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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Tread lightly on history…



What one can and cannot do to a historic house in remodeling projects is sometimes at odds with what one should and should not do.  Some cities, towns and villages have local ordinances that specify what can and cannot be done to the historic homes within their jurisdictions.  Some of those local ordinances are very restrictive, especially concerning the exterior appearance of the house. Those ordinances may exercise control over things like additions or modifications to the exterior of the house, even extending down to the colors that may be used on the house. In most instances there are less, if any, ordinances governing what may be done to interior of the houses. That lack of governmental oversight, combined with the need to make the old homes livable in modern terms, has resulted in many of these “historic homes” having little or no historic character on the inside.

The constant tradeoffs between preserving the historic character of the house as it was built and accommodating modern living are decisions that all historic homeowners face. There are just many things in a historic home that don’t work in modern times or that are at a minimum very inconvenient to live with. When they were built things like insulation in the walls, thermal windows, heavy duty electrical systems, efficient and adequate heating and cooling systems and even adequate plumbing were not yet thought of or invented.

Most turn of the century (think early 1900’s and before) were built with hollow, balloon walls, with plaster on the interior,  and single pane windows. Some may have had a little insulation in the attics, but even that was not required or common. None of them had 2-pane thermal windows, although some may have had storm windows added later.

The electrical systems of the day used knob and tube central conduits with the few circuits that were built in at the time dropping off that backbone. There may have been one central ceiling light in a room and perhaps a couple of plugs – certainly, none were designed to accommodate the many electrical devices that we now find in homes, especially not in the kitchens of historic homes.

Many early homes were designed with the fireplaces as their heating system, with things like steam radiators coming into the picture in the mid to late-1800’s. Many were later converted to hot water systems and in the later 1800’s and early 1900’s the forced air systems came into play. The concept of air conditioning was not in sight when most were built and the ones with steam or hot water heating didn’t have any ductwork built into them. 

There seemed to be no reason why anyone would need more than one bathroom in the house when they were built and no better place than to put it on the second floor, out of sight of the public areas on the main level. The whole plumbing system of those old houses were probably built with galvanized pipe that is a health hazard that was not understood at the time.

Other things that made sense back in the day included using good oak for flooring on the main level and going to broad-board pine on the upper levels. Small kitchens were the norm, since they were used for cooking only and some of that may have been out doors anyway. Tub baths were the standard for baths, so showers and showering were oft an afterthought and not well accommodated by most bathroom setups.  

Most historic homes have had major system upgrades done to them over time in the electrical and plumbing areas, as well as in their heating and cooling systems; however, many of the shortcomings that came with their original construction may still be there. What is the current homeowner to do? How do you balance the trade-offs between the demands of modern living and preserving the historic character of the house?

As with most things, cost is the biggest factor in making these decisions. It is possible to recreate the historic details that one might want to preserve while using modern materials and technology.  There are companies that make modern thermal windows that look like the original old windows. Some even reused the old, wavy glass that came out of old homes to do that. They cost lot more than your standard replacement windows, but they preserve the “look” of the house. It is also possible to re-floor an old house with modern flooring that looks like the old oak plank flooring that was there, but it too is more expensive and just throwing in some modern flooring or putting wall-to-wall carpeting over the old, worn floors. Switching out to modern bathroom fixtures is probably more of a change; however, there are great reproductions of the old claw-foot tubs available, if you are inclined to put up with their inherent limitations in accommodating a shower. That historically accurate looking ring shower curtain and holder is never going to be as good as a modern shower stall.

What about major remodeling, like blowing out walls to open up the “cut-up” feeling of the old homes? Let’s face it, if you make that decision, you are going to lose a major historical component of the house. It really won’t be a historic home anymore, at least in that area. Some add-on are easier to accommodate and integrate that others. Expanding the kitchen is one. Adding a first floor bathroom is another. So long as the addition itself fits in with the surrounding architecture and the interior uses finishes that match the rest of the house, those will probably work and add value to the house. Just avoid the urge to blow out the wall between the kitchen and dining room and opening that up to the living room to create a great room affect. You will have just killed the historic ambiance of three rooms at once.

I guess the best advice when considering or planning updates to historic homes is that contained in the post title. Even if there are no local ordinances to restrain you, understand that a good part of the value in your historic home is its historic ambiance and doing things to it that remove or destroy that ambiance detracts from its value, rather than adding to it. If you absolutely cannot stand to live with the quirks and character of your historic home, sell it and move to a modern home. Maybe the next owner will be more willing to accommodate it’s character rather than destroy it.

Tread lightly on history

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

We are already in the aftershock recession...

The real estate market in Southeastern Michigan has slowed as rising prices and lack of available inventory sent many would-be buyers to the sidelines as the year winds down. See the attached report from our broker, Dan Elsea -

http://reofamilymarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Bro_HousingReport_Q3_2018_REO_Dynamic.pdf

There is an inclination to just attribute this slowdown to a normal seasonal pattern; however, I believe that we actually seeing the leading edge of the next recession. There are other subtle indicators in the retail markets and elsewhere that reinforce my "gut feel" that what we are seeing right now is the quiet before the storm of another recessionary period.

The Wall Street gang would like us to believe that the recent volubility and drop in the market is just an "adjustment"; but I think it is more of a pullback by people made cautious by the last recession. Many people are starting to hunker down in anticipation of a few years of the pain of this recession.

