So you bought an old house and those old radiators are clanging, hot, and everyone tells you they are inefficient. Everyone’s got an opinion – right or wrong.
Some surprises in old houses are great — like finding original wallpaper under layers, or finding hearty wood floors under carpet or tile. But some surprises are bound to be unpleasant and costly. Buyer beware.
I Speak Vintage has heard quite a few horror stories from folks that have bought vintage or historic homes, only to be left holding the bag, as it were. While historic homes have an appeal and charm for many buyers, there are certain restrictions and expenses (that’s an understatement) you need to know about before signing on the dotted line.
It’s been a busy season and DYSV is back on track. Holiday parties, family gatherings, long overdue get-togethers with friends, and office parties has spurred lots and lots of talk about all things old, vintage and historic – as far as homes and buildings go, anyway. I have talked with so many friends, colleagues, and clients over the holidays about old houses, historic homes and vintage buildings and there has been an overwhelming similarity in experiences. There are just too darn many buyers that did not know what kind of a jam they were getting themselves into – and that’s not right! Let’s do a little something about that.
I just read this post and it was so simple and thought provoking that I felt it worthy of re-posting and passing along.
I recently read Marni Jameson’s column about the historic Capen House in Winter Park, Florida. In it, she laments that a historic house – and a recently restored one at that – may be torn down to make way for a new, more contemporary home on the lot. She includes portions of an interview with Nicole Curtis, host of HGTV’s Rehab Addict, about the house. The gem from that was Curtis’ advice to buyers who intend to destroy a historic house in order to build anew on the lot: ”If you don’t like old houses, don’t buy one. Find some vacant land and build there.”
Another historic house gone…a rash of tear downs across Chicago’s North Shore has preservationists growing increasingly concerned.
Curtis also gave six reasons why more Americans should care about saving old homes. I thought they were so on target, I’m posting them here and hoping they may be read throughout the land, and certainly throughout real estate circles. They also nicely coincide with Adventures in Preservation‘s guiding principles – another reason to share them here.
Six Reasons Why More Americans Should Care About Saving Old Homes
- Because tearing them down is wrecking our history. Countries rich in culture value history and buildings. “In Italy and France, you see 300-year-old buildings housing subways,” she said. “They make them work, they don’t tear them down.”
- Because it’s bad for our Earth. Most of the wreckage will not be salvaged. All that glass and plaster goes into landfills.
- Because you can never replicate these houses once they’re gone. The woodwork alone came from 200-year-old trees. These homes were built before electricity, and were made by hand with handmade nails.
- Because we don’t need new homes. “We have enough vacant homes to put everyone in America in a house,” said Curtis. “We need to take care of what we have.”
- Because we’re losing our uniqueness. “There is something beautiful about traveling through America and seeing its distinct neighborhoods. Houses that get torn down and rebuilt erase that character.”
- Because of their quality. “When you have a 100-year-old home made of timbers not particle board, it is solid. These homes have withstood decades of human life and natural disasters. But not city commissions and other self interests.”
Building a VINTAGE Brand; 1.0
Blackberry just launched an overhauled operating system, the Z10 because of slumping sales and “lack of bling” according to their new spokesperson, Alicia Keys. PepsiCo has conceded to remove brominated vegetable oil from its sports drink, Gatorade, due to a negative online campaign launched by a 15-year old Mississippi teenager. With the Super Bowl just days away, the NFL is aggressively cracking down on the sale of counterfeit merchandise. Speaking of, the going ad rate for Super Bowl XLVI is $3.5 million for 30 seconds and up to $4 million if you want premium placement. How does any of this relate to historic and vintage homes? Plenty. It all plays into building, managing and maintaining our brands.
I frequently hear from homeowners and real estate brokers they feel that marketing and promoting Chicago’s vintage and Historic homes is, often, fighting an uphill battle. How we create fresh ideas in communicating what historic and vintage homes, buildings and neighborhoods have to offer is more an opportunity than challenge. Sounds like a chapter from “The One Minute Manager”, right? Building a recognizable brand involves creating a relationship or a connection between a product and the emotional perception of the customer. In this series I will discuss how we position older housing stock as a brand to be identified, segmented, managed and promoted. Branding is about finding and staying consistent to a core philosophy. In the real estate industry, we frequently reference Donald Trump as a go-to icon of business acumen, and strategic thinking. Like him or not, his brand is all about being No. 1, best of the best. Find your brand, develop it and stay on track. Otherwise, “you’re fired!”
