Bay Area House-Hunting, Round One

Alameda has more pre-1906 homes than anywhere else in the Bay area

Friday began with me folding clothes to put in our carry-on before I left for work.  As I bent over to place a pair of underwear on a pile, my back muscles suddenly felt like a thick rubber band that couldn’t be stretched.

“Ow…” I yelped, crouched over my pile of underwear.

“Are you okay?” Chris called from elsewhere in the house.

My muscles completely cramped up.  I couldn’t move from my crouched position.  “I need you to help me!”

Chris came in and we tried to figure out the best way to move me to the floor.  After performing what looked like 6 positions for “Karma Sutra for Senior Citizens,” he managed to get me on the floor, and I put my legs up against the wall.  My muscles burned with even the slightest move.  Suzy, my 13 year-old Border Collie, looked at me with concern, knowing something was awry.  “It’s okay,” I scratched her chest, reassuringly.  She thanked me by stepping on my hair and sticking her tongue up my nose.

In the process of her licking, she triggered a nerve in my nose that made me have a fit of sneezes.  “A-CHUun!” As the “choo” came out, I felt it through my entire back, and tried to hold it in.  It was suppressed pain.  The sound that came out made Chris begin to chuckle.  I pointed my finger at him while lying on the floor, my dogs paws on my hair, “it’s not funny! It really – A-CHUun! A-CHUun!” And sure enough, I started laughing with him, sending additional shots of pain down my back.

After working from home in the most awkward position ever, we were off to start house-hunting in Alameda by flying from Mesa Gateway Airport to Oakland International via Allegiant Air.  Allegiant is a super-discount carrier whose itemization of extra charges rivals the Thenardiers in Les Miserables. Nevertheless, they still are incredibly inexpensive, and their flight attendants seem nice.  They fly in and out of much smaller airports, providing us with our first experience in the ghost-town Overlook Hotel less-used Mesa Gateway.  Despite having seats that were not designed to recline and paying $4 for water and a Seagram’s ginger ale (that’s right – Seagram’s – not Canada Dry, which everyone knows won the Kanye Award for the Best Ginger Ale of All Time), it wasn’t a bad flight.  Chris and I used the free time to catch up on the new season of Doctor Who (the first three episodes are kind of a mess, no?).

We landed at 9:30pm, and were relieved that Alameda is but 5-10 minutes from the airport.  Unfortunately for us, the rental car area is located in east Nevada.  The airport has one shuttle bus taking everyone to the Land of Rental Cars, and we had to wait about 20 minutes for this mighty Supershuttle to arrive.  We packed in like sardines, and the driver had to turn away people when the bus literally got so full the doors wouldn’t close.  We soon discovered that because we reserved a car with an “off-brand” rental car agency, we had to take another shuttle from the Land of Rental Cars to the Island of Misfit Rentals, located in South Dakota.  The shuttle waited for us in a dark corner of the parking lot, with no lights on inside.  I thought it was abandoned as I crept up to the door.  The doors opened, and a man nodded to us to get aboard.  His stereo was off, and it was a dark, quiet space.  The driver reminded me of Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption when he got let out of prison but didn’t yet receive the postcard from Tim Robbins.  You know, that part where he couldn’t decide whether to get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’, and you were worried he’d off himself like the sweet old man with the pet bird.  Once our bus driver put his foot on the gas, I realized he was in “get busy dyin’” mode, and I looked forward to putting my feet on solid earth again.  He pulled into a weird industrial lot, and lo and behold, our rental agency was based out of a single-wide.  To their credit, the folks inside were really nice and helpful.  We finally were on our way, and arrived at our hotel at 11pm. So even though our hotel was no more than 10 minutes from the airport, it took us an hour and a half to get there.

After sleeping on a bed a skiier could do moguls on, we were off to check out Alameda.  This is a cool little island town with a lot of history – as we walked the streets, we came across a number of retro ads, old towns, and a huge farmer’s market with beautiful produce.  The entire island seems to be very walker-friendly, loaded with mom-and-pop stores and little shops and cafes.  It reminded me of the little towns along the north shore in Massachusetts, except the architecture was more eclectic – in addition to your Victorians, colonials and craftsman houses, you also have Mediterranean-style homes and bungalows similar to what you would find in the Willo district in Phoenix.  Every house had its own story to tell.

We headed over to our first home, which wasn’t in the best neighborhood, but was in close proximity to shops and restaurants.  The previous owners did an amazing job restoring the 1907 home, adding in a beautiful kitchen with granite countertops, gorgeous dark hardwood floors, upgraded electrical, and innovative windows in the partitions to make the home feel more spacious.  The biggest problem with this house was one of the corners of the foundation was still brick – a big no-no for construction in an earthquake zone.  Retrofitting foundation to meet current earthquake construction standards is quite expensive and we value our safety, so unfortunately, this home was out for us.

House #2 was a rental.  We happened upon a number of abandoned industrial buildings, and this rental home was in the middle of it all – there were no homes surrounding it.   There were no life forms present for at least 1/4 of a mile surrounding the home.  We arrived 1/2 an hour prior to our appointment.  Upon pulling into the driveway, Chris called the realtor and basically said, “yeah, never mind.”

House #3 was a rental open house.  The house was super-cute and in a great neighborhood, but the garage was roughly 3 feet too short for our car, there was no place for a dog door, our bed wouldn’t fit in the bedroom, and the kitchen was really, really tiny.  We’d compromise on one, possibly even two of these things, but all four? Not so much.

House #4 was our final rental option to view for the day, and was located on Bay Farm Island, which is the other “island” that makes up Alameda (it’s actually connected to Oakland, and not really an island).  While Bay Farm doesn’t have that historic charm that the main island has, the house was beautiful. Open design, huge kitchen, beautiful living room area, ginormous yard…we loved it.  While we would really love to live on the main island, the housing stock on Alameda is low and rental options are even lower.  We submitted an application and will find out in a few days if we can rent this lovely home for a year.

Walking felt better on my back than sitting, so we decided to finish out the afternoon walking the neighborhoods on the main island, loving the cute houses and pretty gardens everyone had.  We closed out the night having a nice dinner with friends in San Francisco.

Day two was spent checking out two houses that were for sale.  House #5 was a cute little house with a huge back yard in a great neighborhood.  Its only two drawbacks were its size (1,000 square feet, which we can get used to), and the fact that the only bathroom needs to be completely redone due to dry rot.  House #6 was, to quote our realtor “…not charming.”  It looked rather run down, needs to be tented for termites, and would need an electrical overhaul (the fuse box is from the 50s and only powers 100 amps).

We spent the remainder of our time in Alameda walking along the shore, admiring the cool breeze and views of the bay.  Weather in the 60s, little shops and pretty houses? We could get used to this.