Catching up...the quick version

Category: House History

Catching you up on the story:

June 2001: J & A do this neat, crazy thing called "getting married." Boy moves into girl's condo and they begin their first married year.

In same year: Assessment and taxes rise through the roof, girl starts own business and takes 4-5 assignments to pay her share of the bills, boy plugs away at his job with a nice private company going public, both are aghast when a special assessment is levied on condo residents. And old lovely dog can't make it up three flights of steps any longer.

Starbucks opens two and a half blocks away. Neighborhood becomes officially "gentrified" and girl is no longer talking to little kids next door when they come home from school. Because the real estate market is "hot", no one (especially average family with kids) can afford to live there anymore. Instead, the only people out during the day are dogwalkers. Sad commentary on state of the community in contemporary Western civilization.

On to September 2002 , when J & A begin to compile research on their target neighborhoods in Chicago. Housing prices might be a stretch but it is still affordable. They begin to track home prices, specific streets, local schools, and distances between home, work and friends. Work on coming to a consensus about financial priorities for home ownership and timeline.

They decide that A is level-headed & logical. Decide J is research-obsessed (she prefers "determined"), big picture, logical with emotional cusp (a very large, dramatic emotional cusp). But prices make a big jump in their desired market. Sales on houses close fast and often bidders compete. J doesn't like to compete because it is so stressful. She suggests they out-think the competition by pursuing the sale of their condo first, then shop for a new house and rent if have to in a soft rental market.

With this strategy, they will know what money they'll have in hand for a down payment, rid themselves of the contigencies that make them less attractive to sellers, and not feel rushed to buy what they hope will be their next home for 20-plus years. So much research. So many conversations! So much stress. What to do?

Go trek and train it with backpacks through SW to NE to China after visiting with dear, dear friends in Hong Kong. Complete escapism. Living on the edge with chopsticks. The coward's way :) (But man! It was incredible...)

In December 2002 and January 2003, they are back from China and pursuing things with a passion. They line up a realtor, lender, real estate attorney. There is a big push to "finish" sprucing up the condo in two weekends to show to potential buyers. They are considering their first serious offer within 36 hours of realtor's open house and they are in shock. "Where will we go? Was it supposed to happen so fast?"

But it did. And they had 60 days to pack up and move out.

February 2003: They see their future bungalow home for the first time AND discover the forums at American Bungalow Magazine as well as the Chicago Bungalow website. They visit other bungalows in the neighborhood because THIS specific bungalow needs too much work. But Aaron doesn't "fit" in other bungalows...ceilings are too short for his 6'7" frame. So, it's back to the first bungalow which needs a LOT of work.

Long story short here about the house:

--For sale by owner who had emotionally valued the house more than realistic value.
--Sad, neglected, muddled bungalow that had not been maintained. There is some hope that it could be restored some day.
--Best neighborhood location they could think of.
--Really, um, frustrating exchanges with the current owner.

Negotiations got the price down by quite a bit. Then J & A brought in three inspectors and were given a bit more of a price break and payment back after the sale. Estimated costs at this point for restoration....well...a whole, whole lot. So much that that the total cost is really a ballpark figure.

But they tried to make sure that, in the worse case scenario, the cost of restoration wouldn't exceed the difference between potential market value (based on size and square footage) and current price. They would just need to invest a lot of "sweat equity" (which is shorthand for blood, sweat AND tears.) That was one of the deal breakers.

The deal strained...but did not break.

They closed on the house and rented it back to the previous owner for one month at the cost of utilities only. She had already moved into her new condo. However, seventy years of family items were still in residence...J & A felt sympathy, what a big job sorting through those things! They were assured that everything would be taken care of by an estate sale that the previous owner would have. And, oh, since they were the new landlords, would they mind cutting the lawn? It was getting rather messy. They received the old lawn mower formally at closing. The first surprise :)

On the day of possession, only one half to two-thirds of the belongings were out of the house. And house was filthy. Not just dirty. Owner insisted that it WAS broom clean AND she WAS allowed by state law to abandon anything on the premises that she'd like to because she was now officially a renter. J tried to reason with her...there was no phone from which to call the lawyer and the previous owner already had the house phone turned off. J asked for keys and early possession (3 days) that was offered in letter that the previous owner gave to them the night before. At that point J just wanted a home without arguments or more emotionally-charged negotation.

Here's the post J sent to the Bungalow board later that day (she had used a different name on the boards to conceal her identity during negotation for the new house):

So, to catch folks up, we bought a bungalow and then rented back to the PO so that she could clean out 70 years of family stuff...she had already bought a condo. She is quite young (her late 50's or very early 60's) but her grandparents had bought the house and in the 1930's and handed it down.

She agreed to leave the stained glass windows behind which she had originally stripped out of the house. The house is a 15 year project, at the very least.

We realized at the walk-through before possession, she was only two-thirds moved out. (This place was PACKED with trash when we bought it. We couldn't even see if there were electrical outlets.) Long, horrendous story short...the stuff wasn't moving but she was moving on. While we just looked pained by it all, she swore we could get money for the things she was abandoning. We didn't care much...we just wanted to be in the house finally!

Tonight, I walked over with the dog, took a look around and almost cried. Every room in that house is full...books, knick-knacks, old appliances, linens, and just trash. I wandered around...bags of rocks (her dad was an amateur geologist), rusty metal, blue and white delftware from Holland, a number of ugly hooked rug hangings from the 70's, a plastic Mr. Peanut bank, a box of ancient yucky/musty blankets, a suitcase full of belt buckles from the 40's-50's, and something called a "mangle" (vintage steam press). It goes on and on ad infinitum.

What on earth!?!

My husband and mother-in-law came over. It became funnier and also more overwhelming as we walked around together, "Look! A box of palm fans!", "Steer horns mounted on a plaque!", "Hey! An enormous box of copper wire!"

What does one DO in these circumstances? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? Because we do not fit in here with this stuff still in the house. We'll have to leave our things in storage.

Or should we rent a dumpster and just delay the move in while we haul it all out?


"Why do I now own a filmstrip projector when I just wanted a house?"

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What happened to da 'mangle'? Both my Mom and Grandmom had
mangles. I now want one to press my bike jersies and shorts.

Lived in Chi for 2 years in the 60's, loved it from Michigan
as youth and lad before that. Enjoying your saga very much.

Any guide to what was hinted at somewhere about the terrible
fate of the machine would still be appreciated.

If you ever visit the UK be sure to take yourself to the Pitt-Rivers museum in Oxford. It is full of the booty from overseas travel of long ago. Your house contents seems like it could be a later domestic & more eclectic version! Check it out at

Good luck with your venture!

Great story! You may be able to "barter" some of your "found treasures" with semi-pros to get some of your renovating done very reasonably.
An old house is never "done"--but the process is very satisfying. Much success in your venture.


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