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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saying Goodbye to the Cottage

Those of you who have been following my blog the last few weeks, know that March 30th was M-Day.  The packers came on Thursday.  The movers came yesterday.  The move finally happened. 

I love Lake Forest Place.  They have done these move-ins and move-outs so many times that working with them is like operating a well-greased machine.  There is someone to call to set up the phones; someone to call to hang the light fixture and on and on.  Comcast, of course, failed to show up for the high speed internet set-up.   While I had a very frustrating phone call - on hold most of the time -- with them,  the wonderful staff at LFP place managed to get Dad's TV working.   We'll deal with internet service next week.

Our little Post-It system worked like a charm -- the movers picked up the furniture with the bright pink Post-Its and placed them exactly where Mica had indicated on the chart.  The only challenges were Dad's desk and the huge console that needed to be moved.  But they worked it out and the movers were done by 2:00. 

My sister, her kids and I unpacked and put things away.  We found that while we probably didn't downsize quite enough, we did manage to find a place for just about everything.  We'll hang the pictures this week and in no time the apartment should look fabulous.  This new home is wonderful, with a little patio and a southern exposure.   The neighbors dropped in and his "apartment friends" have promised to have a cocktail party for him to welcome him to "The Big House."  I talked with him this morning.   He slept well in his new bedroom.  It's going to be a perfect home for Dad. 

My parents were among the pioneers who moved to Lake Forest Place in 1998,  so there was still construction machinery and mud on the grounds when they moved into their cottage on Pembridge Drive.  My mother loved this home more than anyone can possibly imagine and she turned their little cottage into a warm and inviting place to visit and live.  It was such a cozy home,  that the LFP marketing department often called her to use their cottage as a demo, when potential residents came to tour the facility.   (Since my mother was a born salesman, I think Lake Forest Place also knew that having her on "their sales team" was also helpful in sealing the deal.) 

As I walked out the door of the cottage yesterday, I teared up --  it hit me.  I guess on some level,  I was finally saying goodbye to Mom.  Dad has lived there alone for the last two years and while he has been remarkably resilient and capable in their little cottage, it just hasn't been the same without Mother. 

Life goes on as Dad begins the next chapter of his life ... such is moving.

That's really what life is all about - change, moving, renewal... endings and beginnings.

Final Lesson: 
The heart of the home lies in the heart of its owners.  When a house is empty, it's no longer a home.   It's best to keep our memories in our hearts -- not our houses.  

I want to thank all the wonderful people at Lake Forest Place, who have made this a smooth transition... especially to Paisley for finding Dad just the right apartment and to Martha, for helping make it a beautiful place for him to live.  

Ain’t No Lie, It’s Cheaper to Buy

"Since the housing bubble burst, it seems like everyone and their mother can’t stop talking about what a great time it is right now to buy a home, but how good is it really? "

Read on in Trulia

Kitchens Sell a House

"It's a tool used by house flippers all across the nation. Stagers know its power. Real estate agents push its importance. What is this not-so-well-kept secret of real estate? A kitchen can sell a house. 
A kitchen is the heart of a home. This is true all across the globe. The old saying that the "stomach is the way to the heart" carries a lot of truth. Kitchens are where we spend much of our time and most of that is with our families. It's the room where we nourish our bodies and our spirits." 

Read on in Realty Times

What's Really Going on in the Housing Market?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Chicago-area home prices hit 11-year low

February numbers show improvement

"The number of contracts signed to buy homes in February eased slightly from January but posted another strong gain from a year ago—the latest sign that demand for homes is up from the depressed levels of the previous 18 months."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Moving - down to the wire

My brother, Rob, was here this weekend.  He came for two reasons. 

First we went to a memorial service for a fabulous woman and good friend of my mother's, Nancy Hart.  She was one of those people who made you feel like you were her absolute favorite person in the world.  When she was around, everything was fun. 

My brother came in from Michigan.  Another friend came from California.  The family came from all over including Kansas and North Carolina.  It was so poignant and wonderful to share this moment with golden friends -- we had all grown up together as children, and spent many vacations and holidays together.  Several of "the kids" are now grandparents.  Remembering "Aunt" Nancy, reminiscing about our times at White Lake or the UP, and being together again with each other was so special.  

My dad, brother and I left the gathering around 1:00 and returned to Dad's cottage.  Because, secondly, Rob was here to help with the final push before Dad moves.  The packers come Thursday and the movers on Friday.  Rob and I worked our way through the basement  -- again.  This time it was old tax records and wines bottles. 

Dad has kept their tax records since 1948.  We even found old check stubs from my grandmother -- she died in 1989.  So how long are you supposed to keep these things? 

I found the IRS website sort of amusing.  Their recommendations include:
  • You file a fraudulent return; keep records indefinitely.
  • You do not file a return; keep records indefinitely.
In that my dad always obeyed the law, and thus was never audited -- I'm not sure why he still has check stubs that are older than I am.  We have already made several trips to the shredder box in the main building at Lake Forest Place.

