Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Scary House

We put our house on the market in September, for-sale-by-owner, and sold it in December. This is the fifth house we sold ourselves and I expected this one to take a little longer, due to the economy, but it went about as fast as the last one did. In fact, we were planning to hunker down for the winter because fall is not a good time to start marketing a property, but it flew off the shelf.

Now we had to find something to move to. This was going to be the hard part. We wanted something old; it had to have acreage for the horses; it had to be close to family, work, and barrel racing, which are in all different directions; it couldn’t be on a busy road or near power lines; and it had to be around $200,000. In Jersey. And we only had two days to do it. We had to get back home because of the animals. The animals is one reason why I want to move back to Jersey. It’s too hard leaving them every time we have to go up there for the holidays or a wedding, or like the last time, my mother’s funeral.

This time we went up there for Christmas. And to find a house. In a blizzard. We weren’t expecting a blizzard. We didn’t even know there was going to be snow and I didn’t bring any of my functional farm-wear because I wanted to look good; I didn’t want my family to say, “What the hell happened to Debi down there? She’s a mess!” So I brought clothes that looked good but weren’t good for trudging around in the snow. Jersey clothes. Form over function.

And I can hear my sister’s words if she’s reading this: “What do you mean you’re not a mess? You most certainly are a mess!” See, I told you. You’ll know what a northerner is thinking because she’ll tell you. And somehow I feel comforted by this, even if it’s not what I’d like to hear.

The first house that we looked at was a turn-of-the-century Victorian that had once been a winery. Our hearts started thumping as soon as we saw it. We parked in the street with our flashers on because the house was vacant so no one was there to shovel and we couldn’t see where the driveway was. If there was a driveway. We climbed through knee-deep snow in sneakers to get to the front door, surrounded by yellow clapboards with peeling paint and wires dangling from the ceiling where a porch light once hung.
The cops arrived to investigate why an out-of-state truck was parked out in the street. Someone called. They thought we were casing the joint. Hey, this is Jersey!

We loved the house but it was scary. It wasn’t because of the ghosts. Supposedly there are ghosts in the house. A woman and a girl. But it wasn’t that. It was the work. Talk about a mess. There was no electric, heat, or plumbing. It was colder inside the house than it was outside. We were so cold and it was so dark, we couldn’t really examine anything and when I had to pee, I had to go outside in the snow. My fingers were frozen, my toes were frozen and my butt was frozen. We looked at each other. Heartbroken. It was too much for us. Then we looked at other houses.

But we couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was crazy if we got that house! It was risky! It was reckless! It didn’t even have enough acres. We could squeeze those horses in. The taxes were high. We’ll be making a lot more money in Jersey. It’ll cost an arm and a leg to heat. We’ll get a woodstove. What if the septic is broke? Septic shmeptic. Oh, what we could do if we had a house like that! The possibilities were endless. And so we went back to see it again with the only pair of boots we could find since all the shelves in all the stores in New Jersey were wiped clean and luckily I have big feet because no one wanted the size eleven.

We brought my father back the second time. I could tell he loved it as much as we did. He asked, “Did you see that movie The Money Pit?” But he didn’t actually say, “Don’t buy it.”

In truth, if you really look at the situation, it’s not as bad as it appears.
The worst was over. All the demolition. All the messy and expensive stuff. The owners had gutted it down to the studs and put in all new wiring, plumbing and insulation. They put in new windows and two hundred-and-forty-something sheets of drywall, curving it where it had been originally curved, saving all the molding and salvaging all the architectural details.
They put in new heat. They stripped all the hardwood floors. Then it looked like someone just put his tools down, went out to lunch and never came back. Nothing was done. Wires were hanging out of holes in the walls and ceilings waiting to be hooked up to outlets and switches and lights; the toilets were in the bathrooms with the labels still on the bowls connected to nothing; the cabinets were in boxes on the floor in the kitchen and the sewer pipe went to nowhere.

But, when scrutinizing it and rationalizing why we should have this house, we realized that any house we bought in our price range would need new cabinets and new floors and new electric. They always do. We know that from experience. It can be the cutest house, the most adorable, well-kept thing on the block and we’ll think we lucked out and we don’t have to do anything but paint and move in. Then when we get in there we discover, even though we got an inspection (like the Ferrum house) and even though it’s brand new (like the Oklahoma house), the roof is leaking or it needs a new well or the heat doesn’t work or the septic is on its last legs, usually all of the above. The only thing is, it wouldn’t be scary. You could go in and turn on the lights and it would be deceptively warm and nice because everything would be up and running. But we’d have to fix all the same things we’d have to fix in the winery house. Sooner or later. Besides, we didn’t like any of the other houses. They were 1980’s tract houses, houses on highways, modulars with popcorn ceilings, cracker boxes and shit boxes and houses that didn’t melt my butter.

So we bought the winery house.


Jamie Ferraioli said...

