It's a Different Life, Just Some Thoughts

beth0301August 1, 2010

Well, after 9 months of remodeling (full time, all day every day) our 1888 Queen Anne we finally moved in March 18. Life is different in a 120 year old house than it was in our 10 year old very modern lake front home.

First, it's drafty and cold in the cooler weather. That's something we can adjust to.

The summer has been tough. Yes, we have a.c. but this old baby isn't very tight. Obviously we need to do some major work there. Our last electric bill was insane - well over double what one would expect in an average home of the same size.

Privacy is something I hadn't anticipated being an issue. The master bedroom is at the end of the hall and even though there's a half bath separating it and the room next to it, you can hear everything. My temporary solution has been to turn a little portable radio on in the half bath and shut the door to create a noisy barrier between the two bedrooms. It's not really a good solution though as the teen in the next room surely knows "why" the radio is on.

Secondly, homeowners insurance has proved to be a big headache. Half the companies don't insure a house over 100 years old. Of those that do, some won't insure a house that's been foreclosed on or bought as a bank property of short sale (ours was bought from a bank). Of the few remaining places I've contacted, they all want a receipt from a licensed contractor showing when all of the wiring and plumbing was updated. I can't produce that as the previous homeowner did the wiring himself and we did the plumbing ourselves. So, we're rated with 120 year old wiring and plumbing (curious, I don't even think this town got electricity until about 110 years ago). I supposed I will need to start questioning the neighbors as to who they have their insurance with. The rate we're paying now is crazy but it's the cheapest I've found.

We still have tons of trim work and touch up painting to do. It feels like we'll never really be done.

Still, all in all, I wouldn't trade it. Sure, it's cold and drafty, hot and steamy, noisy and everything creaks and moans but oh, the look on our friends faces when they walk in and see the 120 year old walnut floors that I just refinished .... or the nicely redone 10.5 foot ceilings .... yeah, it's worth it.


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Insurance is tough. Although it sounds like they are being very strict with you. My house was built in 1910 and thankfully before we bought it, they updated the house with a 100 amp hookup and took out all the knob-and-tube and rewired. The insurance company didn't need a certification, but my agent did have to come over and take a picture to verify it was 100 amp service, and also take the picture to verify that all wires running out of the box were indeed modern wire and not knob-and-tube.

They flat out told me if an old house like mine doesn't have 100 amp service and newer wiring they won't touch it with a ten foot pole.

It's crazy, I tell you. Pretty soon you won't be able to fart into the wind without insurance wanting a certificate for that, too.

The draftiness will get better. Once we insulated and replaced some windows, and filled some cracks and holes here and there, it is significantly better as far as comfort goes. It's never comfortable when it's 0 degrees out though no matter how good your insulation and furnace are LOL.

Our master bedroom is separated from the two other bedrooms by two full baths and a hallway, so privacy is not an issue, plus no children. Can't comment on that one!

And our house has 10' ceilings too and it is absolutely my FAV thing in this house.

Good luck, sounds like everything is going pretty well!

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 2:01AM
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The meaningful comparison is with a theoretical new house that meets all your criteria in soundproofing, weatherproofing, ready insurability, and other practical realms but does not make your pulse race.

Any house is going to have things go wrong (having bought a house out of foreclosure last year without actually noticing that it seemed to have been structurally jacked up sometime in the last 90 years, I know whereof I write). Some people just have much more resilience in dealing with problems in a house they love rather than one that merely meets some list of practical requirements.

I did not have an inspection before I bought the house, but I was able to get it insured as is with a couple dozen emailed photos. All the insurer really was concerned about is that someone was living on site. I assume that when work is completed later this year (after 18 months and a gazillion dollars), I can get it insured for near its market value as a restored but still funky house that meets all local codes.

