On The Market: Historic Mail-Order Homes

What a surprise that the DC real estate market is suddenly flooded with those well-kept Sears bungalows (or Aladdin colonials, for that matter)! There were few of them available when I prepared for my last talk about historic kit houses.  Some of these specimen actually have such interesting or exquisite details that we might come back to them later, but here’s a current lineup I’ve scouted out:

Aladdin Brentwood DC Bannier

1912 Aladdin “Brentwood” in Cleveland Park

A rather unusual 1912 Aladdin “Brentwood” in Cleveland Park is for sale for $1,879,000  We featured it before the rather unexciting and somewhat inconsistent flip renovation (take a look at Marcie’s awesome time capsule slideshow of Brentwood before renovation!), and I’m just glad that historic preservation requirements at least made sure that the integrity of the facade was maintained. (Current MLS photos).

Sears kit house DC Bannier

1927 Sears “Fullerton” in Chevy Chase, DC

Bannier Kit House IMG_4333

1925 Sears “Walton” in Chevy Chase DC

Bannier-DC-kit house-IMG_1808 (2)

1930 Sears “Westly” in Chevy Chase, DC

Sears kit houses in DC b. 1924

1924 Sears “Puritan” in Shepherd Park

In Chevy Chase, DC, there are two fabulous Sears houses on the market right now, both cherished, lovingly kept and sensitively updated. The first one is a 1925  Sears “Walton” for $849,000  (MLS pictures here). It’s got the original pedestal bathtub as well as lots of charming original built-ins that look like straight out of the 1925 Sears catalog. In the unfinished basement, the first owners have preserved parts of what might have been an original shipping crate, sent to some “Col. A. J. Mc[…]” who presumably was the first owner of the house.

The second one–just a couple of blocks away– is an equally fab 1927 Sears “Fullerton” for $899,000– a bit of a bargain for the neighborhood, but it might get more than one offer in the end. (MLS virtual tour here) It was unusual not only to find that the owners (or realtors) in both cases were aware and proud of their kit house, but that they even used catalog images and references in their marketing. Then again, we’re talking about Chevy Chase here, certainly one of the more historically aware parts of town.

Also around the corner, and also once beloved but perhaps not quite as lucky is a 1930 Sears “Westly” that’s offered for $835,000. It’s in need of rescue from a multi-year gutting and restoration effort that apparently came to a halt at some point. Not all is lost here — the original, very solid porch columns for instance are waiting in the basement — but the price seems steep for a house that’s not currently livable.

Just across Rock Creek Park in the Shepherd Park neighborhood, a sweet 1924 Sears “Puritan” is for sale at $624,000. We featured this house a few years ago when the owners rented it out. It’s a pretty little place with a lovely deck and backyard.

Vallonia DC Sears Kit

1923 Sears “Vallonia” in Woodridge

Further east in Woodridge, an early 20th century railroad (and now Metro) neighborhood with a bunch of authenticated kit houses from both Sears and Aladdin, you can find a 1923 Sears “Vallonia” (MLS photos here) for $424,900. Nearby Brookland is one of the remaining DC neighborhoods that has seen sharp increases in value over the past few years, and Woodridge is bound to follow suit.

Sears "Winthrop" in Bethesda MD - IMG_4009

1928 Sears “Winthrop” in Bethesda

And just steps over the District line in Bethesda, MD, a picture-book Sears “Winthrop” from 1928 can be yours for $749,500. We featured this house as well when it was offered for rent some years ago. There are some really fun details and catalog pictures in our slide show.

1929. Sears Roebuck is listed as the "architect" in original building permit.

1929 Sears “Barrington” in Cleveland Park

Speaking about which, there’s a nice lease offering as well: Also in the Cleveland Park historic districtthis 1929 Sears “Barrington” with its many original features can be rented for $4,500/month right now. It’s in a location that couldn’t be more beautiful and convenient. It’s been a rental and in the same family for a really long time, it seems so perhaps they’re not quite willing to let go of their treasure.

Found some more current kit house offerings? Let me know, and I will add them here.

Posted in Historic Homes, Listings, Sears Houses and Other Kit Homes, Washington DC Area Real Estate | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

What’s Cooking Now: A Win-Win Outcome

IMG_2085 IMG_2224 IMG_2088IMG_2151   IMG_1162“What happened? Is it done?!” I’ve heard the question countless times in the past couple of months, and I kept promising–first an update on the project, then a wrap-up. But the winter was suddenly over, and we had our hands full with new listings and new buyers, spring break, holidays, prom, high school graduation prep…

We made it to about Day 60 of The Kitchen Timer with a few more wrinkles before things came to a halt. Completion of the project has been stuck at 99%, however, with one crucial piece of a cabinet left to install. I’m not complaining: We do have a kitchen now.

Today I learned from a friend that our contractor–whom we really liked–had gone out of business.  It’s a shame, but frankly, I’m also glad he didn’t drop the ball at, say,  50%.

