My husband Chris and I are so excited that we FINALLY had the opportunity to buy a house in Silicon Valley. The housing market in the Bay Area is insane. I’m sure you’d had a chance to read the articles in the paper this week about the track home in Sunnyvale fetching $800,000 OVER the asking price and the little house in Mountain View asking $1.6 million with a free 7 year rent back. It makes me sick but it’s a game, this market is a game and everyone is playing. The reality is that you have to play if you want to stay here. Folks that bought years ago are counting on the game for their retirement and young people are trying to jump in with the hopes that their house will become a growing savings account and some stability compared to the equally competitive and expensive rental market.
We have been making offers on homes for the last four years with no luck. Our target area has been downtown Mountain View and then expanded into other parts of Mountain View. Each time we found a home that met our criteria we were outbid by someone who would pay all cash and was willing to pay thousands over the asking price. Just before the opportunity to buy our home came up, I went into an open house in Mountain View and the asking price was $1.7m. I asked the Realtor where she thought it would end up and she said $2.3m. I was like, I give up! That is when my agent Susan Kramer called me to ask if I would be interested in a little home in Los Altos, only 940 square feet, with one bathroom and no garage. Oh, and did I mention outdoor laundry? At first I thought she was nuts and said no thanks but after a few weeks I decided to give it a chance. Chris and I went to see it on a Saturday and our first impression was horror. We slept on it and decided to give it another chance the next day. By Monday I called my agent and said, “let’s do it, let’s make an offer!”
The idea that we wouldn’t have to get into a bidding war was so appealing. The location is amazing and it’s just the two of us so we can make 940 square feet work and come on, I’m a professional organizer so I can get us paired down! The seller really wanted to sell it to a local buyer who lives and works here, who isn’t going to tear it down and develop the 7,000 square foot lot and we were the perfect match. With the permitting rules and property tax laws we can’t afford to tear it down no matter what. We’ve been living in a weird limbo for the last 8 years and we are excited to be moving forward with our lives. It sounds weird but let me put it into perspective for you. We moved here in our late 20’s and now we are in our late 30’s. We’ve been renting a great house but trying to buy a house of our own, trying to have a baby, trying to adopt a baby and nothing has really landed for us. We both kind of felt stuck so it’s exciting to have a project and more of a future here in a community that we love and both thrive in.
The seller was originally going to try to rent it so the exterior and interior had just been painted. There was also new carpet so it was neat and tidy. His mother was the original owner, dating from 1951 and it’s safe to say now that we are in the stage that we are in, she didn’t make many updates along the way. We could’ve lived in it in the current condition for a year or two but we decided to jump on making updates because it would be difficult to find a short term rental down the road.
The only benefit to the house being so tiny is that the yard is extra large. It was a bit like a jungle when we got the keys after we closed in early July. We had a 21 day close with much thanks to Rob McCarthy of 101 Loan, he is THE BEST if you need to refinance or get a mortgage. In our situation the Google stock market was closed for an insider trading period so we couldn’t sell stock to buy the house, without Rob we wouldn’t have been able to close in the 30 days or less that the seller wanted.
There are two really nice fruit trees, one with oranges and another with plums. We saved them during the cleanup but most of the landscape needed to be cleared to see the potential of the lot.
After we got the keys the first thing we did was rip out the carpet. I wanted to see the condition of the floors and Billy wanted to send the carpet to Tonga to put in his living room, a win win!
Chris wanted to help with this part of the process to say that he participated and I appreciate that. With the house at the current state that it’s in I’m sure this is the only thing he will help with, ha!
Billy and I gave him all of the hard jobs like pulling out the tacks and staples! The oak floors under the carpet were in decent condition in two of the rooms, the rest was pretty shot. We were planning to save them until we looked at the cost difference with the issues we discovered during the demo process and it just made sense to put in new floors.
Once the carpet was out we could get thinking about what to do inside the house. While we were under contract (we closed in 21 days) I engaged with an architect to do a full drawing of the house and help me plan a new layout. I’m glad I started with this because I could present the plan to the contractors I interviewed for the project. If you are wondering where to start with your remodel I would highly recommend doing this first if your home doesn’t have current plans. You’ll need them to make change requests that require permits so it’s smart to get the ball rolling early.
