The sun hasn’t made more than a brief appearance since November and I wonder, will it ever come back? Yesterday, the clouds parted briefly to reveal sun and blue sky and that felt alarmingly unfamiliar. I wanted to put a straw in the sun and gulp it down.
Now snow blankets the new lawn, sparkle-less under these overcast skies. I have lost sight of stonewalls, and the old foundations in the yard. Inches more threaten to fall tomorrow filling in the trails of dogs, coyotes and squirrels and covering the tiny footprints of the birds that hop under the feeder.
What a difference from last summer, when the sun beat down unmercifully on our newly planted grass and the rain never came. Timing is everything.
“A little paint, a little wall paper and in no time it will be as cute as can be”
I worked with a realtor in Westport, CT years ago when I was moving from Massachusetts to Fairfield County. She would say this about every house she showed me. Back then, I believed her.
I wonder if she would have said this about our condemned cottage.
While reworking the interior plans and settling on that, I was also under the gun to come up with a color scheme for the house. My dream of reverting to the original cedar shingles on the roof quickly dissolved when I learned the price tag that it came with. Sounds silly, but that meant another choice had to be made in addition to the exterior color- the roof.
Will and I began the selection process; confidant that gray with blue would be the way to go. I am always trying to channel a beach house.
And then, I paired them to asphalt shingles and thought I had two pretty decent options. One more brown, the other more black.
But I didn’t really like the shingles and began to re consider Will’s original idea of a metal roof, which I had gaffed at weeks ago. Suddenly it seemed very cool and I wondered if I could live with something as bold and dramatic as a black cottage and grey roof. I think I lived with that idea for the better part of the week and actually thought I could.
And then I thought I couldn’t.
I had to keep in mind that we had ordered all the windows in white because in my heart I believed I would have my beach house cottage grey/blue scheme and white would be perfect. Then Lydia, my color expert friend, told me the windows were the eyes of the house and they should never be so harsh as bright white, but a darker more subtle color to invite the eye in.
Too grey- too brown- too blue. And then we asked an outsider for another opinion. When do I ever learn this is not the way to go? We opted to go for Cabot’s semi solid Dune grey as she suggested. Jason’s crew began to stain the boards. I took them out in the daylight and leaned them up against the house so I could see everything in the sun, and the shade and I hated it. Back to ground zero.
The pressure was on- in a moment of complete frustration, and a husband whose bountiful source of patience was suddenly wearing thin- I opted for Cabot’s solid white. Good old boring white, not so boring with a grey metal roof, right? So we were all systems go on that. The exterior trim was painted with a coat of white. The rough cut clear pine siding was painted white on the backside and as it started going up we decided that was all wrong too.
Only eight months had passed since we had signed the purchase and sale agreement for the red house and white cottage. However, it seemed like it had taken forever to arrive at the point where we could advance from deconstruction and demolition of the cottage to renovation and rebuilding.
I think the interruptions and delays thrown in our path; unanticipated asbestos abatement, surprising discovery of the extent of fire damage and decay, major reduction in the re-buildable square footage, and another set of plans, disrupted our honeymoon, making it feel like a long drawn out lapse in time before the renovation could get underway.
However, no sooner had we received clearance from the asbestos abatement and Arthur Schwartz had completed his plans and drawings for the white cottage then Jason’s team was able to move in and the renovation began at a full throttle pace- and full throttle it was, marked with the arrival of our first dumpster, and frigid temperatures. ( Remember last February?)
The first part of the house to be addressed was the roof, and within one day, yes- one day, Jason and his team had not only removed the existing original layer of cedar shingles which had been covered by at least another layer or two of asbestos shingles, but had reframed the entire roof and covered it with sheathing.
Moving beyond a little paint and wallpaper….Things I learned along the way about a new roof…
Rafters: the most important step in the process is measuring the rafters correctly and calculating the size that will be necessary for the cottage roof. You need to calculate:
Run of each rafter (in feet). This measurement refers to the total length of each segment of the rafter. Basically, each truss will be made of two rafters, making the width of the house the length of the run, times two.
