Pleasant Row

Kevin and I had been talking for years about finding a property in Ilion that we could buy cheap (old and in need of major repair) and completely renovate. When we first moved back to the area, I didn't want to live in Ilion and Kevin didn't want to live in West Winfield, so we decided to live in New Hartford. We've been and still are very happy in our house and neighborhood. After much consideration and losing my mom to cancer in '06, it became very important to us for our kids to be close to family (something I appreciated about my childhood) and friends (something he appreciated about his childhood). Ilion was the answer. I would find houses, show Kevin, and he'd bring me back to reality by saying, “That's not what we're looking for,” or, “It's not ideal.” In order for us to undertake a huge project and consider relocating our family, it would have to be perfect for our family.

Sometime in early May:

I noticed that a property in Ilion was coming up in the Herkimer County tax auction. It was an old home on 2.12 acres on the village/town border (Barringer Road). My first thought was, “No way,” because it was too good to be true. I looked at the Google map and didn't remember ever seeing a house there, much less a house with that much land. Then I showed Kevin, thinking he'd bring me back to reality. We did a little research and went for a drive-by. Brian was in town and we asked him to join us for perspective and advice. And, surprise! Kevin liked it. Brian liked it. I guess I was not surprised they liked it, but surprised that the property that we all liked could be purchased. Kevin and I had been quiet about our desire to move to Ilion (avoiding unwanted advice or pressure), so the next thing that happened made me realize that we were serious. Kevin called his dad and asked him to meet us in front of the property. Pa Hoyt liked it too! (Ma Hoyt was also invited to see the house later that day) The cat was out of the bag (bagged cats?), and we were really serious about coming up with a dollar amount on how much we thought it was worth in it's present state, how much it could be worth, and how much we really could/would spend.

The rest of May:

We spent some time doing more drive-bys, some deed/lien and historical research, and getting more information about buying property at auction. One of the big questions was the stuff. The property was littered with junk. That's an understatement. There was no place on the 2 acres that you could stand without being a step away from some junk- old cars, lumber, tires, windows, plow blades, bikes, and a backhoe. Some of the stuff was clearly someone's personal property, and some just looked like it was dumped there. We were also working on coming up with a dollar amount that we would be willing to pay for a house that needed so much clean up and work. That number fluctuated greatly over the month of May.


On May 26th, from 4 to 6 PM was the scheduled inspection. This was an open time for anyone who might want to bid on the property to check it out. Kevin and I spent the entire 2 hour time slot looking through the property. There were dozens of curious and possibly interested people. One question that kept coming up was the stuff, especially the backhoe (which didn't look like it worked, but looked like it might be fixable). The auction representative said that the county doesn't have ownership of the personal property, but that if the stuff is there when deed is transferred then the new owner has to deal with it. “Whatever is not claimed by the rightful owner and is here when the deed gets transferred, is here.” Now, how do you estimate how much a property is worth when there may or may not be a valuable piece of equipment included? We didn't quite know, so we focused on the real estate. The house, 2 acres, mature cedar and birch and maple trees, two barns, in the village (although not considered the village for tax purposes-it's the Town of German Flatts), about a mile from Ma and Pa Hoyt, less than a mile from the field where we play Ultimate Frisbee every week, and privacy from the apartment buildings behind by way of a 5-6' high fence surrounding the property. Wow.
Let's talk a little more about the house:

From our research, we found that the house was built around 1830 and the property was once part of a large farm “Pleasant Row Farm” (according to an 1863 map from the historical society). It is an “upright and wing” Greek Revival with pilasters, frieze band and frieze windows, columns on the porch, the classic double sidelight and transom window surrounding the front door, and floor to ceiling 6-over-6 windows. Much of the house was in disrepair, but the upright portion seemed to be the most salvageable. The list of repairs needed were extensive. Multiple additions on the back of the house included a kitchen, bathroom, and dining area and a dormer on the second floor. The dormer was completely left open to the elements so the wing portion of the house and the additions were filled with mold and rotten wood. The bathroom was black with mold. Roof to basement would need to be torn down and rebuilt. The only things that might be able to be used would be windows. In the basement all major plumbing and heating was removed, floor joists were rotten, and some walls needed to be shored up. The basement is a dirt floor and not very tall, so digging it out to a 8' height would help when replacing all of the major systems. The living room in the front portion of the wing had plank hardwood floors that were warping but there was so much stuff in each room that it was unknown if there was any way to refinish them. In the upright section of the house an entry with nice staircase, and two rooms (living/parlor/bedroom?) are on the first floor. The second floor is actually a ½ story which means that it uses the slope of the roof as walls. It has 2 bedrooms and a hall/loft area. Some plaster damage throughout this section would need to be repaired, but it might be possible to keep the upright section as-is and make the cosmetic, electrical, insulation, refinishing changes to restore it to some historical charm.

