What was I thinking? - This Abandoned House
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What was I thinking?

Posted on 1/23/2012 by Maggie Marystone in planning

It was summer 2008, and I wanted to buy a house. After a number of failed attempts to buy a condo alone or a two-flat with a friend, I discovered a little-known program sponsored by the City of Chicago called Preserving Communities Together (PCT).

The PCT program "facilitates the rehabilitation and return to productive use of vacant and abandoned properties." In short, the City goes to court to acquire vacant properties and then will sell those properties for their court costs.  Good news for us. 

I kept my eye on that list of properties for weeks.  I'd never even dreamed of being able to afford a single family home in the city.  This might just be the way to do it. There were lots of houses on the list, but I was holding out for one close to the neighborhood where I was living.  Finally, one day This Abandoned House appeared on the list.  The location was great just a couple miles from where I was living and right off the expressway, on several major bus lines and just a block and a half to the el station. It was at least worth it to see the property in person.

How Chicago's PCT program works

The rules have changed a bit since I applied, but here's the basic rundown of what I had to do to apply for and win the house:

  1. Look at the city's list of properties in the PCT program and pick a house. (Alternatively, you can identify a vacant and abandoned property, and the City will look into acquiring it and then reselling it through this program.)
  2. Submit an application indicating interest in the property.
  3. Tour the property.
  4. Submit work scope plan, budget and proof of financing.
  5. Wait to see if my plan was chosen.

All that took some work, though, and that's what I want to talk about on this blog.

People who see the house now often say, "How did you do it?"  I am not rich. I had never bought a house before, much less one that needed a complete renovation.  Plus, there was all the bureaucracy to wade through: financing, zoning, building permits, etc.  Who did I think I was?  I couldn't do all that.  But here's the thing.  I knew I could.  And you can, too.

I learned an important lesson a while back from a former boss (and current friend). 

No matter how complicated the project is, you can only do one thing at a time.

The trick is simply to identify the next task.  If you think about your project as a series of individual steps, no single step is all that overwhelming. You might wonder how you'll ever get it all done, but that next thing on the list?  That's cake.

There were times when I feared it was hopeless. The economy collapsed. I couldn't get a loan. The building permits alone took six months to be approved. But I kept doing the next task on the list. And you know what? Eventually, the only thing left on the list was "Move in!"

I learned a lot during this process.  How do you hire an architect? A lawyer? A contractor? How can you tell how much you can afford? Where do you even start?

I hope by sharing my experience you can learn from it.  Learn what we did right.  More importantly, learn what we did wrong so you don't make the same mistakes!

Stay tuned!




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