We love our kitchen. It’s beautiful, solid and incredibly functional. There are many clever details that I adore every day. (For what it’s worth, Marcie thinks the pictures here don’t nearly do it justice.) And as so many of my friends predicted, all the little nightmares along the way–from the Counter Intelligence Disaster to the Cut Corners Discovery and the Week Of Clogged Pipes (don’t ask)–are completely forgotten. Well, almost forgotten.

Even the “bad” parts of the experience turned out to be a good thing: I can relate to those living through the process, and I’ve learned a lot. The next time a client muses about what it would “take” to improve that kitchen/bath/[fill in the blank], I have more wisdom to share.

So, it’s a win/win on all fronts. Although I’m not entirely sure about Kelly, the contractor. I seriously hope he’ll get to see the result.

(For a slideshow with pictures from beginning to end, click here.)

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The Kitchen Timer, Day 44 — Why I Was Wrong

Day 44

Day 44

After Sunday’s admittedly somewhat whiny post, I received a bunch of virtual hugs and comforting words. Thanks, guys–I feel so much better now. I had to put things in perspective: to tear out your kitchen and replace it with a new one isn’t exactly a horrible hardship-type problem to have. Even if it sometimes feels that way.

The funny thing is, as soon as I cleaned up my Debbie Downer act, things started to happen. For one thing, we’re finally done with the snow, and you can walk down the block now without developing icicles under your nose. The trend was brought into the house as well. Look at the slide show and you’ll see that between Day 42 and Day 44, there’s a big change. And it’s not only cosmetic.

While we still don’t have any appliances, we do–after 6 weeks!–have drinkable water again, as the water line and filter in the new fridge were connected. Anybody who lives in the DC area knows that’s huge. Tap water here–while supposedly safe–tastes like somebody dumped mud in a public swimming pool and then pumped the resulting mix into your house. Icy-cold, fresh water on demand–it’s divine.

Another big thing has been announced for tomorrow. The plumber is supposed to show up in the morning, to install sink, disposal and dishwasher. The end of the mountains of paper plates and plastic cutlery that we’re hauling to the trash every day is in sight.

I think I love plumbers. And water. And light fixtures. And glass tile. Life is good.

(To see pictures of the project from the beginning, please click here.)

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The Kitchen Timer, Day 42 — Encroachments

IMG_1147Some of the kitchen renovation’s side effects are sneaky and not immediately apparent. To refinish the floor in the adjacent family room, for example, we had to take the furniture out of that room. Now that the floors are done, you’d think we could reclaim the space. But that’s not what happened. Instead, the room somehow became the carpenter’s workshop before we could notice it. It seemed cruel to suggest otherwise when there were freezing temperatures and snow outside and the garage was so much less convenient, but now it’s a reality that’s hard to reverse.

IMG_1844Overall, it seems that we have to live with ever-increasing chaos in our house. Every living area has had its basic function overturned. The dining and laundry room share their job as the kitchen, the TV moved into my office (where there’s neither a couch nor a cable hook-up), and a mix of random pieces made the living room look like a furniture store. The guest room is a hoarder’s paradise. Even our lovely Netflix “theater” in the basement (a projector aimed at a big white wall) can’t be used–nobody wants to watch a movie while sitting amidst a drawer assembly line.

Then there are the dirt and dust that manage to invade every part of the house. It seems like there’s no use trying to keep up with it; we gave up on that idea weeks ago. It’s been different kinds of dust and stuff, some of it white and sticky, some of it dry and brown, and an endless chain of every sort of packaging material imaginable.

Basically, there is no escape left. There’s no privacy–the sweet hour after the kids have left the house in the morning is no longer ours. Instead, we hear the key in the front door and the shuffle of whatever is being dragged into the house for the new day. In short: The renovation has gradually been encroaching on our personal space, and it’s  started to threaten everybody’s breathing room. Snow days don’t make this better, either. Instead, they made it seem like it’s all never going to end.

(To see pictures of the remodeling progress from Day 1, click here.)

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The Kitchen Timer, Day 39 — The Heroic Perseverance Of Counter Culture

Day 39 -- Counter Culture Day

A kitchen can’t be a kitchen without counter tops. And a kitchen in progress can’t progress without those counters: sinks and dishwashers can’t be mounted or attached without countertops. Backsplashes can’t be tiled without them. Cabinets that sit on top of counters can’t be installed. Fillers and crown molding on top of those cabinets can’t be installed, either. Doors and drawers can’t … and so on.

That’s why the shocking discovery last week that the company that was supposed to purchase and cut the counter tops for us had vanished was a double whammy. After posting on Facebook about it, I learned from a friend who is in the kitchen business that it had only become known a week earlier that Counter Intelligence was going out of business.

Screenshot 2015-03-05 16.33.33The next morning, I received a surprising call. A man introduced himself as Ted H., “the CEO of Kitchen Systems, Inc.” and proprietor of the new trade name, Counter Culture.  He said his company had taken all orders from CI since January [inconspicuously, I might add]. He assured me that–while my slabs weren’t actually in Maryland right now–they had been purchased and a shop in New Jersey would cut them.

