Operation House it Going: Welcome to Sunkist Manor

Kat and I have been slowly saving for a house for years. We have moved eight times — as our jobs and offices relocated, so did we — and each time, that sapped more of our savings. We aren’t wasteful; we have expensive interests like photography and guitars, and we generally believe in buying quality. So when we finally got serious about looking for a home this year — in honor of our impending 20th anniversary — I think we were in line for a little house karma.

And so, when we found a nice house in the Laurel Park neighborhood of Richmond, on the border of El Cerrito in the East Bay, we put in an offer and it was accepted in early May. A few weeks later, we had keys!

You may have noticed the house is bright orange. It came that way, a recent repaint. I am not going to change it. I love it. We call it Sunkist Manor. And it has an unusual history. 

When we took possession, the new house was recently renovated, but sloppily. From what we have been able to piece together, the previous owner hit the lottery late last year. He had been trying to sell the place on and off for a few years, so he simply bought a new place and split in January. He owns some small businesses in Oakland and appears to have a “no haggling” policy overall. When previous potential buyers said “we need a credit on the price to fix the following issues,” he apparently said no to everything and actually cancelled that deal back in February. Then he took the house off the market and had someone do the necessary renovations — albeit hastily. (For the record, he also said no to all of our requests for credits after our inspection showed quite a lot of problem areas. A tough cookie for sure.)

The recent upgrades are significant — new kitchen, new floors, dated wood paneling removed, new paint inside and out — but these jobs were not executed with care, or in some cases even completed. The kitchen countertop was broken during installation (or perhaps on sale?); half of the power outlets were non-functional and none were grounded; the appliances are new, but incorrectly installed (dishwashers should dump water into the sink, not under it; ovens should vent heat to the outside of the house; gas stoves should be secured to the wall). The fresh laminate floors are poorly laid, with gaps, chips, and bubbles in various places. Rather than refinish the floor in a room that used to have a bar in it, they chose to patch in some leftover laminate and put a 1/2″ border around it — like you’d use to join rooms via a doorway — so you trip over it. They painted over the security system, rendering it useless. The garage has a new door, but since it was installed incorrectly, it broke as soon as we tried to open it. There are slightly more serious things like a leaking water heater which has since been replaced, a bathroom that will need an overhaul in a few years, and a window that was inexplicably installed at a 90-degree angle so it barely functions. It’s all weird stuff from someone whose agenda was apparently “just do it cheap and fast,” both when they lived there and the recent renovations.

But for all the unusual choices inside — and even the bright orange choice made outside — the foundation and the roof are solid, so our inspector said “you know, everything in-between can be fixed.” And he’s right.  It’s very functional; we can move in & we can live here now. (Well, once we get internet service, because duh.) We’ve had a parade of handymen, contractors, plumbers, and electricians in to address the above issues and they’ve all said the same thing: “Well, that’s the wrong way to do what they did, but it’s an easy enough fix.” Easy doesn’t always mean cheap, but the biggest, most expensive, most time-consuming projects were done before we moved in, and that’s good — we’ve just had to play clean-up.

And really, isn’t that home ownership? It’s an ongoing game of clean-up that you never really stop playing. There will always be things in the house we want to improve, overhaul, tweak, or change. But for the first time in our lives, we finally have the ability to do exactly that. For now, that freedom outshines the inherent responsibility. And of course, our bright orange house outshines everything.

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