Wednesday, May 9, 2007


Well, this is my first post to our new house restoration blog. Unfortunately, it was not started at the same time we started work on our 'Folly'. However, we did take pictures from the very beginning of this madness we call "home restoration". So, as soon as I can find the photos, in all the mess, I will get them scanned into the system and uploaded. For now, let me start at the beginning.....

My wife, Annette, and I have always wanted a 'fixer-upper'. We would buy the magazines, drive by the old houses and neighborhoods, and we would dream. In 1993 we moved into a small Victorian cottage that my parents owned. It was built in 1873, had five rooms and was all of 750 square feet. The bathroom was about the size of most modern closets! Three years later we bought the house from my parents and started restoring it. However, we still wanted to get one of those "huge 'ol monstrosities".

Slowly the work progressed on our tiny cottage. At the same time we continued to look at other houses and even contacted a family friend who was a real-estate agent. We told her what we were interested in and gave her a list that contained 14 "must have items" we were looking for in a house. We even got pre-approval from a bank for the amount we could borrow. And so...the hunt was on!

We averaged about 1 house every two weeks. Each house that we viewed was either too far from work, or from family and friends, or there were just a hand full of "must haves" available. You've all been there. You know how it goes - when you find 'the one' you know it. None of the ones we had looked at were 'the one'.

Three years later we were to the point of giving up and just looking at either adding on to our cottage, buying a newer house, or building. Then it happened, we received a phone call from our agent. She promptly told us that she thought she'd found us a house. She asked if she could stop by and talk to us about it.

That evening she arrived. We sat around the table and she began to tell us about it. It sounded perfect! Almost two acres of property; two stories (including an attic bigger than our current cottage - technically a third story); and basically all of our "must haves" (all but two). There was one catch - we couldn't tell a soul about it.

Turns out the house was only a few blocks from our current home!

The people who owned it had died. The wife died in 1997 (IIRC) and the husband died almost a year after her. About three months after his wife died he fell and ended up in a nursing home. So the house sat vacant for more than a year. Once word got out that the husband had died there were all sorts of speculations as to what would happen to the property. The couple donated lots of money and property to all sorts of organizations, so many felt the house would be donated to some group. Several thought it would be donated to his church (he donated all the land it was built on and it was right next door); some thought it would be donated to the school system (the house sits between the school's new gym and it's football field AND he donated the property for both of those!); and some thought it would be donated to his Alma Mater for them to sell and keep the proceeds. They were all wrong! He left nothing in his will about the disposal of the property! So it was left up to his remaining family member to decide what to do with it.

Now here is why we had to keep it a seceret. Basically, the family wanted it kept it quiet because they weren't sure what they were going to do with it. So, our agent said not to say a word to anyone. Her boss was going to handle the sale, whether it be by traditional sale or auction, and they didn't want a lot of phone calls about it. She said that IF we went over to look, make sure no one saw us do it. This was in January of 1999.

So, we would sneak over on Sunday mornings while most people were asleep or in church. We would try our best to peek in the windows and in the doors but most of the curtains were drawn and the windows were filthy. From what we could see it was perfect it was 'THE ONE'! After sneaking over there several times we contacted out agent and told her we would like to make the family an offer, sight-unseen, if they would just sell to us and forgo an auction (at the time they were leaning towards an auction). She contacted her boss and he contacted the family with our offer. They turned it down and said "if they are willing to pay that much, we think we could get more at auction". An auction it was to be then! They set June 26th, 1999 as the date. We had almost 5 months to sit and worry....

In the mean time we formulated a financial plan based on how much the bank had approved us for AND on how much the house would be worth once restored (very long story there). As the day of the auction drew closer we asked our agent if she would be our proxy and bid for us. We did this for two reasons: 1) we didn't want everyone in town to know how much we were willing to pay for a house & 2) we couldn't bare to be there and see it go to someone else! We had our hearts set on this house, unfortunately so did others. During this time we found out that three other couples were interested and one of them was infamous for buying old houses (they would fix it up and modernize it and then flip it). The school was also interested. They wanted it so they could level it and make a new parking lot. In the event that the school did win the house we were prepared to make them an offer - we would buy the house and move it.

