• April 17, 2008

“Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Solvent”

Buying a house that you can afford and doing the work yourself

Restoration Diary

Photo taken from The New York Times article
Photo taken from The New York Times article.

I just read an interesting article in the New York Times: “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Solvent“. A couple purchased a 1913 Tudor brick house for $65,000 12 years ago in Akron, Ohio. The home is amazing (before and after photos included in the article) with 6 fireplaces, solarium, billiards room and servant call buttons. The couple offered the owner 45K less than the already reduced asking price. The offer was accepted because the house was about to be condemned.

They tackled the majority of the restoration work themselves, saving a considerable amount of money in the process. The couple has no debt except for a 55K mortgage. It is an interesting comparison to people who purchased more house than they could afford and are now feeling the pinch.

The restoration, still ongoing, is not without personal sacrifice. One of the things that I have struggled with during our ongoing house restoration is the loss of personal time, family time and trying to strike a balance between working on the house and “having a life.”

When asked how long projects like re-caulking 733 window panes takes, the home owner replied:

“Years,” Mr. Giffels says. “This is where I’m glad I wrote the book 10 years later, it gave me a perspective of all the time it cost: All my vacation time, all my possible spare time, a number of years of my children’s growing up I gave to my children’s house. And once you get in it, you can’t get out, you can’t sell a house in that condition. When all of a sudden you realize what it is costing you in your life, it’s too late.”

Boy, I can sure relate to that sentiment. How about you?

Although, after reflection, the couple says they wouldn’t do anything differently. And, I understand that feeling, too.

A book, “All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House,” recounting the couple’s experience comes out next month.

Comments { 12 }
  1. Amalie

    Uh, Whoa Nelly.

    If that picture of the 55 aluminum baking pans doesn’t make me feel better about my leaking roof that the insurance adjuster has yet to come see, I don’t know what will…

    I’ll be purchasing that book on its release date.

  2. Joe

    When we moved into our 1916 bungalow I knew it was going to take all of my “free time”. I made a conscience decision that from then on the house would be my hobby. It’s a mind-set that has worked well for me because I really enjoy doing the work. Plus, whenever I want to buy overly expensive bits and pieces I can rationalize that at least there is an ROI on my hobby, which isn’t usually the case. Also, I get to spend more time on my hobby than anyone else I know. ;-)

  3. Jenni

    Glad you shared this.

  4. Sandy

    I read that article this morning. I was amazed! I must admit, the 55 aluminum pans had me too! (and I was wondering why he didn’t have a blog – LOL)

  5. 1916home.net

    This book sounds exciting! The photos are great too. All around the midwest house prices are dirt cheap compared to California. In Youngstown, OH, the city is actually downsizing. Old homes for sale there are inexpensive compared to So Cal. I saw one beautiful Victorian… it needed a lot of work, but it was 4 bedrooms, 3 baths for $14,000. Can you imagine that? Thats cheaper than some used cars!

  6. Joanne

    I really need to get out of the Chicago area–such real estate prices sound incredible.

  7. liz

    I love your blog and can relate almost all of your postings. my husband and I bought a very early (built in 1900) craftsman bungalow 6 months ago CASH But, we are spending plenty to fix it up. it is in the neighborhood I grew up in and it is a wonderful area so we knew we could not go wrong, the lot alone is worth twice what we paid. we have no debt but are doing a little at a time. We have no regrets, it is so beautiful and really has the character and charm you don’t see in any of the newer homes.

  8. mary ellen

    What was the beautiful brown exterior paint called that you almost used?

  9. Heather

    Mary Ellen,

    I am sorry to say that I don’t remember…but, I do know it was from the Farrow & Ball paint line. I hope that helps!


  10. Christopher Busta-Peck

    Now, those of you from the east coast and the west coast may laugh, but I think that at that price, having read the book, he really overpaid for the house. Given that he had to do essentially a full gut and then some, and the amount of damage he had to deal with, I’d say that the fair value of the house was probably closer to the value of the lot, perhaps half of what he paid for it.

    Not that this means his idea was a bad one – I’ve considered buying equally wretched structures.

  11. Crystal

    Once again, your post about this NYT article/family could have been written by me! I must get that book. We have been in our 1927 bungalow in PA for 2 years now. We have a 12yo and a 9yo, and I SWORE their childhoods would not be experienced living through house renovations/restorations the whole time…I fear that once we are done and sit back to enjoy it they’ll be grown! But, as you know, it’s so hard to balance and juggle all of life’s demands! This is all inspiration for me though…I can only hope that we are done soon enough so that we may focus on other things (this is our 2nd house, though our 1st bungalow), such as our children! It is so easy/fun to plan/demo and so hard to keep up the stamina once living amidst it/getting older!?

  12. hannah

    oh…i adore david’s book, great read for the story and the restoration details too. my husband and i bought our “fixer upper” aka “you’re crazy & naive” house two years ago. it’s been a lot of work but the accomplishment is worth it! we also had phone jacks and phone cords leading everywhere for no reason, huge vents in the floor everywhere, and a lovely kitchen as well- think multiple shades of pink craft paint on the cabinets, a pole holding up the top cabinet, a stove vent going to the basement, powered by an extension cord, and the cast iron sink held up by a 2 x 4. Needless to say we gutted it (and everything else!). Oh yeah and the downstairs bathroom had wood paneling in the shower. How do you think that turned out?? :) good luck on the never ending projects!

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