Foundation to Roof :: What to Consider when Buying an old House

Front Porch

Some surprises in old houses are great — like finding original wallpaper under layers, or finding hearty wood floors under carpet or tile. But some surprises are bound to be unpleasant  and costly.  Buyer beware.

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Staging an Historic Home to Sell

Vintage1What’s this staging thing all about?  We spend lots of time and money to make our homes reflect our good taste, personality and sometimes, financial prowess.  Well, when getting  ready to sell, the tables turn and all of that time, energy and money has to be reassessed to appeal to an “audience.”   Staging a home to SELL is a somewhat different animal when you are dealing with a historic or vintage home. While you want it to appeal to the widest audience possible, you have to realize that many buyers interested in buying a historic or vintage home are attracted to historically decorated interiors. Most historic homes sell to a specific kind of buyer who is looking for character and architectural details that will make them fall head over heels.

Here are ways to put the focus on a historic home’s distinct architecture and appeal to the most likely buyers.

1. Choose classic or design neutral wall colors. If you need to paint the walls, choose a color from a period-inspired palette. Use fresher, cleaner historic options, such as Benjamin Moore’s Palladian Blue, Adams Gold or Georgian Green.

2. Less is More.  Clear out the clutter. Historic homeowners tend to be collectors and don’t always tune in to the crowded look that can create over time. Clear away clutter and create symmetry in the furniture arrangements, and buyers won’t miss your home’s good bones and architectural gravitas.

3. Emphasize the architecture. Put the focus on the architecture by toning down the patterns and ornate decor. Effective use of color keeps the attention on the architecture of the room, its millwork, cabinetry, windows, and detail.

Modern-Victorian-Kitchen4. Maintain a functional kitchen. Even a charming period kitchen needs to appeal to 21st-century buyers. Make sure your kitchen provides plenty of storage and boasts up-to-date appliances. With period charm in the mix, old house lovers will be sold after viewing a kitchen like this one.

5. Exaggerate space. A period home doesn’t often measure up to new-home room proportions. Make the most of your square footage by mixing painted finishes with traditional dark wood finishes to expand the impression of space.Stairwell

6. Keep window treatments simple. Remove fussy window sheers and heavy draperies from the windows in your historic home — gone are the days of elaborate festoons, jabots and swags. By taking down heavy window treatments, you reveal the beauty of the window trim and make the rooms appear bigger by letting in more natural light.

Keep it neutral. Keep it simple and let the house speak for itself.

Originally posted by: Kristie Barnett at www.houzz.com

Edited for www.Ispeakvintage by Keith Goad

Building a VINTAGE Brand; 1.1

Building a VINTAGE Brand; 1.1

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Find your brand, develop it and stay on track.

This year’s Super Bowl XLVII delivered a few commercial hits and misses worth poking fun at as examples of brand management…good and bad.

For this consumer, Tide took the prize in which a stain appearing on a football jersey resembled San Fran 49er, Joe Montana. Remember the Jesus and Mary image on a pancake? Same thing. After much celebrating of the miracle stain, it was washed out by the jersey wearer’s wife, a Baltimore Ravens’ fan.  It was timely, connected with the audience and created a need for the product.  Bottom of the list was the Blackberry z10 advert. BB claimed that in 30 seconds, it was easier to show us what BBz10 could not do. Seriously?  I wasn’t sure what the product was and by the end I didn’t care.

Both are great examples of consumer product brand management that illustrate the importance of messaging and connecting with our audience.  When developing our personal brands, one of the most important points is pinpointing our audience. Once we know the demographics and interests of our target group we can begin to construct our message.  Are you an expert? Are you trustworthy? What do you represent? What ideas and notions pop up when someone hears your name? Bottom line – what’s your “thing” and who do you want to know about it?