On the day of the auction our agent stopped buy and went over the game plan. She said that if the property got to a certain dollar amount she would call us and get approval to go higher. She would keep us on the line at that point until the house sold. After she left, Annette and I just sat in our house and waited. The auction was to start at 8 AM and she had no idea when the house would be on the block.

It turned out that the auction was THE social event of the season for our tiny town (hey what do you expect from a town of less than 1700 people in the middle of America). Two families even held quasi family reunions at it! Keep in mind that this house belonged to one of the oldest, most prominent, and wealthy families - not only in our town but in the county. Several hundred people showed up - it was like a festival! It was such an undertaking that the local police had armed guards stay on the property the night before. Also, the only people, other than our agent, who were at the auction, and knew we were bidding, were our parents.

At about 12:15 Annette and I got a call - it was our agent. She said "well, are you ready?" We were terrified - we had authorized her to bid up to almost 100% of what the bank approved us for. If she called wanting more we would have to go into the future equity which was VERY risky. Again she said "are you ready?" and Annette said "okay". She then said "come on down and bring your check book - the house is yours!". We were ecstatic! We literally ran out of the house and danced in the street! In fact, my mother almost hit us in her car! As soon as she saw that our agent won the bid she jumped in the car to come and get us.

Once we got to the house we found out how the bidding had gone. Our parents told us that our agent was very classy about it. She just stood there with her arms crossed. All she did to place a bid was lift a finger while her hand rested on her arm! The funny part was HOW she won the bid. The bidding was getting to the point that it was between her, the 'house flippers' and one other couple and the bids were coming in at increments of $50 (it stayed like this for 30 minutes). Our agent was overheard to say "HELL!" and bounced the increments up to $150. At this point the third couple dropped out. After continuing to bid for another 15 minutes our agent was heard to say "screw this!" and upped the bid to $500 a pop. The 'house flipping' couple didn't counter and the house was ours.

Here is the REAL kicker - we got the house for less than half of what we were willing to pay! The family was so furious they bitched at the auctioneer (our agent's boss and the owner of the company) and threatened to sue. They said "the house is worth more than that! We had a couple offer a lot more for it before the auction!". The auctioneer laughed and said "we know - who do you think bought the house?".

Now remember, we did not want anyone to know our agent was bidding for us, so we told her not to tell anyone. When we arrived she pulled us off to one side and asked if it could be announced who bought the house. Evidently there were several people upset that it was not announced who bought it. All the auctioneer said is that the buyers wished to remain 'anonymous'. The speculation was that it was a person from Wichita, or from out of state. People were upset that the house might be going to an 'outsider'. So, with our blessing, the auctioneer said he would make the announcement within the hour. I can tell you, I had a lot of fun during that hour! There was so much hubbub going on about "who bought the house"! It was fun listening to it. I was eventually stopped by a friend of the family and asked "why weren't you here earlier - the house went cheap!". I looked at him, smiled, and leaned forward and said "I did buy it". He about fell off the seat he was sitting on! I walked on to another section of the property and ran into another family friend. He looked at me and asked "so, have you bought any treasures today?". I looked at him and said "yes - I bought the house" and walked off without saying another word - as if I had just bought a loaf of bread or something. A few yards away I turned and looked back at him. He was just standing there staring back at me with a dumbfounded look on his face! LOL LOL LOL

Once the word got out that we bought the house we had lots of people hunt us down to congratulate us. All-in-all it was a GREAT day! The only bad thing that happened was that someone bought a couple boxes of what most people thought were miscellaneous light fixture parts. He got both boxes for $30 bucks each! Turns out those boxes contained the original light fixtures from when the house was built! They were the kind that had both electrical and gas together! If we would have known about those they would not have left the property.

Once it was all over we were left with everything no one wanted, or got missed. There was so much junk left behind - but THAT'S a story for another day; perhaps tomorrow.


John said...

Wow! That is a hell of a story, congratulations!

Larry said...

Thanks John!

Your blog, along with "This Old Crack House" and "Bunalow 1912", gave me the inspiration to do this blog.

Bluebear Jeff said...

I saw your note on the OSW list and I've come to take a look.

This post is an interesting good start.

-- Jeff of Saxe-Bearstein

Laura-Jane Koers said...

GREAT story! So glad it worked out the way you dreamed.

Looking forward to reading into the future.

Larry said...

Thanks Laura-Jane!

Do you have a house blog?