Recently, I received an interesting note from a kind reader. Here’s what she said:
I just read your blog post, “Ranch House Decor Mistakes You Might Be Making.” While reading, I was struck by the cost of the homes in your area, Laurel.
At this time, I live in central Kentucky where property prices are far lower. However, I’m from a small, rural town in Illinois. Large, old homes with impressive architecture, sell for a fraction of the cost of the ranch homes in your recent post.
Most of the homes need work. Therefore, the same issue presents itself: Are you going to see a return on the money you put into a house?
But, here’s what I’m thinking. The cost of a kitchen remodel (or bathroom) is going to be roughly the same, whether you’re in central Kentucky or in Westchester County. 150k is a lot to sink into a home that will likely appraise under 600k.
Adding a fancy kitchen (or bathroom) won’t increase the value much. So, a lot of homes here are stuck with big box builder grade kitchens. Of course, these kitchens are cheap looking and look out-of-place in these grand old homes. What do you do? I’m including links for a couple of some houses in the area for reference.
Here is a rare one that made an old kitchen charming, though it is smaller than the others:
350 N Broadway Georgetown, KY 40324
I love this Greek Revival period as I believe you do too. One of my favorite posts was the gorgeous Greek Revival dream home with the updated kitchen. However, those cabinets, at least were in good shape and of high quality to begin with.
I’m hoping that you’ll think this a good topic to share with your readers.
Oh wow! I love this note because Salena is right. One of my long-time dreams is to live in a Greek Revival Dream Home. And, I also think it’s an important topic; that is, whether or not it’s financially feasible to purchase an old home or not.
The home doesn’t have to be Greek Revival. It could also be Federal or Georgian. Sometimes those terms are interchangeable. And, early Victorian architecture overlaps with those periods, as well. But, I love Greek Revival homes because they have classical proportions and design elements. In addition, they usually have the super huge windows and very tall ceilings.
Remember Gerald Bland’s Greek revival dream home in upstate New York? I adore everything he’s done to it. Please follow him on instagram if you’re not already. So beautiful!
I would also classify another genius of our day, Furlow Gatewood’s homes as Greek Revival.
For today, I’d like to discuss Salena’s query and the best way to handle it.
There’s also a part about an icky poo renovation trend that IMO needs to stop!
And finally, I will be sharing a couple of local homes that are gorgeous and relatively inexpensive– for southern New York, that is.
So, beginning with Salena’s dilemma regarding a Greek revival dream home.
It’s true. If a home is already priced at the top of what the market will bear, and it’s a fair price, then it might not be wise to go all gung-ho with renovations. That is, if one wishes to receive a return on their investment. However, there are many things to consider and we’ll be going over some of them.
So, let’s look, first at this place Salena sent me at 626 Main St. Georgetown, KY.
Okay, this one isn’t a Greek Revival Dream Home.
But, it could be a Victorian Dream Home which is also a 19th century lovely period, if not too full of gingerbread. Nothing wrong with gingerbread and totally fine of you love it. It’s just not my thing.
I’m not totally wild about the exterior colors. And, especially burgundy with gray. (However, I love this pale, pale gray home in Charleston.) But, it’s perfectly tolerable and looks to be in good shape. Great curb appeal, over-all. Lovely property.
It is listed at $409,900. By New York standards, that is dirt cheap. However, this is central Kentucky. But Georgetown isn’t in the middle of nowhere. It’s a suburb of Lexington, KY. Kentucky is a beautiful state! And, with relatively mild winters.
As Salena pointed out, it is already more expensive than most of the homes in Georgetown, KY.
While there are a few homes that are more expensive, most are newer homes.
Unfortunately, the inside is a far cry from the exterior.
Let’s have a look. I’m only going to show you a few pics. There are dozens more on the listing. (if you can stomach it. Yes, it’s barfbag time.)
I see. Apparently, a heard of wild buffalo decided to defecate in the main parlor just before these poor-quality photos were taken. Okay, I fully realize that’s gross. But, really, that’s what I see here. The wall color is horrible. It’s all horrible.
But, this could be an INCREDIBLE room.
Look at that classic stone fireplace mantel. Those windows!
However, the precious chandelier/sconce and then the hideous sectional juxtaposed against the granny-esque fake Aubusson rug?
(Here are some attractive sectional sofas)
Ugh. No dream home, here. It’s a Greek Revival Nightmare!
Oh wow! So glad they put this shithole in the listing. Two photos too. lol Now I’m totally sold. Just roll me in a cot and I’ll be all set. :/
Please click the link below for the listing and many more images.
