Thursday, June 28, 2007

An Unusual Morning

We had a rather rough beginning to our morning at This Old Chicago 2 Flat. (though I think Glenn was more amused then anything else). I started my day like I usually do, open the blinds and look out into our front yard. Usually, this is a great way to start the day-to look at happy flowers, pleasing hostas, and the occasional construction vehicle...Ahh..

But Ahh promptly turned to AARGH! and a vision of me quickly changing from pajamas into suitable outdoor clothing. (we are in the middle of the city, so there's quite a large chance that someone would see me in my pajamas if I stormed outside). The quick change was promptly followed by my quickly running around to get my camera (I try to be a good blogger), and our "varmit spray."

You see, this is what I spotted:

A close-up:

I'm sure for many of you, you are thinking, cute, a baby bunny. yes, it is cute-as long as it is on the other side of the fence.

I don't want it eating our newly planted japanese maple, or any of the plants that I like to look at first thing in the morning. Of added concern is locating and discouraging the marigold beheader. You see, that's something else that's been going on. I'm not talking about deadheading (removing spent blooms), but the really odd taking off a marigold bloom that is thriving then leaving it next to the plant. I would never do this, nor would Glenn-so who is? The bunny is the most logical critter to point a finger at. If it were a passerby-wouldn't he/she take the flowers with him/her?

Anyway, armed and ready, I ran down the stairs and out the front door to encounter the young bunny. For a moment I was at a loss, couldn't see the bunny, and when I did, it was eating something I didn't mind it eating. So, instead I stood guard a few feet from the bunny, and the bunny popped right back through the fence. Whew.
I then promptly sprayed around the japanese maple in hopes of scaring it from coming back.

Of a larger concern is whether the more frequent bunny sightings signal a much larger problem. In the city, we don't have the foxes or coyotes that the suburbs do that might keep the bunny population to a bearable minimal. We have cars, but I don't usually see bunnies hanging out in the middle of the road. There's also more concrete and asphalt and buildings then green space.

I really didn't think I'd need to deal with wildlife unless we were living in the suburbs.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007


We finally got to investigating the mysterious wall problem, after the wall problem got worse. (I noticed flaking paint in our laundry basket). There were a number of possibilities tossed out there-maybe our chimney needed a liner, or maybe the high efficiency boilers have prompted problems.(I'm still upset about those boilers because they have not lowered our heating costs and have instead increased our operating costs. Great recommendation American Vintage!).

Well, today we had our roofer come in to make sure there wasn't a leak. He called us at 6 a.m. about stopping by, again at 6:45, then I called him back at 7:30 to find he was in our neighborhood. I don't know if I've ever gotten dressed so quickly!

Glenn was home, so all three of us trapsed up to roof to find our chimney cover cracked and some disintegrating brick. (actually, a pile of a single brick on the ground). It was clearly a problem with the parapet walls and the installer not using okay brick.

So now, we need to figure out what we should do. The roofer said we can just cap off the chimney and put a covering over the bricks to prevent them from decaying, caulking cracks etc. I can call the parapet wall contractor and get them to come fix their work(but do I want them to "fix" their work?) The lawyer in me is thinking of the cause of action. I can call our trusty mason (who was too busy to rebuild the parapets in the first place). Another option is a fancy mason who we saw at a historical building conference in Chicago. Regardless, I want the problem fixed, and not a bandaid.

After we repair the parapet wall situation, we then will have to do massive work in the bedroom-taking down bad plaster, drywalling around a chimney, painting, etc. We are supposed to move forward on the rehab. Sure we might have maintenance issues (mowing the lawn etc.) but we are supposed to shut the door on certain projects when they were done. (like plaster repair!) I think those are the "issues" that frustrate me the most with an older home restoration. The problem solving skills you need to figure out molding an unsquare wall is a challenge, the fact that projects take longer because of little issues that pop up, or doing it the "right way" which takes MUCH longer-I can handle.

Redoing contractor work, or retracing our steps---AARGH!!!!

