Inspired by Aunt Nellie

I am not a Realtor; but I live with one. And after twenty three years of being married to Greg Arcara, I just now figured him out, unpredictably, through genealogy.

Greg paying respects blogThe thing about a good, talented career Realtor is that there is no faking it; I’ve known for decades that Greg truly harbors a great passion for houses, homes, neighborhoods, communities, but especially for the sweet feeling of victory when a perfect match is made between a client and their new family home. I am witness to his tossing and turning at night when there are issues, and to his absolute delight when the deal works out for everyone. I get to know his clients even though I never meet them. I know that when we drive through a neighborhood being newly constructed, all I see is mess and sawdust; but Greg sees the possibilities. When we walk in a vacant house and I just see blankness, Greg literally sees furniture placement, colors, the specific comforts of the right home for certain clients. And when I am exasperated over Greg missing weekend days, football games, or late nights, I see an absence where he sees a presence.

It’s not just Greg; one of my very best friends, Tammy Taylor, is one of those obsessive, devoted Realtors whose mind is reeling all the time with possibilities of making that perfect home/homeowner match for someone. You know a true professional Realtor when you see one; it is not the people dabbling in it for a quick buck, some giving the rest of the Realtors a bad name; the good ones are fierce about the ethics because they really care about the rest of the story; they aspire to a “happily ever after” ending for all.

I have never known where this comes from, the stuff that makes Real Estate the only viable career path for a few special people; could it be genetic? In doing Greg’s family history research, I have run across three interesting characters that make me believe there is a Realtor gene and that my husband has it.

Randolph Hernandez colorizedFirst, there is Greg’s 2nd great grandfather, Randolph Manuel Hernandez, a true pioneer of the city of Birmingham. Born in 1838 in Pensacola, of Spanish descent, he and his vivacious wife, Emma, moved to Birmingham the very year it first became a city; the store they opened was noted for being the only store remaining open during the great Cholera epidemic of 1873. They took pride in building the prettiest house in the small new city, and they became involved in helping everyone around them make this brand new location, the Magic City, a true home. Randolph Hernandez earned the reputation of being a highly respected real estate man; by the end of his remarkable life in 1900, Randolph must have had great pride having seen his own real estate business grow with the booming city.

Second, there is Greg’s great-grandfather, born Andrea Tripi in the little Sicilian village of Montemaggiore Belsito way back in 1865; he came to Birmingham, Alabama, in 1895 and reinvented himself as Henry Trippi.

trippie building for blogWhile most of the new Sicilian immigrants in Birmingham were doing hard labor in the coal mines, Henry saw a different path; by 1905 he had opened one of those Italian “Mom and Pop” style grocery/drug stores in a building he built, called The Trippie Building, in downtown Birmingham. He figured out that this rapidly growing city was made of families needing homes; by the time of his death in 1934, he had become quite successful in real estate. There must have been tremendous pride and satisfaction in seeing home ownership become a reality for so many people who had been largely born into poverty.

aunt nellie for blogAnd then there is Greg’s Aunt Nellie Arcara. Aunt Nellie was a pioneer in her own right; she was the first female to be recognized by the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area Real Estate Board, in 1938. People like Aunt Nellie paved the way for future generations; when she worked her way up from a secretary and learned the real estate business during the Great Depression, most of the doors were closed to women. In 1931, when the company she was working for went out of business, Nellie jumped on the opportunity and started her own real estate company. She surmounted discrimination by the Real Estate Board and successfully fought for a change in the board’s by-laws to allow female members; she was finally recognized by the Montgomery County Real Estate Board in 1938. She was a remarkable person; she raised her family, ran a business, and spent a huge amount of energy towards philanthropic causes. By all accounts, she absolutely loved helping people with the huge life decision of choosing a home. Aunt Nellie worked until just about the day of her death in 2001; she was in her 90’s. She just could not stop doing what she loved and was very, very good at.