If you’ve been around for a while, doing whatever it is you do, you’ve probably already developed a personal brand. People recognize your name, what you’re working on, what you offer and what you’re about. What can you say about your own personal brand? Is it strong and clearly identified or weak and disjointed? Just because people recognize your name or your brand does not mean they like it or will follow it.  Most of us like bad boys and naughty girls but we probably wouldn’t hire them.  If you’d like to make your personal brand stronger, keep reading and I will work through a few details of my own branding, outlining the components of a strong personal brand. If you don’t feel like you have a personal brand yet, let’s get this party started.

Your personal brand is your calling card.  Look at is as an investment.  It has the potential to last longer than you. While the projects you’re working on might move forward or get snuffed out, your personal brand will persist and (hopefully) add value to each new project you create. If you consider yourself to be in a particular game for the long-haul, whether it’s an online business, accountant, or selling houses, a good personal brand is an invaluable, evolving investment. People will follow your brand if they feel connected to it. When launching new projects, your personal brand has the potential to guarantee you never have to recreate the wheel.

Me – I am a real estate broker.  I sell houses.  I am honest, friendly, hardworking and ethical. That’s all nice and good but who really cares? Right?  That’s why I focused my personal brand on my passion: marketing and selling historic and vintage homes.   It took me way too long to figure that out but once I did it was full speed ahead.  I will get into some (but not all) the specifics of what to do once you get to that point later.

What are your passions, your strengths, talents and interests?  What lights a fire in you belly?  Whatever it is you do (or want to do), create the niche, find the passion and start to gather the building blocks that will identify and connect with your target audience. Like a strong house needs a solid foundation, the same is true for a strong and true personal brand.

On your mark. Get set. Go!

Next up: Set goals for image and public perception

Building a VINTAGE Brand; 1.0

Building a VINTAGE Brand; 1.0

Building your vintage brand.

Blackberry just launched an overhauled operating system, the Z10 because of slumping sales and “lack of bling” according to their new spokesperson, Alicia Keys.   PepsiCo has conceded to remove brominated vegetable oil from its sports drink, Gatorade, due to a negative online campaign launched by a 15-year old Mississippi teenager.  With the Super Bowl just days away, the NFL is aggressively cracking down on the sale of counterfeit merchandise.  Speaking of, the going ad rate for Super Bowl XLVI is $3.5 million for 30 seconds and up to $4 million if you want premium placement.  How does any of this relate to historic and vintage homes? Plenty. It all plays into building, managing and maintaining our brands.

I frequently hear from homeowners and real estate brokers they feel that marketing and promoting Chicago’s vintage and Historic homes is, often, fighting an uphill battle.   How we create fresh ideas in communicating what historic and vintage homes, buildings and neighborhoods have to offer is more an opportunity than challenge.  Sounds like a chapter from “The One Minute Manager”, right?  Building a recognizable brand involves creating a relationship or a connection between a  product and the emotional perception of the customer.   In this series I will discuss how we position older housing stock as a brand to be identified, segmented,  managed and promoted.   Branding is about finding and staying consistent to a core philosophy. In the real estate industry, we frequently reference Donald Trump as a go-to icon of business acumen, and strategic thinking.   Like him or not, his brand is all about being No. 1, best of the best. Find your brand, develop it and stay on track.  Otherwise, “you’re fired!”

Branding and image guy, Donny Deutsch of Deutsch, Inc., has built his reputation on thinking outside of the box.  Donny’s leaner, meaner, faster, smarter philosophy helped build Deutsch into a leading marketing-communications company.  Deutsch’s core philosophy is a great formula when it comes to building our vintage brand.

“People think creativity is the best version of the current thing,” Deutsch writes in his 2005 book, Often Wrong, Never in Doubt: Unleash the Business Rebel Within. “I disagree. I’d rather do something fresh and put my client on the line than knowingly do derivative work. I want something with a different flavor to it, the 32nd flavor of Baskin-Robbins, the 58th variety of Heinz. I tell our people, go where tomorrow is. Let everybody else catch up.”