In the middle of hauling files upstairs to be shredded, another great friend came to buy and take away my Dad's keyboard.  My mother had given away Dad's piano to my sister years ago.  I guess she felt badly about it, so she bought Dad a very cool Yamaha keyboard.   But Mother didn't think it was esthetically pleasing so she kept it in the basement.  As a result, Dad didn't play it very much -- his hands are a bit arthritic now and getting up and down the stairs was a challenge.  He decided to sell the keyboard rather than move it to the apartment. 

My friend was thrilled to take it.  She and her husband visited for a while and we again began reminiscing about Aunt Nancy and her memorial service. 

As they were leaving,  I gave my friend, 75 years of sheet music -- boxes and boxes.   At that moment, Rob got sentimental and couldn't part with the sheet music.  So a few more boxes of stuff have been moved to my basement -- I'm hopeful that he'll clear the music out the next time he drives to Chicago. 

Then Rob and I tackled the wine bottles.  Clearing out the wine was also interesting.  There was a small wine rack in the basement and some of the bottles were from very good years -- like 1969.  My brother optimistically opened a bottle to drink with our take out pizza dinner and was woefully disappointed with the smell of vinegar.  We ended up emptying and rinsing out most of the bottles of wine.  

By that time, I was done for the day.  So Rob and Dad worked on clearing out the closet in Dad's office.  They made great headway.

I think Rob really appreciated and actually enjoyed his time helping with the move.  He was able to read old letters and find old pictures that meant something to him.  He left with a picture frame, which my mother had saved.  It had a series of drawings of Rob's son as a toddler trying to walk.  Rob wanted to send it on to his son, because his daughter is now learning to walk. 

Lesson 6: 

Don't wait until you move to open a good bottle of wine.  When old friends stop by, celebrate your time together.     Any moment spent with family and friends is a special occasion.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Beware of Value-Killing Home Renovations

"That old adage should be a warning for homeowners. What you do to a home — in terms of renovations, furnishings and additions — is all well and good while you sleep under its roof. But if you plan to sell, your efforts could diminish rather than boost its selling price....

"First and foremost, a seller should make sure their home is well-maintained and that it looks well-maintained...Before a seller starts making improvements like adding new energy-efficient windows — which are nice to have, but not something a buyer would truly care that much about ... make sure the structural integrity of the house is sound.."

Read more in Zillow: Beware of Value-Killing Home Renovations


Friday, March 23, 2012

Alternative to Foreclosures

"Bank of America is launching a pilot program that will allow homeowners at risk of foreclosure to hand over deeds to their houses and sign leases that will let them rent the houses back from the bank at a market rate."

Read more in the Wall Street Journal
BofA Tests an Option to Foreclosure

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chicago-area home sales hit five-year high for second straight month - Residential News - Crain's Chicago Business

"Local home sales posted their best February in five years as distressed properties continue to wash through the market and buyers take advantage of depressed prices."

Chicago-area home sales hit five-year high for second straight month - Residential News - Crain's Chicago Business

Market Ready

Q. We have an ugly radiator and a through-wall air-conditioning unit below our front windows. Would it pay to build something to hide them?

Read on in the New York Times

Buy a Foreclosure

Buy a Foreclosure, Revive Your Town: ‘I’ve Done My Part’

For the writer, buying a home out of foreclosure in an Atlanta neighborhood took time and plenty of help, from a team of professionals and her parents.

Good read in the New York Times.

Home within a home

Monday, March 19, 2012

Moving and basements

Lately I've been thinking about basements. Maybe it's because we are clearing out Dad's basement. Maybe it's because, my basement has become the repository where people seem to be storing things. My cousin is leaving some furniture from Dad's house -- he promises he's going to move it in June. My sister is keeping files and furniture in my basement. I even have some client's furniture.   I never wanted anything in my basement except luggage, Christmas decorations, and tools.  How did this happen that my basement is filling up?

I have this theory: the more space you have, the more stuff you accumulate. I think that's what happened with Mother and Dad's cottage. They didn't mean to collect all this stuff -- they simply had a place to store it.

As we have been clearing out Dad's basement, we have found things that are remarkable, irrelevant or somewhat sentimental. The oddest thing we found was the mourning wreath of Sue Winn, my mother's great-grandmother.   Sue Winn was this legendary and tragic family figure who died at a young age, because she was in so much grief at the loss of her husband.   

When we pulled out this mourning wreath, we all gasped -- none of us had ever seen anything like it before.  It must have come into my parent's home with my grandmother's things.

example of mourning wreath
In case you don't know about mourning wreaths, during the Victorian era, the custom of making art from hair became popular as a form of artistic memorial. It was used in jewelry, love tokens and hair wreathes.  To make a hair wreath, hair was collected from the deceased, formed into a shape (usually a flower), and added to a horseshoe-shaped wreath. The top was not connected and remained open to symbolize the ascent heavenward. 

They may be valuable -- we saw on EBay some fancy wreaths that are listed for over $1,000.  None of us want Sue Winn's wreath -- just too morbid.  Yet none of us want to sell a family heirloom, either.  

