Introducing Jen's 1925 Farmhouse...

navi_jenJuly 2, 2010

...but can it be a farmhouse if it's in the city? Hmm, anyways...

Welcome to my little abode, a 1000 sq foot farmhouse situated in a town just outside Boston proper.

Backstory: I purchased it last Fall, after looking for 2 years. Due to my price range and the towns I wanted to live in, I sought out 'Sad Sack' know the kind, with good bones hidden under nasty renovations. Well, this house was hidden under a century of smoke and a zoo. Seriously, when they had the broker open house, no one could be inside the house for more than 5 minutes because of the smell and the excrement laying about. Nice, huh? I was actually outbid in June 2009, but the first buyers backed out after the home inspection. But they weren't willing to come down, and my mom was sick, so I said forget it. Well, 3 months later, they came back to ME :-) and I purchased for my original offer price.

So, getting rid of the smell was the first priority. During the fall, I demo'ed several shoddily built rooms in the basement, removed the kitchen cabinets, and scrubbed every inch of the house with hospital & kennel disinfectants. I looked very fetching wearing a NIOSH approved respirator, let me tell you :-) All good, right?

Well, then disaster #1 struck. When I went home to Ohio for Christmas, the boiler shut down (leaky steam radiator valve), so the kitchen & bath supply lines burst. Good news is that the heating system was fine (thank goodness for cast iron pipes!). Bad news was that to get at the pipes, I had to demo one kitchen wall and part of the kitchen ceiling. Well, when I saw crumbling drywall due to old water damage, rusted radiator supply pipes, bathroom plumbing hack job, old plaster ceilings brown with smoke, a half dozen electrical wires running up the wall loose...I knew both the kitchen and bath had to be gutted. Now.

No problem, I say. I can do the demo & carpentry work (with a little help from my friends) to fix the past hack jobs before the plumber & electrician come in. So, the winter was spent demo-ing everything, and this spring, I was having all the subs come in for estimates. (Luckily, my condo finally sold in April, and I was able to buy a small trailer to live in while I have no bathroom!)

Then disaster #2 strikes. In May, I had to undergo emergency abdominal surgery to remove a very large tumor. Good news is, the mass and all surrounding 'stuff' is benign. Bad news is, no way in heck can I undertake any type of construction work. Now, an hour walk or cutting the bushes wear me out. But hey, I'm up and moving, so its all good.

So, current story: I now have a shell of a house, a limited amount of dough, and only 6 months, max, before I have to move back into the house. My plans change daily, but now I'm thinking about having my cousin help me fix the few framing issues and rough in a bath and kitchen over the summer. Then, this fall, have my electrician re-wire the house. This would also allow me to get insulation blown in before Old Man Winter shows up. I would LOVE to get the heating system replaced now (since most of the pipes are exposed), but the 30/40 year old oil-fired Weil Mclean system actually does a decent job. And even though tax rebate and oil-to-gas incentives abound, I don't think I want to take on more debt (or have the building inspector in) at this point. Heck, I'll be lucky to have enough dough for my cousin and the electrician this year. Luckily, I have a great working relationship with my electrician...and I just might have to take him up on his offer about a payment plan.

Future plans include stripping all the woodwork, rebuilding the badly constructed side entry (to include a half bath), removing the chimney (in conjunction with new heating system), reconfiguring the upstairs (to add a 3rd bd), installing my dream kitchen (complete with reclaimed wood cabinets & BlueStar range) and building out the basement. Oh, and re-grading the side yard (which has a pretty severe slope towards the house). And in a perfect world, adding full wraparound porch and a fireplace to either the LR or basement family room. Oh, thinking about all this makes my head (and wallet) hurt!

So, welcome to my little world. Would love any advice or suggestions anyone has!

Thanks, Jen in Boston

Here is a link that might be useful: Pics of my house

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Welcome Jen!

That sounds just like my house! Isn't it amazing that people can live that way? We also wore white plastic overalls and full particle masks to do ours but we just rolled up the nasty carpets with the dog & cat poop in it. Yuck I never want to do that again!

I love your house! It really is a little farmhouse and so cute. I love the colors you chose for it during your first reno. Wow, you have a lot of work ahead of you. Have you set the 6 month move in date because of winter in a trailer?

I can't wait to see your progress on this house and hope you take lots of pictures along the way.

I'm sorry you had such a bad health problem stop you, but soooo glad it was benign. Take it easy now!

