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Old House became a “Historic” House

Let’s accomplish a few tasks all at once with this post. I’m going to tell you a little story about how a couple (my husband, Mitch, and I), through meticulous budgeting and money management, bought a house for $37,500 and sold it for $255,500. My friends and family that have kept up with us for years through Facebook have seen and heard this story, but knowing roughly what our annual income is, Mitch’s new co-workers recently wondered aloud as to how we can afford to live in the house in the neighborhood that we do, now. I’ll answer that with this post. Second, I’m seeing A LOT of blog posts linking to other blogs linking to other blogs that show home improvement, restoration, DIY projects, real estate transactions, and more. I thought that having already gone all the way through the process once, our story and what we did may be of some value to others currently going through the process.

Basically, we bought an old house (built in 1902) that was a few blocks beyond the borders of the “Governor’s Mansion Historic District” in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. Mitch and I were newly weds. I was 18. He was 22. We saw the huge space and had a dream. Overall, the neighborhood was pretty rough (high crime, condemned houses, etc.), but there were these little dots of inspiration, too. Within a block or two, one or two houses were newly remodeled/rehabilitated houses, a couple were under construction, and few dilapidated ones had “for sale” signs. So, even though the condemned houses and old-homes-that-became-boarding-houses still outnumbered us by far, there were indicators that a change COULD be possible. Our friends and family openly said that they thought we were crazy to choose to buy such a rough house in such a rough area. We knew we weren’t. While simultaneously attending college full-time and working as a receptionist full-time, I started planning and tackling projects. Mitch, with the help of his dad, brother, and my brother, worked tirelessly. My grandmother was a saving grace, gifting funds multiple times. Among the very first projects we tackled were to take down all of the metal bars on the doors and windows in order to give the house a “friendlier/homier” feeling, having a professional security system installed, and putting a pretty new roof on the place. The house was structurally sound, but every surface of the interior needed to be replaced. Interior plaster, floors, ceilings, and fixtures had to be replaced, the second story had been stripped all the way back to just the framing beams, for the most part, and the big front porch was about to completely fall off, it seemed. The yard was barren and empty, except for one lovely, mature pecan tree in the backyard.

For many years, we really didn’t have any sort of hobbies or spare money to spend on anything other than updating our old house. See, while lots of people took out big construction loans, refinanced after every project and kept their projects fully mortgaged, we didn’t. We saved and paid for each project one at a time, acting as our own general contractor and hiring professionals as needed for central heat/air conditioning, new electrical breaker boxes, and rough plumbing. Mitch and I insulated, hung new drywall, painted, installed floors, built closets, built bookshelves, installed all of the outlets/switches/lighting, installed all of the tubs/sinks/toilets, re-built the front porch, built fences, installed landscaping, and more.

When we bought the house, we thought we would tackle it all in a year or two. However, since we took a pay-as-we-go and DIY approach, it was actually a decade before it was all done. Interestingly enough, the more changes that we and the few others kept making were encouraging to the rest of the neighborhood and potential buyers. One by one, almost all of the houses in the area began to change. Real Estate prices went up. Crime went down. The boundaries of the “Governor’s Mansion Historic District” that were/are controlled by the Capitol Zoning District Commission were extended to include our house!

Did I mention that during those years spent renovating, Mitch worked full-time and took on automotive restoration projects for profit, I graduated with two degrees, we had two daughters, and were expecting a third daughter when we decided to sell it? The addition of a third child soon to arrive and the needs of our growing daughters who wanted neighborhood pools, bike paths, room to roam, access to a newly constructed public school, and so forth are what ultimately necessitated the sale of our beloved house downtown.

Important message here. See the photo that shows the floorplan of the house and so forth? I believe that in a “buyers’ market” you have to do whatever it takes to help sell your house, if you’re truly motivated to sell quickly. In Arkansas, most online real estate listings do not include a floorplan, but in the event that a buyer might see our house on the internet first, we wanted it to be memorable and for them to be able to envision the spaces. Seeing how the rooms actually connect and flow from one another is very different than using just photographs and trying to imagine how it may be laid out. It paid off. Our buyer was from out of state, saw it online, wanted to see ours specifically, even though it was a cluttered market with several other homes similar to ours, he chose to visit ours and wrote an offer. I never had the opportunity to ask, but I’d guess that being able to see the floorplan was a tremendous help and a deciding factor as to which houses were worth taking the time to visit.

(Dear Readers, Include a floor plan of your home with your photographs when you are selling your home online. Taking the guesswork out of it all for your buyers and real estate agents instantly creates a degree of familiarity and comfort with a piece of property compared to those that forget to include the floor plan. I used Adobe Illustrator to create ours, but a simple sketch to scale by hand would get the job done, too, or you can probably hire a local graphic artist or college student inexpensively to visit the property, measure, and create an illustration for you. Having an illustration of the space plan/layout of the house is also a useful reference for other agents that show your home! When we were buying our new home, we were astounded at how few listings included floor plans on their marketing materials. Online, it was impossible to guess how much square footage was wasted by hallways or what sort of distance existed between bedrooms and bathrooms. Furthermore, without a copy of a floor plan in hand, going to an “open house” where potential buyers outnumbered agents can be like walking around in a maze sometimes. Rooms get overlooked or viewed twice, etc. Include a floorplan. If you’re in central Arkansas and looking to buy or sell, I recommend the services of Scott Heffington. Having him represent our house as a selling agent was fantastic. We will be using his services again in the future.)

Okay; Mitch, my husband, just read my draft of this post and isn’t convinced that my descriptions of the work we did adequately portray how dramatic the transformation of the old house really was. So, on that note, I’m adding a few before/after photos. It would be nice to have more “before” pictures, but we don’t. We were so focused on improvement, we just didn’t think to take many “before” photos. (Dear Readers, TAKE BEFORE PHOTOS! You’ll be glad you did!) The next picture shows the old house in the beginning, then when it got a new roof, then years later after it was painted, storm windows added, landscaped, fenced, new slate pathway, etc., etc. The right side shows the upstairs interior views as it was when we started versus how it was when we finished the master suite level of the house.

I miss my house. I absolutely love my new house and new neighborhood, but even if I say that I PROFOUNDLY miss my old house, old neighbors, and the friends we made along the way downtown, it is an understatement. It was a great house, with great memories inside, and a style that was completely of my own design. We’ve been in our new house for almost two years now. It is a fantastic house. It is primarily a brick and stone exterior, which means a lot less maintenance than our old painted wooden house. It has a great family-friendly floorplan, the craftsmanship of the finishes are great, and for the most part, we really like the fixtures throughout the house. The previous owners were the ones that commissioned its construction, so as a result of being a custom home, it came equipped with lots of bonus features and meticulous attention to detail. I’ll start showing you some of this in future posts. We’ve made a few changes, too. We’ve painted most of the interior, built a wall of bookshelves, swapped a few fixtures, changed bedroom carpet for new wood floors, etc. It’s still a work in progress. I’ll post photos of these new projects soon and tell you about a few major projects that we still have planned! Stay tuned!
Last photo shown is a photo of our new house in our new neighborhood.

Thoughts? Questions? Please, use my comment space on this blog post or email me directly
See you in the blogosphere soon!
Your Friend, ~Amber

















Hi, again! Please, see my new “SHARES” page for info leading to other blogs/sites and ‘zines!
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