Sunday, March 23, 2014

Neighborhood of Eastlake in Birmingham, AL

(Cover from a brochure advertising the new suburb of Eastlake 
printed in 1890 courtesy of the Birmingham Public Library)

I lived in Eastlake in the 1970's and now I own a home in the Eastlake neighborhood.  Back in the 1970's, Eastlake was an eclectic blend of homeowners/renters.  It was well maintained, quiet and just a perfect place to live.  This area is really a very centrally located part of Birmingham.  It's close to downtown, hospitals and within a stone's throw of several interstate connections that will take you to major shopping/entertainment areas in a matter of minutes.  It's minutes from the airport but isn't directly beneath the major flight paths so the noise level is slim to none.

Eastlake was a mecca for families when it was built.  One of the greatest attractions was the Cascade Plunge which was located at 68th St. and 2nd Ave S.  Below are a couple of pictures taken in 1929.

This business offered the most swimming pools of any other similar establishment, it offered a fine dining room, meeting rooms, hosted numerous weddings/receptions, birthday parties and later served as a private fishing area with the swimming pools remodeled and repurposed as stocked fishing areas.  Later in life it was used as a private club for the Elks organization.  Currently it sits vacant and for sale - all 19 acres which includes its own park and picnic area.

"Perhaps the most famous Eastlake attraction is the actual Eastlake.  East Lake was planned in 1886 by the East Lake Land Company to help sell home sites to the men who came in the 1870's to work in Birmingham's steel industry. First named Lake Como, after the lake in the Italian Alps, it soon came to be called East Lake. Using water from Roebuck Springs and Village Creek this 45 acre man - made lake, within a 100 acre park, enhanced the area by providing a year round pleasure resort.
In a short time East Lake Park became a major recreational center of the Birmingham area and in 1887 a streetcar line was run out to the park. Among the amusement offered at the park through the years were a ferris wheel, a shooting gallery, boating, fishing, swimming, water skiing, golf, baseball, a steamboat, a zoo, band concerts and other entertainment events in the pavilion.
The City of Birmingham purchased the park in 1917 and today, East Lake Park is one of the largest municipal recreational facilities in Alabama." (courtesy of

Eastlake Park is still a well maintained and beautiful area.  However, the neighborhood that butts up against it is probably beyond redemption.  

The Eastlake neighborhood wraps around the Ruffner Mountain on two sides, so most of the streets are hilly and all of them are tree lined.  Ruffner Mountain is a wonderful nature preservation area with miles of walking/hiking trails some leading to the top of the mountain with fabulous views of both the city and uninhabited areas. Below are a few shots of the Ruffner Mountain center and views from the preserve.

The houses range from Tudors, German four squares all the way to Craftsman bungalows with a few Spanish style ranches & 1950's era ranches thrown in for good measure.  It's just as convenient as other more popular neighborhoods such as Clairmont, Crestwood and Avondale.  However, with the exception of a brief time in 2005-2007 (just before the real estate market crashed here) it has largely been ignored and allowed to fall into near ruin in many areas.  The tornado that hit this area in 2011 coupled with the high number of foreclosures has hit this area particularly hard.  Another contributing factor is that Eastlake has been ignored by the same investors who brought the above mentioned neighborhoods back to life and instead has attracted the investors who want Section 8 government housing.

(Gabrella Manor on 4th Ave is a spectacular wedding/private party venue)

This is both good news and bad news for investors.  The bad news is it will take a few years and some cohesion among investors to bring it back to life.  The good news is the properties in this area are dirt cheap so it would behoove investors to spend their money here and bring it back to life - block by block.  (Case in point, I bought a nearly 2,000 square foot tudor bungalow in excellent shape for under $30,000. Other than cosmetic fixes, I am out zero for repairs and have a mortgage payment well under $300 all inclusive.)

The long term payoff would be enormous both in cash flow and in equity.  I can remember when Avondale and parts of Crestwood weren't that great either but money was poured into those areas and now those homes are at least triple the price they were even 10 years ago.  The same could be accomplished in Eastlake.

To invest in Eastlake and make a profit with good equity and cash flow, one would need to start at the Ruffner Mountain area and go down the mountain from there.  One side of Ruffner has the Roebuck Springs and Shadywood neighborhoods.  Both of these neighborhoods have maintained their value well so butting up against these neighborhoods would be a big plus.

Investing should be about something more than immediate cash.  It should be a long term commitment and about improving the area in which you invest.  There are several neighborhoods in the Birmingham area that while once stellar (such as Norwood) are lost.  The majority of Eastlake is far from lost.  That is, as long as investors are willing to put their money where their mouths are while setting their standards higher when it comes to the types of tenants they allow to live in their properties.

At the end of the day, improving the area in which you invest greatly benefits the residents of that area AND the investor.  Nicer area equals nicer equity equals much larger sales price.  It's a simple thing really.

But that's just me.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

How to personalize a rental (Part 1)

People rent for a variety of reasons.  Some don't have the credit score necessary to qualify for a mortgage. Some don't have the down payment/closing costs.  Some aren't certain if they're going to stay in the same location for a number of years so buying would be a bit premature in their opinion while others don't want the long term commitment that buying a house brings with it.  They don't want to deal with putting a new roof on the house or buying a new HVAC system or even painting the exterior every 5 years of so.

Whatever the motivation behind a person's choice to rent, everyone wants their home to reflect their personal style, personality and tastes.  But how do you do that when you don't own the property and your landlord is adamant about the interior staying a pristine white (or beige)??

