Touring a Neighborhood in Melrose

Bob meets with a local real estate broker and with homeowner Sarah Monzon, whose basement will be finished to create additional family space.

Clip Summary

Bob reviews how suburban real estate values have skyrocketed in the last couple of years and talks about Melrose, MA, a Boston suburb and the site of this new project. Part of the town's appeal is due to beautiful antique homes mixed with houses built around the turn of the century. Bob talks with Linda O'Koniewski of RE/MAX Heritage, a local real estate broker, about the home where the work is being done. O'Koniewski was raised near the home, which was built in 1921. She sold the home to the current owners, Ricardo and Sarah Monzon. The home has fine woodworking and craftsmanship on the inside that Bob says points to its being a builder house rather than an architect-designed home. Bob talks with homeowner Sarah Monzon about some of the improvements that have been made to the property. Monzon points out the retaining wall they put in the backyard to create an area where the children can play. Plants were put in that will give the backyard some more privacy when fully grown. Monzon explains that the children, ages four and five, have done some damage to the lawn so they are looking for solutions. The backyard does not have a fence, which Bob points out as a concern with a busy street and young children. Monzon reviews some problems with the exterior of the home which include mildew buildup and damage from squirrels and birds' nests. Monzon tells Bob about flood damage they experienced in the basement, something they would like to address and prevent in the future. Homeowner Sarah Monzon explains the project and how they plan to expand the interior of the home by renovating the basement and adding another bathroom. This will allow more space for their children and active family life. Monzon shows how the basement looked before they began the renovation, full of unwanted books, clothes, household items and appliances that had accumulated over the years. The homeowners had 1-800-GOT-JUNK take away unwanted items. Monson talks about plumbing issues and problems with the basement stairs.
Hi, I'm Bob Vila. Welcome to the show.

We've got a brand new project today, a little house in the town of Melrose, outside of Boston, where a young family with two little boys needs a playroom.

We're going to be showing you how to finish the basement to get just that. Including how you clean it out, and how you waterproof it. Stick around.

Suburban real estate values outside of cities like New York, Boston, and San Francisco have sky rocketed in value in the last few years.
That's nothing new, but we're in Melrose. A community that's been a suburb for over a century, since the railroad came out here and connected it to downtown Boston. Boston is only seven miles away, so that makes it very desirable, but it is a dense neighborhood. And that's alleviated somewhat by the fact that we have a state reservation.

Lots of open land, lots of other reasons why it's an attractive community. It's got great school systems. And I suppose one of the things that makes it attractive too is the housing stock. There are lots of beautiful antique houses mixed in with turn of the century houses.

Linda Okeneski has grown up in this area. She's also been a real estate broker for a couple of decades. Let's talk with her about this one.

Hi, Linda.

Hey, nice to meet you, Bob.

Good to meet you.
Now you grew up in this neighborhood, right?

I did. An idyllic childhood right here.

Back in the sixties?

I guess I'm that old.

Yeah. What was it like?

Back in the 60's, this was the day of, we wore polyester danceskin suits, you know.
Dustin Hoffman had just announced in The Graduate it was time for polyester and plastic.

And there were nine kids between the two families. We were good close friends, all born in the sixties.

So your house was just down the street and did you play in this place?

All the time. This is where we had our science experiments on the porch with all those grasshopper experiments, the lady bugs, the séances in the basement, the bobbing for apples.

Tell us about the house though. It's from what, 1921?

1921. Beautiful gambrels. Some nice natural woodwork inside. Had a chance to sell this to Ricardo and Sarah, just a few years ago.


And I really sold them my childhood as well, it goes along with the house.

I can see it. Now, there has been appreciation in the last two years, right?

There's been some great appreciation. There might be a softening in the market or an adjustment but at the same time they've had great equity in this house.

And the interior of the house is finally detailed. It's probably a builders house. I don't think it was architect designed, but there's very nice touches in there.

Yeah, there is a couple sister houses in the neighborhood that have that same nice natural wood work, the pretty columns and details that you'll find here.