If not for pioneers like Aunsenia for blogt Nellie, we wouldn’t have great organizations like the Birmingham Women’s Council of Realtors, over which Arcara Residential’s Senia Johnson, Realtor, has presided.

 

So now I know: I married into the family and the Real Estate gene is real and continuous; our youngest son has decided that he has the bug, too. Here is a bit of advice from someone who has lived with it: when you are deciding on whether to use a Realtor and then selecting which Realtor to use, look for that gleam in their eyes; the one that sees past the structure and imagines the potential home, wheels spinning about how to make every party happy. That smart and ethical person who knows what they are doing because they obsess over it 24×7. The one that does the homework. That’s the Realtor you want on your team.

And when you walk into our new office in Helena, please tip your hat to Aunt Nellie Arcara, whose image will be smiling down, offering inspiration.

be inspired sign

 

 

This Old House, Our New Office: Chapter 1.

It was just meant to be.

Nunnally house in august 2015For years, the sweet, neglected little bungalow style house beckoned to Greg Arcara every time he drove through Old Town Helena. Not on Main Street, but right down there on 2nd Street, sitting quietly under the shade of an overgrown tree; the For Sale sign perched in the yard for 1500 days. To a career Realtor like Greg Arcara, that fact alone screamed “damaged goods”; and none of the words coming back from his inquiry surprised him: Foreclosure. Termites. Busted pipes. Questionable support beams. Needs a lot of work. Greg heard those pragmatic words, but they couldn’t cancel out a hunch that whispered into his other ear: This house has a story.

Greg knew that one day he wanted an inviting, comfortable place for our (purposefully) small Real Estate company, Arcara Residential. He wanted a place with a friendly front porch and a lot of character, where people can feel at ease and where he can enjoy becoming a part of a close knit town, specifically Helena. He wanted a place where his agents would look forward to coming to meet with clients or catch up on paperwork. So… he has now officially bought this fixer-upper. The home is not much to look at yet, but we expect to thoroughly enjoy renovating and rescuing it. Think, This Old House meets Our New Office. We want to document the adventure as we go, passing along anything interesting we encounter, including project successes and epic fails. Maybe there will even be some ideas that fellow renovators will enjoy reading about. Please feel free to follow us on our journey!

The History of The Nunnally House

Knowing that this home is part of Old Town Helena’s designation in the National Register of Historical Places, we feel strongly that we need to learn as much as possible about the history of the house; we want to be good custodians of what was once a beloved home for a few generations. We are off to a great start, with the first discovery that the home once had a name: The Nunnally House. To our delight, Nunnally family members have been absolutely wonderful to us and willing to help us learn more about their family home. We are working on tracing back further to learn more about when it was built—we’re thinking 1880’s timeframe—and who built the original home, even before Luther and Grace McClendon Nunnally lived out their lives in the house. Helena residents will know that the house was originally located up the road a piece, close to the current Post Office, and was moved to its current spot a few years ago. We will share our discoveries as these walls begin to talk. Being located within an easy walk of Ken Penhale’s Helena Museum may prove to be perfect. I can say for sure that being within an easy walk of the wonderful Coal Yard restaurant has its appeal, as well; we are already “regulars”.

It Was Meant To Be

One important chapter will already be familiar to anyone who has a passing interest in Helena’s history: the tornado. On May 5, 1933, a catastrophic tornado destroyed much of Helena, resulting in many lives lost and a town forever changed. One of the heavily damaged structures was the original Nunnally home.

Here is where the story gets personal.

My grandmother’s (Ollie Smith Garner) family home in Adamsville, Jefferson County, was completely demolished by a pre-dawn tornado when she was a teenager; several family members were injured, her baby brother Fred was picked up by the tornado and dumped into a field far away, (alive but injured), and she got caught in the wind’s fury with her arms wrapped around a big oak tree, struggling against the roaring winds to make it to the storm shelter. The horrifying event marked her for life. Fear of storms became one of the overriding elements that influenced the way my grandmother lived her life, every day; she could barely have a long conversation without the topic coming up, many decades after the storm, until the day she passed away at almost a hundred years old. The last coherent conversation I had with her before her death in 2011 was about her tornado experience, which I had just written a story about (A Pretty Red Dress).