Buying, restoring and selling historic and vintage homes is, to some, a labor of love. Kudos to those of you that do it to quench a preservation passion.   To me, it is a business. No less passionate, more so because the process involves a focused plan of attack, execution and a final result.

Next up: Find your brand, develop it and stay on track.

Dressing Up Historic Homes for the Holidays

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With the holiday season in full tilt with all its accompanying commercialism, a comfortably decorated home can do wonders for tired soles, frazzled families and holiday cynics.  Yet, all too often the fun of decorating our vintage homes for the holidays becomes a task of epic proportion.

“Is this someone’s home, or a department store display?”

If that question pops into someone’s mind when they see your historic home lovingly decorated for the holidays, just maybe you went a wee bit over the top. Since I have been guilty of this in the past I will pass judgment here. Pine roping, cascades of ribbon, wreathes, miniature Dickensian villages, scented pine-cones…more begets more and sometimes we need a guiding hand in dolling up our homes for the season.  We put so much thought and effort into restoring our grande dames, why not give equal time to holiday décor?

One reason so many individuals seek to restore historic homes is because of their wonderful character and charm. When decorating historic homes for the holidays, it’s important to keep the timeless look and feel of the residence by using appropriate and thoughtful holiday decor. Chicago area interior designers, Tom Segal and Madeline Roth provide a few thoughts that can help you achieve beautiful holiday decor for your historic home.

“Christmas is a good time to emphasize why you loved and bought an old home in the first place,” says Madeline Roth of Pariscope Design.  “Beautiful banisters to decorate with roping, mantels for candles, pretty front doors for wreaths; I say, no rules! Christmas is the time to put the jewels on the grande dame.”

Tom Segal of Kaufman Segal Design adopts a more project-management approach to putting your house in order for the holidays. “I really like themes based on either color, or a type of ornament mixed with ornaments that have a personal connection to the home owner. I like being a bit contemporary in a vintage home too for a nice contrast, but not so modern that it clashes with the vintage detailing in the home. I’m also careful to scale the tree to the room in both height and diameter, so you can still enjoy your space during the holiday season and not have the tree or decorations overwhelm the room. “

Despite their different approaches to decoration, Roth and Segal do agree on the tree. “A real Christmas tree is the only way to go!  The fragrance, the fun of picking out the right tree each year,” says Roth.  For Segal, it’s all about the senses.  “I love the way a real tree smells,” he says. “Décor is not just about the visual information. Let your senses pick up the sights, sounds, feel, and smells of the holiday. All of these things influence how you enjoy a space and add to your memory of that space in this wonderful time of year.”

Whether you go the traditional route or move in a more contemporary direction, the options can be overwhelming.  Just like any home decorating project, pick a style, put together a budget, add water and stir.    The holidays present a special set of pressures and priorities.  Decorating you home should be a fun and exciting family event.  Not a chore, to be dreaded.   Take Roth’s and Segal’s tips to help you prioritize and plan so you can kick back and enjoy the season.
Happy Holidays!

Remarkable Homes & Extraordinary Lives

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

-William Morris

The vintage door above the sofa was repurposed from my last home. A home that expedited much soul searching and emotional growth during a period of my life. See “My years in Rehab” post.

We choose our homes and we choose everything in them. Spartan or stuffed to capacity: why shouldn’t our homes be remarkable reflections of our extraordinary lives?  The furniture, art, books, collectables and even our taste specific tchotchkes, are the things that surround us, bring us comfort and tell the story of who we are and where we’ve been.

As a real estate broker, I frequently have the opportunity and privilege to see firsthand, people’s lives reflected in how they live.  There are a million stories in the naked city and each is full of travels, experiences, and relationships. Some dreams realized and some, not so much.   Many stories are exciting and full of explosive energy and accomplishments. Others, melancholy and laced with shadows of “should have” and “could have.”  All are reflections of people living day-to-day lives.  Without intention, we illustrate our stories by what we chose to  surround ourselves with in the privacy of our homes.