Please, please go and take a look at the rest. (I dare you)
But, also understand that I think that this home has an enormous amount of potential! It could absolutely be a dream home, but it’s going to take some work.
And that means a lot of scraping, sanding and painting! (Please get that paint tested first!) If you need expert help choosing paint colors and don’t already have it, please consider purchasing my curated paint collection of 144 beautiful Benjamin colors – that also comes with 40+ palettes, mood boards and furnishing ideas.
Let’s take a quick look at the kitchen (very quick) ;]
Oh dear. And, what pray tell, is underneath that hideous carpet that looks like it’s trying desperately to escape? No matter what, it has to get fixed. However, please. The fake stained glass window needs to go. Even if it’s not fake, it’s bloody strange as is.
I think, however, the cabinetry on the window wall could be salvaged. (uhhh, but painted, of course) Definitely rip out the oven/cooktop wall. There should be a range with a hood ala Nancy Keyes, centered on the wall.
I mean, not only is it phenomenally ugly, it’s also a horrendous design. Who puts a huge white fridge in between two exquisite 19th century windows? Criminal, actually. I would rip out the two cabinets on the end and get a counter-depth fridge to go in that spot.
Above, is a beautiful kitchen I found on Remodelista that shows cabinetry with a soffit, like here. I particuarly love the ceiling treatment. Just gorgeous.
This is the sort of kitchen I could see in a renovated Greek Revival dream home. Of course, I always love a gorgeous white kitchen.
Getting back to our not Greek Revival dream home.
Wow! The listing says “recently had extensive remodeling done.” Yeah, clearly. Wait until you see what they did to the daughter’s stone fireplace.
So, this baby is on the market for 410k.
But, is that a fair price? We need to examine this.
Of prime importance, always is location.
However, another HUGE factor that sometimes people forget about is this. What did the house sell for the last time it was sold.
I took a look and the house was sold for $160,000 exactly 15 years ago.
The next thing is, what have they done to it that they are asking more than 2.5 times what they paid for it, just 15 years ago?
Well, it appears that they fixed up the exterior.
Apparently, Nothing. Or, at least, not much.
Therefore, to be generous, (for the “extensive” renovations) we’ll give them $40,000 to cover their expenses but I doubt they spent that much. So, now, we’re up to 200k out of pocket for the sellers. And, they want over double what they spent 15 years later?
Of course, we need to look at the comps.
Then, we need to see how much the home has appreciated in the last 15 years which was in 2004.
Let’s look at another house Salena sent me that’s in far better condition inside and out.
In fact, this one at 350 N Broadway St., Georgetown, KY is a Greek Revival Dream Home.
Wonderful, classical proportions.
BTW, it is not for sale. It sold in 2018 for $379,000 and it is 2,900 sq feet on .63 of an acre.
Let’s look inside this property. You can see the complete listing here. The home looks to be move-in ready.
I don’t love the wall color, but it’s not objectionable. I’m so in love with Gerald Bland’s white walls in his Greek Revival Dream Home. I can’t see anything else.
Here’s the kitchen. And, mostly, it’s absolutely fine. I would prefer that the mix be with both handles and knobs. That’s because with some many doors, the knobs, alone, are a little obnoxious. However, I’m sure less so, when actually standing in the room. Love the old floors. I’m not sure of the wood but from here, looks like chestnut.
When you look at the rest of the kitchen, you’ll see more of the wallpaper. I think it’s a bit much, but all-in-all, this is a beautiful home.
This is reminding me of Furlow Gatewood’s kitchen. It’s a great reminder that one doesn’t always have to gut an old kitchen. For more great ideas for giving an old kitchen a face lift, click here.
And, can you paint stained cabinets has some good ideas, too.
Let’s go back to house #1. The reality is, that it’s far larger and has double the number of bathrooms and two more bedrooms. And, a second kitchen. That one is also hideous.
However, despite the “extensive renovations,” IMO, the interior is a disaster.
What I am thinking, though, is this: If house one was fixed up as nicely as house two, then it would most likely be worth closer to at least $500,000, if not more. However, I would not pay more than $350,000 for it. Still, there may be other factors I am unaware of.
It would be wise to discuss these issues with a professional in the area.
Actually, you could do an IKEA kitchen that would be 1,000 times better.
Below are some types of kitchens I could see in these 19th century homes.
Love this pale kitchen with the subway tile
And the cool retro-style pendant is by Rejuvenation – This looks to be the unlacquered brass
Please check out the post on Remodelista. It’s really pretty. Although, some will not appreciate the funky walls. I actually like that peeling look. But, I realize that it’s not for everyone.
Speaking of peeling. If you like peeling walls. I have just the place for you in Georgetown, KY.
