Saturday, April 23, 2022

The House in the Header

 Drum Major asked about the house in my header. It is my house. It looks in poor repair from the outside. It has been badly neglected. The siding is, believe it or not, chestnut, a wood no longer available in the United States. The tree was wiped out by a blight which began in 1904 and within decades had killed virtually the entire American Chestnut population, four billion trees. 

Our house was built in the 1920s by Ralph Brown. He and his wife Agnes lived in it. Her father is a decorated Civil War veteran and his name appears on the war memorial in the middle of town. 

After Ralph died, Mrs Brown converted the house to a two family home and rented out the upstairs. She lived comfortably on the first floor, which has the kitchen. Walking into the foyer, on your right is a grand front door. To the left is the stairs to the second floor. There is a bedroom and a bathroom to the  right of the stairs heading to the back of the house. If you continue across the hall, directly across from the kitchen door, there are french doors leading to the livingroom. At the back of that room is a library with a fireplace. There is also an office which was once the front porch that you see in the header picture. I'm not sure when it was enclosed, but it is a nice place for my plants. 

The second floor had a kitchen, a livingroom, a large bathroom and two bedrooms. There is a third floor landing which is huge and spacious and set up with an old desk and my mother's typewriter and bookshelves full of books. Upstairs on the third floor, there are two more bedrooms and two attics that run the length of the house. 

Somewhere in the 90s, it was bought by a young couple who turned it back into a one family home. They loved the house by all accounts and very lovingly updated it. We will always owe them a debt of gratitude for their work. Unfortunately, the marriage did not work out and it had to be sold since neither of them could afford to buy the other out. 

At that point, that beautiful house had a sad few years. A local man of some importance bought it. In the big mortgage crash of the 2008, he suddenly had a house that was not worth what he had paid for it. He made the decision to abandon the house back to the bank. Sadly, being a bit of a prick, he spent the next months coming weekly to it with his two bags of garbage from wherever his family was living. He walked into the house and set them on the floor and walked back out. 

Every week. 

For months. 

When the bank finally got the property foreclosed, they got a house that was filled with garbage on the first floor. Months of garbage. A friend who had looked at the property said that there was bags of garbage stacked waist high for the entire first floor. The place smelled horribly. It drew rodents. Ultimately, the bank was forced to pay to haul the trash away, but it was still a filthy house. (The big shot still lives in the community. I have listened to him speaking about public issues on the radio, and shake my head. If only people knew.)

Enter Tim. 

Amazingly, (I'm still not sure how it happened, really) we already owned two houses on the street. We were able to take advantage of the crisis. Houses were being abandoned, and the banks did not want them on the books. We bought houses at unbelievably low prices, fixed them up (doing the work ourselves) and renting them out. This house was between the five apartments. Tim walked past it daily and he pondered it. 

One day, he happened to see a realtor there and he walked in for a look around. 

Because he's who he is, he was able to look past the smelly stained carpets and the filth and the rodent droppings and the mess, and see a house. He kept telling me about this house. I was in school. My mother was dying. Family dynamics were not good. But Tim wanted me to look at the house. "It's so dirty," he would say. "But it's beautiful. French doors every where, cast iron radiators, two fireplaces. The bathrooms are huge..." and then he'd say. "I don't know. It's a lot of work. It stinks worse than any house I've ever been in..." 

I finally uttered the fateful words. "Tim, do what you're going to do, really. If you want the it, just get it. I don't have time to go look at a house." 

Mind you, at the time, we were living in a very large house in the woods. I never dreamed the man would want to live in town. Never crossed my mind. I just wanted him to stop talking about it. 

Tim waffled back and forth on it, and finally he decided. He put in a cash offer of $15,000. He never expected to get it. Never. 

Except the bank accepted that offer. 

I got a call at school that we had another house. I believe my reaction was pretty much: "Are you shitting me? $15,000???!!!!"

And so we had a house. When we signed the papers for it, the realtor was anxious to see my reaction. I had yet to see it and he was a bit amazed that a husband could buy a house without his wife's approval. I walked into the filth and debris. The realtor stood by with his clipboard and pen and waited for the fecal material to hit the rotary oscillator. I walked from room to room, looking. Because I am married to Tim, I also could see past the filth and the debris and the smell. I said, "Oh my God. How absolutely gorgeous." 

Tim was relieved. The realtor was shocked.

It was a lot of work. The house had been improperly winterized and all those beautiful cast iron radiators had burst. Hauling those out was a beastly amount of work. Berber carpet was ripped up, but we discovered gorgeous hardwood floors beneath. Walls had to be scrubbed and repainted. Those french doors? All those panes of glass? Only one was broken out of the 48. Slowly, we filled the rooms with furniture appropriate to the age of the house. 