At its heart, home is that place to land at the end of the day that supports us and provides us shelter. It also, provides us with a great source of strength and well-being. Not just for ourselves, but for everyone that lives in it and to those who visit.

In my own home, my partner and I have combined two households full of past lives, experiences and travels and assimilated them into an extraordinary story of the here and now.  Who we both were has collectively become who we are.  The past and the present, enriching the future.

We found this mid-century modern, rosewood desk at a local furniture store. It’s a great pairing with the restored chair that was made at a furniture factory in my hometown.

Our homes are made remarkable by the memories we create in them and the parts of ourselves we choose to fill them with. Like a snowflake, no two are the same.   What makes our lives extraordinary is how we create, embrace and share our experiences and the STUFF we collect along the way.  Like a home, no two are the same.   Extraordinary lives happen simply by being ourselves.  Remarkable homes are just the by-product.

Try it; create a remarkable home from an extraordinary life!  You probably already have.

Your Old House Has a History

Historic Newport DistrictDo you live in an historic home, landmark district, or one of Chicago’s architecturally  iconic buildings?   Researching the history of the homes I sell is a topic that frequently comes up in the search and ultimate purchase of historic Chicago homes.

In putting together resources to aid the process, I came across “Your Home Has a History,” a research document & process on the Chicago Landmark Commission’s website at www.cityofchicago.org/Landmarks. For anyone that wants to do the legwork to research the history of their home, this document provides a step by step process.

No surprise that permit and record keeping was not formally put in place (in Chicago) until after 1871. Fresh start, I guess – right?  If your home was built before that, there is another bevy of challenges in digging through archives.

Below, I have paraphrased some of the Chicago Landmark pamphlet to whet the appetite of true history nerds. Step one is pretty straightforward.  Beyond that, it gets more detailed as you move from step to step.


You own a lovely home that you’re proud to call your own. But someone owned it before you. Someone built it, cared for it, and made changes through the years to it. And now you’re interested in finding out the “who, when and what” of your property.

Researching your house can be fun, fascinating and completely engrossing

However, beware! Research can become addictive. It can also be frustrating. You may exhaust every source possible and still not find the answers to your questions. But no matter how many questions remain unanswered, you will have unearthed some interesting information, learned a little more about your community, and become familiar with some important public institutions in the city.

So, have fun, and good luck.

Before you launch your research, it would be good to have a general idea of your house’s style and the approximate date of its construction.

If your house is newly purchased, the real estate listing undoubtedly had a date typed into the appropriate box. While you shouldn’t assume that this date is correct, it may help get you started.  The architectural style of your house can also provide you with clues to its approximate age so you know where to begin your research.

Some common styles in Chicago and their most distinctive features

  • Front Gable or Worker’s Cottage (beginning 1870s) – narrow house, steep roof, off-center front door
  • Romanesque Revival (1880-1900)- large arched openings, masonry walls, towers with conical roofs, asymmetrical façade
  • Italianate (1860-1900) – widely overhanging eaves, decorative brackets, tall, narrow arched windows
  • Queen Anne (1880s-1990) – steep roof usually with a prominent gable, porches, variety of building materials
  • Prairie (early 1900s)- low pitched hipped roof, wide overhanging eaves, horizontal detailing
  • Bungalow (early 1900s)-low pitched roof, wide eaves, brick walls, and bay window with art glass
  • American Four-Square (1900- 1930)- cube shape, hipped roof, broad front porch, little ornament
  • Colonial Revival (1880-1955)- cube shape, gabled roof, symmetrical, prominent front door

Step One

Checking the Chicago Historic Resources Survey

The very first place to look for information on your house is in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey. A copy of this book is in every branch of the Chicago Public Library and can also be viewed at the Commission on Chicago Landmarks office. An electronic version of the survey is available on the City of Chicago’s website at: www.cityofchicago.org/Landmarks/CHRS.  If the survey lists the date and architect for your building, you’re in luck. That means a permit was found by Commission researchers and additional information may be on file in the Commission Offices….

