Yesterday we got an unexpected phone call. It was the Everett Historical Commission, calling to tell us that the 1907 house that we had lived in for 17 years (and sold 3 years ago) was to be granted an award for improvements made. The current owner referred the Historical Commission to us since we had done the work. The event happened today and we went as a family. It was actually quite a lot of fun seeing all the before-and-after pictures of so many houses that people had fixed up in the city. While we were in the midst of living there and improving the house, I don't think we felt that we were part of a larger picture, but today we realized that those who take care of their property and preserve worthwhile features of historical value do a service to the community as well as preserving value in the house for their own benefit. To tell the truth, our main motivation was to be able to sell the house without the buyers coming up with so many justifiable objections. I think we were pretty sure we'd never find anyone so gullible as we had been!
Most of the time that we lived in that house, we were faced with a long and varied list of costly and challenging repair jobs that we tried to accomplish every time that the time, money and energy coincided in their favor. I can't say that while we lived there we enjoyed and appreciated the process as much as perhaps we should have. But today, while seeing that others had faced similar daunting challenges, we realized the good in what we had done. It was good for us as well as for those who moved in after us. It was good for the neighborhood, and for the city as a whole.
I remembered back to when my husband and I had first moved in. Looking back, I'm amazed that we managed to buy it. We had quit our jobs in Portland and moved up here with hardly any money; I had just gotten a job at Boeing and Gary was working as a temp at that point. How did we qualify for the purchase? We hardly had any down payment, let alone any of the money that we'd need for the many repairs that we would have to make down the road.
The house was one of three in a row built by a ship captain, within close view of Puget Sound. We saw an oil rig come and go during our stay there, and the installation of the Navy Home Port, with the constant pounding sound to get the pilings in for the dock. Then the sound of the seals who took residence there for a while. After that there was the addition built onto Providence Hospital, and the sounds that had to do with that. All these things added interest, amusement and value to our stay.
The first day of ownership, though, we had severe buyer's remorse! In the middle of the night that first night I woke up to the train coming by--the tracks were just across the street and down a slope. I thought that the house had come off its foundation! After a short time there, we hardly heard the trains going by, but visitors did. We installed storm windows (with wood edges, to coordinate), and that helped a lot with the noise.
It had been occupied by hippies at one point, judging by some previous layers of paint; it had been rented out; the people before us hadn't owned it long, and hadn't improved it much either. It took a long time, but by the time we moved out we were very satisfied with what we had done to the house.
A lot of neighbors came and went during our stay; the fact that it was such an old neighborhood and close to town caused there to be a certain variety of characters that caused us concern in raising children there, especially our son who likes to be outside much more than indoors. We saw at least four significant fires from that house. The Abraham Lincoln made its much-awaited return from the Gulf just before we sold the house and moved away.
We removed asbestos off of pipes and an oil furnace in the basement; replaced the furnace and water heater; had a roof job and painting job done to the outside (some of the old paint was marine paint and nearly impossible to remove, presumably chosen by the ship captain who had built it); we had porch railings and a stand for our mailbox made, put on a wood screen door, and painted all the rooms inside. We added a sink to a "water closet" (a room with only a toilet); we added a dishwasher and light fixtures to the kitchen, added a desk counter area to one side of the kitchen, covered the disintegrating fir kitchen floor with linoleum, had the plumbing revamped and much excess plumbing in the basement removed; added a closet door to a pantry; replaced old black push-button light switches and knob-and-tube wiring; we dug out a stairway to the basement and replaced the rotted-out door down there. We filled in a hollowed-out underground area under the laundry room so the floor would be better supported, and bricked in some old openings in the basement that had once been windows facing that hollow area; we replaced an old wood sliding door with a hinged door to the back yard. There were many more things but these were some of the main things. I remember thinking how long that house had existed, and yet most of the doors even lacked the "boingy" things that keep the walls safe behind them.
At one point, the kitchen faucet needed replacing, and since the sink was a different size than any new faucet would fit, we had to replace the whole sink--which had built-in counters on either side. Therefore we had to have our counters done. If we were going to do that, it would be a good time to get the cupboards done. All because of a kitchen faucet!
We learned a lot of handyman techniques and also the importance of the admonition, "Let the buyer beware." We learned, as an aspect of buyer-beware (and the purchase of our newer house taught us further on this subject), the importance of having a home inspection, and also of fully evaluating a home inspection report before making an offer on a house.
That house has a great many memories, happy and sad, for our family, and though I don't think I would ever want to own another old house, I do appreciate what goes into maintaining one. There's just nothing like an old house; somehow they seem to absorb the history and character of the people who lived in them, whereas that seems to bounce off the walls in new houses, somehow. It could almost make me want an old one again. Almost.