Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Who would ever want to live at 26th and Portland?!"

I had this question asked of me once.

At the time, I responded immediately with the names of a couple of people I know who DO live at that intersection... one of whom occupies a glorious mansion attributable to T.P Healy. (And, I'd live there myself - in a heartbeat - if it meant I got to call one of the several glorious buildings there my home.)

But anyway, at the time I had no idea that this intersection was also once home to a particularly famous Minnesota resident!

What a world...

I regret that I never got to lay eyes on that home.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Historic Minneapolis Directories (Now online!)

If you're interested in researching the history of a home in Minneapolis, one of the first places to hit for information is the Hennepin History Museum.* Down in the cozy basement research library, you'll find a wealth of fascinating resources, including but not limited to yellowed Sanborn maps, local history books, and of course my personal favorite... the dual-city "blue books." (Er, and the Minneapolis Directories!)

The HHM is an absolutely WONDERFUL place to visit, so I do recommend doing so in person when you have the chance. (And with a super-affordable annual membership fee of $35 per individual, perhaps consider membership as well?) BUT, if you just want to check something out in the blue books (ahem) Minneapolis Directories and don't have time to run over to HHM, guess what? They are now (partially) online!


(And thanks so very much to Heritage Preservation Commissioner, Champion of the Pioneers & Soldiers Cemetery, and all-around super-amazing local historian Sue Hunter Weir for the tip on this.)

*Located in the former George H. & Leonora Christian residence, the museum is also a charming point at which to begin a self-guided walking tour of the Washburn Fair Oaks Mansion District. (Perhaps best summer-time.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Reflections on that first house, twelve years ago

I will never forget the experience of purchasing my first house. More than so many other things one might expect, that place change the course of my life and helped define who I am as a person.

I was twenty-one years old at the time.

The house was an 1886 stick-Victorian duplex in the Phillips neighborhood. It was vacant, foreclosed, and winterized. The attic windows had fallen out and pigeons perched in the frames, cooing dismissively as I shivered on the sidewalk.

My budget was $40,000. I was a student and bartender at the time. I have no idea how the loan officer ever even managed to qualify me, given that I kept no records of my tips, but then again, those were different days of lending... my mortgage was sub-prime and the firm from which I got it has since gone out of business (as has the bank with whom I re-financed two years later in order to build an addition on the house.)

My parents disapproved mightily. I recall eating lunch together post-closing, and one of them (I can't remember which) saying “We kind of thought you were going to need us to co-sign for you on the loan. And we were going to say NO.”

My stepfather bought me a handgun, and a police investigator visited me the first week I owned the place. (He just walked right in -since all the door locks were broken- and handed me a wanted flier, asking if the individual pictured was my boyfriend, husband or roommate.)

I was off to an auspicious start.

As I had scraped together every last penny of tips from innumerable, insufferable bachelorette parties at the hotel where I tended bar in order to come up with a down-payment, it was something of a rude awakening when I had the water to the house turned on and discovered that the pipes had pretty much all frozen and burst.

I thought my mother would cry.

I moved in anyway, rationalizing that the SuperAmerica up the street had a public restroom, and that I only needed a day or two to get this situation figured out. (And then I closed myself up in my filthy, unpainted new bedroom to sob in terror and frustration.)

Ultimately, I got a small loan from my credit union (God bless credit unions) in order to repair the plumbing, but not before the ancient, brittle chimney blew off in the first of several spring storms. Luckily, it wasn't as expensive of a fix as I feared when I first spied those bricks strewn across the lawn from behind my floor-to-ceiling dining room windows. I developed an eye-tic which lasted for a month.

In the years that have followed, many people have asked me what drew me to real estate, and to fixing up old homes in particular. I'm still trying to figure out what the answer is. Clearly, it goes back further than this first home of mine. There's something visceral to me about homes. Especially the old ones. But certainly, this first house of mine is part of the equation.

That initial year was rife with stress. But what is easy to forget is the fact that it passed quickly, and that the following years were wonderful, and that the building gently transitioned into something quite beautiful.

That first year was a trial by fire. But the experiences and the memories have kept me going, and I'm proud to say that I would do it all over again if given the opportunity.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Teddy-Bear Ladies

The Up-Block-Down-House* has long been a perplexing study for my fellow house-historians and I. 

