Two Years On, My House Becomes More and More My Home

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Those of you who have followed this blog may remember that in addition to cooking, one of my passions is interior design. So when I bought my first house in April of 2012, I was finally able to begin to create a home that was completely mine. Back then I promised I would occasionally update you on my progress. I’ve been remiss on keeping that promise, alas. Today, I hope to make up for that, with photos of my living room, dining room, and my new guest room, which I’m calling the Moroccan room. In another post, very soon, there’ll be photos of my kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms. Thanks for your patience. Comments, good, bad, indifferent, are indeed welcome!

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Photos:  Top–The platter in the niche above the fireplace was found by my friend and decorating co-conspirator, Frank Melanson. It is believed to  be Tunisian.  Above: The living room as seen from the foyer.  I originally painted the living room and dining room gold, but that proved to be too dull, so I repainted it a brighter, yellowy cream (many more photos after the jump). See what my home looked like in December 2012 here.

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2012: The Year I Fell In Love With A House

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I’m writing on the final day of 2012, a year which surely will be remembered for events both joyful and notorious. But for me in my personal history, it will go down as the year when for the first time, I bought a house. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will remember what a fraught process that was. But I’ve been living here seven months now, and I’ve had scarcely a moment of buyer’s remorse. Although the house was mostly in good condition, the to-do lists have been long and the process of making this house my home has taken most of my spare time, money and creative energy.  I’ve been so absorbed with my house, as you may have noticed, I’ve neglected this blog almost entirely. My resolution for 2013 is to strike a better balance between my house and my other creative endeavors, and with many of my house projects completed, that seems possible.

As for this blog, while it has never been exclusively about food, I do hope to write about an even greater variety of topics in the coming year. In the meantime, take a look at these photos to see what I’ve been up to for the past seven months.  It’s been a lot of fun, and my ideas for beautifying my home are far from exhausted!  I promise to keep you posted.

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Photos:  It may be a small house, but it’s not lacking in style. Above: my friend and co-conspirator in home decoration, Frank Melanson, peers from the front porch. Shortly after moving in, I had the house’s exterior painted. And with the help of friends, we’ve painted most of the interior as well. Below: my living room.  I’m particularly proud of the faux paint job I did on the fireplace. Tour the rest of my home: there are ten more photos after the jump… Continue reading

House and Home: Finally, Move-In Day Comes

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Yes, it’s true, move-in day was Wednesday, and I’ve already slept four nights in my new home.  I might be prejudiced, but I think it’s a sweet little house–and everyone who comes by to see it seems to agree. I’ve discovered that I love to drink early-morning tea in my living room, with sunlight streaming through the huge, east-facing window. Most of the boxes are unpacked, but a whole lot of stuff still needs to be put away, and the to-do list remains daunting.

It’s great to be here, though I can’t deny that it was an arduous, sometimes stressful, process (read previous posts here). For me, moving is never fun. Moving confronts me with the amount of stuff in my life.  I’m forced to ask myself how much of it I really need, and how much is just a burden. At the very least, moving gives me a chance to edit–to keep what remains useful or beautiful, and to pass on to someone else the rest. No doubt I could have shed more, but seven well-stuffed boxes did find their way to Goodwill.

I’ve moved a great many times in my madcap life, from state to state and even country to country, but in some ways this was the most momentous. Buying, I’m discovering, gets you committed to a house and a neighborhood in a way that, for me, renting never did. I’ve met a number of my neighbors, who are a typical Vallejo mix of white, Black, Latino and Asian, but who seem  friendly, and as far as I know, to get along. It has the feel of an intimate, old-fashioned neighborhood. Houses are set close to narrow streets, people walk the sidewalks, and my two gay neighbors next door have been chatty and welcoming.

Something else I’ve discovered is that it takes a village to find, buy, upgrade and move into a house. I’m grateful to my mom, brother Steve, Jane and Lyle, and Roger and Michael, who helped with the downpayment, and to Judy and Kathy who helped me find a house and to finance it, and to James, Frank, Mary, Michael and Yargen who helped get my house ready, or helped with the move. And I’m grateful to Bob, Ric and Richard and so many other friends and family members who offered encouragement and advice, and to many of you, readers of this blog, who’ve also offered your good wishes. Those of you whom I know personally, I hope to invite to a house warming sometime down the road. And to those who’ve followed this story online, I promise to post the “after” pictures when I’m satisfied that my little house is ready for it’s close-up. Thanks to you all.

