"  When I told him it was a safety concern, he responded, "If you're worried about your safety, you should move!"  

Needless to say, the trees were cut down.

On 62nd Street, we're anticipating similar issues. The lot has several trees.  There is a mature Meyer Lemon tree, which is a tree we plan to keep.  Fortunately, it is growing exactly where we want it - when this project is finished, people in the Cheney Cottage will see it out their back windows.  

There is also an acacia tree, growing right in the center of the property.  Acacias are like big weeds - they grow fast and they have little to offer except a mess.  So the acacia is on the hit list.

There are also several plum trees.  They are all pretty much exactly where the Delaney House will end up, so they're on the hit list as well.

But the biggest problem (literally) are the redwoods.  There are 5 of them: In the front, right in front of where the Cheney Cottage will be, there are two huge ones.  At the back of the lot, there is a cluster of three more, one of which is at least 100 feet tall.  

Our neighbors are pretty unanimous in their opinions of what to do: cut them down.  The ones in the front are pretty awful looking: they have been hacked back to miss the power lines, so they look like giant "C"s from the street.  The smaller ones in the back are not doing great, but the large one is very healthy.  But it rains down brown fronds into the yard, the neighbors' yards, and the neighbors' gutters.  Since it's on the south side of the lot, it also creates a lot of shade.

When we first got the property, Elliott spent some time raking up all the droppings from the back trees - the mound that had collected under the trees was probably about 4 feet high.  Already, the mound is forming again, as the tree continues to drop dead branches and leaves.  

Then, there is the cost issue: cutting down large trees is not cheap.  But it would probably be easier/safer to cut the trees now than to wait until the Delaney House is closer to the back trees and the Cheney Cottage is next to the front ones.  

No decisions have been made yet - but I invite any local readers to go by and let me know what you think.  It's something we're going to be facing sooner than later.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Financial Matters

Several people have recently asked how we managed to finance the Delaney and Cheney house purchases, and what kinds of mortgages we have set up.  As with everything else on 62nd Street, it is an interesting story.

When we bought the McGahey House back in 2003 (the one that was infested with rats), we got what we later learned was called a NINA loan (No Income, No Assets).  Basically, we said to the bank "We want to borrow $300,000" and the bank sent us a check. It was literally that easy - no verification of income, no checking of our assets, no proof that we actually owned the Fulton Street house.  When the mortgage crisis hit, it made sense to me how so many people could have gotten in over their heads - Tom and I had been very careful to make sure the numbers pencilled out, and that we could afford to do what we were doing - but we could easily have borrowed way more than we could have afforded.

Fast forward 7 years to the Dealney House purchase, and it's an entirely different environment.(I'm leaving the Cheney Cottage out of this, since we paid all cash for that house - all $17).    Banks wouldn't even talk to us.  It seems that, in the present environment, bansk refuse to finance any house purchase where the house is sub-standard.  We were told that we couldn't get a loan until the Delaney House had new plumbing, new wiring and a new foundation.

So our mortgage broker introduced us to Spartan Mortgage in Sacramento - a private mortgage lender.  This company specializes in financing privately financed deals.  We knew that, with private financing, we would pay a higher interest rate - but we figured we could buy the house, then do the restoration and move, and then refinance with a traditional mortgage, and pay off the private financing.

We couldn't get the terms sheet form them for quite some time, though, but we finally did get it.  The terms of the loan they proposed were unbelievable to me:
  • The loan rate was 13%
  • There wer 10 points on the loan
  • There was a pre-payment penalty amounting to $50,000
  • Additionally, they wanted us to borrow enough to cover both the purchase price as well as enough to cover ALL the improvements.  We asked why: we are doing the work ourselves. They sid that, if something happened to us, they needed enough to complete the house. We said, no, the house is ALREADY worth what we're paying for it, so you could easily sell it and recoup your money, but they said they didn't work that way.
So the total loan they were going to give us was for close to $500,000.  But we wouldn't actually get that money - we would "draw it down" as we needed it - but we would pay full interest on it from day one.  I asked, "So wait, you keep the money in your account, earning interest, and we pay interest on it too?" And they said "yes"

Whatever happened to usury laws?

We got pretty close to walking away from the whole deal - there is no way we could afford this type of financing.  But then, like the final scene of It's a Wonderful Life, our friends stepped forward. We asked several people if they might be interested in doing a private loan, and surprisingly, several people said yes.  Then one mystery benefactor said that he could, in fact, lend us what we needed to complete the purchase.  

We're pretty lucky.  We have each other, great kids, and wonderful friends who are willing to help us out when we needed them.  It's yet another gift we've been giving by the 62nd Street project - a reminder of how much love we have in our lives.