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Monday, June 25, 2007

We have tenants...sort of

I know I left you all in suspense when I posted about receiving an application and beginning my review of it. In short, we have approved two tenants, but it was a pretty difficult process.

Once I received both applications, I was all set to review them by (1) ordering credit reports (2) verifying information on the applications (3) figuring out what actual income was and (4) calling references. When I went to order the credit reports, I hit my first brick wall. Apparently, beginning January 1, 2007, if you order credit reports, you must have a site visit to verify that you keep personal information secure. I imagine the goals of such legislation (to prevent identity theft I imagine) are definitely worthwhile, but for the landlord with one property, such as yours truly, this puts a delay into application review. They do have tenant search firms that will pull the credit report for you but not show it to you. You just say a certain category of credit scores, and they will tell you if those apply.

While I was working on the credit report issue, we had an issue with both our Internet and our phone lines. They both decided to quit. I had to assess the situation-whether it was a AT&T issue or a This Old Chicago 2 Flat issue. AT&T then gives me 8 hours that they will fix it. 8 hours?!? I'm too reliant on the Internet-that's where I do my research. Then, no phone line made it hard to just call references, send faxes and the like. My big gold star for the day came when I came up with a way to send a fax via e-mail using my treo. (that big use of all the technology at hand-including password protecting the documents, was what allowed us to proceed with the credit report analysis).

With all that, we finally accepted the applications, sent out the lease and disclosures, and are now waiting for the security deposit and signature from one of the tenants. Generally, I'll feel much better once we have signed leases and the security deposit in our posession.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Cicada Mystery

There are many areas of the chicago area getting inundated by cicadas. From what I hear, it really can be quite a mess. My Inlaw's have a bunch at their place. For those not around Chicago, 2007 is a year that the 17 year cicada cycle happens. Cicadas come out from under the ground, and over the course of the month of June, make a whole bunch of noise, mate, put their eggs into tree roots, and die. Glenn and I have visited the suburbs and passed through areas where the sound of the cicadas can be deafening. They come out in such numbers because they are slow and are bound to be taken out by predators. (from what I hear, birds, wildlife, dogs, everything imaginable enjoys the cicada delicacy). When they emerge, they also leave their shell, so it's a mess.

So what's the mystery? Down here in This Old Chicago 2 Flat's neck of the woods we have seemingly escaped. No hoards coming up from the ground, no mind numbing noise, nothing. But, 2 days ago, we found a dead one on our porch. Just now, I found a dead one on my plant. You think if there's a dead one around, there must have been an alive one, right? My best guess is that something (like a bird)carried it to our neck of the woods, ate the body, then deposited the carcas. Or, decided that they had their fill of cicadas and would just let it be.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Application Review

We now have a completed rental application, which I'm reviewing. All and all my gut says "approve," but I have to dot my i's cross my t's, which I'll do tomorrow. This is one of the parts I don't like-not doing overkill, but making sure that even if my instincts are wrong, we have the best outcome. We will, of course, run credit checks, which help.

For the best prospects, there's not really a rental history to evaluate. (ie. landlords that I can call up and ask how they were as tenants).

This all should be finalized by Wednesday.


Garden Progress

We've started on one of my "summer 2007 to-dos") (which actually was a summer 2006 to-do, but this time around, it is getting done.). Our front yard has been a sort of jekyl and hyde-one side, lush, flowers, welcoming. The other side, a mismatch of plants, or nothing but a welcome mat for weeds.

The reason why nothing was done was because Glenn and I couldn't decide on what to do. (a typical occurence with couples). I had my ideas-Glenn had his ideas, and we needed to find some common ground.

Here's an overview of what this portion of the yard has gone through:

This year-success! We got a great deal on this Japanese Maple, and planted it Saturday.
We also switched out our old mulch for cocoa bean shell mulch. I like the dark brown color as a background to the plants. Of course, the bonus is the nice chocolate smell we get, particulary after a little rain.

Apparently, the smell attracts some critters. We kept the mulch bags out a few nights until we could change the old stuff out. The first morning one of the bags was sporting a big hole. I think some nightcritter wanted a little nibble.