So much for the idea of picking them up and having them cut by another stone seller. 

I wasn’t sure whether or not to trust the guy. Neither he nor his company showed up in any business registers or trade license rosters. But if I ordered from another company now, I’d start over and would have to be without a kitchen for a few weeks longer.

Half an hour later, the friendly saleswoman from Counter Intelligence Culture called me from her personal cell phone. She explained that they would actually start working in a new location on Georgia Ave and University Boulevard the next day. 

IMG_1640Friday afternoon I drove by there. There was an actual showroom in the making. Next, a guy with some amazing computer equipment was sent ad-hoc and spent almost 2 hours measuring my kitchen. — I decided to trust the new CEO who had since called again and fielded my questions. According to him, all the staff they took with them was formerly from CI. The old company folded because, according to Ted, it never owned the property it operated on. In anticipation of the Purple Line, the huge lot in a mainly industrial neighborhood suddenly had become prime real estate, and the lease was no longer affordable. (Brookville Road in Silver Spring is a main road near one of the future light rail Metro stations.)

IMG_1648 So it all came down to real estate. I’m glad I had trusted Ted. Today is another snow day in DC, and while the schools, the government and many businesses all have closed down, a couple of awesome guys showed up, carried the 250-pound counter pieces up my snowy stairs and installed them.

IMG_1648 2While I’m still not entirely sure it’s a kosher business practice to procure business from customers who think they’re dealing with someone else, I’m also thrilled that the apparent heirs handled a difficult situation with such great effort and diligence. They literally delivered, and I would do business with them again.

(For a slideshow with pictures of the project from the beginning, click here.)

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The Kitchen Timer, Day 35 — We’re Getting There. Or Are We?

IMG_1655IMG_1647 IMG_1654Before I get deeper into the dramatic  continuation of the Counter Intelligence issue, let’s look at the whole picture. Week 5 of our kitchen remodel has passed, and this is where we are right now:

The cabinets are about 75% assembled and installed, even though it doesn’t quite look like it because the drawers and doors are neatly lined up in the basement. They won’t go in until the floors are sanded and sealed. The latter is supposed to happen tomorrow, although, well, we have our doubts. The workers left quite a mess behind on Friday (when it was “too late for the dump”), with the promise to come back the next morning and clear out the debris and remaining cabinet boxes and furniture from our family room so we could remove books and such before the sanding. (The new and old hardwood floors between the kitchen and family rooms are continuous, so they need to be treated everywhere.)

You guessed it–nobody showed up over the weekend. Except for a guy whose name was John and who was sent by Counter Intelligence Culture. John carried a computer and numerous high-tech scanning arms and touch point stickers into our house and spent an hour and a half thoroughly scanning every inch of our future kitchen’s skeleton. It was quite impressive. But more about that in the next installment.

For now, let’s check the schedule, although the order has been a little reversed. Current backlog: 2 weeks. Weather forecast for the next 24 hours: Storm advisory. Snow. Wintry mix. Ice accumulation.

(For pictures of the renovation from the beginning, click here.)

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The Kitchen Timer, Day 31 — Failed Counter Measures

IMG_1622Something was wrong with their phones today. The stone company’s Silver Spring showroom number switched to a jolly little kid’s cell phone voice mail. The salesperson’s direct number got disconnected, and the corporate number on their website was answered by a computer that sounded exactly like Siri.

“Maybe they went bankrupt,” my business partner, Marcie, joked. I laughed. But I felt increasingly uneasy when I cycled through the phone numbers again. Uneasy enough to leave the office early and drive to Silver Spring. After all, the carpenter at my house was waiting for the quartz people to come and measure for our counter tops. Apparently, those measurements can’t be just taken from the architectural plans but need to be super exact and must be taken from the actual installed cabinets.

The “SHOWROOM IS CLOSED TODAY,” said a sign on the door.  No explanation given. A dozen huge trucks sat idle in the lot, all neatly parked and without any cargo. Something was wrong. I couldn’t help thinking of the $3,000 deposit I had handed over just two weeks ago.

Then I happened upon a nice guy who was just about to drive off the yard. It was someone who worked there, and he said he was upset as well. The company, he informed me, was going out of business. What?! When did that happen? — According to him, just a couple of days ago.  Counter Intelligence was, among other things, one of the most well-known stone retailers in the area. It wasn’t just the clever name; they also came highly recommended. Perhaps you remember how I had so painfully chosen them.

The man, who introduced himself as Nat H. and involved in the “financial side,” said he might be able to find out if my slabs had arrived. There was no longer anybody there to cut them or even transport them, but if they indeed had them, I could at least have them released to me. Or to whoever else I’d hire to cut them.

I walked off with Nat’s cell number in my hand. Because the landlines weren’t broken. They were cut off.

(To see a regularly updated slideshow with pictures of the kitchen remodel, click here.)

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