Sunday, June 22, 2014

Update 6/13/14 - We have two stories!

It's amazing what they accomplished this week! They first broke ground 8 weeks ago and it felt like progress was moving at a snails pace (probably because it kind of was). But in 7 days, it has suddenly gone from a concrete slab hole in the ground, to a two-story house (kind of). It is so crazy to finally stand inside of these three dimensional life size rooms that we have been staring at on paper for months. Even though I have a lot of experience with scaled architectural drawings, there is still something amazing about watching them come to life! This was always my favorite part of my job in the design world, but watching it happen for the first time with a space that is our own, is a feeling that is hard to put into words. It's thrilling, surreal, and also kind of scary. No matter how much you get to know the spaces on paper, there is always this slight element of surprise and wonder when you are finally standing in them. You notice things you never thought of before, and second guess decisions you made weeks say, I don't know, the ceiling height. No biggie. On paper you can move a wall with one click of a mouse, but now that wall is framed of solid wood and hard nails. This is it. This is the house you dreamed up, and there's no turning back!

So here are some photos showing this weeks progress:

Pulling up to the house you can now see the roof line of the addition peaking out. Woo hoo!

1 month ago...

6 days ago...


And some more:

3 weeks ago...

And now

And here are the rest of the current indoor and outdoor up-to-date photos. :)

First floor addition. Standing in what will be the kitchen, looking into the family room. Existing house is behind.

Pano of first floor addition.

Second floor addition. Standing on a ladder looking into what will be the master bedroom, bath, closet, and kids bath. Existing house is behind.

What's our homework this week?

We've received our first homework assignment! Once the framing and roof of the addition are complete, plumbing is next on the agenda. This means we need to select both the master bath and kids' bath tubs, and any faucets in the home that require valves. With Jeff working week days and myself working weekends + 2 kids, makes finding the time to shop around challenging to say the least. Wish us luck!


Friday, January 3, 2014

The 1st Architectural Review Committee Meeting has Commmenced...

After last night I wish I could title this post: MISSION ABORTED! Like the whole entire thing, just done. Give back the house and let someone else deal with it...But, it is our house, and we knew this was going to be tough. We have to remind ourselves, and hope, that this is one of the tougher moments in this entire process...And that we will get through it, and it will all be great in the end...right?

So last night was the first of hopefully only 2, Architectural Review Committee (ARC) meetings that we must attend in order to make any changes to our home. Our home falls within the historic district of Barrington and is therefore required to have at least 2 meetings with the ARC: a preliminary meeting and a final public hearing, in which your plans and drawings are reviewed, discussed, and hopefully approved as a final acceptable design. Only upon final approval from the ARC are we able to move forward with building permits and the actual construction process. So, the board members and these meetings have a significant affect on our overall design concept, budget, and total project timeline. It is a definite added stress to an already stressful process.

This was obviously our first time attending anything like this, so we were anxious, excited, and a little nervous going into it, but mostly hopeful it was going to go smoothly since our architect was very familiar with the committee members and process. This is something we had been anticipating for 2 months, since we closed on the house in November, and the moment was finally here.

We were one of 3 projects being reviewed that night and we were third in line. So we were able to sit through 2 other reviews prior to ours. They seemed to go fairly well, but it was easy to see how the critiques and comments from the board members flared up some slightly defensive reactions from the architect and contractor who presented. As I sat and listened I thought to myself, "Ours is going to go much better than this."

Well, I was wrong. As the meeting began, the chairman of the committee spoke up immediately. (He had been out to our home to review the condition of our original windows, which is a whole other post in itself, and was familiar with our property). He immediately pointed out that we did not show any plans to make changes to our 2-car attached garage. He was semi-correct. We did not show any architectural changes, however, we planned to replace the existing garage door with a wood garage door, and paint the siding to match the new siding of the home. Well, apparently this was not what he had in mind. Obviously, he had been anticipating our meeting as much as we had. See, our home is one of very few houses in the historic district with an "attached" garage. The garage was built by the previous owners in the 60's, and it was simple and had ample space. If we did not have an attached garage and wanted to do so now, this would not be allowed. However, since we bought the home as it stood with an already attached garage, the ARC could not make us detach it, as long as we were not making changes to it. But, this chairman dislikes our garage, it seems with a passion. Our architect, who was speaking on our behalf, responded by saying that we did not plan on making architectural changes to the garage, as it was not needed, and not in our budget. She explained that we are a young family trying to gain the "living space" within the home for our growing family, and that budget was already tight as it is. The garage would stand as it is for it's purpose: to house 2 cars, and that was the end of it. Well, this did not satisfy the chairman. He responded that he would not be able to give our project a positive vote based on the fact that we would not make changes to the garage. Our architect asked him what kind of "changes" he had in mind. He responded that he did not know...he'd have to think about it...and hire an architect (he says to our architect). This was obviously a direct insult to her. He mentioned maybe turning the one door into 2 separate carriage-style doors. There was back and forth about building living space above the garage instead of back behind the original home (the way they usually prefer additions to be built to preserve the front view of the home). He made the "hire an architect" comment several more times and the back and forth continued for several more minutes. Our architect got defensive and even swore at one point. Jeff and I watched in disbelief.