As lovely and comfortable as it is, my home of the last 2.5 years is nonetheless riddled with oddities that have stumped even some of my best friends, highly-esteemed for their knowledge of turn-of-the-century architecture, as well as common twentieth-century home changes in Minneapolis.

Questions that have plagued us include:

Why is the second flight of foyer stairs steeper than the third?

Did my office used to be the kitchen?

Is the kitchen an addition?

Was the house ever duplexed?

Why are so many blocks stamped “UP” laid UPSIDE-DOWN?

Why is my house-mate’s studio floor different from the rest of the wood?

And the list goes on…

But I wasn’t thinking about ANY of this today. 

In fact, I hadn’t thought of these things for quite some time. You see, I’ve grown comfortable in my home. Fond of it, in fact.

Those of you who have followed my blogging over the years may recall my mostly-chipper attitude about the acquisition of this house, even in the face of its utterly revolting state

But what you may not know is that I actually hated this place. I hated it not for what it was, but rather for the change to my life which it signified.

I had been going through a breakup. a protracted, painful, mind-bending experience, about which even the closest of my friends were not really and truly informed.

I left my beloved Healy House to come here… to this… this… place. This place where I would live all alone, ripping filthy carpet and scrubbing filthy ceilings until (I thought) I became so fully coated in UBDH residue that my tears of rage and anguish would be absorbed by a crusty shell.

And indeed that happened. And I lived like that for some time.

A hermit of sorts, as I struggled to figure out who I was, where I was, and what it all meant. And for a time, it pretty much sucked.

And BFF came.

And Uncle Ray.

And then Geri(P)atric.

And before I knew it, we were painting. And we were decorating. And we were cooking and living like undamaged people.

And we were celebrating holidays.

And at some point along the way, it became my home. Along with all of these people, and this neighborhood, and these dogs.

And I became whole again, without even really noticing the specific moment at which that occurred.

So as it happens, and as I prepare to sell this place and move onto the next exciting phase in my life, it was all of THIS that I was considering today, with a great sense of comfort and satisfaction, when I spied the white minivan pull up in front of the UBDH from the comfort of my –now lovely- front porch.

Three elderly women exited, all staring at my home. As they made their way into the street and toward my house, I caught myself thinking “are they looking at the dinosaur? No wait – it’s on vacation at the Nevermind Gallery in St. Paul… WHAT ON EARTH are the doing?”

They were smiling and giddy, and as they came closer, I saw that two of them were holding teddy bears, and the third a digital camera.

Before I could react, they saw me on the porch and one of them giggled, before stating loudly “well we should ask HER!”

Slightly embarrassed at having been caught spying from my porch, I got up and walked out to meet them.

And oh…

It turned out that two of them were sisters. Sisters who had grown up in THIS, MY HOUSE – THIS UP-BLOCK-DOWN-HOUSE, FIFTY YEARS AGO.

I nearly fainted when they told me that.

I wish I could adequately describe either their happiness or mine, but words truly escape me with respect to that particular sense. But suffice it to say, I was overwhelmed. In a good way.

We took photos of them on the front stoop with their childhood teddy bears, and I invited them in to see (after so many years) the same funny staircase, with the banister they had slid down as girls, and the porch that no longer has French doors (THE PORCH HAD FRENCH DOORS?!) and learn about how their parents housed a family of seven on just the first level of my house… because yes, in the middle of the last century, it was in fact used as a duplex.

And it brought tears to my eyes.

Though when I bought this place I didn’t think of it as a home, it WAS a home to others in the past. So special, in fact, that they came back 50 years later, from places like Elk River and Andover, to see if it was still here. And they brought their teddy bears.

And in spite of its long hiatus as a vacant, broken-down foreclosure…

…and before that a rental by a notorious slumlady…

…site of chronic drug-dealing and heart-wrenching family violence…

It has become a safe and wonderful home AGAIN.

My home.

*So named by the BFF for the curious inversion of several basement blocks, embossed with the letters UP

Community Land Trust = Most Expensive Affordable Housing in Hawthorne?

Some of you may have noticed my soft spot for the Hawthorne neighborhood. 

