Hope?

I learned today that the Community Development committee that we have been sent to may have a meeting coming up on July 31st, instead of some unknown time in September.  The trick now is laying the groundwork for that to be a productive meeting, and not just another step in the long delay.  If we can, we would like to attend this meeting to address any issues that might arise.  Anything to keep this thing from getting stuck in the committee mud.  We do not know if there is still a chance of beating the August recess that Common Council takes.

These wild mood swings are an interesting change of pace from the process prior to the last few weeks.  For months it was nothing but waiting and waiting and the occasional morsel thrown down from City Hall.  Now it’s either eager anticipation or the specter of racing the snow to get the roof done.  Oi.

Ups, and then Downs

On Friday we learned the good news that we had managed to get on the agenda for Tuesday’s (today) Common Council meeting.  We were hoping we would be quickly approved, because why would the Common Council of the City of Buffalo not want this to happen?  Things were looking up.  

Today, I learned that the Common Council sent our proposal to committee.  A planning committe that does not meet until September.  Until then, we may be stuck.  This does not sound good.  We do not yet know why this happened, so we are hanging to the sliver of hope that this is a procedural step we did not know about and it will be quickly resolved.  But the part of me that remembers the past five months of this process is quite concerned.

More details to come, as we learn them.  At this pace, the October tax foreclosure auction is starting to look like our best alternative, should the City continue to shut us down.  Even so, we both love our Green Monster and will not give up on it just yet.

Buffalo, we just want to live in your fair city and fix up a house.  Can that just be okay?.

The Race Against Recess

It took three trips to City Hall to get it done, but we submitted our term sheet today.  The term sheet is just a piece of paper saying that you agree to move forward with the purchase with the house in “as-is” condition and that you hold the City of Buffalo responsible for nothing, never, no more.  It’s like the waiver you sign before you play laser tag, but instead of lasers and vests it’s floor joists and deeds.

With that sheet in, the next step is to get the sale on the agenda for Common Council, so they can approve the sale and we can close on the house.  Here’s the thing; Council goes on recess in the later part of August.  And the deadline for getting on that agenda before that recess is tomorrow.  Jump shot from half court at the buzzer, folks.  This is for the game.

Appraisal Review Board … PASSED!

Some good news to report on this muggy Sunday morning.  As of Friday, we have passed the Appraisal Review Board.  This means that the Real Estate Department has reviewed the appraisal that we ordered and approved it as the sale price for the house.  We had been stuck at this stage for several weeks, so it feels very good to have checked it off the list.  It also removes a great deal of uncertainty from the process.  Prior to passing the Appraisal Review, there is always the possibility that the City will reject the appraiser’s findings, which would put you, the prospective buyer, in an odd position of having paid for an appraisal that got you no further forward.  I imagine that there is some sort of bargaining process, such as a counteroffer (counterappraisal?) by the City, in that event.  Fortunately, we did not have to find that out.  The City has agreed to sell us the house at a specified amount, so we are moving onto the homestretch, i.e. the closing.

The lovely thing about all this is that we can stop using “if” and start framing our plans with “when”.  It may be a bit premature, but the likelihood of success has increased dramatically and we can start pondering the details of our rehab plan.

But before we can start swinging hammers and slinging paint, there are still a few things to be done.  On Monday we need to stop by City Hall to sign papers showing that we are committed to moving forward with the sale, and then the sale needs to be approved by City Council and executed (signed, not shot) by the Mayor’s office, before the Council goes on recess in late August.  If things stick to that timeline, we are looking at owning the house in the middle of next month.

… and now we wait.

A. and I would like to thank everyone who is reading our blog and passing it along.  This process can only benefit from transparency.  There are a lot of good folks in Buffalo who are concerned about the problem of vacant, decaying homes, since this one problem ties into so many other important problems.  Infrastructure, education, economy, you name it.  It’s a, well, a Ball of Confusion!  Ok, I’m getting carried away.

For now though, we would like to ask anyone who has been advocating for us to take a step back and let things settle for a bit.  You are doing the good work, and we greatly appreciate it.  But now it is time to sit back and let City Hall do its work.  We are hoping to see some real progress on our story soon, and this blog will be the first place it is announced.  Stay tuned.  Enjoy the (dry) weather.

