It’s been quite the adventure. This is the first time I’ve done a remodel so I really didn’t know what to expect. It was Dan’s 3rd time, and his 2nd time with these contractors, so he was well prepared. I learned a lot. Even learned to tolerate and sometimes appreciate IKEA 🙂 Dan was Very Good about wanting me to be involved in every decision – even when I truly didn’t care about that particular detail. (Yeah, no, really, whatever you want is fine.) But when I had ideas or clear opinions I definitely spoke up, and he appreciated that. Like the office nook in this odd little space where I’m sitting now to write this.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to July, 2014, when this whole thing started. Dan’s employer, Bayer, moved their offices from Davis to West Sacramento. He was going from a 3 mile commute – which he often used his bike for – to 14 miles over the causeway, a much less bike friendly path. We were both traveling a lot – in 2014 one of us was on the road 27 weeks of the year – and keeping up with the Davis house was becoming a real chore.
One weekend late that month I had introduced Dan to Sal’s, a favorite Mexican food joint of mine in West Sac. Across the street were these condos. I’m looking out the window and say “maybe we should consider downsizing.” We have this interesting discussion about it. Something that would shorten his commute, and be easier to maintain. I had gotten a call from a recruiter a few days before about exploring a job change. If I changed jobs, I would likely end up towards Rancho Cordova or towards Roseville, so anything central would be fine since it would be a reverse commute to the burbs in those examples. And if I didn’t change jobs, then I’m still working from home and it wouldn’t matter. The seed was planted.
We didn’t talk about it again until the Friday evening of Labor Day weekend. We were heading out to Santa Cruz for a couple of nights the next morning. That Friday evening, Dan starts sending me properties to look at from Redfin. “What about this one?” I did the driving to Santa Cruz the next morning. By the time we got there, Dan had set up an appointment with our real estate agent for us to look at 3 or 4 properties when we got back on Monday afternoon. The search was on.
Originally we had a fairly wide but still central focus: Downtown, Midtown, East Sac, Land Park. Over time, we narrowed that to Midtown. We had considered condos – had even put an offer on one in a high rise downtown – and eventually nixed that as well. While the right single family would be OK, Dan preferred a duplex or tri-plex for investment reasons.
By November we were in escrow on a property on I street between 17th/18th. It had a commercial space downstairs and 2 units upstairs – a one bedroom and a two bedroom. And like 9 parking spaces in the back that were rented full time to the law firm next door. We planned to tear down a large deck and use that space plus some of the parking to build another structure that would have more units in it. Long story short, we pulled out of that deal just before Thanksgiving.
In the mean time however, I had applied for a job at Disability Rights California, which would have been just 2 blocks away at 19th/K. By the time I had my first interview, we were in escrow on this property on 20th, between N and O Streets, 4 blocks away. Never in a million years did I think I could actually work in Midtown.
This property had been on the market for a while. It’s a strange setup: a duplex well over a 100 years old in need of some work, sitting on the corner of an 80×80 lot that is zoned commercial. So this large area of vacant land right next to it. If you’re a residential buyer, you don’t really know what to do with that. If you’re a commercial buyer, you don’t really want the house there and, because it’s in a historical district, the city will give you grief for wanting to tear it down. If you’re Dan, you know exactly what to do with something like that: fix up the units in the house to be decent rentals, and build a small apartment building in the open space. And because it had been on the market for so long, it was pretty reasonably priced.
On December 7, 2014, we spent the afternoon in Midtown to check out the property and the surrounding neighborhood, including where my interview that Tuesday would be, and another house over on 18th around F. We spent probably 4 hours walking around Midtown, with stops at a ramen place in the Safeway shopping center for lunch, and Rick’s for dessert. Having never lived in Sacramento before, Dan hadn’t spent that much time in Midtown and he really liked it. We heard a couple of trains go by while we were close to our property and it wasn’t that bad, something that had been a concern of mine especially. We talked to the downstairs tenants and they confirmed – not too bad and you get pretty used to it. We would be on the east side of the street; the train runs behind the west side and the buildings on that side buffer the noise quite a bit. And, being between N and O streets, we were close to the heart of Midtown which is J through Capitol, and also the stuff being developed over by Q and R. We put an offer in and were in escrow by the time of my first interview on 12/9.
I got the job and started 1/26/15. We were supposed to close on 1/29. We didn’t close until 7/22. The title company discovered the City of Sacramento had a lien on the property because of these outside stairs the owner – a real estate development company – had built without permits and without checking on the historical district requirements. It took them that long to get all of that cleared up.
We retained the property manager who immediately served notice on the upstairs tenants. The upstairs unit is 1 bedroom and about 800 square feet, downstairs about 900. The downstairs is 2 bedroom, but they got the 2nd one by cutting the living room in half. Or so we thought. During the process of the remodel, we discovered that’s actually how it was built, and the upstairs became a 1 bedroom by knocking out a wall to make the living room bigger. You could see the outline of the original wall on the floor after the carpet was lifted. But it was because of the better living space that we wanted the upstairs unit, despite being smaller.
The tenant moved out on 9/20 and our contractors started work shortly after. We’d spent the time in between – mostly Dan – planning what we wanted, with many trips (MANY) to Ikea [I actually learned all the shortcuts and can now get in and out of there in under 15 minutes], Home Depot, granite warehouses, Lumber Liquidators, etc. What I hope to do with this blog is to create a photo diary of sorts, room by room: what it looked before, during, and after. I wasn’t as diligent as I could have been going through the process of getting the right shots to make good comparisons, but you’ll get the idea.
Here’s our little house as you approach it from N Street. We haven’t touched the outside so it still looks just like this. It’s not much to look at from the outside, and we’re very OK with that. The only thing different is that blue chair on the downstairs porch is gone – it belonged to the tenant who left on 10/28. (And thank god he did – the remodel wasn’t ready when we had to move in on the 30th of October and we ended up putting most of the boxes down there. It’s the evening of 12/4 as I type this paragraph and I’ll be spending a good portion of this weekend getting the final things out of there because the property manager will start showing it next week. We replaced the carpeting during this period as well.)
This was how we found the front porch upstairs. It faces west, but the trees in front do a nice job of blocking the sun.
All of the above was originally written in 2015 and moved here on 5/25/2020. To see the inside of the house, go to Entry & Bedroom next.