In fact it’s in downtown Georgetown at 111 S. Hamilton St. Actually, this one is a Greek Revival townhouse. That could be a lot of fun.
And, it’s conveniently located next to Georgetown Massage Center.
It’s listed at only $169,000. However, they only paid $120,000 for it in 2018.
The exterior obviously needs some attention. Let’s take a look inside.
Oh, brother! This is a crying shame!
I told you there would be peeling! But look at that fireplace mantel and those windows! These are 11 feet ceilings too. And yes, please paint the brick.
crash pad? lol
Actually, a health hazard.
There’s a $49,000 increase in price from 2018. hmmmm… The only addition I can see is there is now more mold growing. Otherwise, I don’t know why they think that’s a fair price.
Based on the massive peeling going on, it looks like they started to renovate and something happened and they abandoned the project and needed to sell.
The bottom line here in Georgetown, KY is that if you’re looking for a Greek Revival dream home, and you don’t mind a project, you might just pick up that proverbial diamond in the rough. Just don’t pay too much for your diamond.
I believe that no matter where one is, there is always going to be a market for beautiful old homes.
However, when it comes to renovating them, there is something going on in the real estate market I find even more revolting than Buffalo dung in the living room.
And, that is the horrifying trend of taking an old Greek Revival dream home or some other 19th through early 20th century piece of history and stripping away all of its inherent charm. These homes are the proverbial “fixer” like what we just saw.
However, during the fixing up phase, the
renovator “desecrator” first disembowels the old girl down to the lath and plaster. They remove all mouldings, mantels, original floor boards
Then, they put up gypsum board (commonly referred to as sheetrock), inappropriate pot lights (recessed down lights). And, other modern elements like a steel spiral staircase, laminate floors…
The once charming home becomes a contemporary horror show of banality, if not downright tasteless, cheap, tacky. And in further insult, the renovator frequently goes all GRAY-CRAY-CRAY. (and not the elegant gray like we see here)
Frankly, I believe this should be considered a felonious crime, punishable with a prison term of no less than three years.
While in prison, the felon must also be required to study through correspondence at the Institute Classical Architecture and Art for the entire three years and receive no lower than a B average.
Without looking for it, I came across this tragedy in Nyack, NY.
Nyack, if you don’t know, is a way cool, fun, artistic town just across the Hudson River and a little north of me in Rockland County. We used to take day trips with our kids there when they were young. A house like the one you’re about to see has been expunged of every ounce of enchanting appeal it most surely once possessed.
The facades on these places usually don’t reveal the ensuing shitshow you’re about to be subjected to.
It’s the real estate equivalent of catfishing. (to use a 21st century online deceptive dating practice)
Uh, except for the ersatz, fake, horrid, front door with faux “leaded” glass. We first saw these aberrations here. There is absolutely NO HISTORICAL basis whatsoever for this style of door. It is a 20th century made-up style, posing as Victorian.
note: I realize that many of you have these.
I am not judging you. And, I will always love you, no matter what. I’m just stating that they are not classically correct. If nobody ever says anything, how is anyone supposed to know?
And yes, the siding was replaced with ALUMINUM. Sad face. If you don’t already know, you can paint Aluminum siding. Here’s an article that explains how.
Okay, it’s time to go inside. I hope you saved your solar eclipse eye-glasses from a couple of years ago. You’re going to need them to protect your retinas.
And, you have to remember that this home was originally built in 1910 making it of the Edwardian era. That is when the show Downton Abbey began.
(aren’t you plotzing yourself to see the move coming out in a couple of weeks?)
But, there is really little if any difference between Edwardian and the more plain Victorian styles.
Are you ready?
Here we go……………
Honestly, this upsets me so much, I just can’t say. The only positive are that the windows look to be intact.
What IS that floor???
Where are the walls?
So cozy in the winter, it will be. NOT!
Where is the fireplace(s)? The home was built in 1910!
This is reminding me of this renovation abomination.
Oh, why oh why do we have a steel staircase juxtaposed against cerused oak juxtaposed against a fake marble floor? And, then, granny fake leaded glass that shouldn’t be there on the front door? And, finally a bling chandelier.
All of this in a home originally built in 1910.
They can’t decide if they wanted to go granny, bling or rustic. Anything goes. Except it doesn’t.
Okay, but all is not lost in Nyack.
In fact, I discovered an area that has some unbelievable gems with sweeping Hudson River Views. The area is called Grand View-on-Hudson. Of course, it is not the only area with Hudson River views, but this one is pretty amazing.
Yes, these are higher priced homes, but considering what you’re getting and the location, I think they’re quite reasonable, by comparison.
