Home Rehab

Thirteen years ago Martin and I bought our first home — an old stucco farmhouse that loomed over a neighborhood stacked with squat, circa ’60s ranchers.

Martin and I were engaged, in search of a starter home. We spied the sprawling house on a drizzly, gray winter day. Inside, the house was dreary and dim, and reeked of urine. A dog met us in the front hallway and dutifully squatted on the carpet.

“Strangers make her nervous,” the realtor explained with a shrug.

We took stock of the sagging window units. The holes in the ceiling and the cracked walls. Electrical wires that snaked along baseboards and ducked into mouse holes. Outside, the yard swam in mud — the grass snuffed out by years of un-raked leaves.

I was giddy. Barely able to contain my glee. I was in love with Martin. And now in love with this house.

And Martin loved me.

How else can you explain those three words: “We’ll take it.” Before he’d even ventured upstairs?

Stock photo; thankfully not our house

The house hinted at a grand past — high ceilings, stained glass transoms, hand-carved window moldings and a sweeping staircase. But by the time we’d stumbled on it, the furnace had been condemned. The upstairs ceiling was caving in. A sewer pipe in the cellar had been bashed open, but never patched.

The current owners were short on cash and long on kids. They had teenage boys, who apparently never picked up anything (during our first visit I discovered a pile of baseball gear — a catcher’s mask, leg guards and a chest protector, hastily shed by the toilet bowl). Somewhere along the line, the owners had given up on cleaning, repairs, and house breaking their dog.

We threw ourselves into that house, buying central AC, laying drywall, replacing the furnace, peeling up the pee-stained carpet and prying staples from the pine floors. Landscaping the yard.

Three years later we sold the house to another couple who equally adored the house, and had money to tackle big budget projects. Like the slate roof that we’d plugged with newspaper.

We moved on to our next old farmhouse. This one, with the farm.

The sellers had already invested money and sweat equity, so we moved right in.

But that was more than a decade ago. Now the house looks tired. The bathrooms and kitchen are dated. Spidery cracks speckle the walls and water stains are breeding here and there.

Safe to say, it’s taken two mortgages for me to recognize something painfully elementary: No matter how much you love an old house, patches and paint only go so far. Old houses need one thing above all else:


And if we’re not careful, we’ll become those owners from our first home: short on cash, a gaggle of kids and a falling-down house.

So we’ve begun to plot “project house salvation.”

We’re only in preliminary talks — and tiptoeing around finances — but we’re tossing around ideas. Brewing a plan.

Hang in there, house. Help is on the way.