Long story short, the house is beautiful on the inside, but...there is still a lot to be done on the outside. 

Unfortunately, Tim keeps me pretty busy. Since we have bought this house, we have renovated and sold four properties. We have bought more rentals. Our house takes second priority. It'll happen...just not right this minute. 

But, we are winding down. We have one more move to make. We are building a retirement house, a much smaller house. We will move back to the country, across the road from an old cemetery, a quick walk to my sister's house. 

This old house will be sold. We will reside it with cement board. It will get a new coat of paint. Then it will be as beautiful outside as it is inside. I will be sad to see it go, because it is a glorious home. I never thought to live in such a grand place. 

So that is the story of the house in the header, Drum Major. 

24 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed this... how wonderful that Tim could see beneath the crud... and that you could too!! Three cheers to you both!!

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    1. Quite honestly, that ability to see beneath the crud is exactly how we built our business. Our first house had a hole in the bathroom floor. You could see through to the basement. The place had to be practically rebuilt. New beams (we actually had to jack up the house to replace them). We got the houses that no one else wanted, and we got them cheap, because, well, nobody else wanted them. Our first house cost about $3500. Let me pull one of these old posts.

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  2. Oh WOW! You've already started a book on the history of that house. I was laughing many times during your story. Thanks for writing all of that for us. Interesting how the exterior wood is so special. I wonder if the town has any newspaper articles on parties and events held in that house. It really sounds like you purchased it at a good time and will be able to sell it at a good time. Please sell it for more than $15,000. And not to the jerk who dumped trash in it. Hasn't he been run out of town? You and Tim are a special pair! Thanks a bunch! Linda in Kansas

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    1. Actually, my youngest daughter gave us a history of the house for Christmas. She was in college, and money was tight, and she walked to the courthouse and the historical society during her Christmas break to collect the facts.

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  3. It sounds an amazing house at an amazing price. Any chance of some interior photos of the house Debby?

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    1. I will have to do that, North Sider. I always meant to.

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  4. What an enthralling story Debby.
    A huge house like that for such an unbelievable bargain price too. Something like that here would be way, way over half a million pounds.

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    1. It was a very scary time, that's for sure. We were not sure which way things were going to go. Now we are in a boom time, and houses are not bargains.

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  5. Gosh what a lot of work you seem to have done - but the house really does sound to have a lot of potential.

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    1. Yes. In addition, it has one of the biggest back yards on the block. And an old carriage house.

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  6. That is quite the story. We once owned a duplex and lived in the bottom. We later took over the upstairs too.

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  7. It's a wise way to start out.

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  8. How nice that you have been able to restore it. Good thing that you and Tim know what you are doing and can do it yourselves!

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    1. Very often we did NOT know what we were doing, but once you're in over your head, there's nothing to do but keep on swimming. We learned a lot.

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  9. It sounds like a lovely old house and I'm glad you and your husband were able to salvage it. Around here, old houses tend to just get pulled down. There are houses that go for $600,000 and then are pulled down for an infill to be built in an old neighborhood.

    I wish I had a handy husband, we could certainly do a lot more with our rental but it is what it is. He has other lovely qualities.

    I'd love to see inside photos too. I love old houses.

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    1. I've reposted two old posts so you can get and idea of things, Pixie.

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  10. I’m like Tim in that I can see past the aesthetics of a house. We bought a similar house that was ugly as sin and now regularly get comments on it now.

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    1. He has an eye for it, to be sure. Once the layoffs began, he was bound and determined that our finances would never be dependent on a company again. I think we both have the vision, but to be perfectly honest, he's always the one that wants to jump in deeper than I am comfortable with. All these years later, I will say it. He was right. I was wrong.

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  11. What a fascinating history to your home and you owning it.

    Handing in the keys is not an option here. The banks will seize the house, sell it and you will still owe the difference between what is sold for and what you owe the bank.

    I see there is a bit more reading to do.

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    1. That would make a lot more sense, Andrew.

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  12. Well done, Tim. I am short on time tonight, and almost skipped over this. So happy I stopped for the tour.

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  13. What a fascinating story! I am ashamed to say that I probably wouldn't have been able to see past the filth and smell. Of course, I'm also not handy and couldn't renovate houses like Tim and you do. I admire your skills and determination very much!

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    1. Old, neglected homes often smell bad. I have come to expect it. I still cringe a bit when ripping out old dirty carpets...and suspended ceilings are the very worst.

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