It was the same tornado.

Yes, amazingly, we have now verified that the same tornado that destroyed Shelby County’s Helena went on to unleash its terror on Jefferson County’s Adamsville. That 1933 tornado got both the Nunnally home and the Smith home, more than thirty miles apart. Something about that shared experience makes me feel very connected to the Nunnally House; many of the boards we will be working hard to reclaim and repurpose will have survived that May 1933 terror, “Mama Ollie’s” tornado. The Smiths survived; the Nunnallys survived; the story continues.

It sure feels that this was simply meant to be.

Current Pictures

Here is our starting point; crops growing in the gutter, wasp nests lurking under the swing, shadows of painted images peering from the porch floor… and all that is before even opening the front door. A lot of fun and elbow grease awaits. We would love to hear what you think as we go along!

Surviving the Auburn/Alabama Madness

roll tide dress miss alabamaWell, it happened. After fifty years of living on the front lines of the Auburn/Alabama rivalry, I saw something today that surprised even me. There she was. Miss America wannabe, our beautiful Miss Alabama, previewing an official ensemble of Roll Tide meets Hancock Fabrics with a dramatic flair of Scarlett O’Hara thrown in. First I was speechless; then my thoughts soon turned to the unsuspecting people who have decided to move to our state, unprepared for the extreme phenomenon that is Alabama and Auburn. If this is all new to you, bless your heart, I’m gonna try to help you out here.

Decades before ESPN made a revealing documentary about the Auburn/Alabama rivalry, Roll Tide War Eagle, residents of the state were immersed in a great cultural divide of orange and blue versus crimson and white, going all the way back to 1893. Even before I learned to ride a bike, I could tell you that Alabama ran the Wishbone offense formation and Auburn ran the Veer. The names Bear Bryant and Shug Jordan were spoken with hushed tones, and my first encounter with product placement occurred during their weekly TV shows. Golden Flake and Coke, there they were; the Bear himself taking a big ole swig of Co’Cola, kicking off his awe-inspiring monologue occasionally punctuated with a sudden exclamation of “Bingo”! That meant the right man had made his tackle stick.

Without a lifetime of developing coping mechanisms for surviving football season in Alabama, how does one make it?  Well, it is pretty obvious that the least effective strategy for living in the world of Alabama/Auburn is to ignore it. Mainly because it’s impossible. There is houndstooth everywhere, at all times; it’s the state pattern. Some days there is toilet paper thrown across big things: everything from trees to army tanks. Not only is there a wealth of logo’ed merchandise, but there is also an entire industry of stuff stamped with the compromising, all telling “House Divided”. And then there was that house that was actually divided. Peace.

First, I recommend picking a side. If you are living in the state of Alabama, it’s almost imperative to go for one or the other; flip a coin if you must.  It’s just easier to answer the inevitable question you will get in the check-out line at Walmart: Auburn or Alabama?  I contend that it’s way too time consuming to explain that no, you really don’t live for college football, or no, you really don’t see the difference, or no, you feel silly chanting, “Bodda Getta Bodda Getta Bodda Getta Bah” or “Rammer Jammer Yellowhammer“. The lowest hanging fruit here is to just pick a side and hang on for dear life.  Note: if you are already a rabid college football fan of another school, you get a shrug.  If it’s an SEC school, you get a pass.  The only mistrusted decision is No thanks, none of the above.

Second, it might be a good idea to conjure up an excuse to have at-the-ready if you don’t really want to hear every detail of the 1972 Punt Bama Punt game, or how Alabama has won a gazillion national championships. “Oh, my! I’m due at the chiropractor, RIGHT NOW” might work. Better yet might be, “Oh, my! I am due to pick up the babyback ribs I ordered for our tailgating!” In that case, you might be met with a “Run, Forrest! RUN!” response.