Cheers and best wishes to everyone who gets claustrophobia in spaces less than 9 feet tall.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 1:13PM
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We have a really loud fan in the master bedroom of our 120 year old house. I'm sure it would never occur to our teenagers that we need it for anything other than to keep the air moving. You need a fan.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2010 at 11:20PM
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We recently bought a home that was built in 1780. It never dawned on me that insurance for old homes is any different from others. Now I know better. Try Middle Oaks. We were told that they are the only insurer for old homes. We also had to show that the knob and tube was gone as the insurer had a copy of an inspection report that someone else had done on the house. Without that, I don't know that they would have asked us for any proof about the electrical stuff. Middle Oaks has a Restoration Policy and that is what we have. Though the house cost just under #300,000 it is insured for $800,000 which is what it would cost to return it to it's original condition. It's post and beam and would be rebuilt that way. Good Luck!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2010 at 10:09AM
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My condo complex of buildings 5 1830s, 1 1860, 1 1880 and 1 1926, overhauled in 1965, only has insurance because some insurance company is forced to take us on for a few years at a time

At the nearest intersection 3 of the 4 corners have had properties gutted by fire, two of the properties twice. There was a major fire that destroyed one large house and damaged two adjacent which needed gutting in 2003, and there are currently two 1830 houses that were gutted by fire a couple years ago (and still unrepaired) right across the street.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2010 at 11:47AM
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I didn't know there could be an insurance issue. We have State Farm. same policy as we had with our '70's house only increase in value etc. No huge increase in fee except that it is a more expensive house. Our agent was never inside the house till a week ago...we have been here since 2002. I asked him specifically about return to "normal" if we had a fire and he said we have plenty of insurance and that he would make sure we got what we wanted....sure hope that is the case. Maybe you need to call SF. c

    Bookmark   August 5, 2010 at 7:01PM
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All agents, and all insurance companies especially, are different. I have State Farm through an agent and State Farm required the pictures of my electrical box, so, who knows. Maybe you were grandfathered in because of the time you have had a policy with them or something?

I am not particularly fond of State Farm, I've never had any claims with them, but their prices have been at the upper end of the quotes I've received. And they didn't offer payoff coverage insurance on my car insurance which I was ticked about (Progressive did).

    Bookmark   August 6, 2010 at 12:59AM
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Another insurance twist...

After shopping around, we found someone willing to cover an older home. He moved in and started construction - mostly on the lower level. The insurance company sent someone over to view the home (without notice and while we were not there) and concluded that the home was vacant and under construction. Like many older homes, the rooms are divided, so the only thing you could see from the front windows was a construction zone. They canceled our policy that day. It took weeks of back and forth to convince them that, despite the mess, we were actually living there.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2010 at 8:32AM
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I understand that much of the attraction of older homes is the period details, but good electrical, plumbing, heating/ac and weatherproofing/windows are also important things to consider, when remodeling. If some of the updates are done yourself, or recently done by the previous homeowner, there should be someway an inspection would show that the work has been done. Didn't they have to have the county inspect the work, during the remodeling? Maybe this could be used to help with insurance costs.

As for the radio, turn it on every evening. It will keep your teenager guessing...or thinking you guys have more fun than his or her friends' parents :)

    Bookmark   August 6, 2010 at 2:30PM
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I think I should turn the radio on nightly ... instead of just the nights my husband is home. That might be less suspicious.

We did go do some rough pricing of storm windows today and that was good news. Turns out they ballparked them a bit less than I was thinking so we can actually start doing a couple here and a couple there soon.

I'm still messing with insurance. We have MetLife and I suppose, even though they treated us dirty when we got the policy (quoting one rate, then raising it a lot the day we moved in) it's still the cheapest thus far. I'll continue to look though, thanks for the suggestions.

The cabinet lady came yesterday to bid doing the final work. We did the cabinets ourselves using reclaimed cabinetry from a demolished house. They fit pretty well but we ended up with a few odd spots that we are having her fix for us. I refinished (painted/faux antiqued) them and they came out quite nice.

There are a million things left to do and probably always will be but all in all I really do enjoy the house, even with it's quirks.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2010 at 6:34PM
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I kept the insurance company that my uncle had, a Mennonite company. Several years after I bought the house tho I for some reason decided to ask my boss, whose insurance agency I worked for at the time, to give me an estimate on a policy. Mr. "Smith" came out, walked through the house and left shaking his head and with hardly a word. So, I still have the same company.

When the old man of the Mennonite company died, his son took over and made a point of visiting each homeowner and "suggesting" an increase of coverage. I agreed, as mine was insured for only what a new car would cost now days! Ever since then, my rates have gone up every year until it is so high I threaten to cancel my policy each time. But - I fear that no other company will insure the house.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2010 at 9:24PM
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