Next up, some boxwoods. There's room for more plants, but we need to still figure that out. (any plantings will be going on top of a big bulb garden in the spring)

For good measure, here's the latest garden photos, taken from our front porch:

And our containers:

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Rental Rollercoaster

This weekend created a lot of rental intrigue, with many clamoring for our place. Saturday, we had 2 scheduled showings, one at 1:30, and one at 2. (I did let the 2 o'clock one know about the 1:30 scheduling).

Glenn and I started the day in our garden doing a few projects. (that will come in another post). We are both in our work clothes, getting rather grimy in the process, when three women stop by around 11 a.m. They explain that they are the 1:30, and might they just take a look now.

So, despite my grimy self, I showed them around. They all fell in love with our place. They wanted the rental term to begin August 1, but said they'd take it July 1 if that meant they can have it. (music to a landlord's ears). I was pretty sure they'd put in an application, but we've heard similar wonderful things and we never got an application turned in.

I head out back to the garden, accomplishing a whole bunch (along with Glenn). I head inside at 1:45 p.m. and have a message from the woman who stopped by before, and she wanted to drop off the application! As she's handing the application in, it starts to rain and I invite them inside.

As they are looking around, the doorbell rings, and it's the 2 p.m. appointment! I explain we just got an application, and show the 2 p.m. around. (all and all, very awkward with the applicant standing there!) A pretty productive Saturday all around.

Today, the rental clamoring continued. We hosted Father's Day, with Glenn's parents, sister, brother in law, niece and nephews. At some point, my nephew tossed a frisbee by accident over the fence into our neighbor's yard. I head out to ask the neighbors for the frisbee, and a couple come up to me, very excited that our place is up for rent. (the sign is in the window)I explain that we have this application, but let them see the apartment. (did I mention that I was in the middle of hosting dinner for 9?). I do a cursory showing, and they really want the place. They have been looking to move for a while, and haven't found anything. They ask for an application.

Then, we are sitting down for dessert, and the phone rings. Another apartment inquiry. Phew. I'm thinking I might need to take down that sign.

We are still missing for some information on the application we received, so it's not a done deal. It's nice to feel like our apartment is a hot commodity, as we think it's a pretty special place ourselves. Fingers crossed that the application review goes well, and we have dream tenants...


Monday, June 11, 2007

The Jungle of Chicago (not the Upton Sinclair variety)

Each year, my relationship with our garden makes it seem like I haven't stepped in the garden the past few years. And no, I'm not talking about massive weeds, though that's a consistent issue. I'm talking about the weird bugs and not so weird animals that try to make our yard home.

Just a little background- We live in Chicago proper, the 3rd largest city in the United States. It's quiet here, and we all have standard Chicago lots (25X125). There's green space, but this is not the suburbs.
2003- Year 1: Our place actually looks like a jungle. We cut down 4 feet of growth in the front and back yards. We till, weed like you would not believe, and ultimately planted some holly, hostas, ivy, and bulbs. All is quiet in the garden.
2004 - Year 2- I have the upper hand on weeding. There are plenty of ants everywhere. Nothing too serious.
2005- Year 3- Mushrooms start popping up. Really odd, and irritating, in full sun. Plenty of Ants still.
2006- In addition to ants, I see pillbugs, slugs, and grubs for the first time. Of course, the mushrooms still go at it. I see a couple lady bugs. Oh, and some type of black beetle with red stripes.
2007- Now, apparently the word is completely out that our yard is the hip happening place to be. We had a bunny incident, have the birds and squirrels.
On a more pleasing note, we have seen cardinals and monk parakeets. The worst thing, is that I have never in my life seen such bugs. Then of course, the pill bugs, ants, and butterflies. (oh, a lightening bug made an appearance over the weekend).

Planting, I've uncovered a few ant colonies. Oh, that was fun.

Now, this weekend, i've seen (1) a smallish red bug. 1/4 inch to 1/3 inch long. It had a pear shaped bottom body, some legs, and a small top body part-with a black tip). the bug is 98% redish orange. It also has long antennas. It was hanging out by the concrete under mulch. (2) Tiny lime green things that look like grasshopper. Really tiny though-maybe 1/4 inch. and (3) a spider with a red body and a clear top. I have not been able to find any of these things in any insect guide.

