Well that’s almost over- Still here, just different digs

SOLDOkay, one thing down, some other stuff to go.

Despite plans to blow this pop stand, I’m still here. We’re still here. Our block is so awesome, we’re renting a couple of doors away and will stick around until something better comes around. The usual thing is to go looking for a house, buy it and then sell your house. Having 2 mortgages wasn’t particularly appealing prospect. We’ve got a pretty cool arrangement with our former neighbors/ landlords. Our block has great people on it. I hope our buyer/ new neighbor will be great too.

I look forward to the feeling of being able to just pick up and go.

Anyway, we’re still here to enjoy the restaurants, the Bloomingdale Farmers Market and all the wonderful things DC still has to offer, despite the Covid. I know where we’d like to relocate to and have become acutely aware of what we’d lose when we move. Off the top of my head, quick and cheap Uber rides. Followed by bars with good food. Followed by restaurants with good food. Followed by an embarrassment of grocery store choices in walking distance. Yes, everything revolves around food.

Now that that part will be over in about 30 days. I can get back to figuring out where I am with Church Surveys and Black Homeowners of Truxton Circle and other random bits of Truxton/Shaw history.

Renovation #4- A new addition

What was renovation #4? I just wanted to add an addition over the top of my 1 story kitchen. Apparently that was too much to ask for. We needed an architect because, despite the fact we were not changing the footprint of the house, we needed one to deal with the fact we were almost 2% over FAR. So it was an addition and new windows.

So this was 2014 and we were planning to adopt. We wanted a little bit more space for a little one. So we contacted our contractor and he put us in contact with an architect. In this project architects do more than draw pictures and plans. This one went to DCRA with me to talk to whomever I needed to talk to so we’d be approved to build on top of the kitchen. Which seemed stupid to me, still does. But apparently my back yard wasn’t big enough.

A few houses up the block had expanded back, knocking down their rickety old 1 story kitchens and building up. We sort of wanted to do the same, but we couldn’t build as wide because of the basement entry. I figured that gave us some wiggle room. Wrong.

As you may remember, renovation #1 was the kitchen. I had no intentions of changing that. But things happen when you’re renovating. I knew the alley facing wall was crap and bound to tumble into dust at any moment. That we planned on replacing. But when they were tearing down that wall, the wall facing the basement entry crumbled down too. Surprise! On the plus side, we gained 6 inches of length and width when the old brick walls were replaced by frame walls. yay.

Entrance before
Entrance under construction

Then there are things that fell under, “well since we’re doing this we may as well do this other thing.” That was the entrance to the kitchen from the main house. The entrance was wider at the top and getting things into the kitchen required lifting things up. While the walls were opened up, we figured, why not widen the entrance and even out the width. We also decided, why not new windows? And when the guys removed the plaster from the wall the were about to tear down to extend the bedroom, I saw the beautiful exposed brick and wanted to keep it. So I kept it. All that probably added $20K to the bill.

Speaking of the final bill, it was $65K, not counting the architect. If you add those services, along with other fees and costs, it was about $80K. No one seems to account for renovations and the costs of updating properties when looking at why housing in the neighborhood costs more than 5- 10-20 years ago. Sometimes, it is not the same house.

I’ve enjoyed my term as owner of the house. I think I did right by it by improving where I could. But due to limits there were some things I didn’t do. Typically those limits were financial. I never did any work with the idea of making up for it in the eventual sale of the house. It was all for my comfort and I hope that it will be comfortable for the next set of owners.

Renovation #3- Basement

I have a ton of photos of the basement renovation. About half of them are grainy and out of focus.

When I bought the house back in 2001, I had a finished basement. There was cheap Home Despot brown carpet there and the mechanicals of the ancient furnace and the hot water heater in a utility room. Then a few months later came the flood. Water flew from the exterior drain and breached the basement door. Water also seeped through the walls. I vaguely remember coming home to this and reviewing the damage with my insanely tall boyfriend. Insanely tall boyfriend did not want to bother with my problem, probably because the basement, was a short people basement.