A Good Mystery

Historical research is often compared to reading a good mystery. By now you should know who did it, where, with what, and maybe why. But your search may have just begun. Our city, and its world renowned architecture, have a rich and engrossing history. The people and institutions you’ve used to do your research are ready to help you continue. Make good use of our public libraries, our museums, our government agencies and our universities. They are a wealth of information preserved for us and our children.

 Source:

“YOUR HOUSE HAS A HISTORY

A Step-by-Step Guide to Researching Your Property”

COMMISSION ON CHICAGO LANDMARKS


Again, this is just a tease to illustrate that researching your home, who built it and who lived there over the years is not as daunting as it may seem.   There are six steps that end with researching the history of your neighborhood, which can provide a terrific snapshot of the years that have rolled over the economic and demographic changes that shape the varied neighborhoods of Chicago.

Soldier on and see what you find.  If you have specify questions, let me know.  Good luck!

My years in REHAB

Up for a challenge?

I bought an old house. From 350 miles away, I decided to REHAB a house in one of Cleveland, Ohio’s historic neighborhoods. A vibrant area of restored Victorian cottages, multi-gabled Queen Anne homes, second empire tributes and a mix of turn-of-the-century European influenced styles.  This melting pot of architectural styles also boasted a diversity of cultures and socioeconomic demographics. Diversity, evidenced by multiple disappearances of my gutters, building materials, tools and, on one occasion, a pair of shoes. Seriously?

This is more about the journey than the actual REHAB. By definition, a journey is traveling from one place to another – usually taking a long trip, Welcome to mine. This is the story of a house divided amongst itself; literally and figuratively. A house that should have been torn down years ago, NOT purchased with the romantic notion of restoring it to a quaint urban cottage. Yet that is exactly what I did and, at the time, it truly seemed like a good idea. I wish I had thought to start this therapy session (call it a blog) years ago and perhaps, by chronicling this journey via the written word, I could have avoided the rolling storm clouds and plagues of locust.

While much of this journey has little to do with the house, I correlate and reference the timeline in large blocks.  Like when I had to rip up the front yard and replace the entire sewer line; $5000.00, thank you very much.

Each mishap somehow lashed me more tightly with my hometown, this falling-down money-pit and the neighborhood of toothless booze hounds    What should have taken 12 months stretched over 4 years, by which time the real estate market was a tumultuous roller coaster. So, I decided to hold on to the house for a while.  Here’s the rub; I had to REHAB the REHAB. I bought the house to provide my brother with an opportunity to build his contractor business with full intention of selling it when complete. Well, his definition of complete and mine were different.  He saw it for what it really was, a flip. I made the mistake that many rehabbers make.  I was spending money as if I were going to live in it.   Lord, deliver me  from myself.

For some reason this house brought familiarity and comfort to me the first time I saw it. Was it a rotting, dilapidated excuse for a house? Absolutely. Was the idea of managing a total rehab from 350 miles away a lousy idea? You bet. I couldn’t wait to get started.

After 4 arduous years of false completions,  I took a brief hiatus from Chicago and went “home” (I am from Cleveland originally) and finished the house.  Then the party really started.

October 2010; after taking firm control of the checkbook I had no choice but to get creative with how every penny was spent. I wanted to maintain  the home’s heritage and integrity and a strict budget certainly facilitated that. The kitchen plan was originally sketched up pretty much on the back of an envelope and it simply did not make use of the kitchen’s size and terrific natural light.  In reconstructing the layout, I took old doors found in the basement and cut them down to build a breakfast bar and re-purposed the granite I had cut for the original layout.