After I spotted all the red bugs, I decide to go rest on our bench. I feel something crawl on me, look down, and there's an inch long oblong clear/white thing. I acted instinctively, swatted it, and it fell into my hostas. I couldn't find it when I looked to get a better look at it.

I'm sorry, but I have no photos. Typically when I encounter these things, I'm gardening (dirt, water, etc.) which is not conducive for photo ops. And of course, bugs move quickly and are gone when I return. No cicadas here either-which are fine by me.

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Ongoing Rental Quest

Well, we still are in search of tenants. Not just any tenants. (that I think would be relatively easy.) Being picky takes a bit more time. We've had plenty of interest. Just on craigslist, we've shown the apartment to 5-6 different groups, and had phone calls with a few others. I have 2 calls I need to return. I'll put a sign up today. (I've been holding off because then the phone really does ring off the hook).

There's a lot of stuff on the market nearby us now which is part of the challenge. I've been religiously following the ads to see how we compare. Some we are priced higher than, some lower, which makes me feel that we are about right. Pricing is not arbitrary. One interested party in a phone conversation loved our apartment and wanted to see if we would lower the rent a little. I said that I thought we were priced fairly, and he agreed.

I think another part of the problem is our rather unique layout. There's one room that's clearly a bedroom, and we have 2 others that can be bedrooms. The room slated for the living room has 5 doorways in it, a radiator, and windows, which makes it challenging to set up.


Monday, June 04, 2007

The Rental Saga

Our place still isn't rented yet which is a little disconcerting. We have shown the apartment to 4 different groups. Every single one of them requested an application, including one that indicated they would definitely send one in. But, we haven't received anything yet. I think we'll put a sign in the window this week.

Two groups said no- one had 2 kids and chose another place. (and called us to let us know,which was very nice.). The second, our top choice (an engaged couple where one works, and the other will be a resident), declined to rent because (1) we didn't offer a parking space and (2) he cited rents in the area that were $150 month less than what we are asking.

I sent him an e-mail asking for more information, as I have not seen comparable properties for that much less. We have priced it a little higher then some, but there are apartments higher in the area as well. I saw some rentals that were in a more questionable area for less, but I don't think those are comparable.

In the end, I think the lack of parking space was the issue that really prevented that applicant from considering our apartment more seriously. We'd be willing to compromise a little on the price for the right tenant. (not $150/month worth though-as everything I've seen is much closer to our asking).

Parking isn't a problem on the street. Most people who actually have garages seem to park on the street as it is plentiful. We have a number of elderly and people without cars. If we had a working garage door (that didn't need to be slid open) and electricity in the garage, most likely Glenn would use the garage.) In the winter, the alleys aren't plowed, so with a big snowstorm, it is even harder to get around if the car is in the garage.

Yesterday we showed the apartment to two incoming medical students and their parents. Our unit is best for a couple due to lack of comparison in the bedrooms, but they did seem fairly interested. (and took applications)

I fielded an inquiry for a gentleman who wanted a place for him and his wife. near the end of the call (after I was selling the room under our bedroom as a bedroom) he mentioned that they will have their first child in September. Definitely not something we would like right under our bedroom. I left a bed in that room and have been positioning it for non noisy activities in hopes that will improve the living situation.

On the positive, we seem to be attracting good people. Now, I just need to expand the marketing plan.


Our House's Cousin

Saturday, we went to an open house in our neighborhood and got to see sort of what our house used to look like. It had the same staircase and the same fireplace that our house does. The house had been in the same family for at least 80 years also.