Finally, the assistant director of the village spoke up, and said that the board really didn't have the right to tell us to make changes to the existing garage as it stood, and that we should move on to discuss the actual structure and addition that we were proposing for the home. And so they did. This part seemed to go extremely quickly seeing that they had just wasted about 20 minutes over the garage, and seeing that we were the last meeting of the night. Our plans were discussed quickly, changes were made before I could blink, and before I could muster up the courage to speak up over a few important was over.

We left the room feeling defeated, worried, and powerless. It was clear that our architect was also taken aback, but insured us that everything was going to be fine. Our current plans, as we knew and had grown to love, were no longer, and we wondered how we would find a solution that they would love and we too would approve. After all this was our house right? We wrote the check for thousands of dollars, and our name was on the mortgage. This home held our hopes, our dreams, and our future memories for our children. Then why did it just feel like a room full of people, who had no financial or emotional responsibility, made decisions and arguments that would change the scope and cost of this project permanently? Because they did.

Sleep...Jeff and I were up together until 1:00 am, still buzzing from the meeting. He finally surrendered to exhaustion, but I couldn't. I grabbed a book, my computer, and turned on the TV downstairs. I don't think I actually read or watched anything, but I was up until 3:30 am when my body couldn't stay awake any longer. I had to just start the next day new, and hope that it would bring new beginnings.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Closing Day! Skeleton Keys and...A Ghost??

Today was closing day on our new old house...After all the research, doubt, negotiating, and playing hard-ball, it was finally time to make it official, and come face to face with the owner, whom we had tormented for weeks with our never-ending list of ultimatums.

The owner was one of two brothers who had inherited the home from their mother. He appeared to be in his late 60s. During the closing process he talked with us pleasantly and shared lots of great stories and information about the house and the neighborhood. He had actually grown up in a home just down the street from this house, and once he and his siblings were grown, his parents had moved into the house we were currently buying.

The closing process was as expected: long, boring and filled with what seemed like a million signatures. Being about 6 months pregnant, I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, and excused myself about 20 times to use the ladies' room, sliding awkwardly and very "snugly" behind several chairs each time.

Finally, the giant mound of paperwork was completed and we shook hands as they handed us the keys. The owner offered us his well wishes and as we began to walk out of the room he said, "Oh yeah, and there's a ghost." Jeff and I stopped and waited for the explanation. He went on to tell us that his grandson had stayed at the house with his elderly parents and during his visits he experienced several "ghost" encounters.

Well, perfect. Juuust perfect. :)

And these are seriously the keys to our front door. Happy closing day to us!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cassie Barron "Attorney at Law": Putting on my Lawyer Pants and Mastering Legal Jargon

New words I learned the true meaning of this week: mitigation, abatement, friable, non-friable, encapsulated, and probably a bunch more that I'm not thinking of right now...

After the last post about all of the "deterring" inspection results and newly found concerns, we asked for a 3 day inspection period extension in which we had to schedule and complete 3 more contractor inspections to obtain written quotes and estimates for the scope of work they found. I spent hours on the phone finding, scheduling, and holding in depth discussions with plumbers, electricians, structural engineers, and mitigation specialists, while trying to entertain and keep fed our 2-year-old daughter, as well as lugging her out to meet the contractors at the house. It was a juggling act, and time was of the essence.

Once we received all of the results it was time to quickly get down to business and decide what exactly we were going to request from the seller in order to move forward with purchasing this home. Again, we spent hours putting everything into a spreadsheet, seeking the advice of our realtor and attorney, and debating what line items we were going to present to the sellers for reimbursement and/or credit.

Our lawyer acted ask if we were slightly crazy for what we were proposing, and did not seem optimistic that the sellers would see our side of things. I felt strongly that what we were asking for was fair and these were true numbers that we would have to fork up once the house was in our hands. So, I took it upon myself to type up a word document that explained, in my most legally intelligent verbiage, the results of our inspections and what we were asking for on each issue and why, and sent it to our lawyer so that they could put their lawyer-y spin on it.

