This coming weekend, we’ll be moving into the new house – and OMG, there is so, so much to do before then! While the entryway, ceiling and room partitions will be corrected by contractors, we’ve been pouring all of our free time into making the home liveable before we fill it with boxes. (We did find a teensy moment to escape the dust and yuck on Saturday morning though; there’s a lot to do, yes, but it’s just as important for us to enjoy summer in the city, too.)
This morning, I found myself cracking up over Daniel’s description of what the movies make you think buying an old home is like. Many, many times this weekend, Scott and I asked each other, is this our 80s flick montage moment? Should we have a paint fight right now, then roll on the floor laughing? (Huey Lewis plays in the background, naturally.) The not so funny part is when I wouldn’t let go of the idea that we were in our very own Money Pit.
It’s not all bad though – rather, we made huge progress over the last couple of days. While we wait for the contractors to come in and do their thing (which, fingers crossed, should happen at the end of this week), we spent our time getting the second floor up to snuff. It is/was by far the most out of sorts of all the building’s units; the lingering smells are headache inducing, the wall splatters are sticky and gooey, and bugs (I refuse to say roaches; I won’t do it) scurried across the floor and ceilings. (We’ve since killed ’em off. Mostly.)
At several points, I started to lose faith (nope, I’m not going to lie!) that anything remaining on that floor should be banished to the dumpsters (i.e., the entire bathroom, all light fixtures and random tchotchkes left behind), but money is one of the biggest factors to consider right now, and so, crooked vanity, you stay. Old toilet, you stay, too. Guest and laundry room with subfloor? Well, we’ll hide you by closing the door for now.
Anything we could do (that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg), we did do. We scrubbed the walls with disinfectant, we coated every surface with clean, white primer (to help eliminate odors), and we pulled out the second floor kitchen. With all the cabinets and fixtures attached with nothing more than a few screws, the whole get-up was out in 30 minutes.
We removed the old, filthy shower doors from the bathroom, took down the medicine cabinet, and scrubbed every inch of every surface. Scott primed the walls in there, too, and while we’re not excited to shower in there (we held a mini pow-wow to discuss our near future, and we both decided the first floor bathroom would be a safer, more sanitary choice), it’s already looking much better.
Ripping up the carpet in the two smaller rooms and scraping up the stained (and slightly damp) pad lifted out odors almost instantly, but these rooms are still waiting for their scrub down – which will have to happen this week.
But through all the mess, we reminded each other to have fun! It seemed we were never quite on the same page – while I gritted my teeth and cursed the dirt and grime, Scott would be humming his happy tune, and vice versa. At one point (during a moment of panic: are we crazy?), I straight up asked Scott, what are you so smiley about?! (I can be moody, FYI.) His answer lifted me right out of my funk – We’re building our home, and I’m here with you.
By Sunday night, we were straight-up beat. It’s a good exhaustion though; we sleep like rocks, and to be quite honest, the sense of accomplishment is rewarding in ways we couldn’t imagine. And of course, Scott’s right. Together, we’re building this home for our little family.
The new house is 2,000 square feet – that’s almost 3 times the size of our little condo. To be honest, we were thisclose to being turned off by the size of the house, but when we thought about the room to grow (for whatever our family’s future holds, the Shops and the ability to foster siblings for Jack) and the home’s long term potential, well, we couldn’t sign on the dotted line soon enough. For the first time in our lives, we’ll have a home for the long haul, in a town that we just can’t get enough of.
With that said, we’ve been asked, what will happen to the little guy? (I realized only later that including this photo of Jack may have been slightly confusing; that little guy is a keeper.) You know, this condo that birthed the Shops, this blog, and our slice in the city that we couldn’t wait to return to after every anniversary excursion. Well, we’ll be renting it. Of course this decision meant one less stressor during this new-to-us renovation adventure – less stress than listing it for sale on the market, we should say – but it didn’t mean that we’d be willing to lease and forget. No, we still very much want to be a part of the condo’s new life.
We researched our options, and we could have very easily handed our information over to property management companies – a pricey (but valuable) option. We had phone meetings with several that we felt comfortable with, but knowing that we’d be staying in the same neighborhood (and just a few blocks over) meant that we could be more hands on. And so, we’ve found ourselves as landlords.
This, in turn, left some to ask, well, how will you handle that? What did you do? You know there are a lot of Chicago laws and rules that happen when you’re a landlord, right? (To that last one, there are a lot of Chicago rules and city regulations in general, so what’s one more?)
In short, we chose to list our home on Domu. Rather than deal with the stress and too-many-emails from Craigslist, we went with Domu for a few reasons: 1) It’s Chicago home rentals only, 2) the layout was clean and structured, and 3) we liked that we could track pageviews, respondents and any listing edits in one place. Not to mention – and perhaps this was the biggest plus for us – it seemed to have a more captive audience of serious apartment hunters. (Let’s just say, the emails we received through Domu had far fewer typos than most Craigslist ads we’ve posted in the past!)
