Proposed Bus Station: Bolton and Florence Avenue

In the Town Talk today, there is an article noting that plans for the proposed Bolton Avenue/Florence Avenue bus transfer station are on track.  Ms. Cook and I attended the council meeting, last year, where an item on the agenda was to approve the city’s purchase of the property for possible development of a bus transfer station.  In that meeting, Ms. Cook very forcibly objected to anything that would negatively affect this area of town.  The Cooks and I are both homeowners on Florence Avenue and the idea of a rowdy bus station, with who knows what drifting in and out at all hours, was a little unsettling.  However, we met with Kay Michiels, and she assured that the city was only looking to improve the area and not further blight it.  We further lodged our concerns about another ugly ill built government building that would fall apart within 20-30 years and detract from some of the historical aspects of the area.  Again, we were assured that anything done would be “historically sensitive” and that city already had plans to apply for “beautification” grants that would not only fund signage and plantings down Bolton Avenue, but would also fund plantings so many feet down Monroe Street.  We were both told that we would be put on the an advisory committee and give ideas and suggestions regarding the architecture, plantings, signage, etc.  Further, as we understand it, this is only going to be a transfer station where people transfer from one bus to the other, rather than gathering there to catch a bus.  So, this all sounded good to me.

As far as I am concerned, I don’t think anything could hurt Monroe Street in its present state. Especially after one of the most prominent houses on Monroe Street (the Provosty home that was sold to Ratcliff) has been chopped up and moved. Have you been by lately?  Isn’t an empty lot with bricks scattered everywhere and an ugly flimsy piece of [plastic?] shoved up to form a haphazard fence just lovely?  That REALLY improved our street. 

Anyway, I won’t beat a dead horse there.  Hopefully, I will be getting a letter in the mail or a call from the City in the next few months making good on their promise of keeping me and Ms. Cook in the loop regarding the design of the bus station.  I have faith in the city and know that plans for revitalization are at heart of our very progressive City Leaders.  I am also a very proud and vocal supporter of the SPARC plan and what it can do to improve Alexandria.  THUMBS UP Mayor and City staff!

One last thing, I think it interesting that the paper again refers to Florence Avenue as “Mansion Row”.  Many people have casually called Florence Avenue “Mansion Row”, including Myron Lawson and other council members, due to the four large homes located in a row.  Since some of the historic mansions in the area have been torn down, or land sold off during the depression and bungalows built in between, it is rare to have four large homes, built circa 1900, still in a row.  The Historical Association, and me personally, have been advocating for an ordinance to officially make “Mansion Row” a local historic district.  This would bring two good things: 1) Local recognition; 2) the designated area eligible for State Tax credits and other incentives.  As far as I know, it would only take: 1) Passing the ordinance; and 2) a map drawn up of the historic district.  Then, by being recognized as a local historic district, it would make any home/building in that area eligible to apply to the State Tax Credit Program.  I have written Louis Marshall and have spoken with him about it.  I have also spoken with the HPC about it.  To date, it seems that no one has taken an interest in the project.  But, interestingly enough, this street is loosely known as “Mansion Row”.   Let’s make it official!!!!!

If there is anyone wishing to know if they are already in a local historic area or eligible for tax credits, please feel free to contact me.  Or you can click on the link above to read the State Tax Credit program requirements.

WE can do this!

The Old Fashioned Way

Drop in ceiling (were they serious?)

Drop in ceiling (were they serious?)Upstairs 1100 sq feet open space

Well, the towel has been thrown in and we have decided to go allllll the way to the drawing board and start over.  We started out only needing around $50-80k in repairs, but by the time the bank was done adding their projects that “would make the house appraise for more” and making us hire a general contractor, our bottom line total of borrowing $178k was just waaaaaaaaaay more than what we wanted to spend.  So, we are pulling it all back and deciding to go with Plan A, which was, do the work ourself!

We will have to get creative on finding someone to help with the roof work (we have a LARGE roof), but the other things are just maintenance issues that we can take care of ourself.  I almost feel relieved to be going back to Plan A.  I trust in myself more than I do the general contractor and the bank.  We also were not thrilled to add all of the things the bank wanted to add, just to make our house supposedly worth more.  As you can tell from our previous blog, you can see how well their theory held.