Apparently, I really got in touch with my inner lawyer self, and mastered some major legal jargon, because our attorney responded saying they were just going to use my document verbatim to send over to the sellers' attorney. This made me really nervous, seeing that I did not expect my amateur write-up to be the legal manuscript asking for about $20,000 in credit... that would make or break this entire deal.

We were pretty pleased when the sellers agreed to give credit on 5 out of 7 line items. Our attorney said he was a little shocked that they had responded so reasonably to our request. There were 2 line items they marked as "not agreed"and their attorney expressed their reasoning by throwing some new legal jargon at us, which I was not familiar with. But Google is a wonderful thing, and within a couple of hours I had schooled myself on this new vocabulary, and I determined that his reasoning was simply incorrect. Again, I used my new found verbiage and typed up my most eloquent response.

I won't bore you with all 7 line items, but here is the back-and-forth on the interior asbestos issue: 

Me: "We had the home tested by the Environmental Consulting Group, Inc. for asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). Results show several materials are positive for ACMs. For detailed documentation see attached document: “REVISED Asbestos Material Testing Report” 

The state of Illinois labels Asbestos as a hazardous material and therefore, the removal and disposal of asbestos from the home requires an Illinois Department of Public Health licensed/insured worker. 

Professional estimate for the removal and disposal of the ACMs estimate is based on the inspection results. For detailed documentation see attached document: “Bluestone interior asbestos quote”." 

Response from Sellers' Attorney: "Not agreed. The asbestos is contained in the floor tiles and linoleum. It is embedded and non-friable. The only abatement cost would be for the disposal of the material. My clients offer a partial credit in this regard." 

Me (back to Seller's Attorney): "We have confirmed that currently Cook County does not distinguish between friable and non-friable ACMs. A permit is required for both removal and disposal of both friable and non-friable asbestos containing materials in Cook County. Therefore, a licensed asbestos removal contractor is needed for labor, removal, clean up, disposal, and air-quality control. 

We had positive tests for floor tile, linoleum and mastic (adhesive). Linoleum is not considered non-friable because it contains friable paper backing. In either case it is not advised to remove any of the asbestos containing material on our own.

Both licensed companies we spoke with will not cooperate with clean up or disposal of asbestos waste if they did not perform the labor due to liability issues.

We have received two quotes from Illinois-licensed asbestos removal contractors. We stand firm on our estimated cost for the labor, removal, clean up, disposal, and air-quality control from a licensed contractor."

The seller agreed to the full interior asbestos credit we requested. And that's how it's done. :)

In the end the seller agreed to give us about 75% of the total credit we asked for combined on all 7 line items. This was a relatively satisfying result and we decided it was agreeable to move forward with purchasing the home.

Cassie Barron "Attorney at Law"

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lead, Asbestos, and Mold, Oh My! Also, Radon and a Chipmunk

When you buy a home there is always the general inspection that takes place. But, when you buy a 100+ year-old-home there are many more inspections that are a good idea to complete to make sure you are not getting yourself into a money-pit situation. The dilemma is: how much $$$ do you dish out in inspection costs in the interest of the ever invaluable peace.of.mind? Especially, when there is the possibility that the problems you uncover, may be far too big for your future wallet to deal with, and you may have to back out of the home completely...At this point we have told several of our friends relatives about our suspicions of the homes "hazards", and the common response is, "run away". But, I guess we're determined not to get scared off. It's just going to take a little extra effort, research, and $$.

Well, in our case it was about $1200 big ones. And in the end, how much did this save us by learning the results up front? Let's just say, it was WELL worth it!! And I now only enter our house looking like this:

There were several little clues along the way that guided us to hire specialized inspectors in conjunction with the general inspector. The home listed that the exterior was covered in lovely asbestos siding. When walking through the interior of the home with the architect, she pointed out some tile that she recognized as asbestos as well. I think it was the combination of our combined years of HGTV watching experience, as well as the home's lovely "musky" smell that led us to consider the possibility of mold. And, in doing some research on older homes I came across lots of documentation concerning lead paint (which can be present in any home built before 1978). We also paid extra with the general inspector to perform a radon test.


1) Asbestos: Positive - The entire exterior of home (excluding garage), 1st floor tile in breezeway, laundry, and closet areas, 1st floor bathroom tile, and 2nd floor bathroom tile, as well as the mastic (or adhesive) under the tile.