Rise (in feet). The rise refers to the height of each truss, measured from the bottom of the roof segments to the top-most point or peak of the roof. Think of this as the total height of the roof itself.
Pitch (in inches). The pitch of the roof refers to the amount the roof slopes for every 12 inches it extends horizontally, and it usually given as a fraction. A pitch of 7/12, for example, would mean that the roof rises 7 inches every foot that it extends.
Length of each rafter segment (in feet). After determining the previous measurements, you’ll need to calculate the length of each individual segment of the trusses–the lumber for the run, for the diagonal, and for the sloping sections of each truss.
Next comes the installation of the sub-fascia. Sub-fascia boards are used to connect the wall to the end of each rafter. While not strictly necessary, they can be used for extra support as well as aesthetic purposed.
A level line is drawn to the bottom of the first rafter tail, adjusting so the tail hits the end of the overhang. A mark is put there, the same measurement made on the last rafter tail, and a straight line is drawn connecting the two points, marking the bottom of all the rafter tails. The sub-fascia plywood is then cut and nailed to the rafters, extending as is necessary at the ends to make up for the overhang.
After all the rafters are braced and installed, a layer of roof sheathing is installed– It is basically just plywood, over which the weather stripping and shingles will be installed–nailing it to the outside of the rafters accordingly. Depending on the shape of the roof, the amount and the shape of the sheathing will vary. The sheathing is started along the bottom of the trusses, the first pieces are set on either end, then to another side so the seams will be staggered and the roof will be strong.
The white cottage had been condemned 10-15 years ago after suffering extensive damage from a fire that burned down the barn behind it. The previous owner ran no interventions to restore or repair the cottage, leaving it to deteriorate. Even the water main pipes running from the street to the cottage had crumbled in the decade plus of neglect.
After the closing Will and I walked through the cottage making a long list of the improvements necessary to bring everything back up to code. A moldy damp basement with antiquated heating system, a rotten front porch, a bathroom housed in a fire damaged shed, a fireplace and chimney in questionable condition, roof and siding in serious states of decay.
The list was endless, almost overwhelming, but the bones were good; the vintage 1920s charm resonated despite the decrepitude.
The architect we had planned to work with on the red house was unable to begin work on the cottage for several months. Because it was just shy of 625 sq. ft. we decided we could shoulder a lot of the reconfiguring ourselves and reached out to a well known “boutique” carpenter who had a wonderful sense of the period, a real traditionalist with clean Shaker sensibilities. He drew us two floor plans to work with, one with the existing walls, and the other simply a footprint.
Will and I played around with reconfiguring the space and along with the carpenter came up with a workable floor plan which included tearing off the back shed and absorbing the bathroom into the main house space.
It was fairly modest plan but accented with a few extra touches that transformed it out of the ordinary-transom windows, opening the back exterior wall to the yard, exposed fireplace…and then we got his estimate! Approximately $450 a square foot to renovate………ridiculous!
The negotiation process involved in most real estate transactions is a progression of offers and counter offers between two cautious parties, each holding their respective cards close to their vests. In a negotiation every thing is contingent upon some thing.
Will and I had had no upper hand in the initial negotiations. Within the first four days on the market the seller had received several competitive offers on the property. We believed our first offer was attractive, but so were the others.
The seller, confident and buoyed by the number of immediate offers she had received in a relatively down market, held fast to her asking price. Our poker game began. We increased our offer. She remained firm. We inched up again but she remained solid. One more tweak up in our price and the seller began to counter, coming down a smidge and revealing her contingencies, her bargaining chips. The closing date must be as soon as possible. The current tenants must remain for another next year, at their modest rent.
Closing date? No problem we said- we’re nimble. Our purchase was not contingent upon a sale. We required no mortgage qualifications.
Tenants to remain? No problem we said. It would be a year or so before we could get started with the renovations we had in mind. It was a win-win for all.
