Too Good To Be True?

Ok, I’m a liar. I admit it. I promised weeks ago that I’d cease blogging about my condo search. Well, here I go again:

I saw a few condos yesterday. One was in Cambridgeport – a block from the river and behind Trader Joe’s (and near Whole Foods). It was listed as a “top floor” unit in a former two family house that felt like it’s own house.

What it actually was was a former two-family house illegally subdivided into 4 units (two per floor) with no second means of egress. To enter the unit, one had to walk through an alley to the rear of the house (by weather damaged, flipped over lawn furniture) and then climb steep stairs to the second floor. The kitchen had a 1960’s mustard yellow oven on one side and a 1970’s stove top on the other side. The bedroom was about 7′ x 9′ and there was a mysterious door blocked by a curtain that we realized went to the neighboring apartment (not only was it an illegal subdivision…it was a low quality one).

Not helping matters, the property felt MILES away from the nearest subway (despite it only being a 12-15 minute walk). As we were driving away, I also saw some sort of shady “deal” take place as a woman walked up to a car window and exchanged something with the driver.


Now, of the two units I was planning to see yesterday, that first was the one I had the highest hopes for (the description made it sound lovely).

The second unit I was to see was in Central Square. The price was over $61,000 less for the identical square footage so I had already planned to dismiss it as crap. In addition, the description was brutally honest, stating that it would require a brand new kitchen and bathroom.

Needless to say, the broker and I approached this property with a bit of apprehension and an attitude of “we’ll use this property as a tool to prove why you get what you pay for.” However, we were pleasantly surprised!

The condo felt HUGE (despite being the same size). The ceiling had to be 10 or 11 feet high. It had all of the original 1920’s details areound the door frames, windows and ceiling. The walls were freshly painted, the floors were being buffed. Contractors were on site finishing up a new roof. The windows were brand new and the heating system was being replaced.

That said, the kitchen and bath were frightening. You’d literally have to start from scratch. The kitchen was 12’x8′ (a really decent size) but there were no cupboards or cabinets (or dishwasher). The bathroom was TINY (once again, a product of dividing the building into smaller units). However, the plumbing and electrical was supposedly good in both kitchen and bath. It appeared to simply be a (costly) cosmetic job.

This unit is one block from the subway, on a quiet side street and has lots of windows. There is no wasted space as you go from room to room (no useless corridors). And being the cheapest unit of all that I’ve found, I could actually afford to put some money into a new kitchen.

HHMMMM – the only down sides to this place are that:

  • I’d have to pay to have the kitchen and bath re-done and don’t know what to expect (cost over runs?)
  • It’s on the first floor (so I’d have a neighbor above me…but nobody on 3 sides, at least)
  • There’s only one closet (though I could build in another while contractors do the kitchen

Anyway, here are some photos.

This stairwell is in the lobby (and being remodeled). It’s got great wood detail.


Here’s the bathroom. Yuck. I was thinking I could get rid of the shower stall and put it one of those walk-in tubs that you can also sit in and fill up to your neck.


Here’s the kitchen. No counters! Just those odd wall shelves and misplaced (old) appliances.

 kitchen 03.jpg

This wall is twelve feet long and just has these odd shelves for storage. No counter!

kitchen 02.jpg

This is the living room. So bright, so open!

living room 01.jpg

Another living room wall.

living room 02.jpg

This is the bedroom. I should have had the broker stand in the shot to show the ceiling height. But, when standing, my chin came to about the middle of the window.

bedroom 02.jpg

There’s an open house on Sunday. I think I’ll go back and measure/inspect a bit more. The owner is requiring that all bids be submitted by 6PM on Monday (which means there’ll be competition). At least that gives me 4 days to think about it.

Speaking of thinking…what are your thoughts?


  1. Comment by Mark on November 16, 2006 11:25 am

    Hm, I think it’s very intriguing and that you should return to the Open House. On which side of Central is this apartment? Central is ghetto adjacent, in many respects, but I have gotten used to it, despite being what appears to be “miles away” (given that I live three blocks from the horrid place).

    Cosmetic bathroom and kitchen work may not run you too much. If your realtor is good, he or she may be able to broker some money in the closing for fixing them up the way that you want it. In some respects, it’s a good thing to be in that position, since you can make the place as you want it, if you’ve got the time, money, and patience. I am happy with the overhaul of my bathroom from the Pepto pink that drowned it before.

  2. Comment by veselka slut on November 16, 2006 1:36 pm

    I love it honey!

  3. Comment by Ed on November 16, 2006 2:54 pm

    If it’s the building I’m thinking of the owner purchased it last month for 1.2 mil and doing a quick condo conversion. He got to be selling the other units at a much higher price to make any money. The area is not terrible, but their are some sketchy areas near there. Try and bargain with him to improve the kitchen and bath and build it into the purchase. Or tell the owner how you would like it and get a price from him for renovating it to you taste.

    Lastly and maybe most importantly could you live with only a shower stall and no tub? I couldn’t.


  4. Comment by karyn on November 16, 2006 4:03 pm

    I think you really hate having someone live above you.

    Think carefully.

  5. Comment by Chris on November 16, 2006 5:20 pm

    HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE the upstairs neighbors. I figured, when I looked at this place, that with 12 foot ceilings, it wouldn’t be a big deal – that there’d be plenty of space for sound to disperse. NOT SO! I swear to god that her going to the restroom at 3am sounds like a herd of echoing elephants. SERIOUSLY consider that part.

  6. Comment by Fred on November 16, 2006 5:23 pm

    Heya Karl – well, if the price is right – doesn’t look too awful, and that’s actually how you WANT to get a kitchen/bath – so you can do it yourself and save some money. That being said, I doubt you can do anything remotely slick (if such is your wont) in terms of a gut-redo of kitchens and baths for much less than a $35-40K total budget. For what people (potential clients) say they typically want here in the city (and Cambridge is NO cheaper), which is pretty nice, but not anything that’s going to make the style rags, I tell people to begin their back-of-envelope budgeting at $30K for a kitchen and $20K for a bathroom – by the time fixtures, plumbing, tile, wiring, woodwork, doors, etc. are all done, that’s not so unusual. If you can self-perform, and are happy with Homo Depot quality stuff, you can save a good deal over that, but if you want standard-issue “nice” done by a reliable contractor, and with the usual/expected problems that crop up, that’s a not-unreasonable place to start figuring. Good, fast, or cheap – you can have any two but never all three USED to be the adage…nowadays, on small projects, I have a tendency th think/fear it’s more like any ONE (so slow and expensive but good tends to be what I vote for…because the others come back to haunt you…).

    Good luck!

  7. Comment by Will on November 16, 2006 6:59 pm

    That cabinet/shelf combo next to the fridge looks for all the world like a floor unit that’s been hung high. Strictly as a place to live in, it doesn’t look bad at all.

    If it means anything to you–and you don’t say exactly where in Central Square this place is–MIT is going to be expanding majorly northward in the next five years. We own virtually everything on both sides (except for the old Necco building that is now being renovated by and for Novartis) up to at least the fire station. A lot of the Square and surrounding areas will probably be transformed in the process.

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