Third, I offer this really important advice: don’t assume that you know which side one’s bread is buttered on, football wise. We, the residents of Alabama, are all mixed up; and there are divided families everywhere. Just because Dad is wearing an elephant head doesn’t mean Mom isn’t an Aubie groupie, and vice versa. I am the product of a mixed marriage; and I am in a mixed marriage. (A carefully placed Reverse Rammer Jammer might reveal which team I, the author of this Arcara Residential blog, pull for; but it might not be a good idea since the owner of the actual Arcara Residential company yells for the other. Oops.)

Fourth is a piece of helpful information. There is a great sucking sound on Saturday afternoons in the Fall as people migrate to the two college towns of Tuscaloosa and Auburn, to Jordan Hare and Bryant Denny stadiums, and to theater-sized televisions all over the state to watch the big smashmouthed events. The vacuum that is created leaves prime spots open in the best restaurants, shows, movies, and shopping areas, especially when both teams are playing. Especially during the Iron Bowl. You might even get right in at Hot & Hot Fish Club, or maybe navigate nicely with little traffic up Highway 280, or park right outside the door at… well, anywhere not showing the game. But don’t plan something meaningful like a wedding during the game; you might be stunned when even Grandma fakes an illness to see the Big Game.

Fifth, and most important: don’t sweat it. Don’t take it too seriously. Do Auburn and Alabama fans hate each other? Paul Finebaum says yes from his vantage point, and many people agree; no doubt the rivalry is out of hand, with horror stories of disrespectful and downright despicable acts being committed in the names of both teams.

tornado logoBut here’s what is often missed, and often forgotten: when the chips are really down, the good people of the state of Alabama set aside rivalries and come together. When the 2011 tornadoes devastated Tuscaloosa in the worst tragedy our state has suffered in years, the first and biggest relief organization that was formed and ran to the front lines was a grass roots group formed in the heart of Auburn, called Toomers for Tuscaloosa. Had the tables been turned, the good people of Alabama would have done the same for Auburn folks.

There was a time I would have recommended running for the hills, taking up tennis, and avoiding the football madness like the plague.  No more; something strange happened along the way, and the jokes and ribbing became funny again.  Auburn kinda likes being a Cow College, and Alabama fans don’t all have “summer” teeth (some are missing, some are not).  The enthusiasm is contagious; it’s not just anywhere that can pack in 80-90,000 people to watch a practice game in the spring. Something fun is going on here; might as well cash in on the joy.

If all this is too much for your kids to take in, never fear. Among the stacks and stacks of books about Auburn and Alabama football and the surrounding culture, a few books have emerged aimed at helping the kids while they are young. In particular, I have on my reading list When Mommy loves Bama and Daddy Loves Auburn. Whoever wrote that psychological handbook is a genius.

January 6, 2014 marks the end of the 2013 college football season. Between now and then you have plenty of time to perfect your chosen battle cry; a cry that is also a greeting, a celebration, a mark of comradery. Put your hands up, air in the lungs, and haul off with a steady yell…War Eagle! Roll Tide!

You might even find yourself meaning it.

Home Staging is All the Rage!

Home Staging is the art of decorating a home to sell quickly and for top dollar. In the Birmingham and Huntsville areas, we are lucky to have SWAG Home Staging and Design close by to perform this magic for homeowners and realtors! Thanks to Erin Dunavant from SWAG for passing along these home staging tips. Erin can be reached at erin@swaghomestaging.com, swaghomestaging.com .

Home Staging Tips, by Erin Dunavant

Home staging is all the rage… and with reason! Staged homes sell much quicker and for higher prices than homes that are vacant.

If your home is vacant (that is, unfurnished), you should definitely consider the possibility of staging it. A professional home stager can make small rooms appear more spacious, awkward spaces feel usable and lofty floor plans feel cozy. A staged home will stand out among the competition and is more likely to be remembered at the end of a long day of showings.