So, we are dusting off the power tools and mourning the six months lost on filling out paperwork and getting the house appraised.  We could have already gutted and redone the kitchen or bathroom by now!!!  Or at least sanded and repainted a porch ballister or two 🙂  It was nice for a while to think that we could have all of the work done at once instead of laboring over it for the next ten years, but in all honesty, I think we will be more satisfied and proud to come home and see the transformation and know that we had a hand in it.  So, three cheers for doing the old fashioned [hard] way! 

First, we are going to gut the horrendous sheetrock and drop in ceiling job that some misguided PO attempted and try to frame up an extra bedroom, bathroom and recreation room.  Even though I hate that  our first project is to finish space that we don’t need yet.  I mean, we have 4 bedrooms downstairs already!!  But, in order to gut the bathroom downstairs, we have to create a bathroom upstairs.  In our 4000 sq ft house, we only have one bathroom.  YES, I said ONE bathroom!  So, new bathroom upstairs first, along with the extras, then we can gut the ugly bathroom downstairs.  As a woman, I would like to scrape and paint the exterior of the house first, that would be a super improvement to the face of the house, but, in the Louisiana sun, instant gratification falls second on the list to keeping cool and avoiding heat stroke!  So, the upstairs it is. 


Historic Property Spotlight: Thompson-Hargis House


Today, I would like to spotlight the Thompson-Hargis house.  In 2007, the Louisiana Trust listed it as one of the “10 Most Endangered” properties in Louisiana.  At present, it is not inhabited and its large porch and  historic rooms remain empty.  This home is still owned by the Hargis family and it is unclear as to why no one occupies the home or why it has not been donated or sold to someone with an interest in its upkeep.

This beautiful mansion rivals the best on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans.  Built in 1902, this home is probably the greatest example of the Greek Revival style in Alexandria.  Many in Alexandria don’t even realize that it exists.  For the ones who are familiar with the Cook Home on Florence Avenue (A large red brick Queen Anne Victorian on the corner of Florence Avenue and Monroe Street), this house sits directly to the right.  If you get a chance, drive by and take a look.  I am not sure how many more years this house will stand due to neglect, so enjoy Alexandria’s architecture while you still have it.


Trailways Bus Building to Take on New Life

I heard that the environmental studies came back favorable for the American Red Cross and that they were going to be able to move forward soon and rehabilitate the old bus building on Bolton Avenue.  At long last that news is confirmed.  In today’s Legal Recorder it is noted that Gene Sanders sold the building located at 425 Bolton Avenue to the American Red Cross.  YAY!  I am very excited.  This will bring a new face to the area of town where I live.  Not only is the American Red Cross saving a historic building by relocating their headquarters, they are also breathing life into an area that badly needs it.

The best thing about the whole deal is, I believe that most of the money/labor for the project is being donated or allocated from other funds than the American Red Cross’.  Also, the Historic Preservation Commission worked with the American Red Cross to obtain grants to pay for the environmental studies.  Good job to all!

To say Goodbye or not?

I tend to have a lot of unrelated ramblings so I decided to garner them all on to this page.  Even if it is solely for the purpose of getting the thoughts out of my brain and onto the screen so they won’t rattle around in my head and keep me up all night thinking about them.  I guess the other good thing about posting them here is someone might possibly come up with some of the answers to the “Things that make me go hmm?” So, without further ado, here we go:

In movies, when people talk on the phone, why don’t they ever say “goodbye” or even “bye”?  When they are done talking on the phone, they just hang it up.  It always makes me sit and wonder, is the person on the other line still sitting their talking to themself?  What indication did they get that that person was going to hang up the phone?  Is it in your tone?  Do you just simply hang up the phone when you are done?  Isn’t that kind of rude?  You see, I am a bit of a blonde.  When it comes to phone etiquette, I talk to the person until they indicate they want to get off, that is usually by a ‘well, it was nice talking to you…yada…yada…goodbye.’  I would probably sit there and talk to myself for an hour after someone hung up just simply because I did not hear that one little word — Goodbye.  I guess, if you have the benefit of a movie transcript, you know what is coming and you know when the call is going end.  So, if you are an actor, goodbye is not necessary.  However, in real life, I don’t have a transcript and sometimes cannot gauge when a call is going to end.  I MUST have that “bye” from the other party before I feel good about hanging up the phone.  Is “goodbye” a southern thing?  Or is it a manners issue?  Do the movie companies think they will save 5 seconds of footage for something more interesting by cutting out both parties saying “goodbye” to each other?  This is something I just can’t figure out.  Does anyone have an answer?   Do you say “goodbye” when you end your calls?

