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Edison House: A Soft Place to Land

When we landed our fine ship Galapagos at the dock in September, we stepped onto the dock clutching  tightly in our fists great lists of demands we were prepared to place upon our sailor selves; tasks that, as they were completed, would create a road of sorts to a financial future that would allow for another sailing trip of epic proportions. Having one successful round of cruising under our belts, we are determined to go round again and this time we want to do a few things differently. Now that we know how much it costs for us to cruise the way we like to (more than we anticipated), we feel like we can better prepare for our next go around. And that means we may need to take some risks, get outside our usual comfort zone. Because if we keep doing the same old things, then the same old things will keep happening.

Edison House. We closed during the big storm of 2021. Today. Built in 1929.

We approach these kinds of spiritual contract negotiations with our lists of desires clutched tightly in our fingers. These are the things we must have: We must have regular money coming in. We must also have a house to return to or for our kids to go to if they are in need. If we can get two houses, that would be even better. One of those properties needs to offer my mother a place to live if she needs it. Is that the final tally? Have we ultimately decided which direction to go? Looks like we have, and so forward, march. We need a soft place to land from this point we are jumping from because jumping into the void is an act of faith. We are in that space where playing it safe may not get us where we want to go, especially in a fast paced market. We’ll have to do something outside our comfort zone, something that feels risky.  It will be time to go with the heart and the beacon that it is, lighting the way forward. We call it ‘riding the wave’. If you are lucky enough to notice the right wave coming your way and you step into it, the energy will carry you home. That’s how we knew when to sell the Lakewood house. It’s how we chose the right realtor to usher us through preparing and marketing the house. And that’s how we would buy another house in the market from hell for buyers. We would find a wave and ride it home to a house that ticked off a number of boxes on our long lists.

How about that fireplace with its period flickering candle sconces? And the little ‘speak easy’ window on the front door. I love that.

Long time readers will remember that we kept our house in Lakewood, WA when le left the dock because it just didn’t seem like selling it was the right idea. I still loved the house and felt connected to it. The boat did not yet feel like home. Selling would have been seriously hard for me and it just felt wrong. I also thought the timing was not right to sell because I could see the market for sellers being much better in a couple of years. If we kept it and didn’t lose money doing so, then we would be able to sell during a strong sellers market that surely would be coming due to pressures from the Seattle housing market. So we kept it and we had excellent renters in the home for two years. We stored our household goods in a reasonably priced storage unit.

Coming back to the states, we knew the time was perfect to sell. The feelings about selling at that point were clean and clear. There was no wavering, no doubt, no internal argument, no convincing of the self that this was the right thing. Sell and sell now. Not one tear was shed because the feelings had shifted. We sold the house two days after listing it. We sold to a nice family with grandchildren who live close by. We couldn’t have been happier and we got a windfall profit by timing the sale correctly. We could check ‘sell house’ off of our long list of preparations for Little Cunning Plan, Phase 2.

I’m seeing whites and creams. This is the upstairs landing.

Money from the Lakewood House in our account, we began taking stock of the seriously low inventory in Olympia. It’s a bad, bad time to be a buyer in this market and we knew that. Very few houses are on the market, and those with reasonable prices have some kind of seriously wrong thing going on-like being downtown next to the armory or something. Nope. We wanted to be close to town because we love walking to town and Mike can walk to work, making his commute so easy. We wanted to be close to Claire and Dan, and mostly we wanted to find something we could enjoy living in while we are here, but that could also be used as a nice rental when we leave. The house you rent and the house you live in are rarely the same kind of house. So that was a tall order.

We looked at a few houses as they came available and shied away from each one for one reason or another. We would drift into looking at big victorians because we both love them, only to pull ourselves up short and remind ourselves we’d never feel good renting out such a place. We looked at a really lovely rambler out in the country. Then reminded ourselves that we would find better renters close into the city and that the yard was much too big for renters to care for. Another ‘no’ to a beautiful house. We also wanted to be able to pay cash for the house and then go back and finance part of it later if we wanted to recoup some of the cash for another use. So that seriously limited the houses we could reasonably go see.

From the kitchen and through the dining room, which used to be a kitchen way back when.

Rental houses are not the kinds of houses we usually look at. We’ve never been ‘investors’. We live in the houses we buy and that’s a different kind of house as a rule. But we are also wanting to live in our own space as we begin to take on big projects like the upholstery in the salon on Galapagos. I need a larger work area for that project. So the goal became, ‘let’s find a house that will work for us for now and that will make a fine rental when we leave. It cannot be too big or have too difficult a yard to keep. If it’s a duplex, that would even be better. Surely something will come up on the market”.

And very quickly, it did.

Just around the corner from where we live now, an unfortunately colored house we had named Pumpkin House, came on the market at a price that was moderately good for the area and the size of the property. Obviously they were hoping investors would swoop in and bid the price up. The house is a duplex with one main dwelling and a smaller apartment on the side of the house. With a finished attic space and full basement, there would be plenty of room to spread out projects. The apartment had a long term renter who pays on time by autopay each month. The roof was new last year. The house, while a color I would not choose, had a bit of style that I could bring out better by using color more wisely. The downside was the house had only 1 bath and that looked very small. And the kitchen looked like it was ready to have a complete remodel. A bonus was that the house sported a one car garage in good condition with a door that closes. That’s right, the bar is really low for garages in Olympia’s older neighborhoods. Hardly anyone has one and this was an almost non-negotiable thing for me because of property crime. Cars left unprotected overnight are an easy mark.

