i thought i’d try to wait on this but I’M SO EXCITED I CAN’T KEEP IT UNDER MY HAT! we are suddenly, kinda out-of-the blue, (hopefully) about to start work on repairing and renovating OUR NEW HOUSE! Probably. the whole deal hasn’t gone through 100% yet but it seems like everything’s set to go and by October 29th it should be finalized IF all goes well!
Both Mike and I always said we’d love to get a house someday, we’d love to renovate an old place and learn all about carpentry and plumbing and have a garden and live in the country and all that good stuff, and we’re starting to save money, but we don’t have enough savings to seriously look at buying a house yet. So it was like a “someday down the road” kind of idea. Still, Mike sometimes likes to browse through craigslist and look at houses for sale, just for kicks. Just window-shopping. He came across this place a few months ago, thought it looked interesting and sent me the listing. I thought it looked cool too, and it’s nice because the location is right between my parents’ house in Gorham and our beloved summer cabin in the White Mountains in New Hampshire.
It’s a five-bedroom farmhouse with a wrap-around porch on the front and side, an ell in the back and two acres of land, with a collapsed barn off to one side. It has Victorian-style turrets in the front, which were probably added in the late 1800’s, but the rest of the structure probably dates back to the early 1800’s.
The price had already been reduced a lot, and the place obviously needs lots of repairs – which made it even more intriguing. We got a little infatuated with this place and our fantasy about living in it and restoring it.
So every few weeks we would go back and look at the website, scroll through the pictures and think “gee, that would be fun… if only…” So, when the price dropped again, we sent the listing to my parents and asked if they might want to swing by the place and look at it, next time they were driving past, just for kicks. We just wanted to hear what it looked like in real life. Since it’s right on their way over to New Hampshire. They did stop by and were also intrigued! Eventually they decided to call up the realtor, just out of curiosity, and make an appointment, just to get a peek inside. When they spoke to the realtor she mentioned that the price had just been dropped again, to ONE THIRD of the original price!
So they went on over and scoped it out in great detail. The property is now held by a property liquidation company, and they are in a big hurry to get rid of it before the winter freeze comes on and the pipes all freeze and winter storms cause even more damage to the section of the house that has a broken roof. The house is so badly damaged and the bank is in such a hurry to get rid of it, the whole property is now being sold for the price of the land. So basically you buy the land, you get this hulking wreck of a house for free! The house looks pretty decent from the street but inside it’s all messed up. The furnace is broken, the plumbing is all crazy, the electricity is so faulty that most of the house has been disconnected. Up until two months ago, there were 11 people!!!!! living in this house, and not doing any maintenance whatsoever. In the main house, the interior walls have spots of missing plaster, where the original lath shows through. There is a rotted sill above the foundation, under the kitchen. The interior looks like a total disaster. In the back, there is an additional structure (the ell, for those who are familiar with traditional farmhouses) with an “in-law apartment” and garage space, but the roof over the ell is badly damaged, there are blue plastic tarps covering it but there’s extensive water damage in the interior of the ell, where the roof is missing. That area is badly rotted and strewn with debris. So overall, it’s all in really bad shape.
But the original structure of the house dates from the early 1800’s, the foundation is made of boulders and granite and is still completely sound. Most of the main structure is solid and the main roof is new-ish, with only one small leaky spot. The house comes with two acres of land, which really can’t depreciate in value – regardless of what happens to the house. My parents had bought a house in similar condition back in 1973, and they nursed it back to health and still live in it happily today. So they’re pretty knowledgeable about restoring old damaged farmhouses, and they felt that despite the extensive problems, it was still a great bargain, and basically they felt that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a result of the crazy economy and messed-up real estate market. Of course we could find other cheap houses to restore, but we’d never find another one this cheap.
So they offered us… if we were interested… to BUY the place and we could throw ourselves into restoring it and pay them back.
Judy, of course, was completely infatuated with the place too, and overflowing with ideas and excitement! Richard was cautious and warned that we had better understand what a huge project we’d be getting into.