The next day, or several days, I ripped out the carpet, and the baseboards and tossed them in the trash. And from 2001-2012, I had an UN-finished basement. Under the carpet and padding were cheap vinyl tiles and concrete. I used the space as a laundry area, untrustworthy storage, and an office. After renovation #2, I had ethernet cables and the wifi hub centered down there. And after this renovation the ethernet no longer worked and the phone signal was weak. Something got cut or damaged.

So for some reason, we decided to finish the basement, but with some improvements to deal with water. I didn’t trust the basement. So we got french drains. Later, after the renovation, I got a bigger sump pump pump. These helped deal with the water as we were the first basement. One winter, a neighbor up a few doors had a pipe burst while he was out of the country. Water rolled down and for days our sump pump kept going off. And off. And off. It had snowed or rained but I figured out it was a burst pipe and not water seeping through the ground. This last flood event, we fared pretty well. Just a tiny bit of water when others got flooded out.

So what changed from the finished basement of 2001 to the finished basement of 2012? Well, indoor/outdoor carpet for one. Secondly it was set up for storage. There is storage along the wall and we used it to store our seasonal clothing, tools, food, little used small kitchen appliances and craft items. This allowed us to keep the upper floors uncluttered. We also changed the layout and moved the sump pump. The laundry was moved from the center to the front of the house and the dryer could finally expel air and lint to the exterior.  Those interior boxes for dryers are okay in the short term, but not for the long term.

There were some things left undone with the basement renovation. I really wanted a window in the rear office. But we were running out of money. The renovation cost us over $40K. One of the unexpected costs was moving a gas pipe. There were some other things but I forget what they were.

Renovation #2- Unsexy and unseen

So the things you get to brag about when you have a big renovation are things you can point to and see. I did that. The cool things you can see are the exposed brick wall, the clawfoot tub, the updated bathrooms, and the improved layout. What you couldn’t see or wouldn’t notice were the more appropriate sized radiators, insulation, updated wiring and plumbing, and central air.

Prior to the 2007 renovation the radiators in some areas were above or right at the bottom of the window. This was noticeable when putting in the window AC units. The iron pipes that feed the 2nd floor radiators were behind unsightly (and dangerous) false walls on the first floor. The iron was replaced with copper and those pipes were neatly tucked behind the wall. Some of the old radiators were reused, and others were replaced with more appropriate sized radiators. All that cost money, but it was a small change that I felt made a world of difference.

Insulation is another thing you don’t see but made a world of difference. There was no insulation in the wall when they were opened up during the demolition. I got insulation in the exterior walls. I asked for insulation along the party wall that wasn’t exposed. And I even put some insulation between the 1st and 2nd floors. Later this and the improvements with the radiators helped keep the house toasty warm, especially the master bedroom.

The Spacepak system I put in actually came in 2008. As I mentioned in the previous post, I ran out of money. So the AC was tabled until the next year when I saved up enough for it. The vents had already been installed, I just needed the mechanical parts. I chose this system because I didn’t like the boxy look that came with most AC systems.

There were some other updates and things not in the house. The Ethernet wired system was messed up with renovation #3. I’m not sure what happened but something in the basement was cut or damaged. Wi-fi kind of made the system unnecessary. The 1st floor bathroom is larger than need be because I was going to put a shower in it. That never happened. There are pipes to feed water to a shower in the wall, but not a drain. We wound up just using the space as a pantry area. The new layout made the rear bedroom cramped. That was corrected in renovation #4. But in changing the layout it lost a closet. A closet was planned for renovation #4 but I wanted flexibility and figured a wardrobe would work just as well, so it never got its closet back.

Renovation #2- Down to the Bricks, part 1

Renovation #2 is the renovation I am most proud of. It is the renovation where I went down to the bricks and the joists. I replaced the floors, changed up some of the radiators, and completely changed the floorplan. Since it was such a big project, I’m dividing this into a couple of posts.