Grand-View-on-Hudson, which I believe is considered part of the town of Nyack is just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge. (However, they just built a new bridge called the Mario Cuomo Bridge.)
Above is the fastest route from Grand View to my place. So, you can see that its location is in Rockland County. And, very close to New York City.
However, there is no commuter train or bus from that area, directly to New York City. So, it means either driving in which if there’s not traffic is only about 35 minutes. Or, if you don’t drive, it means taking a bus to one of the Westchester Metro North train stations. It might also be possible to go south into New Jersey and catch a commuter train from there.
The point is, that for some people, it might be a great location, but for others, not that great.
But, here’s the thing. You get a lot more bang for your buck in Rockland County than you do in Westchester County.
Remember the ridiculous prices we saw recently for a crappy ranch house and the tiny house in Katonah?
But, that’s Westchester.
Well, I found some beauties over in Grand View-on-Hudson.
This one is my favorite.
245 River Rd Grand View-on-Hudson, NY incredible Greek Revival dream home – Rockland County, NY
Now THAT is a Greek Revival Dream Home!
Beautifully renovated. And, as you can see, they kept the original and classical architectural detailing.
Yes, that is the Hudson River in the distance. There are sweeping river views from inside the home and the porch. How gorgeous are those French doors with transoms! If you love transom windows half as much as I do, please check out this post.
And while the home isn’t cheap, by New York standards, it is for what you’re getting, including location at $1,875,000. Plus, it’s completely move-in ready. And, over-all, beautifully decorated. I’m not crazy about all of the furnishings, but for selling purposes, it’s fine and blessedly unified.
It’s obvious that this lovely home has been professionally staged and photographed.
To see the rest of this lovely home, click here.
Below are some other interesting listings in the area. They’re fun to look at.
The last one is smaller and needs work, but it also has a wonderful little guest house in the back.
Well, now you can probably see why the post is late. I had reached my saturation point and didn’t want to send out something not ready for publishing.
Hope you enjoyed reading it!
Again, thank you so much for the incredible, loving messages you guys have sent me after my mom passed away last week. It has helped more than you’ll ever know. And, I appreciate your sharing your stories, too.
Blessings and love to all!
PS: please check out the newly updated hot sales!
What you may not not know is that the beautiful River Road houses in South Nyack/Grandview are very close to the old Tappan Zee bridge. If you can tolerate CONSTANT noise then it’s a beautiful place to live.
I lived in Nyack for 17 years…it’s a beautiful and fun, although expensive, village.
Is the constant noise the work that’s being done taking the bridge down? I guess that will be over one day.
Oh, wait. I can see now. You were commenting on your own comment, I think. In the back end where I answer comments, I can only see the comments as they come in and can’t see the context if responding to another comment.
It’s different here in the South where the attitude is that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.
I’m not sure what that’s in response to. But, I’ll just go along with it. :]
My husband and I were just slobbering over this old house listing… then we got to the new bathroom and burst out laughing.
I just had to come over here and share it with someone who would appreciate wildly misplaced granite(?).
Oh man, that bathroom is so bad. And, the free-form countertop under those cut-outs. No way are they original. The definite giveaway are the odd crowns on the bottom. So weird.
Old house girl here. Recently renovated my 1880 Shingle Colonial Revival (an elegant mongrel) and can attest it is not only a labor of love but absurdly expensive. Much cheaper to tear these gems down or gut and replace with a minimal modern interior (like that photo above). Seen plenty of both here in northern NJ, home of the highest property taxes in the US.
Renovations here lead to the double whammy of even higher property taxes plus the wildly unpredictable, often staggering costs associated with local board/officials interpretation of building codes, safety standards, etc. I can’t afford to touch anything else in the house, especially since it’s not clear what the town inspectors will require.
Replacing a few floor boards on the rather long front porch cost me dearly as I was forced to rebuild the whole porch (only a foot off the ground, nothing dangerous) with an intricate structure below that cost almost as much as my daughter’s fall college tuition. So although I cringe seeing moldings, windows and floorboards rotting or replaced with builder grade materials I understand how it happens. I might let the garage rot off my house, just saying!
You know, I just had to look that up and you are right from a state standpoint. However, according to CBS News – my county, Westchester County has the highest property taxes in the nation. I knew it. It’s because of our schools as well as the fact that there’s relatively little industry in Westchester County. When I left northern Westchester in 2012. Our school budget (Katonah-Lewisboro) was over $31,000 per child, at that time. Seven years later? I just checked and per student annual spending is $35,415.00 for this school year. Yes, this is public school.
However, New Jersey has five counties in the top ten!