But it does make sense to make improvements to the house even though the lot doesn't really allow for expansion.

Well, being seven miles north of Boston, there's not a lot of land of here and it makes a lot of sense to use that built space wisely.
And that old basement where we had our ping pong tournaments is really going to lend itself great project for the Munzones.

Great. It's a good idea. Thanks.

You're very welcome.

OK. Our home owners, Sarah and Ricardo, have been here about five years and they're do-it-yourselfers, so they've made quite a few improvements to the property, including some of the landscaping work.

Let's say "Hi" to Sarah.

Hi Bob.

This is very impressive.

Thank you!

I mean this is do-it-yourself stonework. It's really a retaining wall that you put up here.

Yeah. This is something that we did three years ago because the yard originally was just a big slope covered with brambles. The kids couldn't play back here, so we just carved out the slope, and put in stone that we got locally. It comes from Yankee Walls.

This is a big job you did. Look at all this.


Yeah, it took about a month.

And you put up lots of nice plant material up there which eventually give you some privacy from the neighbors.

Yup, yup.

What's the story with the lawn? R they just truck all over this, so.

How old are they?

They're four and five, so it's never going to come back. and we're looking for solutions there.

Yeah, yeah. So that's one of the problems. And that you don't seem to have any fencing.

Right. Exactly. We are, kind of, on top of our neighbors over there. We have a house that is fortunately full of people that we love, but it's all apartments and we have a right of way on the other side.

Yeah, yeah.

So it's.

No, my main concern would be the busy street and a four and five year old. I'd want to fence this in. It looks like you have been doing some work on the house.

Yeah, yeah. Last Summer I had to rip down a soffit at the very top there because it was full of squirrel and bird nests. And then rebuild that and we, we still haven't finished.

But this whole wall tends to mildew and there's a lot of moisture infiltration problems. When we had the rains a few weeks ago, we had about nine or 11 inches of rain in the space of a couple of days.


And a lot of people got terrible flooding. This house, which never floods, got two inches.

Two inches in the basement?

In the basement. And I saw some of it coming in through, back here, we have some issues with water infiltration. It's never been that big of problem but with that much rain.

Loose bricks that need pointing and that sort of thing.

Yes, and there's a concrete and stucco union that is dubious that we need to have worked on.

But the big project here is expanding the house into the basement, right?

Yes, I mean, its one thing to have a nice yard in the back, but its small and we do need interior space for the kids and you know, it is open plan house but it's not that big.


And we did have a big open basement, and it was a great opportunity for us to expand downward.



And you only have one bathroom in the house so it's also an opportunity to add another bath.

Yes. That's huge deal in a, in a house with two boys.

So what is, what have you had to do so far? Well, it started out it was full up to the joists with stuff that we'd moved with.

My husband's a musician, so we had drums down there, we had all kinds of boxes of books and furniture and old appliances and stuff we moved with and it was a disaster. I'm sure everybody in the world knows about this.

Cleaning of the basement has to be the worst job and the worst.

That was the hardest part.

How did you do it?

We just went through everything, piled it in the middle, and then we called 1-800-got-junk and they came and believe it or not they took everything.


Yes. But before they could do that we had to get a few things disconnected. They can't just pick up a washer and take it out, and we had a 400 pound soapstone set sink down there for laundry once upon in a time that was 80 years old and pitted and disgusting.

And, so, our plumber, Al Leoni came, and he disconnected that lead drain that was held on with duct tape.
And he took a look at our plumbing museum. He's going to be working with us more later, but we have brass pipe down there, and it was corroding at the joints , and the threads are not the same, so we had to use an adapter to get the new caps to fit the old pipes. It was quite a scene.

It's a big job.

We also had somebody come in to assess the situation with the stairs and demolish the old paint closet underneath.

So we are going to take this partition out by making a cut right here and then ripping out the boards.
The first and glaring issue is this stringer right here, which is completely unsupported. It seems to be hanging from this beadboard somehow.

So, we're going to put a post down to the floor here. And then the only other thing we can really do is try and secure these treads a little bit better to their risers and stiffen up the staircase that way.