I would compare this recession to an aftershock following a major earthquake. We had the major quake in the so-called "Great Recession" of  December 2007 to June 2009. At the end of that period there was an attempt to "return to normal", fueled by a Wall Street Rally that was based largely on great expectations. Stocks rallied and there was an expectation that wages would soon follow them up. That did not happen. Employment when up, but the jobs were mainly part time and lower paying that before the Great Recession.

In fact, the Great Recession was the final death knell of the Middle Class working man - the union workers who, with overtime, could afford the bigger houses and the toys that went with the Middle Class lifestyle. Wall Street used the downturn and the changes in political power that occurred in Washington at about the same time to emasculate the unions and decimate the working Middle Class. The rich got richer at the upper end and more of the middle class was pushed down to join the poor at the bottom.

So this "aftershock" recession is actually the a reflection of the reality of people's lives finally matching their circumstances, rather than being fueled by the credit-driven optimism that Wall Street was pushing. The Wall Street band was playing "Happy Days are Here Again" and encouraging people to spend, spend, spend with credit in the hope that wages would rise and allow that credit to be paid off. Didn't happen! Not going to happen. The realization that a raise is not forthcoming is settling in and the valves of the credit-fueled recovery are being cranked shut.

Add to that the likely mid-term shift in the political environment in Washington and you have the classic ingredients for a recession. The good news is that the credit overhang in the general population (especially in real estate) is not quite as bad this time and the measures taken after the Great Recession have strengthened our financial system and positioned it better to ride this one out without bailouts.

That recession also took America down a notch in the order of things in the world. At the same time China was on the rise and India was awakening as an economic power. America is still the only "great power"; just maybe not as great in relative terms as before. That s another new reality that most have not yet figured out how to deal with for the future.

So, remember that you read it here. We have already entered the "aftershock recession" of 2018. How long this will last and how deep the "adjustment" will be are yet to be determined. I don't think it will be as long or as bad as the Great Recession; which I believe should be renamed "The Great Reset", because it did cause a wholesale reset of the economic and social structure of America.

I'll see you on the other side.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Granny's Attic Sale this weekend

The annual Granny's Attic Sale is this weekend at the Milford Historical Museum at 124 E. Commerce St in Milford, Michigan. This is always a favorite with folks coming to downtown Milford for the annual Sidewalk Sale that will also be going on. I think our sale has actually been going on longer than the sidewalk sale.

There are always treasures to be found at the Granny's Attic Sale because we not only get donations from Historical Society members and local residents, but we have tings that were left over from estate sales throughout the year. I've posted a few picture on our Milford Historical Society Web site. Be sure to click on Granny's Attic Sale to be taken to our News and Information page.

The sale is both Friday and Saturday from 9 AM until 4 PM on the grounds of the Museum. Get there early for the best selection. Carolyn and I have several Middle Eastern brass and copper trays like the one pictured on the web site that we brought back from our two year stay in Iran in the late 60's (before the revolution).

There are several nice pieces of furniture and lots of unique and unusual items. Maybe I'll see you there.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Open House this Sunday - July 1, 2018

I will be holding open the wonderful new listing that I wrote about (see post below this one) on Cooley Lake Road this Sunday, July 1 from 1 -3 PM. Come on out and see what luxurious county living is all about. This house won't disappoint.

To get a preview, watch the video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MF-GykJpXMg

I hope I see you there. I'll have some fresh cookies.

Friday, June 29, 2018

New listing is the perfect home...

4910 Cooley Lake Road., Commerce Twp, MI  49382

If you have always dreamed of a home for entertaining, this is the home for you.

If you have always dreamed of a home on a paved road with car storage space for 4 or more cars and the ceiling height to put in a lift, this is the home for you.

If you have a large family or maybe a blended family with in-laws living with you, this is the hie for you.

If you have always wanted a pool and spa, this is the home for you.

If you are an avid gardener and have always wants a greenhouse, this is the home for you.

If you've dreamed about a home with a large master suite and great master bathroom, this is the home for you.

See all of these features and more when you watch the video below -

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MF-GykJpXMg

This is the home for you.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Ultimate Home Seller To-Do Checklist

Here's a link to a guest article with advice for would-be home sellers. - The Ultimate Home Selelr To-Do List.. Enjoy and learn about the things you might need to do to get your home ready for the market.

Norm

Friday, May 11, 2018

Bathroom remodeling - how to save some money

It's remodeling season, when [people stop just thinking about doing those remodeling projects and actually start doing them. Kitchens and bathrooms are the most often remodeled rooms in most people's homes (not considering just painting any other room to be remodeling) and most costly rooms to remodel.

Here's an infographic that has some good advice on how to cut the cost of doing a bathroom remodel -  http://luxurycommercialbath.com/blog/how-to-save-money-on-your-bathroom-remodel-infographic/

Friday, February 23, 2018

Norm's Real Estate Tips - Title Insurance

Great interview video with Renee Copper of Title Connect on what Title Insurance is and why you need it. Watch now at -

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0a-nIJFs78

Monday, January 29, 2018

Guest post on HVAC tips - Know when to replace your furnace

I've partnered with the folks at PickHVAC.com to provide some useful information about your home HVAC system. Their first post in on my Milford Team Web site at - http://www.themilfordteam.com/hvac_posts.html

I hope to bring you a whole series of informational posts from these HVAC experts, so stay tuned in.