2) Mold: Positive results came back as "high" for three different types of mold in both the breezeway underneath the wallpaper, and the timbers throughout our attic.

3) Lead: Positive - Wall in kitchen, painted wood flooring throughout both 1st and 2nd floor, 2nd floor closet, 2nd floor bedroom doors, windows throughout both 1st and 2nd floors.

4) Radon: Positive - If your average radon concentration is at or above 4.0 pCi/L, mitigation is recommended. Ours came back at 4.2 pCi/L. Go figure.

5) General Inspection:
- Structural Issues. Dunt, dunt, dunt. The general inspector has suspicions of structural issues. That is a dreaded term when buying an old house. Structural issues. It just doesn't have a nice ring to it, does it?
- Electrical. We were also made aware that we have no 3 prong outlets in our entire home or GFCI outlets in the bathrooms or kitchen as required by code, and this would require some electrical work.
- Plumbing Issues.  Both 1st and 2nd floor baths drain slowly. This could indicate something simple like the need for cleaning pipes or something serious and expensive such as a collapsed old clay pipe, which could literally cost us thousands of dollars.
- Chipmunk Living in House. This is him.

We now have 3 additional inspections/quotes to acquire and assess before our "5 day inspection period" ends.  It's looking liking an extension is going to be needed...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Risky Business: Making an Offer on a Potential Money Pit

It had been 3 days since the home had been back on the market. We knew that 2 other times this house had gone under contract within 2 and 3 days of being listed. As I mentioned, we had looked at every other home in the area and we knew its competition. Sure, it was old, outdated, smelly, and had 2 other buyers fall through for unknown reasons...But the location was phenomenal, the price was one of the lowest we had seen in the whole area, and it seemed to have massive potential.

We knew that if we made an offer we would have the 5 day inspection period to back out for any reason, so...we decided to make an offer!

We had no way of knowing what the amount of the other offers were that had previously been accepted, but we figured the sellers were most likely motivated seeing that this house was back on the market for a third time. After discussing offers with our realtor we made an offer that was competitive, while hoping not to completely insult the seller. As much as we wanted this situation to work out, we knew that this home needed A LOT of work, and there would most likely be "hidden" inspection issues that we were not yet aware of. We knew every dollar was going to count. We made our offer first thing in the morning.

We were pleasantly surprised when the sellers quickly responded and made a reasonable counter-offer that fell between their asking price and our offer. We countered back, but did not move much from our original offer, knowing it was risky but necessary. They countered again, coming closer to our offer, but informing us that this number was about as low as they were willing to go. We now had a choice: to come up a little and meet their number and the home would be ours, or stay firm on our last offer and hope they were motivated enough to concede. We decided to stay firm, and gave our realtor the OK to say that we stood firm on our final offer.

They accepted!!! We couldn't believe it. The house was ours. Within just a few hours of the initial offer the deal was done.

We were excited and it felt surreal after weeks of searching and searching. It was pretty immediate that a bit of anxiety started to creep in as we wondered what kind of "discoveries" we were about to uncover during the inspection process. Did we just buy our future dream home or a disastrous money pit??? We now had 5 days to complete as many inspections as possible in order to determine if we wanted to back out or continue toward closing...

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Visiting the Home: 60's Retro and Classic Antique Charm

We made it out to the home the very next day.

The original "Folk-Victorian" home was built in 1907, and there had been an addition put on in the 60's, which included a large attached 2-car-garage (an attached garage is rare in the historic district of Barrington!). It was a 2-story, 1300 square foot home with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. It had a partial basement, which was basically an exterior storm cellar with a crawl space. The lot was amazing! Compared to everything else we'd seen in the village, this was basically a double lot. It was flat as can be, and the completely fenced-in backyard was beautiful, as well as the giant maple tree that had called it home for 100+ years.

As we walked through the home it became apparent that it had not been updated or kept up since the addition was added in the 60's. It was like walking into a time capsule. The house was vacant with yellow patterned wallpaper, an antique GE refrigerator that was shorter than me, and linoleum sheet flooring in the kitchen and baths. The windows and doors were surrounded by large pine decorative trim and molding. The doors featured gorgeous decorative hinges and hardware, and the front door still used the original skeleton key.

We decided to ask an architect, whom we had met during our previous home searches, to come with us to give us an idea if the home had structural potential. After walking through the home she confirmed that this could be a possibility for a remodel/build-on situation.

We wanted to bring in a contractor to give us an idea if we could build onto the home and fix up the current rooms within our budget, but there wasn't time. We had to act fast if we were going to be the first to make an offer.

Here are some photos!

Can you see the potential? :)