Branding and image guy, Donny Deutsch of Deutsch, Inc., has built his reputation on thinking outside of the box. Donny’s leaner, meaner, faster, smarter philosophy helped build Deutsch into a leading marketing-communications company. Deutsch’s core philosophy is a great formula when it comes to building our vintage brand.
“People think creativity is the best version of the current thing,” Deutsch writes in his 2005 book, Often Wrong, Never in Doubt: Unleash the Business Rebel Within. “I disagree. I’d rather do something fresh and put my client on the line than knowingly do derivative work. I want something with a different flavor to it, the 32nd flavor of Baskin-Robbins, the 58th variety of Heinz. I tell our people, go where tomorrow is. Let everybody else catch up.”
Buying, restoring and selling historic and vintage homes is, to some, a labor of love. Kudos to those of you that do it to quench a preservation passion. To me, it is a business. No less passionate, more so because the process involves a focused plan of attack, execution and a final result.
Next up: Find your brand, develop it and stay on track.
Do you live in an historic home, landmark district, or one of Chicago’s architecturally iconic buildings? Researching the history of the homes I sell is a topic that frequently comes up in the search and ultimate purchase of historic Chicago homes.
In putting together resources to aid the process, I came across “Your Home Has a History,” a research document & process on the Chicago Landmark Commission’s website at www.cityofchicago.org/Landmarks. For anyone that wants to do the legwork to research the history of their home, this document provides a step by step process.
No surprise that permit and record keeping was not formally put in place (in Chicago) until after 1871. Fresh start, I guess – right? If your home was built before that, there is another bevy of challenges in digging through archives.
Below, I have paraphrased some of the Chicago Landmark pamphlet to whet the appetite of true history nerds. Step one is pretty straightforward. Beyond that, it gets more detailed as you move from step to step.
You own a lovely home that you’re proud to call your own. But someone owned it before you. Someone built it, cared for it, and made changes through the years to it. And now you’re interested in finding out the “who, when and what” of your property.
Researching your house can be fun, fascinating and completely engrossing
However, beware! Research can become addictive. It can also be frustrating. You may exhaust every source possible and still not find the answers to your questions. But no matter how many questions remain unanswered, you will have unearthed some interesting information, learned a little more about your community, and become familiar with some important public institutions in the city.
So, have fun, and good luck.
Before you launch your research, it would be good to have a general idea of your house’s style and the approximate date of its construction.
If your house is newly purchased, the real estate listing undoubtedly had a date typed into the appropriate box. While you shouldn’t assume that this date is correct, it may help get you started. The architectural style of your house can also provide you with clues to its approximate age so you know where to begin your research.
Some common styles in Chicago and their most distinctive features
- Front Gable or Worker’s Cottage (beginning 1870s) – narrow house, steep roof, off-center front door
- Romanesque Revival (1880-1900)- large arched openings, masonry walls, towers with conical roofs, asymmetrical façade
- Italianate (1860-1900) – widely overhanging eaves, decorative brackets, tall, narrow arched windows
- Queen Anne (1880s-1990) – steep roof usually with a prominent gable, porches, variety of building materials
- Prairie (early 1900s)- low pitched hipped roof, wide overhanging eaves, horizontal detailing
- Bungalow (early 1900s)-low pitched roof, wide eaves, brick walls, and bay window with art glass
- American Four-Square (1900- 1930)- cube shape, hipped roof, broad front porch, little ornament
- Colonial Revival (1880-1955)- cube shape, gabled roof, symmetrical, prominent front door
Checking the Chicago Historic Resources Survey
The very first place to look for information on your house is in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey. A copy of this book is in every branch of the Chicago Public Library and can also be viewed at the Commission on Chicago Landmarks office. An electronic version of the survey is available on the City of Chicago’s website at: www.cityofchicago.org/Landmarks/CHRS. If the survey lists the date and architect for your building, you’re in luck. That means a permit was found by Commission researchers and additional information may be on file in the Commission Offices….
A Good Mystery
Historical research is often compared to reading a good mystery. By now you should know who did it, where, with what, and maybe why. But your search may have just begun. Our city, and its world renowned architecture, have a rich and engrossing history. The people and institutions you’ve used to do your research are ready to help you continue. Make good use of our public libraries, our museums, our government agencies and our universities. They are a wealth of information preserved for us and our children.
