Our last "Open Housing" post covered a wonderful restoration of an historic 18th century Old Town Home on "Captain's Row." It shines as an example of how a restoration/renovation can transform a once dilapidated home into an upscale, comfortable, and relaxing dwelling. Sure, they may be asking top dollar for the house, but if we purchased it, aside from the occasional/minor fix, we wouldn't be too worried about about things breaking on a daily basis or the need to budget for major repairs.
*WARNING, I'm high up on my soapbox today and nobody can talk me down!*
Today's featured open house is quite the opposite. Here's a little background on the property. Built in 1790, on paper this house has so much going for it. It's located in a quiet portion of the highly desirable Southeast quadrant of Old Town. It has three bedrooms, 2.5 baths, and roughly 1,700 square feet of living space with an unfinished basement. The house is situated among other historic homes on a tree lined street, and is just a short walk to shops, restaurants, and grocery stores. One of the true selling points of the house, the backyard, is quite large and secluded, at least by Old Town standards. As you can see from the photo, with a little sprucing up and a few historical touches, the house has the potential to be something special.
But like I said, on paper it is great. Unfortunately, that's where it ends.
This house first went on the market in September of 2009, listed as a "handyman's special" sold as is. If you are into real estate, you know this translates into "complete disaster." The house had been owned by the same people for roughly 50 years and had been listed by the former owner's estate. The house was initially listed slightly below the city's tax assessment value but the price fell over the coming weeks, a little at a time, until the listing price had dropped to less than the value of the land the house occupied.
I really wish we had saved interior photos of this house from the listing back in 2009 because it was in horrible shape. We referred to it as "The Green Monster" because of its green siding with green shutters, green accent colors, and giant green bush. Luckily, we do have this photo from Google Street View.
The pressed wood siding was falling apart, the interior of the house was dark, disgusting and dirty, the walls were cracked and falling down, and the kitchen looked like it had been installed in the 1930s and hadn't been cleaned since. It was one of those houses where if you have vision you can see past the ugliness, but it was in about as bad of shape as any house we've seem in Old Town.
Even though Wendy and I fantasized about fixing it up, and spent many hours trying to convince friends to buy it, in April 2010, the house sold (for less than 1/2 of the city's assessed value and original asking price). We were still excited by the prospect that someone would be renovating this house, and watched for signs of progress whenever we would walk by.
For months, little seemed to be happening. Then, the kiss of death occurred. The 1960s awful, rotted, ugly, it's-gotta-go, pressed board siding was shoddily repaired, not replaced, and had a fresh coat of builder's grade beige paint slapped onto it. At this point, we knew it might be a rough renovation.
Last weekend we noticed The Green Monster was on Sunday's list of open houses. Expecting the worst, we were excited to tour it so that could see the outcome of the renovation. Here's an honest, uncensored recap of what we experienced:
MLS Description - Historic, renovated, well-located home in Old Town Alexandria's desirable South East Quadrant. Front portion of house dates from early 1800s, but back portion believed to have been built circa 1790. Large lot with superb back yard. Historic charm with modern renovations. New kitchen, bathrooms, 2-zone HVAC, plumbing, electrical. 3 blocks from Potomac, 4 blks from King St.
When you enter the home you are immediately greeted by the home's front staircase and oddly placed first floor powder room (where you would typically expect a coat closet). Nothing says "welcome to our home" like a toilet with the lid up.
The stairs are covered in flat black and white paint, the walls are cracked, crumbling and uneven, and there is basically no lighting to speak of. Also, from the photo above, renovation crime #1 is readily apparent. Here's a closer look.
Yep, they've used these awful doorknobs throughout the house, replacing all of the original door hardware. When an original door wasn't available, they used these hollow core plastic doors. What were they thinking?
Unfortunately, this was only a preview of the continued evidence of shoddy workmanship, cut corners, and obvious carelessness by every trade that came through.
Entering the kitchen you see standard MDF cabinets that look nice enough at first glance, until you realize that some of the doors won't open without hitting other ones, several were installed crooked, and there is a ton of construction debris and unfinished areas inside the cabinets.
Well, they have stainless appliances, that's a selling point, right? Wait, what's that next to the fridge? A cool little old door under the back staircase? What's in there? Well, we're not sure, the fridge is in the way and it can't be opened.
Heading outside, we were greeted by this new, poorly laid slate patio area, which is already beginning to settle and crack.
At least the backyard, as overgrown as it is, has a ton of potential. You just have to ignore the fallen telephone wire that was making one of the small trees double over into the neighbor's yard. It's hard to see it from this photo, but trust me, it's there.
A quick trip up the cool back staircase ended in more of the same disappointing work. More black paint to disguise the un-refinished stairs, bad handrails, cracked walls, and poorly cared for floors.
Ugh. It's actually making me sad to write this post.
The floors were "refinished" so poorly throughout the house that are likely ruined. They were not refinished, just sanded. And it appears the sanding was done across the boards to save time, rather than with the grain of the wood. Oh, and did I mention the severe water damage and rot?
Did you notice the outlet at the top of the previous photo? Instead of running new wiring in the walls, wire tracks were run from the ceiling down the outside of the walls in many cases. Seriously?