I love the house. Hearing you talk about all of the alterations you've always had to do to houses, reminds me of the changes you guys made to the Sturm house too. I remember the new flooring..tile and carpet, and replacing the cabinets. I remember when you guys refinished the hardwood floor. Like you said...some of the houses had the illusion of being perfect, but you ended up changing things about it anyways. This house is like a blank canvas. I think it's exciting!

Tammy said...

I have been meaning to comment on your last post but never took that moment. I simply want to say that I am glad you are going home. Something is calling you there and I'm glad you are following that little voice. It is hard to fit in to other cultures. I moved to my husband's home town & the community was welcoming, but always felt my husband's family called it their turf & not sure they ever wanted me to fit in. I don't know... hard to explain.

This house! Wow! I am excited for you. Our house had sat vacant 40 years except for raccoons and other wildlife. It took years to get it liveable. I love it now - but would never do it again! LOL! Well, unless it meant keeping my horses or not. The house isn't as important as having horse property.

Can't wait to see your progress & good luck! Share pictures along the way!

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

Tammy, I understand what you're talking about. It IS weird. And yes, I plan to regularly update with pictures. Kind of a renovation diary. It'll be fun! I have plans for a purple dining room. True purple. Buckle up, lol.

Jam, that's right, all those houses had the ILLUSION of being fixed up. Every single one of them we had to do major repairs. Septic. New well. Roof. Heat. You name it. I think this was meant to be. We got all that practice and now nothing scares us!

Gail said...

At least, you know this time.

It is a dream home, beautiful full of character and maybe there will be land close by to add, if you get lucky.

Look forward to all the pictures. I love this house.

Tanya said...

it's amazing how quick everything happened, a sign it is meant to be! i love this house so much and can't wait to follow all the work and the end result, and a ghost story?!!

Chris said...

Great story and a beautiful house! It will be so worth the work. It's wonderful that the architectural details are still there.

I moved to VA from the SF bay area and the culture shock was intense. I was so put off by people beating around the bush and not being up front. A friend told me that people were reticent to say what they meant because they would probably live near the people they were talking to for years and didn't want to start discord. I still get frustrated with trying to pull anything other than platitudes from some of my neighbors.

Best of luck in your new/old house!

Grey Horse Matters said...

I love this house! It has so much class and style. The good part is that most of the important/expensive stuff if already done. Like the heating and wiring. New toilets and cabinets. You'll have a lot of fun fixing it up to your specifications and I think it's beautiful. Don't worry about the ghosts. The dead can't hurt you it's the living you have to worry about as my great grandmother used to say. They'll probably appreciate that you're fixing up their house to it's former glory.

Susan said...

Debi, My husband,Al, & I live just 2 miles from your new home! My son & daughter-in-law had looked at the old winery, but the project was a little too large for them. ;)My sister has a 90 acre horse farm in neighboring New Gretna and my niece leads a horse club at 4-H.We must connect when you get to NJ!

Sloan said...

Check out your father's face! You can just see him shaking his head! But don't worry. You two have done some wild things and if anyone can do it, you two can. One step at a time. That house is worth it.

Anonymous said...

Welcome home. I love your new place. I'm a S.Jersey girl and I loved growing up here. But now I'm looking to move to SWVa (back to my roots) and mentally preparing for the culture shock. I am looking forward to seeing more of your new home and its progress. And of course the ghost stories!

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

Susan--my new neighbor! Thanks for saying hi. My daughter would love to get involved with the 4-H club. Do you have horses too?

Teresa, I'm going there and you're coming here! The house I'm selling is at Smith Mountain Lake, but before this one we lived in Ferrum, which as you probably know is southwest Virgina. I can tell you some good ghost stories about THAT house. Let's just say we call it the Amityville Horror House.

Thanks everyone for all your good comments!

Beth said...

Debi, that's a beautiful house. How wonderful that you and your family are going to restore such a grand old place. As Grey Horse Matters mentioned, I'm sure the ghosts will be quite pleased about that. You and your husband have so much energy and enthusiasm (and you have all that family to help!)---I think you're the perfect people for this house.

And I'm pleased to see how large it is----you'll have plenty of room for all your blogger friends to visit! :-)

Leonora said...

Oh, I love your choice! It will be an adventure in all the best ways. Welcome home.

Rural Rambler said...

Debi, "The Winery House". How interesting! I think it is going to be fun to read your blogs about making this house your home. It sorta looks like our house from the side :) I happy to see you so excited. Wishing you the best of luck!

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

Oh Beth, I'd love for my blogger friends to visit!

Thanks Leonora and RR!

CountryDew said...

I'm looking forward to reading more about this adventure. Good luck to you in your remodeling, and I hope it all works out.

Sweet Virginia Breeze said...

I love your new house. It has such character. And ghosts - who could ask for anything better. Keep us up to date with pictures of your remodeling progress.