Some of the difference in histories:

1. Additions. Our house was originally a single family home. But, between the wars, the former owners of our house added on an addition. (currently houses the kitchen and back bedroom for both units). After the addition, both units at some point were rented out. (I think in the 50s). Because of this, there was a kitchen and bath on both floors. In the other house, it stayed a single family home. It was great to sort of see the original floorplan.
2. Staircase. When the upstairs of our house was converted to a two flat, the banister which curved around stopped at a new wall. We found in our basement a number of spindles that were removed in this process. We knew this is what happened, but it was really neat in the other house to see perhaps what the floor plan may have been initially including the full staircase. (in the other house, the staircase was covered in carpet and a whole bunch of paint)
3. Marble fireplace. Our fireplace was bricked in and painted a whole range of colors-orange, black, white. Some of the paint peeled and I noticed that it was marble. I've spent many hours stripping it, and I think it looks a lot better. Why someone would paint it, I have no idea. The house we visited took it one step further. Instead of paint, they decided to put many many layers of something on it, ultimately having a light brown varnish color. (a treatment that under normal circumstances I hate as it looks really fake and not like wood) The paint treatment included the iron grate. (actually, I didn't see the actual grate, it was more the grate surround. I forgot to ask if they had the grate. The fireplace supposedly still works, but was boarded up at some time.
4. Access to the basement. In our place, in the front hall, there's a door leading to the basement. There's no stair landing, which is inconvenient, hazardous, etc. Eventually we might see about how we could make this better, but it is not on the priority list. In the house we visited, they removed access inside to the basement except through a cubby hole, instead putting a 1/2 bath where the doorway to the basement would have been.
5. Bedrooms. The single family home had many bedrooms though access to some of the bedrooms was through another bedroom. they also had ample closet space. (obviously had to have been something they tweaked with over the years as older homes are known for small bedrooms and little closet space).
6. Bathroom. Our bathroom on the second floor (our unit) has a skylight and is located in the same location as the single family home bathroom. The tub, toilet, and vanity are situated the same way as when we bought the place. The tub has been updated though. (ours was originally a claw foot).
7. Radiators. Nope -our cousin house had ripped them out. Central AC and heat. Can't say I mind the AC, but the radiators, though annoying with the floorspace they take up have more charm. (particularly the highly decorative ones like several of ours are).

All and all the visit was really interesting. I'm glad we were able to go in. The problem is, when you make a visit like that, you are almost compelled to start work. I really wanted to head over to that fireplace and bring it back to its original glory, strip the staircase, strip the woodwork, take down some walls, improve the floorplan upstairs, create an interior entrance to the basement...the list goes on and on. But, it's not my house-just its cousin.

They sit next to a vacant lot, so one worry is that someone will just try to buy both lots, raze the house on the market, and build a McMansion.

Oh, and another interesting thing we found out was that the vacant lot in question used to have a trucking company, then a werehouse that was torn down. The owner apparently is off in Bermuda and happy to pay the fines and fees for the city cutting the growth every so often.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Mass Showing Success (sort-of)

Yesterday, we showed the apartment to 3 interested prospective tenants. Each one took an application and it seemed like everyone was quiet. One tenant actually was asking about us! (ie. how noisy are we?) I think overall that's a good sign. That individual also fully understand our issues with the last tenants for 2 a.m. movie watching.

But, now we have to see if someone submits an application. (which I hope was not too long and cumbersome). All the tenants are looking for different move-in dates-the sooner the better, 8/1, but 7/1 is fine, and 7/15. One has a couple places to look at this weekend, but will make a decision by Sunday. One, I'm positive will submit an application, another is done with the apartment hunt (ours was the last) but there's another front runner and the applicant needs to figure out which one to apply to. I'm really hoping that I get all the applications at once

Here's the breakdown:

Tenant option 1- A woman looking for her parents who are emigrating. There would need to be a guarantor, and we most likely wouldn't meet the actual tenants until they move in. But, the renters wouldn't be college kids so probably would be fairly quiet. (we'd need to delve into that more)

Tenant option 2- A mom with 2 kids who's a student. Overall, they seemed pretty quiet. She's moving because of the noisy building she's living in and having to walk up several flights of stairs. This one showed up late for the appointment.

Tenant option 3- An engaged couple where one works and the other will be a resident.

I also got an e-mail yesterday from someone else who is interested, so I'm probably going to schedule another viewing. It's another engaged couple, and they are both grad students.

I'm going to repost the ad "just in case."