I’m not sure if it’s that I just always love the underdog, or perhaps a challenge, but whatever it is, I find myself paying an inordinate amount of attention to this small neighborhood on the opposite end of the Northside from my own.*

In terms of real estate values, Hawthorne may well be the single most depressed neighborhood in all of the City of Minneapolis. Indeed, over the last four months, the average sold price for single-family residences in that neighborhood was a mere $39,085.

(click to enlarge) 

So knowing this, and being able to count a healthy and growing number of friends who today live MORTGAGE-FREE in NoMi as a result of these ridiculously low prices, is it any wonder that I was a little taken aback to hear that the non-profit Urban Homeworks had decided to sell their newest Hawthorne listing as a Community Land Trust property?

What does this mean, you may ask? Right right – let’s talk about exactly what that means:

The City of Lakes Community Land Trust promotes a model of “homeownership” which is supposed to preserve affordability, among other things. Here’s a little background from their website:

The City of Lakes Community Land Trust resulted from a collective, committed effort by Minneapolis residents and neighborhood associations to preserve affordable housing ownership in their community. 
In late 2001, a collaboration of Powderhorn Residents Group (PRG), Seward Redesign, Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association (PPNA), and the Lyndale Neighborhood Development Corporation (LNDC) began educating themselves on best practices relating to creating and stabilizing affordability in their neighborhoods. 
Through research, community conversations, an environmental scan, and the identification of opportunities, the collaborative group determined that there was a significant need in the City of Minneapolis to form a Community Land Trust (CLT). 
Housed and incubated by PRG, the collaboration incorporated as the City of Lakes Community Land Trust (CLCLT) in August 2002 and acquired its 501(c)(3) status in August 2003. 
The CLCLT hired its first staff person in October 2002.  Current CLCLT staff consists of three employees (two full-time and one part-time). To date, the CLCLT has assisted over 70 low- and moderate-income households into CLCLT homeownership since the fall of 2004 and anticipates adding another 20-30 households over the next 18-24 months.   
The mission of the CLCLT is to provide and foster stewardship of perpetually affordable home ownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income families throughout Minneapolis and is achieved through three major objectives, including:
• Assisting households that otherwise would never be able to purchase a home responsibly in having the ability to do so;• Ensuring that, if and when the homeowner(s) decide to sell, the CLCLT is there to keep the home(s) affordable for other income-qualified households; and• Provide support necessary for CLCLT homeowners be successful in homeownership. 
Nationally, there are over 150 CLT’s, which work to create perpetually affordable housing while simultaneously balancing escalating housing market appreciation with the ability to meet housing needs for low- to moderate-income homebuyers. 
CLT’s provide permanently affordable housing by owning the land of a particular property but selling the home on the land to an income-qualified buyer.  The homeowner then leases the land from the CLT through a 99-year, renewable ground lease. 
The ground lease connects the homeowner to the community and to keeping the house permanently affordable by including a resale formula that determines the home’s CLT sale price and the homeowner’s share of the home’s increased value at the time of sale. 
This mechanism facilitates the initial investment made in the home by public and private subsidy sources remaining with the home to make it affordable to subsequent, income-qualified buyers.  
Now, that’s all well and good, and I’m very pleased about their three staff people and their commitment to affordability and all… but it really begs the question: Isn’t Hawthorne affordable ENOUGH already? And frankly, considering the fact that the property in question is currently listed at $130,000 (more than THREE TIMES the average sale price over the last four months in this neighborhood) one has to ask, is this really about affordability?

And yes, I am sure that the UH property is (will be when the rehab is completed) in better condition than much of its active competition in Hawthorne right now. And if anyone wants to check, here's that inventory list:

(once again, click to enlarge)

But here are two important things to keep in mind with respect to that notion:

First, a CLT sale includes the house ONLY. So, for one hundred and thirty thousand dollars, you, my friend, do not actually become the owner of real estate. You become the owner of an improvement (the house) and enter into a lease for the land.

Second, even if the competing houses are in poorer shape, they are SO much cheaper, that even when combined with rehab costs, they’re mostly going to end up more affordable than the UH/CLT property.

So, what gives?

I’d really like to know, personally… because I find this highly perplexing.

 Oh, and here's the house:

 I do admit that it's got good bones... 