“YOUR HOUSE HAS A HISTORY
A Step-by-Step Guide to Researching Your Property”
COMMISSION ON CHICAGO LANDMARKS
Again, this is just a tease to illustrate that researching your home, who built it and who lived there over the years is not as daunting as it may seem. There are six steps that end with researching the history of your neighborhood, which can provide a terrific snapshot of the years that have rolled over the economic and demographic changes that shape the varied neighborhoods of Chicago.
Soldier on and see what you find. If you have specify questions, let me know. Good luck!
As a long-suffering chromatophobist, I have always steered clear of vibrant, saturated colors, both inside and out. Neutral shades of grey, beige, and taupe, with risky splashes of “wheat” or “sage” have been my safety zone. In my house and on my back. Time to come out of the neutral-zone closet. As it turns out, maintaining all things old house is pretty good therapy.
A little antecedent information first. Larger homes built between 1850 and 1915, were probably, in one form or another, influenced by Victorian architecture designs. Detailed gingerbread woodwork, bold brackets and enormous shutters beg for a color scheme that will complement their detail. In putting together a post on Victorian home colors, I discovered that natural earth-tone colors were favored, as a result of Victorian homeowners’ fascination with nature. White was rarely used and shades of green, brown, red, and mustard were the norm.
“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”
So how, exactly did we get to the riot of circus colors that frequently and proudly animate Victorian era homes today? Post Civil War homeowners started the transition to bolder color. Embracing color has long been a trend in post war eras and downturns in economies. Any fashion catalog you pick up today is testament to that. While embracing color, I cannot cross the line to coral “manpris.” It’s just not right. The “Painted Ladies” (tarts, as my mother would say) of San Francisco were transformed into vibrant tones of purple, pink, blue and red in the mid sixties after two world wars and drab makeovers in surplus battleship grey. The true Victorian-era homes were originally painted in much more natural tones. The San Fran tarts stand as international models of out-of-the-box palettes and celebrations of color and creativity.
I have read that color affects moods and emotions. Why did it take me 48 years to pick up on that newsworthy tidbit? Some therapists believe that each organ and body system has vibrational energy sensitive to corresponding vibrational energies from color. Huh? Chromotherapy is a pseudoscience with no basis in academia, but I sure sound smart talking about it, don’t I? This is not a scholarly missive or architectural critique of historical homes. It’s not even my opinion, really. Simply an observation of coming full circle, finding our color inspiration in nature. If we garner some additional benefits and “energy” from the colors of our homes, all the better!
Hope you enjoy the spectrum of houses I found. Perhaps we have not veered too far from the original intent of Victorian homeowners.
I bought an old house. From 350 miles away, I decided to REHAB a house in one of Cleveland, Ohio’s historic neighborhoods. A vibrant area of restored Victorian cottages, multi-gabled Queen Anne homes, second empire tributes and a mix of turn-of-the-century European influenced styles. This melting pot of architectural styles also boasted a diversity of cultures and socioeconomic demographics. Diversity, evidenced by multiple disappearances of my gutters, building materials, tools and, on one occasion, a pair of shoes. Seriously?
This is more about the journey than the actual REHAB. By definition, a journey is traveling from one place to another – usually taking a long trip, Welcome to mine. This is the story of a house divided amongst itself; literally and figuratively. A house that should have been torn down years ago, NOT purchased with the romantic notion of restoring it to a quaint urban cottage. Yet that is exactly what I did and, at the time, it truly seemed like a good idea. I wish I had thought to start this therapy session (call it a blog) years ago and perhaps, by chronicling this journey via the written word, I could have avoided the rolling storm clouds and plagues of locust.
While much of this journey has little to do with the house, I correlate and reference the timeline in large blocks. Like when I had to rip up the front yard and replace the entire sewer line; $5000.00, thank you very much.
Each mishap somehow lashed me more tightly with my hometown, this falling-down money-pit and the neighborhood of toothless booze hounds What should have taken 12 months stretched over 4 years, by which time the real estate market was a tumultuous roller coaster. So, I decided to hold on to the house for a while. Here’s the rub; I had to REHAB the REHAB. I bought the house to provide my brother with an opportunity to build his contractor business with full intention of selling it when complete. Well, his definition of complete and mine were different. He saw it for what it really was, a flip. I made the mistake that many rehabbers make. I was spending money as if I were going to live in it. Lord, deliver me from myself.
For some reason this house brought familiarity and comfort to me the first time I saw it. Was it a rotting, dilapidated excuse for a house? Absolutely. Was the idea of managing a total rehab from 350 miles away a lousy idea? You bet. I couldn’t wait to get started.