    Bookmark   July 2, 2010 at 10:19PM
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Jen, good looking house. I sure wish I was closer, I'd offer to come help with my limited handyman skills. But SC is a looooong way away! As a Banker-By-Day, all I can say about the added debt is that mortgage rates are at or near historic lows. If you shop around, you should be able to get 4.75% on a 30 year, less on a 15. There are refi/renovations products out there. Depending on what your current rate is, you might be able to finance the repairs and come out with a similar payment. Maybe. Find a good lender and run the numbers.

I have a friend who is trying to sell her house but it smells of cat litter and cigarette smoke. It's only about three years old but I cringe when I go in. Smell can be a big deal breaker.

So the word Navi....are you a navigator or Navy?


    Bookmark   July 2, 2010 at 10:21PM
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Jen, what a nice house and wonderful job you have done on it! Sorry you've been so ill, but take good care of yourself and before you know it you'll be back to your old self.

It boggles my mind how some people are filthy with their homes and animals. I can't imagine someone living with poop all over the place!

I have cats and when someone walks in they are amazed that I have smell. I scoop the litter twice a day and disinfect weekly. Hair is kept vacuumed up. I believe using the more expensive, and non toxic, corn kitty litter helps. I think it is ground up cobs. When we sold our last home, our realtor said the kitties even went and hid. The prospective buyers never knew I had pets. THAT'S the way they should be cared for.

I commend you for buying a home and the willingness you had to clean it up and make it special. I'm not sure I could have done what you did. You're an inspiration.


    Bookmark   July 2, 2010 at 10:37PM
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OH your house is so pretty. Looks really clean now. Really pretty colors too. Hope you get your strength back soon.


    Bookmark   July 2, 2010 at 11:39PM
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that is such a darling little house! and surrounded by park? super!
it takes a good yr to recover from a surgery. It's an assault on the body so take care and don't overdo. that'd just put you more behind in the work.

do what is necessary to get in for now - it looks very livable to me.

my dirty place is looking a lot cleaner compared to what you had to deal with there.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2010 at 12:39AM
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Jen - What a cute homey-looking house, inside and out. I was expecting pics of the devestation, and sure can see the incentive to get it back into shape. Good info from Scott.......

    Bookmark   July 3, 2010 at 5:15AM
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Jen it looks like a great little house. I was expecting lots of devastation too in the pics but it looks in much better condition than my 60s house! :)

    Bookmark   July 3, 2010 at 6:21AM
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What an adorable little house. Be careful, Jen. I had similar surgery about fifteen years ago, and you may feel like you can do more than you should do. Go slowly and take things easily, for your own sake. Winter's still a long way away.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2010 at 8:30AM
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Thanks all....for the compliments on the house and the well wishes. I'm trying to take it slowly (n'dank & n'dank in Wolof) but that's not easy for me :-).

In regards to the house, all of the pics were taken prior to my purchase. So the owner's belongings and their love of teal green is apparent. What is not so apparent was the amount of crap (both literally and figuratively) they had stored away. When this house first came on the market, I said to myself, "There is no way you can afford it. It's already a bit past my price range, and it's so cute, it will go in a bidding war" (also because the neighborhood school is one of the best in the state). That's when my RE agent called and told me about the broker open house and the zoo that was the basement and DR. And, so, 8 months later, the house is empty, the kitchen and bath are down to the studs, and I'm planning its rebirth.

Marti-Thanks for the compliments. The teal is the previous owner's favorite color...which will go away, along with the white paint on the trim, sometime in the foreseeable future. And yes, I have a 6 month expiration on the trailer. First snow is usually around early December here in New England, so I figure by then, I need to be somewhere with thicker (and insulated) walls. Particularly since my current electric bill (with the trailer running off it) is approx. $200 a month...can't imagine those utilities with a trailer heated by electric. And isn't it amazing what people will live with? The PO's son lived in a ramshackle basement room, with the bunny rabbit cage right outside his door, with unimaginable smells and mold. Unbelievable.