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Photos: Top–early morning of the final day at my old apartment, a 14-foot U Haul truck is loaded for the nine-block journey. Above: my nearly empty living room looks forlorn.

A final look at my old patio garden (more photos after the jump).

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Compared To Choosing Paint Colors, Cooking Dinner For 100 Is A Piece Of Cake!

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Yes, I know this is allegedly a food blog, but bear with me.  For the next few weeks I’m going to be completely obsessed with getting my new house ready to move into. Having a warm, cozy, beautiful home is very important to me, and I hope you’ll enjoy sharing in this process a little bit as much I am enjoying it. But picking colors is excruciating! I bought a total of ten samples and put them on the walls.  Ultimately, five made the cut: a neutral pale gold for living and dining rooms, with a deep copper on the dining room feature wall, a dark rust red/brown for the foyer and my office, mustard yellow for the kitchen with semi-gloss ivory white cabinets, and terra cotta for the bathroom. It’s yet to be determined if I’ll get around to painting the hall and the bedrooms. Let me know what you think, as this is very much a work in progress. More photos and commentary, after the jump.

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Photos:  Top, not an abstract painting, but five possible colors for the living and dining rooms. Ultimately I choose the lightest color (second from the left) for most of the walls, with the paint sample just behind it for a contrasting feature wall.  Above: the dining room feature wall, after two coats of paint.

With Escrow Closed, And Keys In Hand, This House Is Mine

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Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while know that I’ve been on a sometimes excruciating eight month journey to find and buy a house. I’m happy–no, make that overjoyed–to report that my quest has come to a happy conclusion. Today I got the keys, and took a walk through what I hope will be my home for many years to come. And looking back to the want list which I initially gave my realtor, I’m pleased to say that this house ticks every box. It’s a vintage 1930 Spanish revival in a neighborhood of similar houses. At 1200 square feet, it’s a modest house indeed, but the perfect size for me. And at just over 100K, the price was nearly perfect as well. The back yard, large enough to be useful and small enough to be intimate, is already charming.

Of course, when you buy an 8o-year-old house, you’d better be prepared to have a long to-do list. And I am, but nothing about it seems overwhelming or likely to be very costly (I hope). It is clean and freshly painted and would be ready to move into if you really loved the institutional beige every room is painted. I really don’t, so add painting to the list. The experience of owning a home and making it my own is new to me, and thrilling, and I’m brimming over with ideas. Consider the photos in this post to be the “before” shots.  In six months or so I’ll post “after” photos to let you in on the transformation. Wish me well, and note that there are more photos after the jump.

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Photos: Top–the facade is a bit stark, but I have ideas for warming it up. My thought is to replace the lawn and box hedge with drought-tolerant Mediterranean plants.  The house next door is nearly identical and likely built by the same contractor. Above: the living room as viewed from the foyer.

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Home Buying Blues: Walking Away From A House I Hoped To Buy

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A month ago I posted that I’d made an offer on a house, and that the offer had been accepted. I’d hoped that by now, we would have closed escrow and the house would be mine.  Alas, it was not to be. There were several issues, but ultimately it came down to the roof (photo above).  When I offered on the house, I knew it needed a new roof. So, I thought to myself, “I’ll buy the house, and put on a new roof.” If only it were that simple. Everything seemed to be going pretty well until my mortgage broker drove by to take a look. Her conclusion was she didn’t think the underwriters would approve a loan for a house with a roof in such poor condition. So, there I was, in a catch-22. I couldn’t buy the house until it had a new roof, and I couldn’t put on a new roof until I owned the house. She feared that if we took the next step of ordering an appraisal, I would only be throwing away the $550 appraisal fee.

My mortgage broker’s take is that five or six years ago if you were breathing, you’d get a loan, and if the house was standing, it would appraise for the selling price. But today, the pendulum has swung far in the other direction. Today, every “i” must be dotted and every “t” crossed, and then every “i” dotted and “t” crossed all over again for good measure–and it still might not pass underwriting!  A further irony is that Wells Fargo was both the seller and the intended originator of the loan, so when I had to walk away, they lost on both ends of the deal.  But what do they care? They’re making tons of money elsewhere. It appears that only someone who can pay cash will be able to buy this house. In other words, an investor who will rent it out, resulting in another house occupied by a renter, rather than by an owner–not good for a community which badly needs more owner-occupied homes.