I think Dad is going to donate it to the local historical museum.  Such is what happens when you are clearing out a basement.   Believe me, this is only a sample of what we have found. 

Basements are interesting.  When I go house hunting with different buyers, some won't even consider a house without a basement.  Others take it even further: they want luxurious basements with bars, movie theaters or wine cellars. 
Now here are some basements!

"The rise of the subterranean mansion: Luxury home owners dig down and deep to make room for lavish extras"
Read more in the Daily Mail

or another article in the Wall Street Journal: The Trophy Basement

Conversely, other buyers will say, "I'm not a basement person."   

After spending the last few weeks digging out of my dad's basement,  I think I'm aligning myself with the latter group.

Lesson 5: 
Be thoughtful about what you store in your basement.   Perhaps the next generation will not want it.

Back to moving Lesson 1: Don't Accumulate!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The meaning of home

"Your home is a reflection of your life..."

thoughts from an anthropologist
Realtor Magazine

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Market Ready

Q. We own an older home that had its original trim removed during a previous renovation. Should we reinstall the chair rail and crown molding before putting it on the market?

A. “Trim and upgraded moldings almost always help increase the value of the house...”

Read on in the New York Times, Market Ready

Home Insurers Charge More, Cover Less

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Showing your home -- not your pets

For cat people:
"Q. My cat’s litter box is in the bathroom. What can I do to make it look better when potential buyers come to see my home?"

Answer can be found in the New York Times column:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Great Opportunities in Housing

Are you making an emotional mistake?

"The greatest hindrance to the sale of a home can be a seller who is seized by emotion.

Home sellers who allow emotions and sentimental attachments to overtake them during the sales process run the risk of making hasty, sometimes poor decisions."

Thought the article was very good:
Emotional mistakes homeowners make in the real estate market 
(from Scripps Howard News Service)

Image is Everything

This Old House:
How to Get the Best Curb Appeal on the Block

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Buy the WHOLE house from IKEA

The Swedish company has partnered with an architectural firm to bring customers miniature IKEA wonderlands.

Read more in Time Magazine: Forget Bookcases: Now You Can Buy an Entire House from IKEA

Keep, move, sell, donate or dump?

I just looked at my blog and realized I haven't posted anything since Tuesday.  Coincidentally, Tuesday is when Mica, my sister-in-law, arrived from Michigan to help us with Dad's move.  For the last few days my sister, Margaret, Mica and I have been working with Dad to determine whether to keep, move, sell, donate or dump.  The work has been arduous, bittersweet, nostalgic and (at infrequent moments)  contentious.  

Mica was amazing -- I'm not sure we could have done it without her.   She's a designer, so she worked with Dad to determine which furniture, lamps and pictures are going to be moved to the apartment.  She labeled and numbered all of them and then matched to them to the floor plan.  She picked out paint colors and met with different people to get everything arranged.  Her help was utterly invaluable.

My sister helped Dad go through his closet and figure out what to donate in the way of clothes, ties and shoes.  We worked through all the books and his kitchen to completely empty it of everything except what is moving.  We identified, who takes what and what goes elsewhere.  

While Mica has been part of our family for nearly 40 years, she doesn't have the depth of nostalgia about as many of the things, so she could be a bit more determined in helping us to downsize. I could sense that both Dad and I wanted to move at a little slower pace, but Mica and Margaret were like the recent tornado going through southern Indiana.  While rationally I knew they were right, emotionally I wanted to pause and look at stuff more carefully. 

Our lives are so encumbered with many things we really don't need -- and yet I found I couldn't say goodbye to many of these valueless yet priceless items.  Nor could my dad.  It was interesting to us, which items he wanted to take with him to the new apartment and which he didn't want.  We would learn where something was acquired or to whom it belonged.  Having Dad be part of the discussion was so instructional and meaningful.  

One little treasure I found was the album of my great-grandmother, Rebecca Ann Holder Means.  It was like an autograph book.  My mother was named after her, as was I -- so I loved seeing the penmanship of the 1870's and her friends addressing her as "Miss Annie."   

It was funny, when we found something labeled on the bottom in my mother's handwriting -- "this is for Mica" or "this for Ann", etc.   (She's still directing us!)  Every once in a while we would vie for certain treasures, but on the whole we were aligned and worked together to accomplish so much since Tuesday.   I was sad to say goodbye to Mica, when she left yesterday.  I wish she could stay the rest of the month!

We all laughed (and cried) at things we found as we worked our way through many of the rooms -- things like: the artichoke plates; the beautiful linens my grandmother made; the shoes my mother wore at their wedding; the old letters, postcards and news articles my mother had saved; photographs we didn't know we had and so many, many other things.  In the end, this time together was actually a wonderful experience.  Despite the physical and psychological exhaustion, I am grateful for these few days we spent working with Dad to help him downsize. 

Lesson 4: 
Downsizing is a lot easier when you're doing it with others.