Let’s start with the permits. I was able to get the permit myself, with my own drawings. The poor Sikh gentleman at DCRA was patient with me, pointed out things I needed to correct and I think he really wished I had used an architect. But I sort of did. Ira, my architect neighbor, had given me a book on how to draw up plans and advice. This was 2007 so no Google Sketch-up, I hand drew the plans. So I got permit, and it cost me $1000. Just for the permit. All the permits are up on SCOUT, so anyone can look at them.

Then there was the money. I vaguely remember budgeting $87K for the project. It wound up costing around $100K. I had a sweet loan with Countrywide where the 30 year loan had a very low interest rate for the time because of the DC Housing Finance office. But for this project I refinanced with a bank and wound up with a higher rate. My mortgage went from $600 a month to over a thousand. It was worth it. I may explore in another post why I can dare to try  to sell a house I bought for $108K for $750K.

With any large project like this there were unfortunate discoveries made when all was demolished away. One scary thing were joists that at some point in the past had been hacked away to make room for plumbing. Or joists rotted from leaks in the bathroom. I had told our Realtor we didn’t mess with the joists, but looking back at construction photos, those were replaced. Another scary thing was the big hole in the load bearing wall, hidden by a false wall. Anyway, I fixed, or had things fixed and made decisions that made the costs creep up.

People would say old houses had good bones. Because of unhappy discoveries the contractor found hidden behind the walls and ceilings, that saying I found to be an annoying lie. You don’t know until you go down to the bricks and joists. The bones are now fine.

Renovation #1- Kitchen

I’m taking a look back at the renovations 1618 4th St NW has had over the years since it is up for sale and on the market. I bought the house in 2001 and the kitchen was not working for me. It had a foot of counter space and the corner was taken up by one of those little stacked washer dryer units.Kitchen01Yes, 1 foot. You see that little bit of space near the sink? That was all the counter space I had. I couldn’t put a little table between it and the stove if I ever wanted to open the under counter drawer and cabinet.

Through swing dance friends I met my contractor, David. David was the GC for all the renovations going forward. I had talked to his references and they all liked him, he was communicative but artistic. Artistic is a problem when you want to keep costs down.

I documented my renovation with several LiveJournal blog posts, which I can’t find. But I still have the Flickr pictures. And I could find only one InShaw blog post mentioning the kitchen renovation.

It seems almost pointless to really mention the kitchen renovation because so much was undone by a later renovation. Renovation #4 for some reason killed the heated floor. Man I loved that floor. Reno #4 also changed the layout, the entry, the insulation and the ceiling height. The microwave had to be replaced in Renovation #2. The stove got replaced when David said he was taking one out of another kitchen renovation. The Bosch dishwasher was a renovation #3 or #4 thing. New ceiling lights were also from reno #4. The cabinets, the Corian countertops (more forgiving than granite) and sink and the most of the tiles on the floor remain.

An old bill says this kitchen redo in 2003 cost a little under $8000. I vaguely remember taking out a second loan to cover the cost, and something tells me it was more than $8K, as I had bought the tile and the lights and a few other things. It may have been around $14K with everything involved with add ons and what not.

When I finished my bright shiny I turned around and looked at the rest of my house. And that had me planning for the big renovation #2.



Buy This House: The basement held up okay

I’m reminded of the flood of August 2001. I had just bought my house a few months before and my finished basement was a land of wet carpet and soggy walls. I pulled the carpet out, commiserated with my new neighbors, who had worse damage, and happily took cleaning supplies from the Red Cross.

This afternoon, while at the hairdresser, I got the blaring flood warning on my phone. I ignored it. Got a text from my landlord*, told myself I’d get to it later. Ignored voicemails from my husband. And then a neighbor came to the shop to tell me to contact my spouse because the unit below us flooded.

Like 2001, the units with basement bathrooms had water coming up through the pipes and water flooding in from the outside. I highly suspect the drains near the basement door sent water inside the units.

Our basement, did okay.

We got some dampness along the wall, thankfully. We are the first basement in the row and so ours is the first house water hits. Thankfully, the drain outside the basement door held and did not blow off due to water pressure shooting out of it like in 2001. The drain is the black dot in the photo. I should note, water from the gutter shot off the drain attachment.