A kitchen remodel is coming our way. I cannot bear that tile. 

And now we were faced with either leaping, or losing out. Because the market in Olympia is ridiculously tight at the moment. There are not many houses on the market and decent properties of all kinds sell within days. In fact, we had already lost out on a really nice property that had several small houses on it. It sold while we were driving out with our realtor to view it. Lesson learned. Do not hesitate.  It’s not for the faint of spirit and if ever the term ‘you snooze, you lose’ were applicable, it’s now. If we even wanted to see this house at all, we would have to make an offer and have it accepted because it had renters living there a bit longer so the usual house-viewing rules didn’t apply.

This house is walkable to downtown Olympia, less than 2 blocks from the market, less than a block from my yoga studio, and literally around the corner from where we are living now with Claire and Dan. In spite of the ugly color, the house has good lines. In terms of the neighborhood, it’s an eclectic mixture of cottages, bungalows, victorians, and every other kind of architecture that you can imagine. Most are well kept, many are rentals. They almost all have gardeners in residence because this is Olympia.  I describe the area as Pacific Northwest Creative Funky Rainbow Friendly. It has a good vibe but mostly on-street parking, which sometimes makes it seem a bit crowded. In terms of an investment, it’s extremely well located. There are straight up never enough rentals available in Olympia.

This tiny bathroom offers many design challenges but I already have a vision. Including a pocket door.

As soon as the listing was up, our realtor was hearing from us and making arrangements for us to make an offer on the house, sight unseen. It’s worse than buying a boat without a sea trial (which, you’ll recall, we also did).  You just have to somehow ‘know’ that this house is worth taking a risk. To be clear, if we didn’t like the house, we’d get our offer rescinded and our escrow money back, but it’s a lot of work to go through just to view a property.

Our offer was accepted by the seller and we were stunned. Honestly, the competition was so great that we didn’t think we had a chance. So how did we manage to be first in line? Our realtor, Shane Klinkhammer. The man knows how to make an offer that is attractive and he knows how to move fast. We had the offer in the agent’s hand within 24 hours. It was all cash, no contingencies, no expectations of fixing anything on the house (but if big things were found in the inspection we could walk away), and we could be closed by Feb 15, less than 2 weeks away. We offered a little bit above asking; just a few thousand. And we put down serious earnest money that reflected the serious interest we had.

Upon their acceptance of our offer, the selling agent let us know that they had a back up offer already signed off on. It was for more money but the buyer had to get financing. That was the difference. We could close fast, and they couldn’t. So the seller would have his money right away. It’s not the way we like to buy houses, which seem like they should be given more time, but that’s the way it’s working right now.  We had to get the place inspected, have another electrician come out quickly to asses some older wiring in part of the house, get an appraisal all within a two week period. Shane kept his hand on the tiller the whole time, making sure we stayed within contract so that our position was safe. At the end of the day, they sold their house in less than 24 hours, before their offer review date, because we were able to come in strong and had a good realtor.

A historical find in the upstairs closet: a stamp from the Carlisle Lumber Mill in Onalaska WA where the wood came from. It was in its heyday in 1929. The smokestack from the mill still stands.

It was the fir floors, the coved ceilings, the full basement, and the spacious finished attic that sold me. There are just enough period details to give the house a bit of charm, not so many that modern amenities seem out of place. It still has its glass doorknobs, and the little peek-a- boo on the front door makes me feel like we will be running a speak-easy out of the living room. I have always wanted to own an old house and have all its solid history as part of the family. We are very excited to get moved in after a bunch of painting and a bit of remodeling. It’s nice to be in a position to get stuff done before we move the furniture in.

The kitchen needs completely redoing, as does the bathroom. There is one bathroom and it is the size of a boat head. So that room will have some design challenges to be met but I’m excited about those and already have some great ideas for how I will make that room remarkable for its size. Small soaking tub, anyone? We are considering adding a second bathroom upstairs if the cost is not too much. We can do a lot of finish work ourselves if we can get a plumber to get in there and do the important stuff right.

My biggest challenge will be keeping the yard down to a mild roar in terms of gardens. Basically this is a blank slate and I have hundreds of little plants and starts that I moved from the Lucerne Road House. Those will need to be put in the ground in the spring. I don’t want to make this property difficult to keep neat. So I’m not sure how i will solve all that, but I look forward to the puzzle.

A fun find in the basement. There are still coal ashes inside.

This house ticks off a number of boxes for us: it offers a nice place to live while we refit the boat, it offers extra money each month from the rental of the apartment, it will be very easy to rent the place out when we leave and have more income from the house, it has a garage for the car, and the apartment offers my mom a place in the future if she needs it. We can check those things off our long list.

There will be some blog worthy days coming up so stay tuned for the next installment of the Edison House transformation.

Playing with these colors. Looks better already. Even better if the porch eyebrow were that white color and maybe bring the white down toward the windows a bit.