The second floor which I originally planned to carpet took a hit as well.  The stairs and floors were typical of an 1887 worker’s cottage built for employees of Cleveland’s steel mills – pine planks that were patched, gouged, and in some places, patched with old soup cans.  Rather than trying to cover them, I celebrated them.  I painted them, added some well planned “distressing” with a belt sander  and then varnished them. Bam!  They looked terrific and added some wonderful texture to the upper level.

Here I was, 4 years after I had restored 80% of the exterior clapboard and the damn thing needed to be repainted. I discovered it had not been primed and was painted when the wood was damp. #@%$!*! Clean living truly must triumph because February, 2011 brought a week of temperatures in the 60’s. Hallelujah!  I roped one of my disenfranchised neighbors (probably the one that stole the gutters 3 years prior) to help me out.  We got ‘er done in 3 days.  I doubt he spent the money on much needed dental attention.  So be it.

I could make a long story even longer but you get the idea. Well, when all was finally finished in spring of 2011 I put the house on the market.  One open house.  SOLD. List price.

THE END!

Second Hand Prose.

This old  house has a few stories worth passing on. Listen up.

After a recent trip to a Swedish retailer, which shall remain nameless I am standing strong on a philosophy I have long thought to be a foundation stone to the sustainable future of our consumer driven economy. I have always had a sweet tooth for found objects, repurposed furniture, gently used clothing and well, some might say junk.   Not to mention pre-owned cars, leftovers and old fashioned hand-me-downs of all sorts.  This is the stuff that surrounds me and illustrates my level of taste, style, and identity.  Let me say now that I am by no means a hoarder, pack rat or junk collector.  Well…not yet.

On a planet with finite resources and space, it is worth looking at our consumption from “the triple bottom line” approach. A term coined by Jon Elkington in 1994 to evaluate the measurement of corporate performance from the perspective of the shareholder to that of the stakeholder and coordinate three interests: “people (social), planet (ecological) and profit (economic).”  Three interests that work together like the legs of a stool.  All must be equally strong for the stool to serve its function.

With so many manufactured products already crowding the corners of our world is there truly a need to always be looking for something “new” – newly manufactured, that is?  NEW to our household is something to think about.  Some of the best housing stock in our cities and neighborhoods is the vintage stuff.  Many of our most prized possessions have been around for longer than anyone can remember.   Classic cars, vintage clothing, retro design…see where I am going with this?

Not too long ago, I made some updates to my kitchen and bath in order to put my home on the market.  I had quite a time finding fixtures, lighting and finishes that matched the vintage integrity of my home while still making decisions that would appeal to buyers looking for updated amenities.

I did not want (and could not afford) to do a total remodel so I opted to get rid of a few pieces and replace them with vintage pieces that supported my concept of reusing existing materials and pieces…nothing “new”.  Just new to my old house – and me.   For the master bath I found a vintage pedestal sink that looked great and added a wonderful look with period light fixtures, accessories and paint colors.

My kitchen, which had been “remodeled” before I bought the place, had an entire wall with no cabinetry, counter or anything else useful for a functioning kitchen.   By retrofitting a farm cabinet I found in a 2nd hand store with lighting and glass shelves I was able to add additional storage and an element of authentic vintage character.  I also found a great farm table that had been used as a mechanic’s bench in an auto garage.  Needless to say, that was quite a restoration project.

So, back to the “triple bottom line” approach; people, planet and profit.  People; I contributed to a general well being by shopping locally, employing the services of a furniture restoration company, and engaging the services of a handyman for installation (do not for a minute think I did the work myself). Planet; I re-used existing stuff.  Profit; I saved money on the acquisition cost and put money in the pockets of a local merchant, restoration company, and handyman.

I know that applying TBL, (3BL) to home remodel projects is pushing the envelope a bit.  My goal in using this analogy is to make us think globally about the decisions we make in our homes, shopping habits, and daily routines.  Yes, it takes more time and requires more planning but the benefits outweigh the efforts.

Upcycle. Just something to think about.