But so do a whole lot of other homes in Hawthorne that wouldn't sell for such a price in this decade.

*Oh, and I also love a deal – so there’s that as well.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Glazing your own windows

When I show older homes to buyers, I often hear concerns about windows. Indeed, it seems like nearly once a week I have some client telling me that the windows in a given listing "need to be replaced." I try to be delicate in my disagreement, despite the fact that this totally drives me nuts.

As I've said to many a friend and many a client, I really have to hand it to the replacement window industry - they have worked hard to inculcate the notion that old windows are bad, so much so that it seems to have become a FACT in our culture. Bravo to them. That takes some doing.

Perhaps the reason that preservationists have not been more successful at contradicting this FACT myth is that we lack a product to sell.

But, I digress. What I really want to write about here is glazing your own (old!) windows so that they last you forever, and avert the tragedy that would be tossing old windows into a landfill and spending a bunch of money on some crap that can most likely never be repaired when some part of it breaks.

Specifically, I want to tell you that it is EASY!

Window glazing is a task about which I have long been nervous, and I've always avoided it by bringing broken windows to the hardware store for glazing. (This, of course, is perfectly fine as well if you're not into the whole DIY experience, and it's not overly expensive.) I had always heard that it was a dicey process, and the idea of screwing it up scared me more that it should have.

Enter my fellow house-addicted BFF.

His old house had a TON of multi-paned windows. ONE TON, I tell you. Un montón de ventanas. And of course, the glazing was old and in need of replacement. (We don't buy anything other than fixer-uppers, obviously.) He was determined to glaze them himself.

And he did.

And he told me it was easy.

And I was all, like "OMG! Show me how!"

So he did. It was very exciting.

Here's more or less how we did it:

Step #1 for a broken window is (duh) to removed the broken glass and clean out the old glazing, paint, or whatever gunkiness might be along the small ledge where the glass sits, and then place the pane of glass in. (If you're just replacing old and crumbly glazing, no need to remove and replace the pane, clearly.)

Step #2 is to wedge the points in. You can do this with your putty knife, as the points come with a handy-dandy little ledge under under which to jam the knife and press them into the wood. I have no idea if there's some general rule about how many to put in (I didn't bother googling that part) but we just put 3-4 on each side of average-sized double-hung sash, figuring that was good enough.

Step #3 is the beginning of the fun part. Do you like play-doh? I love play-doh. (Who doesn't like play-doh?)

Take a glob of putty out and start rolling it between your hands like you're making a bread-stick. Lay it along the edge of the glass, covering the points. Press it in a bit with your fingers. Repeat all around. (I forgot to take a picture of this step. I was over-stimulated by the play-doh.)

Step #4 brings the putty knife back into the picture. First, with your knife perpendicular to the sash (and the putty bead,) start pulling the putty up and away from the pane, toward the wood. Scrape the knife (and the putty) up against the wood edge. Do this along the entire edge. Scrape scrape scrape. This helps jam the putty into the corner.

Step #5 is the most technical part. This is where you smooth it out and make it look all lovely. For this step, your knife should be angled, and you'll go in a direction that is parallel to the wood edge, rather than perpendicular. Start in a corner and scrape SLOWLY from one end of the particular edge to the other. If the putty is pulling up behind your knife, you may be going TOO FAST. Slow down.

Step #6 Clean up any lines of putty excess that were cut away in your smoothing strokes.

Step #7 Admire your handiwork and tell all of your friends.


Putty is temperature-sensitive. Try to do this work either indoors or on a relatively warm (but hopefully not sweltering) day outdoors. Also note that it can take up to a month for the putty to cure enough to hold paint. Check your product container for details.

Also, do you know what this is is the photo below?

This is a broken window pane that someone had siliconed into the frame. Please do not do that. It makes the pane VERY difficult to remove. It also looks ugly, and is just all-around annoying. Thank you.

Monday, March 28, 2011

More recycling woes

There must be something in the air, because just as I was preparing to write about my annoyance over mis-use of recycling containers, I discovered that North by Northside had already beaten me to it.

So, as Jeff has pretty much covered this issue, I'll spare you all my rant (but please do read his.)

I'll just leave you with the above visual of how this issue is currently manifested over here in UWHO.