I’ve heard that the Historical Society puts restrictions on what can be done or not done to the outsides of these historical homes. It’s too bad they can’t do the same in regard to the interiors.
Dear Laurel, I am so sorry to hear about your mother. It is the end of an era, so to speak, and there is always longing for the past in endings. If she was half as interesting as you are, she must have been an exceptional woman, and to have her lost in dementia is a loss almost as great as a death. Please know that you are in my thoughts during the time of shiva.
Thank you Celestial.
Well, yes we are! Some of the “unexpected” delays were weddings for 2 of our children, plus 10 new grandchildren (making 13 total…so far!)
Laurel, your posts have been an integral part of our plans (or “change in plans!”)! And the timing of each one has been perfect!
You’re might blessed, Mary Elizabeth and I hope for continued blessings!
My thoughts exactly! Once the owners take their tacky crap with them, painting is easy. But, the fridge in the first kitchen is shimmed. That concerns me. The second fridge worse – either the floor slopes alarmingly or the wall next to it drastically off plumb. I’ll pass on the entire house at this point. Then I saw the second floor balcony. Nope. Furnishings and wall color are hardly worth mentioning.
Yes, that place has a plethora of issues, it appears.
I’m very much a newcomer here, but I couldn’t resist tossing in my $.02 because this post intersects with my life in 2 ways: I also live in Kentucky, and I own a Greek Revival home. I won’t go so far as to call it a dream home – right now it’s more of a “Greek Revival Hot Mess Home” – but I’m taking a long-term approach that I hope will pay off in emotional profits more than financial gain. I got my house for $86,000 and have already spent nearly that amount in renovations and improvements with probably double that, if not triple, to come. (Yes, a previous owner tore out all the plaster, and installed vinyl windows throughout, but at least the trim and original floors are intact!) Given that my house is not in a desirable area to live I already know I have no hope of recouping my investment in the short term, but I’ve already decided I want to stay here until the house turns 200 – in 2050, by which time I’ll be in my 80s and my mortgage, at least, will have been paid off. I also figure that if circumstances prevent me from living here another 30 years, this place would make a great fine dining restaurant. Once all the work is done, that is.
Welcome to the blog! Sounds like you found a lovely place, with tremendous potential, to fix up.
The old family homestead on the lake was a house originally built in 1890. It was built just to be a summer place, so as you can imagine living there year around had its issues. We sold it in 1999 and subsequent owners have poured millions into fixing it up. We didn’t have that kind of money, that’s why we sold it.
Yeah, there are a lot of those summer cottages. We used to live a half mile from a lake community filled with them. Most of them looked like they were made up as they went along. Very strange architecture. But now, folks live in them year-round. And, some of them are quite nice.
This was a trend in beautiful pre-war Park Avenue apartments as well, many of which were featured in the NYTimes Sunday magazine when they had a decorating article every week. I’ve mentioned this before but I bought a beautiful mantel at a salvage place and the label had a Park Ave address and the date of installation (1937). Undoubtedly it was replaced by chrome, so sad.
But nothing compares to the scale of the Grandview “renovation,” which is totally incomprehensible.
That is sad when they strip all of the character away. I’ll never understand it.
I am going to disagree with you a bit. While some vintage/antique homes are to be avoided, you will find some of them in incredibly good condition. We bought a 1932 house and it is in amazing shape with original floors and a lot of original fixtures. The kitchen is not my ideal, but it doesn’t look big-box and they left (thank god!) the original built-ins of which there are many and they are gorgeous with original hardware. At some point we’ll redo the counters and put in a gas stove and it will be amazing.
If I had to do it again, I would take most Victorians off my list. Unless they have been renovated for heat/cold, they are almost always very uncomfortable to live in. So I agree with you 100% there.
I think you can find homes built in the 20s-30s that are in very good condition, requiring minimal renovation/updating and with materials and craftmanship that are no longer available.
I have seen gorgeous new homes that are built with the lines/aesthetics of vintage/antique homes, but there is just always something missing, IMO. You can’t buy or build the character that comes with these old homes.
They are not the majority but old homes with minimal restoration/work are out there if you look for them.
I think that maybe you misunderstood? I did not say that all old homes are in bad shape, because, that would be untrue. Many have been lovingly renovated in a way respectful to the original design. And many have been well-cared for.
In fact, I showed one home in Georgetown, KY that is just that. And, has either the original kitchen or one that’s at least from the 1930s, if not older.
So, I’m in 100% agreement with you.