When we originally showed them the pictures and asked them if they wanted to stop by and visit the house, we had expected that they would visit the place and say “Oh, gosh, it’s so sad but that house is a total disaster and there’s no way it could be saved.” I really didn’t expect anything to come from their visit – I just figured it would be an interesting learning experience for everyone. And of course I never would’ve imagined that they would offer to buy it themselves! So we were REALLY surprised to hear their offer! We spent the whole weekend talking it over, alternating between giddy excitement and thinking “this is such a crazy idea, we can’t even seriously consider it.” We talked a lot with my parents about the unbelievably huge amount of back-breaking work, endless time, blood sweat and tears, and money that it would cost to get the house up to basic living standards. We talked about the fact that buying this house would mean we wouldn’t have time or money to travel again for five or ten years, we might never get to Thailand or Japan, we’d be basically camping out in this shell of a house for the first few months (or years?) and we’d be isolated and completely swamped with work for at least five or ten years.
But we also talked about how we’d always dreamed of this, we talked about growing a big garden and making jams and pickles at the end of the summer, having goats and chickens one day, having a giant yard for our dogs to run free. We looked at prices for those underground dog fences and we looked at prices for used cars and new furnaces. We talked about all the amazing things we could do with so much space. How we hoped friends would come visit us in the summer and keep us company!
Yesterday everyone was headed over to Intervale so they stopped by the house again and Amy was kind enough to bring her video camera and tape some footage of the neighborhood and walking around the house, both inside and out. It’s been amazing to watch her videos, it’s the closest thing to being there. The whole place feels like one of those places that I’d drive past and think “wow, how can that place be so abandoned? what’s the story there?” I always used to notice places like this and want to stop and explore, poke around, try the door and go inside. I love to sneak in to abandoned places and imagine the history of the place, imagine myself camping out in there, cleaning it up and making it my own. I’m pretty sure that no house is as compelling and enticing to me as an interesting abandoned place.
Thanks to Google Maps, we’ve studied pictures of the house from the street and aerial photos of the property from above, as well as street-views of the entire neighborhood and some aerial perspective on where it’s located in the state.
The location is in southern Maine, near the border with New Hampshire. About 30 minutes from my parents’ house in Gorham; one hour from Portland; 45 minutes from the ocean at Old Orchard beach; 1 hour from our family cabin in the white mountains; 2.5 hours from Boston; 6 hours from New York (probably more with traffic).
So… of course, after heavy deliberations we decided to go for it! Mike was completely convinced pretty early on, but it took me a whole weekend of heavy thinking before I decided we should go for it! Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? We had to act fast because we knew that at the super-cheap price, there were lots of other interested buyers scoping the place out. I can’t believe we just made such a huge decision. It was kind of the same when we moved to Argentina – very sudden! But this feels even bigger, and even more sudden. The craziest thing is that I CAN’T GO SEE THE HOUSE! I won’t be able to see it for another 4 months! Judy and Richard will be looking after the place over the winter, draining the pipes, stretching new tarps over the broken roof, and getting an electrician in to get some basic wiring set up. They honestly sound really excited about this, just as excited as we are! We won’t be able to see the place until March. We’re thinking if all goes ahead as planned, we’ll move in with Judy and Richard at first and stay with them while looking for work and going over to Limington to work on the house whenever we can. By the beginning of June we’re hoping to have at least a few rooms habitable so we can move in. We’ll hope to get a furnace installed over the summer so we’ll be ready when the fall comes. We’ll plan to close off a few core rooms on the first floor and live in just those few rooms for the first winter, so we don’t have to heat the whole house. It’s so unbelievable that now we’re not just moving back to Maine, we’re moving back to our new house and this crazy epic construction project. What a lot of changes. I can’t believe this is all going on – I can’t sleep at night, I’m lying awake imagining our new house! And imagining all the work this is going to take, yikes. And wondering if it will even go through – these things often seem to go awry at the very last minute. So… we’ll see!