This was our trump card that clinched the deal for us. All the other offers fell by the wayside.
But now we were faced with readjusting it all, based on the inspection results and the amount of work we had in front of us. Tim and I put in a call to our lawyer. My heart began to pound as Tim presented our request. I wondered just how attractive we were as potential buyers. Where would the give and take come in? How eager was the seller? Nothing short of nail biting.
Tim artfully and calmly conveyed our request for a drastic reduction to the lawyers. He stressed how qualified and amenable we were as prospective buyers. He also made it clear that few others would be interested in this property given the current condition. I held my breath wondering if this would blow the whole deal.
The next day the phone rang…announced with another “Be careful what you wish for!” from Tim. The seller accepted the reduction as long as the tenants could remain.
“Listen, Will and I have been going through Bill Stephen’s building inspection reports, and the results of the water company inspections and…and….well …I think we may be over our heads …unless we can somehow get the price down on our offer.”
I paced myself, continued on, disclosing that we anticipated the expenses we would be facing just to bring both houses up to code could be astronomical, far beyond what we had expected. The cottage, condemned after the barn behind it burned down ten to fifteen years ago, and the red house, barely scotch taped together with jumble of repairs made over the past four, yes four, centuries.
Tim listened. He grasped the scope of the challenges we were facing, and was extremely sympathetic to our love affair with the property. I gave him a dollar figure that I wanted him to present to the seller, a substantial reduction to the agreed upon sale price in our contract. Tim, ever calm and graceful, conferenced in our attorney and began the negotiations.
I woke to snow falling, again, and the trees bending in the wind. I resisted waking up my i phone to check the outside temperature- I knew it wouldn’t be a number I would like. This cold grey winter has stayed too long.
After Will left for work I carried my coffee over to my desk to greet my virtual world. I noticed my friend Sarah, who works at Buzzfeed, had posted something on Facebook about must see places in New England. So naturally, being a New England native I clicked on it to see if I knew them all. What a surprise to see I actually live in one of them- Berkshire County #10!
Buzz feed link- check out #10- Berkshire County!!You absolutely need to visit me in the Berkshires
I hear Spring is around the corner- hard to believe. This is what awaits me, once the snow melts and the sun returns.
Offer accepted, contracts signed, checks signed and handed over…now onto scheduling all the inspections- building, chimney, radon, water and sewer.
It turned out the licensed inspectors in the area were so booked up that we had to request an extension from the seller. We held our breath, she agreed.
The delay didn’t matter. It just gave us more time to fall in love with the charm, the view, the brook, and to dream about the possibilities. Good thing we were already committed to our dreams. What the inspections revealed was sobering.
When you walk around a house you can tell maybe the roof or the windows need to be replaced, or a gutter here or there but it’s the basement that reveals all the secrets. I hate basements as a general rule, but descending into the underpinnings of a house built in the 18th century was something that gave me the creeps. So I passed on the chance to join Will, Tim and Bill Stephens, our building inspector, in the basement. However, this did not keep me from hearing their comments as they brushed the through the spider webs, their flashlights illuminating teeny tiny crawl spaces, revealing dated and undersized floor joists, suspect sills….Rotten, rotten, rotten.
I held my breath and made a mental note. Will whispered, “ We may be looking at a new foundation here.” I knew this was not a good sign.
We followed Bill upstairs and down and all around the exterior of red house and white cottage for the better part of six hours. He would disappear for minutes into crawlspaces or up on a ladder, and then return and explain his findings.
After the rotten rotten rotten it was nice to hear a few positives sprinkled into his findings- like a new furnace, a new oil tank, a relatively new roof. The white house, well that was a different story …badly damaged in a fire years ago, now condemned. I wondered would this be a deal breaker?
And so, still hopelessly enamored, we carried on in guarded perseverance. After reading the inspection reports which were inches thick with Bill’s findings and recommended repair priorities we created a long list of all the critical things we had discovered during the inspections and attached a price to fix each one. The amount was staggering.