Then there are two barns. Closest to the house is a smaller two story barn that was probably a carriage house at one time. It's current function was to house more junk, and the doors and windows needed to be replaced. It needed work, but would likely be our first project to get a secure place to keep tools and such. The second barn is a large, three+ story barn with amazing potential. Two additions to this barn had collapsed and need to be removed so that the remainder (main portion) of the barn can be repaired and secured. The potential for this barn include the possibility of creating a large home.
Keep in mind that this property has been a junkyard/landfill for someone for many years. And also note that a sign on the fence around the property said, This property has been deemed “unfit for human occupancy” by authority of the Town of German Flatts.

Auction Day!!:

June 5, 2010, 9:45 AM. We arrived to the college where the auction was being held. We were too early and doors weren't even open yet. Eventually they opened the doors and we registered and waited for the auction to begin (auction wasn't scheduled to start until 11 AM). Kevin and I were anxious and excited and at some points discouraged. Some of the estimates we were hearing from people were that the property would go for $50,000. That was more than we were willing to pay, but we really wanted the place. The auction started with Little Falls properties which went pretty quickly for an average of $12,000 each. We were feeling confident. Then Danube and Fairfield properties sold with no concerns. Then Frankfort lots started to sell, which was fine until one very nice property went for $140,000. But we kept in mind that that was really nice- no work needed- on over 7 acres, so that was not a good comparison. Then another went for $51,000. Hmmm. Then the village of Ilion listings started. Here we go. This was going to be more representative of the property we wanted.

Lot # 29: $8,000. Ok.

Lot # 30: $5,400. Ok.

Lot # 31: $1,500. Oooh.

Lot # 32: $45,000. Uh oh. We started to think “We're not going to win. But we will bid. We are here to raise our paddle.”

Lot # 33: $5,500. Ok.

Lot # 34: $26,000. Uh.

Lot # 35: $200. Okay, that doesn't count because it's just a small lot without improvements.

Here we go. Here we go. We were ready for Lot # 36.

And the speaker system went out. And there was a delay. And we were jumping out of our skin. Everyone was notified prior to the auction starting and again at this point, by the county and the auctioneer, that the personal property/equipment on the lot has been claimed by the owner and is not included with the auction. Okay. No problem. We're weren't there for the personal property. Bidding started. Kevin was holding the paddle. Bids moved quickly to $6,000 when Kevin put up our paddle. Many people were bidding at this point. Bids got to ten then fifteen thousand, and we were still okay. Someone to our left was bidding against us. Bids started slowing down around $20,000. The auction representative was standing on stage right in front of us and saying, “Yep.” without hesitation every time someone raised the bid, and Kevin flicked his wrist with the paddle. “Yep.” “Yep.” $25,25,25... $26,26,26 thousand. $27,27,27... 28... 29...,29...,29... do I hear 29.... Going once, going twice, last chance... Sold to your bidder “Number 24.” We won! Really? Only $29,000 (It should have been $28,000 but the county wrote the number wrong- we're not complaining- we won!) Even after we won I sat in shock. Really? No last second bidders. YAY!!! Holy cow! We really were the craziest people in the room! Yay! Wow, we feel like we got a deal considering we were willing to go into the $40,000 range. Only $29,000! Phew! It was hard to breathe and I was shaking like a leaf. Kevin and I kissed and made our way down to the table to pay the 10% down payment. I was still shaking and couldn't even remember what day it was, even though we'd been waiting for auction day for weeks.

We're crazy and goofy excited. Time to go tell the family. We told everyone over the next couple days. Here we go.

First half of June:

This two weeks was mostly figuring out who claimed what of the personal property and what the county was going to do about it. Lawyers and such were involved and it was a little bit of a headache (not worth rehashing). We ordered an abstract and payed the remainder, and on June 16th everything was approved by the legislature to get the deed recorded. The county attorney called on June 17th to tell us that the owner of the personal property had provided proof for some items and a sheriff would escort him to the property to remove those items.