Laurel, you’re so talented!!! How do you find all these examples for us? I mean what is this “VK” thing, where does it even come from? Where do you find all these amazing pictures with houses, kitchens, examples… I learn so much from them and I’d never be able to find them myself. I truly admire your research. This Hamilton house is incredible architecture. Thank you for showing it. If I sow the bones like that in AD magazine I would have thought that someone like Gil Schafer did it. Even the wood boards on the floor…they’re so stunning. It’s a lot of possible upcoming work, but great design (or rather great potential) is already there. I’m so impressed!
Thank you Val. I find some images on Pinterest and some on Instagram. Sometimes I find them in a google search. Sometimes the post begins to go in a different direction than I had originally intended. They ALWAYS take longer than I think they will. haha
Great post, Laurel! I love old homes and have lived in a 1920s Colonial Revival in a close-in suburb of NYC for many years. We’ve done lots of renovations to it–new kitchens, baths, landscaping, garage, the list goes on and on. We also keep track of all our expenses, and even though we paid under $200,000 for it, and it’s probably worth around $1 million now, we haven’t really gotten that mythical “return on investment.” I say “mythical” because a primary residence isn’t really an investment in the strict sense of the word. Here’s a really great article on why: https://www.moneyunder30.com/why-your-house-is-not-an-investment
So buy that great old “dream home,” and restore it because you love it. Then just LIVE in it, enjoy it, and get your investment returns elsewhere.
That is so true. It’s not all that different from buying a car. Nobody buys a car for investment either. It depreciates the second it leaves the dealership.
Of course, people DO purchase homes for investment by getting them for cheap, fixing them up (unfortunately, often-times cheaply) and then, immediately selling them. But, one can get burned there, too. They make it look much easier than it is on HGTV. And you never see the throngs of people it took to get the job done in a short period of time. #smokeandmirrors
What’s under that disgusting carpet? Extensive water damage, that’s what. Look at the tops of the walls (white instead of pale blue), look under the fridge (sitting on old towels or something).
I agree with one of your commenters, though, on the hidden improvements (assuming they work): this is mostly a cosmetic job plus fixing the kitchen, which doesn’t need to be massively expensive unless the floor is now structurally unsound. I confess to being horrified by the figures quoted for a kitchen renovation — that’s the price of a house here!
I know; very expensive. But, if we would design our kitchens with a large pantry like in Europe instead of hundreds of cabinets, our kitchens would cost less, I believe. However, I understand that the high-end English companies such as DeVOL and others are quite price-y, as well.
Restoring an old beauty is not for the faint of heart for sure. We started the renovation of our 1911 Edwardian 4 years ago and we still have another year to go. The house needed a new foundation and all wiring, plumbing and heating required replacing. We stripped the entire interior to the studs but carefully removed all of the mouldings and are now restoring them and replacing architectural details removed over the years. We also had asbestos shingles. To install those, they removed all the exterior trim and window sills which we had to rebuild with specially milled wood. The trouble with estimating cost on these projects is that so much expense goes to things you’ll never see, to what’s inside the walls and under the floors, that there’s often little money left for finishing.
Ours is a double lot. We could’ve torn this house down and build two. We would’ve been finished in 2 years and been mortgage free. Instead we are exhausted and broke. I love my home and I’ve especially loved learning about classic decor, in particular from you! For us, it was worth it because my husband grew up here and it is a labour of love. However, I would caution anyone to think long and hard before taking on such a project.
You are so right. And, there are ALWAYS surprises. Things like rotting structural elements, mold, lead, asbestos, foundation, cracks, and frequently a huge money trap, the ROOF. Oh, and in my experience, the wiring is always a disaster waiting to happen and has to be fixed. Then, there’s floor leveling. Oh my. And, all the things you and others have mentioned. Whatever one thinks it’s going to cost, double it. And double the time you’re told it will take too.
When you buy an enormous house, you have to have the budget to actually furnish all the space! Who can afford to (tastefully) furnish 5,000 sq ft?? After you have to spend hundreds of thousands on undoing the “upgrades”? I can’t imagine, personally, taking on more than about 2,000 sq ft. Even then, I would also need a house cleaner every week.
I’m with you 100% on all of that including the house keeper!
Hello Laurel, To your list of historic dream homes, I would add the early “villa” style, Italian or French, your option, (c.1840-70) which does entail some gingerbread, although the best examples rely on proportion, but not to the point of severity.
I do agree with you on the beauty and dignity of the Greek Revival. One of my favorites is the Samuel Russell house in Middletown, Connecticut. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Wadsworth_Russell_House
The house is now owned by Wesleyan University, but if I ever retire in Middletown, I am planning on taking it away from them.
haha re: the Samuel Wadsworth Russel House. Oh, French/Italian villas are lovely styles too. I love the Mansard roofs.