Scott-Thanks for your offer. My Dad was up here during the first month of recovery to finish off my half-baked projects, and I'm hoping my cousin (who is a contractor is Saint Croix) will come up, since he's slow right now. But hey, I'll keep you in the Rolodex! In regards to financing, I hate to think about taking out a second or personal to finance the repairs....particuraly since I'm financially exhausted, having to carry both the house & condo for 8 months. My lender, who is very good, just contacted me about a refi, which I might do, then take the extra $$ per month and sock it away for repairs. I'd rather take it slow, and live in a half finished house, then worry about more debt. Oh, and Navi comes from an previous company, although my Dad is a sailor and my brother was in the Navy. Maybe it's karma talking. And I completely understand about the friend just bought a certified pre owned Audi A4, and I could tell within seconds that the previous owner was a smoker. How I lived 18 years with 2 smoking parents is beyond me.

Sandy: Thank you for such kind words and good advice about pet cleanup. One of the first post-construction tasks is to get a dog, and I want to keep dog hair to a minimum. Good to know there are things out there to battle the smell on a regular basis :-)

Chris, Steph, Retire: Thanks, but the clean is yet to come. I lost my camera in the move and pre-surgery hysteria. I'm buying one today, and will post pictures of the demolition site that is my current house.

Writers: I hear what you are saying...thank you. I stop now at the first twinge of discomfort and sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Heck, I had to sit down between cutting my 4 shrubs and raking up the shrub-kill. Hard transition from someone who worked 12 hour weekend days doing demo. But hey, I'm not going anywhere, it's the house I could to grow old in, and I keep trying to remind myself the GW & Old House Forum Motto of "not letting the house demolish your life". So, bit by bit.

Current state of house to follow tomorrow. Thanks everyone, and have a great holiday weekend!

    Bookmark   July 3, 2010 at 10:25AM
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Well you see it is a good thing we can not SMELL what the pictures do not show. The house did look nice in the pictures. If it looks this great I can just imagine what you will be doing with it. Just get it live able then you can work on all the cosmetics of the process. Consider your health first. I had surgery many years ago and over did it and had to go back and have more surgery four months later. THEN I was really laid back, So please do not let that happen to you.


    Bookmark   July 3, 2010 at 10:53AM
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Well you see it is a good thing we can not SMELL what the pictures do not show. The house did look nice in the pictures. If it looks this great I can just imagine what you will be doing with it. Just get it live able then you can work on all the cosmetics of the process. Consider your health first. I had surgery many years ago and over did it and had to go back and have more surgery four months later. THEN I was really laid back, So please do not let that happen to you.


    Bookmark   July 3, 2010 at 11:16AM
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I'm really sensitive to smoke too and also grew up with 2 chain-smoking parents. But it bothered me then too. Probably why I got married so young. Anyhoo, I like your house and think you have some great ideas for it. I especially like the half bath by the back door. Soooo handy.

How did you get the musty smell out? That wasn't apparent in our house at first but it really bugs me now and everything I have tried has failed. I think (I hope) it's years of cat & dog stench in the a/c ducts. I mentioned to dh getting them cleaned (after reading here) and now he wants to just go through & replace all of them because some of them have loose insulation around them. Of course, we haven't priced that.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2010 at 12:43PM
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Marti, I missed your comment here about the DH wanting to replace your insulation. Maybe you can ask him to try taking out just ONE which you figure might be the worst, and ripping into it. Know how bad it is before you go the costly route.

Knowing what is inside is I think a very good idea. You remember all that Legionaire's disease stuff? That was from the hotel ductwork, if I remember correctly.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2010 at 1:25AM
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That's a good idea ML. Thanks.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2010 at 11:35AM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

navi jen, Welcome, I'm in Ohio. (Me, waving.) Your lovely farmhouse could be our next door neighbor. Is that why you were attracted to it--it reminds you of home? The floor plan is very similar to the original part of our house, except our stairway is in the dining room, on an interior wall. Our upstairs BRs have less headroom--small rooms with no attic space, and we don't have a basement. Sounds as if you had a time with yours! I'm looking forward to seeing your progress.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2010 at 9:59AM
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Jen sez: "can it be a farmhouse if it is in the city?"

But of course....You think about it, the Boston Common was grazing land for the cows way back then. Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond was in the wilderness back then.

But not now. So your house is still a farmhouse even if the surrounding land has stopped being farmland a long time ago.
If you continue to think of it as a farmhouse, you will be doing yourself a favor....because thinking is a creative act. So think about it. :)

    Bookmark   July 6, 2010 at 12:33PM
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What a sweet farmhouse. Glad you've taken a sad sack and turned it into the lovely place you now have.

Do take care of yourself and do what you can when you can.


    Bookmark   July 15, 2010 at 11:42AM
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