The deadline for him to remove those items is Tuesday, June 22nd at 5 PM. Deed is supposed to be recorded first thing Wednesday, June 23rd.

June 23rd:

The past two days we've been watching the property closely. The owner of the personal property has removed almost all of the vehicles. Bulldozer, backhoe loader, two pickup trucks, two cars, a motorcycle, and at least one lawnmower are gone. Kevin and I stopped by the house after 5 yesterday. The house and barns looked about the same from the road. We'll see how it looks today when we go in. The deed is slated to get recorded today and then we can get the keys. Here we go...
We finally got the key and did a little bit of clean up. Kevin and his dad cleaned out the small barn (the carriage house) and secured it so we could store some valuables in there. There are some significant repairs needed because part of it seems to be falling down. They loaded up a lawnmower to take to his dad's house for repairs. (It was fixed by 6/24) We went in the house and I finally got to see the kitchen. It is strange that I bought a house without seeing the kitchen, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. It's in bad shape, but not nearly as bad as I thought it was. We couldn't do much yet because we didn't have the dump trailer yet. Steve dropped that off 6/25.

June 26th:

The agenda today is to start loading the trailer for the dump. Kevin worked last evening, so we won't get started until noon. He also works tonight, so we only have a few hours of work to do today. Tomorrow and Monday we'll get a few more hours in. Then Wednesday... Here we go...

July 3rd:

What a week. We have taken over 15,000 pounds of trash to the dump over the past week. We broke down and got a 30-yard dumpster and used Steve's dump trailer. We definitely made a dent, but I imagine we have many more weeks like this before the place is cleaned up enough to start building. The plan for the next week is to get ready for a garage sale. More than the clean up, the interesting part of the week were the visitors. On Thursday a woman came who knew a lot about the history of the place, and claimed to own some of the personal property. She wasn't offended when I told her she had to take it up with a lawyer because I wasn't going to allow anyone on the property to claim stuff. She gladly told me about Donald Belding, who owned the property for 70 years or so. Also, someone came who wanted to buy lawn mowers, and someone came who wanted to buy snowmobiles, and someone came who wanted to take some junk. Today at 7 PM, the previous owner (who was foreclosed on) came to the property. He asked to retrieve a sign for a community organization that he was a part of from the small barn. Kathy, Tom, and Steve were all there with me. I told him the county gave him a chance to retrieve his personal property, and he was not allowed on my property. I told him he had to take up the matter with a lawyer or judge.

July 23, 2010

Still cleaning up. A total of (3) 30-yard dumpsters and (4) 10-yard dump trailers have been delivered to the dump. We are working on a 40-yard dumpster now. We have taken one trip with the pickup and trailer, and two with just the pickup to the steel recycling place. Tom has taken a pickup load to the dump and recycled batteries. The yard sale went well (about $200). The cleanup has been tedious at times, but it does seem like we are getting somewhere. It may even be possible to start demo next week. There are plans to list some things on craigslist (i.e. the boat), and have a couple more yard sales. Family has really helped out a ton! Tom and Kathy have put in a lot of hours and labor in this cleanup phase. My sisters and brothers have helped too. We have a long way to go, but we're starting to see progress.

