The Highs and Lows of House Hunting

What could be more fun than perusing real estate listings and imagining which home you’d like to buy? For as long as I can remember, I have browsed, just for the heck of it. My mom, my sisters and I would crowd around the IBM computer – back when we had dial-up – and scroll through the listings. We must have wanted an adventure. Even when I haven’t been in the market to buy a house, the real estate section of Preservation Magazine is thrilling. My other favorite site is Preservation North Carolina – imagine buying and restoring those homes – a dream come true!

Of course, it’s so much easier and more fun to browse and dream when it’s not exactly reality. When you aren’t tied to a particular location, for whatever the reason, that big farmhouse in the middle of nowhere looks perfect.

As you can infer, Vinny and I are in the market for a house in central Vermont. We have our priorities and a realistic budget to keep in mind, which automatically eliminates the majority of the housing stock in Vermont. Since we grew up on Long Island, we’re quite familiar with the high cost of living. Unfortunately, Vermont also has that reputation. Housing is expensive, even in this market, and even when you are not afraid of a “fixer-upper.” (I draw the line at needing new foundations and floor beams.)

So what’s a house-hunting preservationist to do? We keep looking and looking and reminding ourselves that buying a home does not mean that we have to live in it forever. Still there are some things that cannot be compromised. For instance, I will not buy a home that was built after 1940, give or take (I have my reasons). I cannot live in a ranch house because I grew up in one. We want some form of a yard – for the barbecue and a patio. And the house must get a lot of sunlight. So really that’s just basic needs in a house for us. What are yours? How about wants? I want a house with architectural character – so much that I should call it a need.

One house we loved did not work out. Another just was not what the pictures implied; they are deceiving. With few afffordable homes on the market, in places where we can live, this can be disheartening. I will not bore you with all of our house hunting, but there is one house that we will remember for a long time.

To start with, look up 89 Prospect Street in Montpelier, VT. Some listings have more pictures than other sites.

This house caught our eye first because of the price and then because of the detail and the original windows. The listing said that most of the hard work had been done already. From pictures the inside appeared gutted. But we were intrigued and so excited to see it. We were lucky to have the owner there to tell us the story of the house and his story with it.

The current owner bought the house 1-2 years ago and has been working on it ever since. When he bought it, an 89 year old man had been living there in one part of the firsr floor. He had not been upstairs in more than a few years. The roof leaked and the floors were caving in. So the new owner tore our the plaster (aaah! no!) and the floors. He salvaged as much as he wanted. This did include leaving the original windows and removing, labeling and storing window and door trim. I was so excited when he said the R value is barely achieved through windows; walls are more important. The owner has been rebuilding the foundation and has replaced floor joists and beams and rewired the electricity. His work has been incredible in effort and appreciation of the house (it is not perfect if we are talking restoration, but commendable).

This 2.5 story, 1895 Queen Anne house was breathtaking. We were practically speechless. It is simply amazing just how captivating a house can be, even one that has been stripped and gutted. The best part, aside from the windows, was the wall construction: vertical 1×4″ boards make up all of the walls. Talk about a solid house.

The house is beautiful, as simple and as understated as that sounds.

We wish we could buy it. What’s the catch? The amount of work left is immense; we would go bankrupt. Nor would we be able to heat it. The attic is bigger than our current apartment; the entire house is just too much house for us.

So we are wishing that the right people find 89 Prospect Street; a spectacular house awaits them. We are grateful for the experience of seeing that house.

As for us? We will keep on house hunting and wishing that all houses find someone to love them. It is a long road ahead.