Flash back 6 years ago for a bit of background.
Hubby and I had just gotten married. He, in his position as civil servant, does not bring home a huge paycheck. I had recently been laid off and was working what jobs I could find for poverty wages. We wanted to buy a home, but it was late 2003 and the housing boom was taking off. Needless to say, our budget was less than sufficient for what we were looking for. Fortunately, we found a Realtor who was well versed in the concept of the Handyman Special. And Hubby was Handy. We began trimming our list of must haves to the bare bones of what we could tolerate living in for 5-10 years (and therefore allowing for growth of our new family). We got down to 3 bedroom, 2 bath with good foundation and stable framework , a modest yard, and a nice neighborhood.
And that left one house.
It was indeed in a lovely, family neighborhood. And Hubby and I both could see potential in the Colonial, despite it’s obvious need for major work. It even had an extra half bath so seemed to surpass our most basic needs. The Inspector thought it had the ability to be a lovely little house, with the aid of major pest control and some renovations—all of which were surface items (the only things an inspector can really see).
So we bought the home, and made sure the seller paid all the closing costs so we had the funds to do the renovations we needed, the way we wanted. We also had 6 weeks left after finding the house and closing on our apartment lease. A perfect window.
Day 2 was when it all fell apart.
You see, Day 1 was a simple day. We changed the locks. Moved in our tools. Made sure all the utilities were on. And then set about 50 bug bombs (there was a MAJOR cockroach infestation) and fled.
On Day 2? We found we had severely underestimated the workload ahead of us. And every day after for years was more of the same.
The cockroaches were Mutant Killer Roaches who did not die, despite the extreme overkill of bug fumigation. No. It merely angered them.
We began our demolition phase and found huge issues besides that and all of the things we did know about:
- The plumbing was not to code. Rather than using pipes that fit together, someone had joined random sized pipes together and stuffed the wide-open spaces with cloth and plumbers putty to try and stem the flow of water. It was less than effective. The tubs were installed improperly. Joints in metal pipework were welded with lead. And nothing in the house drained at anything approaching the proper speed (taking apart the sewage main, we found that the cause was simple—a carnival prize sized Homer Simpson was wedged in the line).
- The odd room that had been walled in and we could only access by the front window (which was easy, all of our windows were merely panes of glass held in and together with aluminum tape—one firm poke and you were in) apparently had originally been a very open room. As an added point of interest, whoever had walled in the doorways had decided to store cases of Modelo Especial in the empty space between layers of drywall.
- We’d thought we merely had low ceilings—after all, this is a very old house. Thankfully, we are not terribly tall people so it was okay. However when we started to pry up the broken tiles and rotted subfloor, we found we just had a very high floor. About 30+ layers worth of flooring and subfloor stacked one on the other over time. After removing all of that? We found that we had some rotted rim joists and a sag in the middle of the house, most importantly. Of less importance we found that the space between the joists was being used in place of ductwork and storage. We found BAGS OF CLOTHES AND TOYS in under the 50 million layers of flooring. No bodies though. We were beginning to think we’d find bodies.
- The electrical was not up to code. The entire house was wired in a single circuit to one GFI. And not grounded. Hello, Fire Trap.
- The chimney was cracked, had no flue, was obviously being used (recently) for regular cooking AND as more clothing storage. Yes, more trash bags of old clothes were stuffed up the chimney. Apparently while they’d been using it to cook in.
And so we ended up having to severely shave our expectations of what we could do. After all, despite the fact we weren’t hiring contractors (just getting lots of permits and inspections) and so saving great deals of money…we only had so much time. And 6 weeks is not much to make a house at this level livable. And our budget had a hard stop we couldn’t go past…and our dreams came darn near to bumping the end of it. Despite the low costs of these extra items and permits, it still cost and so expectations had to be lowered. Again, meaning the house couldn't be what we wanted.
Because you see, our known problem list? Was huge.
- All new windows (because tape and glass doesn’t cut it).
- A lot of new drywall because there were holes people or animals had peed into and the cockroach and mouse problem had destroyed much of the rest.
- A new kitchen (yes, everything)
- New bathrooms (again, everything)
- New floors
- New light fixtures
- New inside banister/railing
- New exterior doors
- New interior doors
- New moulding
- "Freeing" of the Cask of Amontillado room (now our dining room)
- Remove back patio and regrade property
- Replace exterior stairs
- Replace front porch
And there are more things I can no longer remember. And we are still working on that list, 6 years later.
You can’t help but form a love/hate relationship with the darn place. All the blood and sweat makes you hate it…till you start thinking about leaving behind the wooden banister you designed and your husband made that doesn’t exist anywhere else or other little details like those. And you begin hating it again when you need something you had to give up on your Must Haves List.
All of this has made The House important to Who We Are. It’s the experience, rather than the building itself. But without the building? We wouldn’t have had the experience. You can’t work that hard for that long on something that complicated together as a family and not grow because of it. It’s also become part of the Stories We Tell and will be told to our kids one day. Stories like that become funnier with time and distance and become variations on a theme e.g.: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House or The Money Pit. Days I just wanted to sit down and cry, but couldn’t because I would’ve been instantly overrun with mice and roaches will one day be funny.
One day it’ll also probably be finished. Likely the day we sell.
And that day? Hubby says he’s taking his banister with him.