By Arlene Jones
I spent my formative years living in a townhouse that had a front and back door as well as an upstairs. That has always defined for me what I wanted in a living space. As a teenager, and until I bought my home in 1989, I lived in apartments. I never liked living where I could hear someone walking above my head. I also missed having access to the outdoors because of not having a back door. So purchasing my first, and so far only, home has been a blessing.
My real estate agent was at her wit's end after spending over a year trying to help find me a house I would like. Some houses were so horrible that, as I sat in the car looking at them, I refused to go inside. I had a limited budget for a house, and I knew that most of all I wanted a brick bungalow — a brown brick house with a front porch and those wonderful steps where the cement planters could hold flowers. I grew up in an era where the "bungalow belt" in Chicago was codename for ethnic whites who didn't want black people living with them. But the houses were stately and had so much appeal, I longed for one of them. I can still remember visiting family and friends from the South Side who lived in them. But I also knew that, as much as I wanted that kind of house, South Side living was not for me.
My memory of the first time I saw my house is still etched in my memory. I saw it during my lunchtime on a dreary, cloudy day. My house wasn't in the best of shape interiorly. Even so, I still fell in love with it. I can recall the look of shock on my real estate agent's face as she stared at me in amazement/disbelief while double-checking that I had actually found a house I loved. I looked past the red-and-white checkerboard tile on the kitchen floor. The kitchen had yellow plastic tile trimmed with black. The other rooms had been updated by putting paneling on the wall. I overlooked all the negatives because I saw what the house could become.
Every year since buying my house, I try to make small updates to it. Over the years I replaced the rotten wood windows with vinyl ones. I pulled up the tiles and refinished the wood floors underneath. I had the electricity updated so that I went from fuses to circuit breakers and increased the amp service coming into my home. Eleven years after buying my house, I had a second-story addition put on.
The internet has proven to be a big help in learning how to care for and upkeep my house. An even better source has been the Chicago Bungalow Association (www.chicagobungalow.org). Every month they host seminars where experts who know how our houses were built answer questions about maintaining them. People who own vintage two flats and older wood homes shouldn't let the name of the organization stop them from attending. Many of the seminars address issues that apply to any older home.
Our homes are the only investment we get to live in and enjoy while taking a tax write-off every year. They are also our biggest investment. Learning everything we can about taking care of them should be at the forefront of every homeowner's agenda.
Answer Book 2019
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