Tuesday, August 05, 2003


We were in St. Louis over the weekend and managed to meet the workers that will be gutting the house. It is very exciting to see that work will (finally!) be starting. The house should be gutted down to the studs by the end of the week. After that is done, we need to level the house (the center of the house has sunk several inches), and move some walls so the plumbing, HVAC and plumbing work can start.

We discovered that the house is within walking distance to an area that has many restaurants, a post office, an Asian market and a number of botiques. We have never lived in a neighborhood that has such easy access to amenities like this, so we are excited!

Friday, July 25, 2003


We got the contract from the contractor, but have encountered some delays. The way the contract is presented won't jibe with the construciton loan's payout system. This is how a construction loan works, at least for rehabs: The amount of the loan covers the purchase of the property, plus the amount required to rehab the house. The purchase price was paid out at the closing on the property. The rest is held in an escrow account with the title company and is paid out as expenses occur through its construction disbursing service.

When we want to pay a supplier or contractor, we submit a request to the title company for a payout, along with a sheet that indicates the amount and which budget item it applies to. The request is sent to an inspector. If the request is payment for supplies, then the inspector goes to the building site to make sure the items are there. The inspector approves the payout request and vouchers are prepared for the contractor or supplier by the end of the week. The payee can pick up the voucher at the title company, or it is sent by mail. The voucher cashes like a check. The contractor also has to sign a lien waver, which indicates that the contractor has been payed either the full or partial amount of what's due. This is to make sure that no liens are applied to the title. It all sounds very confusing right now, but the title company assures us it is easy. We'll see.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Our progress so far 

We started searching for a house to rehab in St. Louis back in March. Although there are lots of possibilities, there is very little on the market right now. Investers are seeing people moving back into the city and are buying up vacant properties and sitting on them until the price goes up. Our house is a prime example of that. It has not been lived in since the owner died six years ago. The property has changed hands at least twice since then. Each time, an investor bought the property and put it right back on the market the next day--at double the price! We had looked at several buildings before buying. They were all either too small or in very dicey neighborhoods (We are willing to be urban pioneers, but not the first ones on the block!).

How did we find this house? After a weekend of fruitless searching, we were driving down a street and saw the house with a for sale sign out front. We stopped and looked around the house and immediately called our realtor. We signed a contract on it that afternoon. It was more more money than we wanted to pay, but we fell in love with it.

We closed on the property and the construction loan on June 16. We have exactly 12 months to make all the improvements we told the loan company we would make and turn the construction loan into a regular mortgage. We have hired a general contractor to do many of the major pieces of the project, including a new basement floor, all new plumbing, electrical and HVAC, a new roof, and masonry repair. My partner (did I mention he is a carpenter by trade?) and I will do most of the finish work.

Yesterday I got an email from the contractor. She has the final bids together on the things she will do. We need to sign the contract with her, but she is planning to start gutting the place on July 28.

Why does St. Louis have so much vacant housing stock?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, St. Louis had a population of 856,796 in 1950. The 2000 census counted 348,189, a decrease of 59.4% over the past 50 years:


For 50 years, people have been fleeing the city, leaving beautiful housing stock behind. Thankfully this trend seems to be reversing.

Friday, July 11, 2003


The scenerio: Two guys living on the lakefront in Chicago get a construction loan to gut and rebuild a century-old house in St. Louis. In the meantime,they sell their condo, and make plans to move. They have 12 months to complete construction. Will their rehab project succeed, or will they need rehab themselves before it's over?

The rationale: Why would anyone want to give up lake-front living in Chicago for the wilds of inner-city St. Louis? We get asked that a lot by people in both cities. It basically boils down to our ideas about quality of life, which you can read more about in this blog.

The guys: Two guys in their 40s. Rodney is a carpenter by trade. Scott is a graphic designer who is currently studying for a degree in library science.

The project: On June 16 we closed on the purchase of an 106-year, 2-1/2 story brick home. The house has been vacant for six years. It is at present totally uninhabitable and needs complete renovation. All major systems need replacement, as well as the basement floor and the roof. The good news is that the house is mostly intact and in original condition. Small by modern standards, it currently has four bedrooms (two are very small) and the tiniest bathroom I have ever seen. When we are finished, it will have two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a TV / sitting room and an office in the attic for a total of about 2000 square feet.

Architecturally, the house can best be described as an Arts and Crafts foursquare. However, it is a modest structure built for working-class people. The facade has some nice detailing with arched windows and contrasting brick trim. Inside, there is little detailing and, while well built, the materials used were inexpensive.

A general contractor will provide many of the project's major components, including a new roof, masonry work, plumbing, electrical system, and HVAC. Rodney and I are planning on doing most of the finish work.

The neighborhood: The house is in the Shaw neighborhood near the Missouri Botanical gardens just south-west of downtown. You can learn more about the neighborhood by clicking on the link on the left.

Status of the project: Rodney has begun taking trim off the the interior of the house in preparation for the contractor to remove the plaster and lathe, old wiring and plumbing, etc. We are hoping that the contractor can begin work by the end of the month.

Stay tuned! This blog will report on the progress of the rehab project and our move to St. Louis, as well as my philosphy and random thoughts on Chicago, St. Louis and urban life in general.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

The Rehabatorium is up and running. What's it all about? Check back soon for details.

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