After 15+ showings in well under a week, we received a handful of promising applicants – and along with Jack and the girls, we met each and every one in person. We were able to deactivate our listing after 6 days, and after the most grueling decision making process and another week of discussion, we rented the little guy to a couple that we felt would love the home as much as we do (did? The tenses are getting confusing as we’re still limbo-living). Did we think a little too long about this? Yes. But it was so, so important to us to choose someone that felt good in our gut, and someone who walked through the home with that look on their face – the same one we had when we walked from room-to-room the first time, too.
This is where the hard(er) part came in: how do we do this? Like, actually rent? For us (and again, after a brick ton of research), we went with Lease Runner to manage the applicants (each interested renter had to fill this out), the lease itself, and ultimately, the processing of automatic monthly payments. Their customer service has been amazing, everything can be managed in one place, and the application fee helped to weed out any on-the-fence hunters.
With many of our own friends acting as landlords (as they move away, sniff, sniff!) and a handful of readers coming up on their own similar situations, we hope that you’ll find this information useful for wherever you are! Keep in mind, however, that every town/state may have their own tenant/landlord regulations, and all the information you’ve ever wanted to know can be found on your own city website (i.e., there are particular ways in which to handle security deposits, etc).
Leaving our little home will be hard, but we also feel incredibly happy for its new lease on life (oh, how punny!). With the paperwork (and decision making) behind us, we can now look forward. It’s going to be exciting, you guys.
PS: Neither Domu or Lease Runner asked us to write a review. We just really, really love(d) working with them!
Before we shared the tour with you, Scott and I did some serious damage to that house. And by serious, we mean serious good. Our bones are sore, our backs hurt, and we’re still finding bruises that we don’t know how we got – wait, when did I get this one? – but it was worth every ache and pain. We took the long holiday weekend to knock through drywall, run to the hardware store every day and eat more fast food than we’d like to admit. We had a lot (like, a lot) of fun, sweated off 10 lbs each (okay, maybe not really) and drank an ocean of water between the two of us. (By the way, that’s dust and old-home-dirt on our legs – not bruises!)
We’ll be moving into the new house in less than 2 weeks (where in the world did the time go?), and in between packing up our own home and trying to find an hour of down time before we hit the sack, our goal is to accomplish three things:
- Repair the sagging ceiling on the first floor, which will also level the second floor
- Open the entryway (taking it from a closed off two-flat to a welcoming single family)
- Knock down those crazy crooked room partitions – one on each floor
THING ONE: THE CEILING. After the a few swings of a sledgehammer through the first floor ceiling, we were welcomed with lath (and crumbling plaster) – thin, obnoxious strips of wood hidden behind the drywall, quickly becoming our worst enemy. In order to repair the sagging ceiling, the joists need to be straightened out, and in order to do that, the ceiling had to come down. The lath turned it into an almost-2-day job, but Scott knocked it out of the park!
THING TWO: THE ENTRYWAY. While Scott sledged away on that ceiling, I took a hammer and reciprocating saw to the entry. (The saw, by the way? It’s my new best friend.) Down came the first floor door, the nook room closet (opening it to the entry, which will soon become a much needed coat closet), and a partial section that closed off the stairs. All that will help us to keep an official entry, but we’ll create the warm welcome to the whole home – rather than the closed off feeling it once had.
During the demolition, we uncovered an original archway – an arch! While it’s not the same shape as the arch on the second floor, it’s just as adorable. Unfortunately, the arch would make for a very narrow opening (the only downside to the nineteenth century design – well, that, and the f*@!ing lath), so we’d like to recreate it on a larger scale (going wider and taller), as an ode to the architecture.
THING THREE: THE PARTITIONS. Remember this crooked room partition on the second floor? During the last (cheaply done) renovation to the home, the first floor partition was blasted open without being properly supported. (The first floor partition, by the way, will also need to open completely to correct the issue.) Over time, this doorway – and the floor beneath it – drooped. To get to the root of the problem, we opened it up, and found…
… a brick chimney! My heart is set on keeping the chimney there (the pale brick is calling to me!), but after discussing options with contractors, there’s a slight chance that the chimney could also be pulling the floor down. (We actually discovered that the chimney was lopped off halfway down, and it’s currently being supported from the middle of the first floor, up. It’s not being supported at all from the basement – womp, womp.) Further digging from professionals will determine its fate, but fingers crossed it can stay – somehow.
So, what’s next? Now that we’ve spent several days demo-ing the drywall, lath and cracked plaster (with a few more nights of work on the agenda), we’ll be turning towards the professionals to correct the joists, properly move the studs and replace the drywall the right way. By demolishing most of the walls ourselves, we’ll be saving a big chunk of change (not to mention, learning a few things along the way), and while we’re still in talks with contractors, they’ve been supportive of our decision to take on some dirty work with these four hands. They’ve even gone so far as to point out other punch list items we can knock out – literally – to further line our pockets.
With our moving date right around the corner, we know we’ll be walking around contractors while the ends are properly tied up, but that’s okay. Our only concern is the unknown – what other issues might they find? What can we afford now, and what will need to be a “someday (soon!)” to-do?
What we do know is that we’re sort of in love with the sledgehammer. And reciprocating saw. And this challenge, you know, in general.
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