There are many good reasons to stage a home. First, staged homes photograph better, which is critical for today’s Internet-driven buyer. Staging also helps the buyer imagine how a room can be furnished; it’s common knowledge that the vast majority of buyers do not have the vision to mentally furnish and decorate a vacant room. A staged home also appears to be occupied, giving a measure of security as well.

If your home needs staging during the marketing process, ask your real estate agent to contact SWAG Home Staging & Design. Yes, it’s another added expense, but for the right house – worth every penny!

Below are a few Staging Tips to help get you started:

Disassociate Yourself With Your Home.

Sellers need to realize: This is no longer their home; it is a house. Make the mental decision to “let go” of your emotions and focus on the fact that soon this house will no longer be yours. Say goodbye to every room as each space will be need to be transformed into a product.

De-Personalize.

Pack up those personal photographs and family heirlooms. Buyers can’t see past personal artifacts, and you don’t want them to be distracted. You want buyers to imagine their own photos on the walls, and they can’t do that if yours are there! You don’t want to make any buyer ask, “I wonder what kind of people live in this home?” Rather you want buyers to say, “I can see myself living here.”

De-Clutter!

People collect an amazing quantity of junk. Consider this: if you haven’t used it in over a year, you probably don’t need it. If you don’t need it, consider donating or throwing away unnecessary items. Be sure to remove all books from bookcases and pack up all knickknacks. The most valuable space in a home is the kitchen; therefore, clean off the countertops & remove all items from the refrigerator. Put essential items used daily in a small box that can be stored in a closet when not in use. Think of this de-cluttering process as a head-start on the packing you will eventually need to do anyway.

Rearrange Bedroom Closets and Kitchen Cabinets.

Buyers love to snoop and will open closet and cabinet doors. Think of the message it sends if items fall out! Now imagine what a buyer believes about you if she sees everything organized. It says you probably take good care of the rest of the house as well. This means to take a little time to alphabetize spice jars, neatly stack dishes, turn coffee cup handles facing the same way, and line up shoes.

Rent a Storage Unit.

Almost every home shows better with less furniture. Remove pieces of furniture that block or hamper paths and walkways and put them in storage. Since your bookcases are now empty, store them. Remove extra leaves from your dining room table to make the room appear larger. Leave just enough furniture in each room to showcase the room’s purpose and plenty of room to move around. You don’t want buyers scratching their heads and saying, “What is this room used for?”

Remove/Replace Favorite Items.

If you want to take window coverings, built-in appliances or fixtures with you, remove them now. If the chandelier in the dining room once belonged to your great grandmother, take it down. If a buyer never sees it, she won’t want it. Once you tell a buyer she can’t have an item, she will covet it, and it could blow your deal. Pack those items and replace them, if necessary.

Check Curb Appeal.

If a buyer won’t get out of her agent’s car because she doesn’t like the exterior of your home, you’ll never get them inside. Contact SWAG Services, LLC for all your lawn maintenance needs such as:

  • Mow the lawn. Edge the Yard. Blow off the Side Walk.
  • Plant yellow flowers or group flower pots together. Yellow evokes a buying emotion.
  • Trim your bushes.
  • Make sure visitors can clearly read your house number.

SWAG Home Staging & Design has an organized system to help start the process of preparing the home for sale and it begins with the Staging Consultation. This Home Evaluation will diagnose and recommend special room-by-room enhancement instructions. Additionally, SWAG will supply you with suggestions on repairs/improvements that will benefit the property and suggestions on how to prepare the home to sell. We are a unique service provider, in Birmingham & Huntsville, with the goal of maximizing your profit potential.

All information on this website is deemed reliable, but not guaranteed, and may change without notice. Any square footage is approximate.

Property of Arcara Residential, LLC; 771 2nd Street; Helena, AL 35080