After 4 arduous years of false completions, I took a brief hiatus from Chicago and went “home” (I am from Cleveland originally) and finished the house. Then the party really started.
October 2010; after taking firm control of the checkbook I had no choice but to get creative with how every penny was spent. I wanted to maintain the home’s heritage and integrity and a strict budget certainly facilitated that. The kitchen plan was originally sketched up pretty much on the back of an envelope and it simply did not make use of the kitchen’s size and terrific natural light. In reconstructing the layout, I took old doors found in the basement and cut them down to build a breakfast bar and re-purposed the granite I had cut for the original layout.
The second floor which I originally planned to carpet took a hit as well. The stairs and floors were typical of an 1887 worker’s cottage built for employees of Cleveland’s steel mills – pine planks that were patched, gouged, and in some places, patched with old soup cans. Rather than trying to cover them, I celebrated them. I painted them, added some well planned “distressing” with a belt sander and then varnished them. Bam! They looked terrific and added some wonderful texture to the upper level.
Here I was, 4 years after I had restored 80% of the exterior clapboard and the damn thing needed to be repainted. I discovered it had not been primed and was painted when the wood was damp. #@%$!*! Clean living truly must triumph because February, 2011 brought a week of temperatures in the 60’s. Hallelujah! I roped one of my disenfranchised neighbors (probably the one that stole the gutters 3 years prior) to help me out. We got ‘er done in 3 days. I doubt he spent the money on much needed dental attention. So be it.
I could make a long story even longer but you get the idea. Well, when all was finally finished in spring of 2011 I put the house on the market. One open house. SOLD. List price.
This old house has a few stories worth passing on. Listen up.
After a recent trip to a Swedish retailer, which shall remain nameless I am standing strong on a philosophy I have long thought to be a foundation stone to the sustainable future of our consumer driven economy. I have always had a sweet tooth for found objects, repurposed furniture, gently used clothing and well, some might say junk. Not to mention pre-owned cars, leftovers and old fashioned hand-me-downs of all sorts. This is the stuff that surrounds me and illustrates my level of taste, style, and identity. Let me say now that I am by no means a hoarder, pack rat or junk collector. Well…not yet.
On a planet with finite resources and space, it is worth looking at our consumption from “the triple bottom line” approach. A term coined by Jon Elkington in 1994 to evaluate the measurement of corporate performance from the perspective of the shareholder to that of the stakeholder and coordinate three interests: “people (social), planet (ecological) and profit (economic).” Three interests that work together like the legs of a stool. All must be equally strong for the stool to serve its function.
With so many manufactured products already crowding the corners of our world is there truly a need to always be looking for something “new” – newly manufactured, that is? NEW to our household is something to think about. Some of the best housing stock in our cities and neighborhoods is the vintage stuff. Many of our most prized possessions have been around for longer than anyone can remember. Classic cars, vintage clothing, retro design…see where I am going with this?
Not too long ago, I made some updates to my kitchen and bath in order to put my home on the market. I had quite a time finding fixtures, lighting and finishes that matched the vintage integrity of my home while still making decisions that would appeal to buyers looking for updated amenities.
I did not want (and could not afford) to do a total remodel so I opted to get rid of a few pieces and replace them with vintage pieces that supported my concept of reusing existing materials and pieces…nothing “new”. Just new to my old house – and me. For the master bath I found a vintage pedestal sink that looked great and added a wonderful look with period light fixtures, accessories and paint colors.
My kitchen, which had been “remodeled” before I bought the place, had an entire wall with no cabinetry, counter or anything else useful for a functioning kitchen. By retrofitting a farm cabinet I found in a 2nd hand store with lighting and glass shelves I was able to add additional storage and an element of authentic vintage character. I also found a great farm table that had been used as a mechanic’s bench in an auto garage. Needless to say, that was quite a restoration project.
So, back to the “triple bottom line” approach; people, planet and profit. People; I contributed to a general well being by shopping locally, employing the services of a furniture restoration company, and engaging the services of a handyman for installation (do not for a minute think I did the work myself). Planet; I re-used existing stuff. Profit; I saved money on the acquisition cost and put money in the pockets of a local merchant, restoration company, and handyman.
I know that applying TBL, (3BL) to home remodel projects is pushing the envelope a bit. My goal in using this analogy is to make us think globally about the decisions we make in our homes, shopping habits, and daily routines. Yes, it takes more time and requires more planning but the benefits outweigh the efforts.
Upcycle. Just something to think about.