Another issue renters face is how to personalize a property without having to leave it for the next renter to enjoy?  I mean, who really wants to spend a lot of money on improvements that inevitably will belong to someone else?

Renters should always address decorating in terms of mobile rather than stationary.

This post will be the first in a series of posts that will discuss some of the common forms of decorating and how a renter can still enjoy a personalized space without having to invest a lot of money in a property they don't own and still get their deposit back.


Probably the most common no-no with landlords is paint.  A growing number of properties will not allow a tenant to paint the interior of the property.  This wouldn't really be such a bad thing if landlords didn't choose bland colors.  Of course what I consider bland another person might consider pretty.  Landlords would lose their minds if they tried to customize every property with colors suited for every potential tenant - so they go with bland.

So how do you add color, texture and graphics to a dull white box of a room?  How about fabric?  There are two things in this world that will alter the look and feel of a room like nothing else.  Those two things are paint and fabric.  So if you can't paint go for the fabric!

Fabric can be pricey.  There are tons of sites on the internet that offer discontinued fabrics at reasonable prices.  But sometimes you can get really pretty fabric at really low prices by buying fabric shower curtains or sheets on sale.  You can also go to thrift stores and dig through their sheets, curtains and fabric for good deals.  Because you're putting it on the wall and hanging it from the ceiling, you don't have to worry about the durability of it.  You are just looking for pretty and cheap so thinking outside the box can save you a ton of cash.

The room below is stunning!  Fabric covers the walls and frames the bed and window.
This photo is from House Beautiful.  

This is really a small bedroom but it looks like a true haven.  To accomplish this look on your own all you will need are the following:

Fabric (don't be afraid to mix patterns)
Staples/staple gun
Curtain rods
Witch tape
Thumb tacks
Ribbon or twine

The wall treatment is accomplished by simply stapling the fabric tautly over the wall.  Always do a dry run before attaching the fabric to the walls.  Beginning in the middle of the wall, use the thumbtacks to secure the fabric to the wall.  Once you've finished one wall, stand back and make sure it's even and exactly where you want it to be and there are no bulges, gaps or wrinkles.  If it's good, all you have to do is staple the fabric and remove the tacks.  Staple as close to the ceiling and baseboard as possible.   

The canopy is a little trickier only because it involves working over your head.  First determine exactly where you want the canopy to be.  It's best to have the bed positioned before you begin measuring for the canopy. Since you don't want multiple holes or sharpy marks on the ceiling, tack ribbon or twine to each corner and run it around the entire area so when you're finished you will have a rectangle design on your ceiling.  This will give you a clear outline of exactly where the canopy will be.  Stand back and make sure the corners line up exactly and everything is square.  If not adjust.

Screw C-hooks large enough to hold your curtain rods in each of the 4 corners and 1 in the middle of each side for additional support.  That will be a total of 12 C-hooks. I recommend cheap cafe curtain rods or you can even head to the home improvement store and get plumbing pipe or even copper tubing.  You want the rods to be lightweight and small enough to be unobtrusive.  It won't be seen so it doesn't have to be decorative or even pretty).  This is where the ribbon or twine that you attached will come in super handy because it will give you a clear idea as to where the middle hooks should go.

Once you've attached your C-hooks and everything is lined up perfectly, all that's left to do is hang the fabric.  I don't own a sewing machine.  I don't like to sew.  Witch tape is perfect for me!  I use it all the time with great results.  Below is a photo of it in case you aren't familiar with the product.  You can get this at any fabric store, craft store or Wal-Mart.

You want your canopy fabric to either reach the floor or within a couple of inches from the floor.  If you measure from the ceiling to the floor and the result is 96 inches - you will need your fabric to be 98 inches long.  So each panel will require a little less than 3 yards of fabric.  You will need 2 panels per corner or a total of 24 yards for the corners.

Make a hem about a half an inch to an inch (depending on the circumference of your curtain rod).  Using the witch tape, place it between the folds of fabric and set a warm iron on it until you have melted the tape to the fabric creating a solid bond and forming a pocket for the curtain rod.  Never run the iron over the area containing the witch tape, you just want to set it on the area long enough to melt the tape and then move on to the next are. Also never ever allow the iron to touch uncovered witch tape.  Both scenarios will give you a big ugly mess.  Allow the witch tape time to cool completely (usually not more than 15-20 minutes).

While you are letting the corner panels cool, begin working on the middle panels.  Decide how long you want these panels to droop.  I would recommend they droop only as far as your fabric is wide.  This prevents you from having to cut and sew for additional length.

For the side panels you are going to  hem the sides of your fabric.  If you want to go decorative with the side panels as they have done in the picture above, buy some ribbon or pretty edging and using the witch tape, affix the edging/ribbon to the bottom of the panels.

Once all the panels are ready, all you have to do is thread and hang them from the C-hooks you installed earlier.  Begin with a corner panel, thread the side panel and then thread the end corner panel.  Repeat this process all the way around.

The end result will be a fabulously beautiful, customized and very personalized bedroom.  The beauty of this design is you can take it with you when you move and replicate it in your new space.  

But the best thing about this design is it won't prevent you from getting your deposit back when you move.  If you are diligent about pulling the staples out of the wall when you remove your fabric and you put a dab of spackle in the C-hook holes, no one will ever know you altered the appearance of the bedroom in any way. As an extra bonus, because you covered the walls in fabric - the paint in that room should be pristine when you move.

We'll continue the discussion of nonpermanent wall changes in our next post!