Revitalization of Neighborhoods/Historic Districts/Tax Credits

Well, the whole purpose of starting this blog was to advocate for our blighted Alexandria neighborhoods.  I myself live in a blighted home on a blighted street.  I applied and received the certification to receive state tax credits to the sum of 15% after all approved projects have been completed.  It took me a year to find a general contractor who was crazy enough to take on the task of helping us rehabilitate the home.  We were also preapproved for our construction loan….I am thinking, this is going too well and too good to be true.

BINGO!  It was going too smoothly to not hit a rut somewhere.  We finally received our appraisal and after two years of searching for a contractor and six months of bank paperwork, due to: 1) Our house being in a blighted area with low site value; 2) the age of the home; 3) no homes that compare to ours being sold in the area in the past year, we received a very low appraisal and cannot even borrow enough money to fix it.  Now, on the other hand, since we have good credit and jobs, they would be more than happy to put us in a cookie cutter McMansion down the street where our house probably won’t outlive our mortgage, but at this time, they cannot finance the repairs our home really needs.

Phooey….no wonder people don’t buy older homes.  You have to have a stack of cash under your mattress to finance the materials to do the repairs yourself, or a stack of cash to hire someone to do it.  Needless to say, we are your average income Americans, and do not have a stack of cash put back to finance the magnitude of repairs that really need to be done to our house.  This is the third house we have renovated, but all of the others were under 1700 square feet.  This big mama is 4000 square feet!

It helps that we are on the edge of a historic district and are able to receive tax credits, but you have to spend the money in order to get it back.  I have preached that we need to save our old historic homes, but in light of all of the hurdles we have had to conquer in buying and insuring the house, then trying to fund repairing it, what incentives are there to take on this kind of project?  Is it really worth it? 

Obviously, that is the problem here in our blighted neighborhoods.  All of the good intentions will never get you anywhere.  The people with the cash don’t want to live in this neighborhood and, people like my husband and I (middle income family and very average) can’t convince the bank to loan us the money – no matter how good our credit score or jobs are.  This is the entire reason these homes have fallen into disrepair.  It is just not easy to do alone and when you have the realtor, loan officer, appraiser, etc., stacked against you, who wants to tackle an old home? 

I am going to have to sit back and think about what the next plan of action is going to be.  If ya see me up on the roof plugging holes to keep out the rain, beep your horn!  It’ll let me know you sympathize and maybe even care!  🙂

Time to throw in the towel?

After much haggling with the bank and going over and over our appraisal, we wonder if it is just time to throw in the towel.  Our house did not appraise for what we thought it would.  The first reason being the location and site value of the home.  The second reason is the bank does not want to pour money into a house, especially an old house, due to the current housing market, if they don’t feel they could resell it for what was put into it.  There are too many houses on the market here.

Initially, we only wanted to hire a contractor to rebuild the turret and replace some of the fascia boards and paint.  We pretty much could handle the rest ourselves.  However, when we laid it out for the bank, they told us we would have to add projects X, Y, and Z in order for them to feel that we are adding worth to our house.  So, we reluctantly added X,Y,Z all the while working with our contractor and letting him know that we plan on doing X,Y,Z ourselves and just don’t tell the bank.  Now that our house has come in undervalued, we have to cut the general contractor’s jobs.  But, in order to get the loan we need a general contractor!  ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  It is a huge vicious cycle!

In analyzing our appraisal, there are just not enough houses in the area that compare to ours.  The appraiser had a hard time finding some comps.  We are faced with making the decision of: 1) getting another appraisal; 2) finding our own comps; 3) scrapping the whole deal.  I have talked to a realtor friend and a respected appraiser, they both say that there aren’t any other comps out there and getting another appraisal would be throwing good money after bad.  No wonder people don’t fix up old houses!  LOL!  You have to have enough cash to do it all yourself, or have enough cash to hire it out.  Either way, you must be rich and have tons of money stashed away ready to be poured into these mammoth houses.  The sad part is, most people don’t have enough cash to fix these old historic homes up.  If they had the cash, they probably are living in a McMansion up the street in the “new neighborhood development”. 