While the planning for the interior updates was going on we changed our focus to cleaning up the lot. Billy took the lead on this and he loved every minute of it. He went through the yard with Tammy who also works at Kuzak’s Closet to determine what goes and what stays. Tammy owned a landscape architect firm prior to the 2008 recession so she is an expert! During this process we also removed all of the random stepping stones, cement slabs, metal sheds, and bricks throughout the yard.
We ended with a blank slate and even though it looks a bit like a dust field it’s better than it was. In the above photo the hose outlines where we are going to build a deck and the 2×4 square is where the hot tub will go. Planning for the essentials! Below you can see Tammy’s rough landscape plan to give you a better visual.
In the meantime, throughout July and August, we had the house measured and I worked with our architect Dennis (yes, he looks like Steve Martin from It’s Complicated) and came up with this plan. The house is little so I wanted to make it feel like a really nice cottage that you check into on vacation. To do that we opened up the kitchen to the living room by removing the L-shaped wall in that space, combined two bedrooms into a large master with a walk-in closet, and put french doors on the back of the house so the outdoor space would become part of the living space. The plan on the right is what it looked like when we bought it, the plan on the left reflects the changes we are going to make.
Exciting right? They make it look so easy on Fixer Upper and I think it can be with the right team. I interviewed several contractors for this project and in the end I decided to go with the one that “spoke my language.” I’m a realist and much of the success of Kuzak’s Closet is my ability to be honest about results and expectations with our estate families and our organizing clients. I wanted to work with someone who could give me answers, the truth, not just what he thought I wanted to hear. The person I chose is very hands on, honest, and transparent. He could also help us achieve our goal of updating the entire 940 square feet at once within our timeline. It’s such a small house so I really wanted it to have an end result that is thoughtful, livable, and uniform. I also figured there would be issues with the house because of the age of it. We had an inspection but around here they were don’t tell you much because all of the house sales are “as-is” with no contingency for inspection and no credit for issues found.
We got our permits at the end of August and were able to start the demo process this week. We are opening up the kitchen and removing this wall so we needed to put a beam in. This is the before…
And this is the after all of the demo they did this week…
A slower recap…
After day one it went from this…
I love the history of the wallpaper in the above photo! I’m glad I stopped in to see it because the next day it was gone.
Where this wall is there will be a kitchen island with a cooktop and oven. In the corner there will be a wrap around bench for seating and storage.
This is what it looks like after week one of demo from the vantage of walking in the front door…
Once we started the demo process it was very apparent that we had a huge termite issue. It was also a surprise that the house had illegal electrical, it wasn’t grounded, and we had knob and tube wiring. There was also no insulation so we had to make some choices. Termites and no insulation are common in California because of our weather so I wasn’t surprised. After reviewing the options with the our contractor we decided to go ahead and remove all of the sheet rock so we can tent the house to remedy the termite issue and start fresh with insulation and drywall.
Talking points from this Thursday’s 7am meeting…
You can see the trails from the subterranean termites on the entry door to this room. They bring dirt and sand up with them from the ground. We will be doing a ground treatment this week and then next week we will tent the house, the treatment for the other type of termites we have. Fun fun!
A closer look at the termite action…
Here is a shot of our electrical, it’s amazing this place hasn’t had a fire over the years!
I stopped by the house this morning on my walk and I was excited to see that the crew was working on a Sunday. The team we have in place is really great and motivated to get this house done by our deadline of 12/1 . They are focused on getting the beam installed in the kitchen and removing the wall between the two bedrooms and framing up the new closet. We have a dumpster until Tuesday so everyone is working hard to get it filled up!
This is a before of the back of the house from the day we bought it…
And this is what it looked like today! They are making room for the new french doors and it’s exciting to see how it feels to have it all opened up! I can already picture us on the deck enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon!
Well, that is a big summary of what’s happened over the last two months. I’m hoping to have more updates for you weekly as things proceed so stay tuned! There are also updates on my Instagram stories if you want to stay tuned that way! Stories at the little circles on the top of the app, you push the circle and videos from the day play. I share 4-5 each day.