But the upside is, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that the world of real estate is now an inscrutable, alternate reality. Who can figure it out? Little is transparent. Nobody admits to knowing why offers are rejected or accepted, and the rules seem to be quickly changing. It’s like trying to play poker without knowing ahead of time what will trump what.  I’ve also learned not to be a romantic, not to fall in love with a house.  Yes, a house may be cute, and have the potential to be drop-dead charming, but I’ve learned to take very seriously the condition of the foundation, roof, windows, plumbing and wiring.

And so, older but slightly wiser, I trundle on. I’m lucky that I don’t have to move. I’m living in a lovely rental where I’m happy. I can take my time, but it’s still true that I’d rather be paying on a mortgage than paying rent. A few minutes after bowing out of one deal, I made an offer on another house.  It seems that a house I’d previously offered on had just come back on the market (who knows why–that, like so much else in this industry is not disclosed). So I put in an offer once more. This house (see below) has no obvious issues, but it is  80-years old and unknown what a home inspection might reveal, were my offer to be accepted.

Something else I’ve learned?  To live with uncertainty. Buying a house is so not for sissies. Wish me well!

Update: (February 29th) My offer on the house below has been accepted.  It is now in escrow, and set to close by midApril, and hopefully earlier. We shall see if this one works out!

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Previously I'd made an offer on this house and didn't get it, but it's come back on the market, so I've made another offer. The facade of this house looks great, but the other three sides, not as much.

This house, two blocks from the one above, has just come on the market with an asking price of $79,900--although it will surely sell for more.

Fingers Crossed, But Apparently I’m Buying This House!

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It hasn’t entirely sunk in yet, but it seems I’m about to become a home owner. Judy, my realtor, called yesterday to tell me my offer on this 1045-square foot house built in 1932 has been accepted. After loosing out on two others, I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever find my house.  It seems that the houses I’m drawn to, a lot of other people like as well (there were six offers on this house). Still, at just over $100,000, and with interest rates as low as they are, it will be much less costly to buy than to continue to rent. So, knock on wood, if everything goes well, we are scheduled to close escrow on February 17th.

Like most things in life, this house has its upside and its down. The exterior could use sprucing up; the house needs a new roof, and the garage, roofless, is possibly a tear down. On the other hand, the interior is  freshly-painted and move-in ready. There are great hard word floors throughout, and the home’s original character is very much intact. Also, there’s a new foundation, and unusual for California, a walk-out basement. The kitchen, did I mention the kitchen?  It’s more than I need, but I’ll take it–beautifully remodeled with spacious granite-topped counters, prodigious Ikea storage, and sunny windows facing east and south. Interesting isn’t it, that the house which has by far the best kitchen of all the houses I’ve seen is the one I’m able to buy? Best of all is the location, location and location.  While it doesn’t have water views, it is on a hill near the marina and waterfront.  From my street, there are views of Mare Island, San Pablo Bay and the hills of Marin. With a little help from my friends, this could be the cosy-est and cutest house in all Vallejo!

What am I feeling?  Amazement and gratitude mostly, and once in a while a little bit of dread at the responsibilities of home ownership. With housing as expensive as it is in the Bay Area, I never thought I could be a home owner. Well into my sixties, this property virgin is about to be a virgin no more. And truthfully, I recognize that I’m not alone in this. To family members who stepped forward to help with the down payment, and to friends who offered advice, encouragement, who said prayers and lite candles, I say a sincere “thank you.” And because my kitchen is also my MacroChef laboratory, I hope to share with all of you what we create there for many years to come. Again I say, “thanks.”

Click here to see more photos of what will be, if all goes well, my new home. I previously posted about my home buying journey here.

Update: I’ve posted more photos that I took during the home inspection, after the jump.

The kitchen, all new and pristine with it's marble tile floor and granite counters, is a bit over the top for a house this modest. However, with tons of counter space and storage, I'm not complaining (need to change the hardware on those cupboards, though). Update: More photos, after the jump.

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