Due to the very poor past maintenance of this house and lack of preventive maintenance achieved, it is in very poor condition and a LOT of things need to be replaced immediately, i.e. Roof (leaking and you can see daylight in one spot), plumbing (everything on one side of the house gurgles because there is no vent stack), porch (we currently have plywood holding it up), fence (it is leaning into the neighbor’s yard!).

We have redone three houses, but nothing of this magnitude.  We have been able to choose one project at a time and pay cash for it.  We can do a lot of the work ourselves, but we cannot do it all at once.  I am afraid that by the time we save enough cash to move on to the next project, we will have the other side of the house falling apart!   Ahhh….old houses, gotta love them!

What we immediately need to do is get the roof water tight.  It is leaking, needs carpentry work and a new roof altogether.  The last one was put on in 1948.  It is a good roof, and may last longer, but it is very brittle and once the tiles are moved to repair the leaks, they probably will be too broken up to put back.  So, therefore it was suggested we replace the roof in its entirety. 

Sigh…..I am starting to wonder if I should have listened to the realtor, loan officer, family and friends that I blogged about in my first post!  LOL!  Please, someone, anyone, are you out there?  What do I do now?

What they said

Well, we talked to the bank.  Even though it is a horrendous, convoluted appraisal, they said they couldn’t do anything about it.  Nice answer, huh?  Especially now that they have our application fees.

I was told that the only thing I can do is find houses in the area for a better comparison.  So, that means I have to do the appraiser’s job.  Luckily I have a realtor friend who specializes in selling older homes and properties in the Garden District.  She is going to help find some good comparables and see if that puts us on a better track.

What really galls me is, Louisiana is backwards in preservation and so are the younger people who live here.  I am 29, so I am not an old biddie cracking on young people.  I had a young appraiser, late 20’s, maybe early 30’s, who told me that the life expectancy of my house was maybe another 20 years!  Can you believe that!  It has stood for 100, it will stand for 200!  I just can’t believe the mentality.  Just because it is old, that makes it “inferior”.   You can’t build houses like this anymore!  I have news for him: My house will outlast any new home in the area.  Also, most of the new homes that are built today WILL NOT outlive their mortgages…mark my words.

So, here we are again, another delay and more negativity.  I told my husband that if someone offered to buy my house right now for what I paid for it, I would hand them the key.  I have endured two years of crazy looks from my friends, family, realtor, loan officers…….that is the short list.  Now, I have the appraiser telling me my house won’t live another 20 years.  Is it really worth all this trouble?


Well, the DAY before we left, the appraiser came by to look at our house.  He decided he was not going to include my half bath into the square footage because it opens onto the porch like a mud room.  Well, that aggravated me and I told him that it is heated square feet.  The a/c and heat run all year around in it…so why not?  Anyway, it did not get included in the appraisal.

Not only is that irritating, but we got the appraisal back this weekend when we got back in town.  Our property was compared to 3 houses: 1) 22 miles away (yes, you read that right…22 miles away and in a different town!); 2) the second house was 15 miles away; and 3) one on Marye Street in the Garden District (the Garden District is where we live).  The first two properties are considered RURAL and everyone knows that property values in rural settings are significantly lower than in URBAN settings.  Also, the appraiser made several notes about the large deductions he made.  He said that he made higher than normal deductions because he wanted to accurately reflect the value of our house…..?  Umm….I guess he meant the value he personally thought it should be.  Our house appraised for $56/sq foot…in a completely fixed state.  That is a 4200 heated square foot house, wraparound porch, 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, a living room, dining room, kitchen, study, recreation room, new paint outside.  I wonder how a house one street over appraises for $300-400k for less square footage, but mine only appraised for $230?  Give me a break!  It is not even worth borrowing the money to have it fixed if they believe that after all the work we are going to do it will only appraise for $230????

I kicked it back to the bank and asked them to PLEASE find some houses that are closer, like, in the SAME town.  I further informed them that we lived in Alexandria, not Lecompte or Cheneyville. 

We shall see what happens!!!!!

Back from the Philippines!

I am back from my missions trip to the Philippines!  We had a great time.  The reason I did not advertise that I was going is because everyone in Alexandria knows my address since it has been published in the paper.  I did not want any problems while I was gone.

Coming soon are pictures and our experiences.  I am thankful to be back on American soil.  If the floor wasn’t so dirty in the San Francisco airport, I might have kissed the ground!  We are blessed to live in such a great country.  For pictures and stories, check out the new page I started: Philippines Missions Trip.