The rooms wouldn't be complete without popcorn ceilings to hide the plaster that wasn't properly repaired.
The work in the bathrooms was just as appalling. The tile was sloppily laid, grout smeared all over the tile, and in several places it appears that thinset was used to fill voids instead of grout.
The vanities were poorly sized, oddly placed, and of very poor quality. The sink top was the wrong size for the base, and the knobs were missing from the doors.
But wait, there's more. Here's a random half closet area that the flooring guy seems to have missed. Maybe the door was stuck closed the day he was there?
One nice feature of this home is that it has a third floor off of the front staircase. I was a little excited to venture up there because I do love a good third floor. That is until I just about bit it walking up due to a broken stair tread. I guess I didn't notice it amongst all of the lovely brown paint.
The third floor was covered in wall-to-wall carpeting and housed the A/C unit in a small closet.
What is that gross carpeting trying to hide? Walking on several sections of the floor it felt as if we were going to fall through to the second floor. At least they had the third floor area "staged" to be inviting.
Who doesn't love to sit on a pillow with a small candle nearby, while reading books about Britain and worrying that you might fall through the floor and into the master bedroom below? That's what I call ambience. Enough of that, let's go back downstairs.
Handrails? Why do you need handrails when you've got outdoor deck posts and rails installed right nearby? This is the view you have just after hitting your head on the ceiling and just before you fall down the handrail-less and broken brown stairs. I imagine that you'd be cursing most of the way down.
It is just becoming a tragic comedy at this point. Here is another look at the horribly "refinished" floor and the "has potential" front staircase.
Now, just when you think it can't get any worse, we've saved the best for last. If you are brave enough to venture into the basement (and clever enough to figure out how to un-stick the door from the obstructed opening), you are immediately presented with this view:
Flexible ductwork without insulation, flexible dryer vent as duct work, dirt and nastiness, and the best part, all of the plumbing in the house was redone in this renovation using PVC for supply lines. Not copper, not PEX, but PVC, the cheapest you can get at a big box store.
Turning right and heading down the cellar stairs, you are barely able to get into the basement, which has its original stone foundation largely intact.
Well, except for the part where they lazily removed part of the foundation to run a new electrical panel. Yes, that panel is mounted on plywood and it's on a wall that had a large amount of active moisture on it. And the crown jewels of the basement, well the whole house actually, is an open sump pump with several feet of water churning away, just trying to keep up with the new water coming in.
There's no way I would let kids or pets in the basement of this house unattended, for fear they might drown in the sump pump. The agent should have spun this feature of the home as a "Basement Indoor Pool."
In summary, we honestly can't believe the shoddy renovation that has been done to this house. I apologize for the negativity of this post, but I'm on this darned soap box. We feel very strongly that purchasing and owning an historic home is a responsibility. If you're looking to make a quick buck, please don't do so at the expense of a piece of our nation's history. It's better to just leave it untouched and in bad shape so someone can do the job right. I also know, this isn't our house, and I don't have to live here or make a mortgage payment on it. Perhaps I should calm down a little (It's not the first time I've been told to take it easy one something I'm nerdy about), but I look at this house as a potential treasure and piece of Americana that has been taken one step further away from its potential, and one step closer to its demise. What has been done to this house is simply unfair to the previous owners, the builder, and the future owners.
We're not going to talk about the asking prices of houses in these posts, but the greed of this owner sickens us. Feel free to find it on your own, and then you will see why our level of disgust is so high. Unfortunately, what is done is done. The only resolution I can hope for is that the house will either be foreclosed on or drop low enough in price that a responsible person will renovate it in the proper way. The price of the house is too high and the work on the house is of a quality so low that any potential buyer can easily purchase something far nicer and more sound for 50%-60% of the cost.
But if you're looking for a major fixer upper in one of Old Town's nicest areas, watch for foreclosures in the next couple of months. The advantage of this flipper's lack of enthusiasm for a job well done has left much of the original structure intact. You would need to undo the bad work, and correct the mistakes, but it is worth it for what this house can be. With how it looks now, it could end up as a real steal down the road.
So after we go through a house, usually on our way out the front door, Wendy and I play the game we like to call:
Would You Trade?
It is often a little exercise in delusion. We say, "If someone offered you that house for our house, would you trade straight up?" I say delusion because the asking price of the house doesn't matter, it is just a completely and total hypothetical.
And the verdict with this house:
Alex: Sadly, NO!!!!!
Wendy: F**** NO!!!!!
No way either of us would trade our house for this house in its current condition. As I said, on paper, there's so much potential. But all of that potential was squandered by a careless flipper who doesn't understand or respect the historic value of the property, only the potential to make a quick buck on an unsuspecting buyer. Hopefully we'll have something a bit more fun for our next open house. This one just made me depressed.
Have you ever gone through an open house that left you shaking your head at either the work or the asking price? Have you ever been personally offended by a house you've toured, as we were last weekend?
Interested in reading about other interesting homes for sale? Want to offer your take on "would you trade"? Check out the Open Housing section of Old Town Home.