March 23, 2012
18 months since last post:
Well. What can I say? Where do I start?
Okay: October 2010 through January 2011 we planned for building. We hired Charlie Walz, an engineer, to create drawings. We interviewed contractors and had a favorite in mind. Next step was getting the money to do something. We managed to fly through our budget for 2010, and didn't really want to start building with no hope of making it weather tight. The plan: sell our house in New Hartford and rent a place in Ilion. I, as a realtor, thought that selling the house in New Hartford would be easy. Unfortunately, the market was smarter than I and we are just now selling the house for a huge loss. The past year has been a painful process with no way to really get much done at Pleasant Row. The only thing we accomplished was to remove the falling down part of the carriage house and build an attachment to house the Colonel (our backhoe loader).
This delay has taken it's toll on our enthusiasm. It's just now resurfacing, now that we should be able to get work started this summer (Dear God, I hope that Tennyson sells as it is supposed to – by April 30th). It's also taken it's toll on the 22' x 26' remainder of the house (increasing the amount of rot/ decreasing salvagability/ telling us more about how expensive it would be to renovate). After some introspection and inspection, we have adjusted our plans. We will now raze the house and build an entirely new structure that is set back farther from the road. This saves us, we believe, in the long run. The new construction will be a 3680 square foot new greek revival farmhouse. We met with Charlie tonight to get the new drawings done. This is a bittersweet thing for me. I really wanted to save a relic - to renovate a piece of history. Sadly, it's condition has made that an unrealistic, dangerous, and costly prospect. Coming to our senses (mostly convincing me) has allowed us to make a replication/recreation of the style we fell in love with, in a condition that will ensure it endures for another 200 years. That feels right.
April 30,2012
So, Tennyson is sold. Yay! The plan for Pleasant Row for the remainder of 2012 is to get the foundation poured, install public water, public sewer, electric line and 200 amp box and service, framing, windows, doors, and roof, and geothermal heating/cooling system. These are all large expenses, so we will slow down dramatically after these are completed. We'll slowly work on the inside, and build capital during the winter so that we can take care of siding in the spring. We will be doing brick on the main “homestead” section of the house and some other siding (we can't decide between wood, cement fiberboard, or vinyl) on the “addition” section of the house. The finished house will definitely take over 2 years to finish. If we get through our goal for the next 12 months, we'll still need to do several time-consuming and expensive projects. We might be looking at 3 years before we can move in. This is slower than most houses, but it is worth not having to deal with a bank and being able to say that we built the house ourselves.  We are getting a series of estimates and developing a plan.  This is a little scary, but we really feel excited about this process.  Stay tuned!

May 11, 2012
Estimates are in!  We also have a backup financing plan in place.  The building permit was issued yesterday!  All happy news.  More news to come.

May 15, 2012
Foundation should start this week.  Meeting with contractor tomorrow.  The initial box should be complete and all our money will be gone by the beginning of July. 

Must add pictures.

May 18, 2012
Central Contracting is digging today.  Holy cow, this is an awesome feeling.  Seeing the stakes in the ground... the paint lines of where our house will stand... SOOOO excited!!!!

Must add pictures!

You'll see the photos and updates on the home page of this blog, but I wanted to summarize here to keep the running diary of the replication going.

In May, the basement walls were poured so that paved the way for framing to begin (pun intended).
In June, framing began.  It was an intense feeling of excitement every day.  I called our contractor, Tim Aceto, nearly every day.  We texted and talked about materials designs and progress.  When he was onsite, we often stared at the progress.  His "guys" were doing a majority of the work.  Ray and Rob and Brandon and some other guys.  Tim and I were scheduled to meet up to talk about the back stairs window on July 6th.  He was killed in a boating accident the night/morning before.  It was a heartbreaking day, and can still make me cry 8 months later.  He was like my other husband.  He had helped me plan for this "baby" of a house.  He laughed at my insanity, but always respected my choices.  He had a wife.  And a daughter.  And he was gone.  I called Kevin.  He was heartbroken too.  They were in this project together.  He was a friend.  And he was gone.  I don't think words will ever express how we felt that day.  We thought about his family.  And, of course, despite our guilt for thinking of how we were affected by his loss, we couldn't help wonder what was going to happen with our "baby."  I called our lawyer and he explained what might end up happening.  So we waited.
On July 9th, I arrived at Pleasant Row to find Ray and Brandon working on the house.  I stuttered as I said hello and, "I didn't expect to see you here, and I'm happy you're here."  Or something like that.  We learned so much over July and August.  Rob Luckina Construction (Rob and Ray and Brandon etc) had subcontracted with Tim.  Rob was good friends with Tim and Tim's family.  Ray is Rob's brother.  The pieces all fell in place and Rob and his crew finished the framing all the way to the roof by the end of August.  With the help of so many people, in September 2012 the house was buttoned up and work on the interior walls and the geothermal system began.  Then electric and plumbing began.

Today is March 8th, 2013.  2012 was a whirlwind.  Pleasant Row went from unrealistic to reality while our bank account shrank and we are now looking at how to budget paycheck to paycheck. 
In 2013 we will finish the exterior work, insulate, and hopefully begin the finish work inside.
In 2014 we will finish the interior work, and hopefully move in before winter.

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