Oh how timely your post is! We are working to bring back the character that was stripped out of our 126 year old brick Victorian. It was flipped from a 2 family to a single family home about 19 years ago and was done with the cheapest finishes and shortcuts. Thankfully they ran out of money before they could tear down any more walls. Our neighborhood is full over century old homes that now have “open floor plans” and 2 inch trim where the hefty moulding used to be. We were charmed by the pocket doors, huge windows, fireplaces and trim details that still remained in our home.
That said, this level of restoration is a headache and a half. I agree with one of the previous comments about that first house. I’ll take painting and new cabinets any day if the HVAC, electric, plumbing, windows and roof are in good shape. We are in the middle of ripping out 2 bathrooms (that will get period appropriate title, pedestal sinks etc.) that were done poorly and finding a mountain of other problems behind the walls. Add to the mess a few poorly timed challenges with our HVAC and roof and my appreciation for new construction is growing.
I recommend that anyone looking to buy a 100+ year old house consider purchasing well below their budget to ensure they have plenty of cushion for maintenance and restoration. Especially if it’s in an area that is “up and coming” as the homes were often not well tended for multiple years. Even those that look move in ready often have big problems behind the walls.
Great advice Gloria. Thank you so much.
Hi Laurel, Another great post! Each one is full of your insight, humor and lessons I can take to heart!
Even though my DH & I have completely renovated 2 prior homes (one built in 1890, the other a 70’s ranch), some days we wonder if we were out of our minds with our current home! We purchased it in the Fall of 2011, at the bottom of the market!
Just under 6K sq ft. It was a custom build in 1965, so classic, but not historical. However, the previous owners had tried to make it “modern”. Suffice to say, we have filled 3 full size dumpsters so far & there will be one more this fall!
The plan was for a 5 year “retirement project”, but we are about to begin year 8! Good thing we both like to stay busy!
Hi Mary Elizabeth,
The subtext is that you guys are having the time of your lives. It warms my heart and gives me hope!
The house on the Hudson River is stunning, the taxes on it, not so much,
$36,000.00 per year, that is a lot of money on top of the mortgage and since it’s on the water I am assuming it needs flood insurance.
The Kentucky homes are beautiful, especially the price. Where I live for $375 – 400 price range the house would be a knockdown or in worse condition than the first house. A decent, average house in my area is $600,00.00 and up and they would still need work, anything over that amount and it would be a mcmansion and on a tiny piece of land.
Love reading your blog, I always learn something new. I should live down south then I can afford a beautiful home on a nice piece of property.
Ahhh… well… the taxes around these parts ARE insane! For a house/property of that size and location, that’s about average. BTW, I always learn something new, writing the blog. Sometimes a lot of somethings. haha
I live in a UNESCO heritage site in Nova Scotia Canada, and renovated a house dating from 1897. These old gems are a labour of love, no question. I think the first house you showed is worth a second look, if only for the upgrades you didn’t mention: heat pump and geothermal, as well as hardie board on the exterior, both of which cost significant money, and will save whoever buys the house a LOT on heating / cooling costs and exterior maintenance, well into the future. And I have a feeling that if the current owners spent on that, they probably spent on other hidden upgrades, such as electrical. So really, what needs to be done is cosmetic: paint and a new kitchen. The second house you compared it with looks move-in ready, but there could be issues lurking behind the glam. Personally, I’d pick the first one. As for the Nyack nightmare, who the heck does that to a house?
Thanks for all of that detail that I didn’t look closely enough at. Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of the Nyack nightmare type renovations. You would never know that you were in a 100+ year old home. It’s just taking the renovation too far, IMO.
This post reminds me of a certain actor and actress who bought a gorgeous old townhouse in New York City and stripped away some of the incredibly beautiful mill work.
I won’t name them because they seem to be delightful people, but what they did to that townhouse was a crime.
That always boggles my mind. I mean, there are so many modern buildings in Manhattan. So, why strip all of that gorgeous history away? I guess there aren’t a lot of modern townhouses? Well, fine. They can still have the modern furnishings. That would look great with the architectural details.
We sold our 1785 Georgian just over 4 years ago and this story just made me miss it all the more. If I had found your blog sooner I may have done things differently. I still look at the photos remembering how carefully we renovated over 22 years and the new owners jazzed it up in 3 years – some for the better, but most just awful! Removing wallpaper that had been historically documented to the 1800’s. Love you, Laurel and keep you in my prayers for the loss of your Mom.
Thank you Cynthia. I’m sorry about your beautiful Georgian too.
The catfish house listing photos almost look like a photoshop project without there being “real” walls. Another fun read! Thanks for posting.