I don’t want to brag because that’s just asking for the Fates to teach humility, but we’ve done several things to prevent a flooded basement like 2001. When we had the basement renovated we put in three French drains. Those catch the water coming up and divert it to the sump pump. On the advice from a neighbor we bumped up the horsepower of the sump pump. That has helped. Now the only problem is when we lose power. Without power the basement is up poop creek. Another big help is that we don’t have a basement bathroom. Water would have to come up 4+ feet through the washer drain for us to get something. We don’t have a laundry sink, so the washer is the only plumbing down there.

So the basement is just one example of where we put in all the unsexy but practical investments in the house. You won’t see the drains, or notice the sump pump, and the dehumidifier comes with the house. Upstairs there is unseen insulation and all the pipes and wires are all 21st Century. Unsexy and unseen.

Buy this house it’s worth it. Oh, and be awesome. The current residents are awesome and great and we need someone awesome to replace us.

*While our house is on the market we are renting.

Buy this house: The InShaw house going on the market this week

Photo on the day I bought 1618 in 2001.

It’s been a 19 year adventure but now it’s time to start a new chapter. I will leave to the new owner a dehumidifier, all the Ikea window treatments (maybe a 202 land line), and an awesome block in a great neighborhood if they can keep it up. I took this circa 1874 house from a semi-neglected pile of bricks to a well renovated, updated, much loved home.

I’m curious about how our Realtor will sum up the house in a paragraph. The house has been through 4 renovations, this latest $11K update (a list of minor things, painting, and fixing things that didn’t bother us) and a few major repairs and updates we’ve made over the past 2 years. All those renovations, were done with my comfort and happiness in mind, not to make a buck. I’ve gutted this thing down to the joists and brick and had it rebuilt with updated plumbing, wiring, and insulation. Only a few other houses on this block can boast the same thing. I’ll probably do a separate series of posts just recapping those updates.

Red ornament with snow on tree

It’s the people who make a neighborhood, the housing, the structures just do the sheltering. This block has some great neighbors and I know I’m bragging when I say we will be missed. Hopefully, the new people will pitch in for the annual decorating of the trees for Christmas, shoving the sidewalks with neighbors after a big snow, or help Brian keep the street and sidewalks clean. That’s what we did. And the only way to keep the block awesome is for the people who live here to be awesome. The 1600 block of 4th St has it’s own email list, with none of the crazy of Nextdoor. See Brian’s wife or the guy with the Dalmatian to join.

When I moved here nearly 2 decades ago the main things this place had going for it was being in walking distance to the Ghetto Giant and the Shaw metro. Now the Giant is a bit more gentrified, you can still walk to the metro and despite the pandemic there are a bunch of places to walk to that are open and operating. Today, I ran errands with Destructo-kid. We went to the post office to drop some mail in the box at NJ and FL Avenues. Then walked over to the UPS store on 7th to turn in the router for the FIOS (yes, the house is set up for FIOS). After that we walked over to Nicecream but the person had stepped away so we went to a small playground. Then we returned to Nicecream and had a melty cup of carbs at the corner of 8th and Florida. After that we ran into friends from Immaculate at Union Kitchen on 8th. A couple of days ago I went to the Bloomingdale Farmers Market and picked up some Dan Dan noodles (oh, so good) and later the Help got groceries from the new Whole Foods on Florida Avenue.

After a 2-3 week delay the contractors finally finished painting and fixing and replacing stuff. The cleaner has come in and worked a miracle cleaning the kitchen sink (something we really didn’t care about living here). And now that every vestige of our personality has been stripped from the premises, the stager has staged the house, and that place sure as heck doesn’t look like we ever lived there. Maybe Thursday or Friday the house will show up on the MLS and we’ll see what the world thinks it’s really worth.

So you may be wondering will I be keeping up the InShaw blog after this? Yes, but not as a resident. As far as I know I’m the world’s expert on Truxton Circle history, so there’s that. I’ll be keeping up this and at some point in the future updating TruxtonCircle.org.