The Process – The Walk-Through, Pt. 1

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City of Buffalo Maintenance Department clears the way.

So, once you have showed City Hall your $5,000 golden ticket (i.e. proof of funds) and scheduled an appointment, it is time to put on your big kid boots and do the walk-through.  Be on time, be sober, be dressed in clothes that can get dirty.  Someone from the maintenance department will be the one letting you in, the ones I have met have been good folks.  Even let me borrow a flashlight when I was not wise enough to bring my own.  So add that to your gear list.  A boarded-up house is a dark house, and you will want to be able to see the floors and stairways clearly.  Wood, once cut from the forest, is on a mission to become dirt, via rot.  Dirt is walkable in a pile, it does not hold the shape of stairs and floor joists very well.  Falling through a floor is a bad feeling and I do not want that to happen to you.   Bring a light, and look before you step.

You will also want a camera.  Take many pictures, so you can refer back to them to strengthen your resolve when grappling with City Hall, as well as show them to folks who know buildings and their various ailments.  Since this is your one time to check the place out before deciding how to proceed, you really cannot have too many pictures.  Try to take photos that put details in context, and not just the gigs and gigs of detail shots I took on my first building walk-through several years ago.  Ten square feet of plaster wall with a crack in it does not tell you much about the overall condition of the house, but a photo of an identifiable room with a water damaged ceiling does.  A modern digital camera with an “Auto” function is very handy here.  (Note: those are not ghost orbs in the photos, those are dust particles in the air reflecting your flash.)  In the next post we will talk a bit about some things to look for in terms of the house’s condition.

A clipboard or notebook is also essential for recording observations during the walk-through.  One of those hand-held audio recorders would also be great for recording spoken observations.  You might organize your notes by listing intact features of the house versus obvious needed repairs.  Sketching the floor plan is handy as well.  Figure out how many bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens there are.  How many windows, and facing which direction?  Type of flooring?  Number of electrical outlets in each room?  Etc.

I find it tricky to get good photos while taking good notes, so another useful thing to bring is a friend.

Optional accessories include a tape measure (a floor plan is even better with dimensions to the rooms), a level (to see how level are the floors and how plumb are the walls) and a granola bar (in case you get hungry during all this investigation).

The Great Big Saw Came Nearer & Nearer, or Where Those Holes Came From

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You have probably noticed the extra ventilation in the roof of the Green Monster.  The huge holes are not the result of fire or rot, the two causes of most holes in a Buffalo roof.  That’s good, in a way, because either of those two things would be indicators of serious structural problems.  Instead, those holes are man-made. The Buffalo Fire Department often uses houses approaching demolition as training structures, in this case ventilating a roof as a fire control technique.  Normally, this sort of training is only done after the removal of the house is contracted out to a demolition company, which sets a timeline for knock-down.  For some reason, on this house they did not wait.  The problem with that is exactly what you see when you look down the street from the top of a block; a neighborhood that has a gangrene.  A house in this condition, waiting in limbo, is damning to a block and sends a clear message about how unimportant this street is.  I disagree with that.

I am all for keeping our firefighters as well-trained as possible.  I admire their work and thank them for their service.  It is a dangerous job, as shown by the loss of two of the city’s finest three years ago in a convenience store fire.  If a house is about to go down, I would not stand in their way.  But this one was not done right.

Of course, we knew what we were getting into when we saw the place.  The holes are hard to miss.  What we did not know is that the holes would multiply.  Apparently no one in City Hall passed the word to the fire fighters to stop training on this house.  While driving past the house one day, we noticed that there were more holes than we remembered.  We went home and checked our photos, and yes, indeed the holes were increasing in number, like vermin.  We sent a certified letter to the fire department, asking them to stop.  Still more holes appeared before we got a letter saying they were done with the house and good luck.  So now the roof looks like it took some cosmic bird shot and we have one reason to be thankful for a dry summer.

But, as A. reminds me, it is always important to stay positive.  Jokes about “skylights” aside, there may be a benefit to the holes.  They do ventilate the house.  Seriously, that can be a good thing.  A boarded up house, with no one coming or going or opening windows, can turn into a hot, humid mold factory if left for too long.  Wood rots quickly in those conditions.  So while the roof may be a mess, my hope is that the air flow will allow anything that gets wet to dry quickly.  There we go, a silver lining.