Thank you too Lori.
I really did LOL with this post! The house we’re renovating was also superficially horrifying- but it had exceptional stonework, exposed beams, and a waterfront location, all of which are highly valued here. I knew I could work with the house as it was (though the need for a new roof was a bit of a surprise). The key, though, was that the kitchen was already tastefully renovated, and the bathrooms mostly so. As you mentioned with that first home, a professional paint job and new countertops would work wonders, but wouldn’t one expect to have that done BEFORE the house was put on the market at that price? As a dream home it would truly need a complete kitchen reno, which. I’m guessing would be at least 100k, even in Kentucky. And then there are the baths….
What was surprising about our house was that, according to our realtor, the other realtors in town were so put off by the terrible decorating that there wasn’t a lot of interest in the house. Good for us! I guess my advice would be to look HARD at these fugly homes with good bones. There are some gems among them, if one can get past that first impression of buffalo turds.
Thank you Danielle. Good advice.
Well, let’s see, main st house, you will need lots and lots of money and more importantly patience and all your time to spare to this project. It could take years to finish if you don’t have the money upfront. Although it’s difficult to see the pics clearly, to start and the list is lengthy, it looks like leveling issues, water damage, those chimney stacks and the scariest of all, how did that new addition second floor balcony pass inspection??? Yikes that’s scary!! These old house are beautiful but they need alot of loving and dedicated owners with an unlimited bank account. I’m sure the right house is out there waiting for you but just not this one.
I agree about the main st home. And I hadn’t focused on all of the images, but yes you are right. I’m not an architect or builder, but those spindly wood supports look frighteningly insufficient to me. Quite frankly, with all there is to do, I don’t think it’s worth much more than what they originally paid for it. Of course, I didn’t see it before.
How timely, Laurel! I was watching HGTV today and saw two lovely old homes desecrated by fixer uppers intent on tearing out the walls, stripping away any evidence of a lovely architectural heritage, and replacing the interior with a myriad of soon-to-be-dated trends. Made me ill.
Yeah… That’s what they usually do. At least most of those types of shows. I rarely watch them these days. But the nail salon I go to has HGTV on.lol
Great post! I cringed when I saw the title of it though, because as I’ve mentioned to you before, we just closed (in Jun) on a 1898 Colonial Revival Foursquare in WA State. I sent you the listing a couple of weeks ago and pictures. It has asbestos siding over the original clapboard, and a 40 year old wood shingle roof that needs replacing. We are having the asbestos removed, which is opening a mountain of work now to be done on the clapboard. The interior is remarkably original, but the kitchen and bathrooms are horribly modern. Thankfully they are old, so they will be replaced in keeping with the vintage nature of the rest of the home. I have your paint and furniture advice products and will be using them to the fullest extent of the law, lol. Wish us luck! https://www.trulia.com/p/wa/spokane/2615-w-maxwell-ave-spokane-wa-99201–2119849229
You know, I did not see that email and I think I know why. I probably thought it was an old comment and deleted it not realizing that it was a new email. I should tell people that if they send me something back to change the subject so that I’ll clearly see that it’s a return email. It came on a Friday afternoon and that’s usually pretty intense for me.
That’s a gorgeous home with lots of potential!
Sorry for the scare!
Laurel, Another great post. I love the second house. You forgot to mention a lovely part of the first listing-the outdoor entertainment area. AKA the aluminum carport. It looks like the elements would not hurt that sectional so it can be used outside when guests come over.
Omg! Your favorite is a long time favorite of mine! I drool every time I drive by! She’s a beauty!
Small world! But yeah, that is an architectural gem, for sure. I’m surprised to see that it’s been on the market for quite a while.
I believe I said “Oh My” way too many times while reading this post! Recently I spent some time helping a friend who was selling her home look at competitive properties. I was shocked to see how many had NEVER been updated…original bathrooms, kitchens…everything! I know it is not always financially possible to do it all, but you would think some updating would have happened over time. I was going to send you some pictures, but you have been through enough this past week.
On that note, I hope you are doing well. Sometimes the sadness of losing a loved one hits later when there is no one around. I am sending you a hug.
Thanks so much Pam.
I absolutely loved this post, Laurel. I think the owners of house #1 sank a lot of money on the paint and ugly leather sectional and whatever they did to the kitchen and want to recoup it by charging an exorbitant amount for the house. Possible they went to the casino too much too. What a shame. I love the old houses and live in one from 1916 and know how much upkeep and renovation it needed over the years. Some people just don’t have a scintilla of taste, though. Thanks for the links to instagram, and the wonderful photos.
Thanks Anne. Good assessment, too.
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