Am I crazy? I look at…

Am I crazy? I look at all these perfectly lovely houses that we could just move into. In fine shape, ready to go, even with nice Victorian exteriors. Yet so many of them just look soulless to me. They're old, but they've been renovated over and over again, and now they basically look all the same. Plus maybe a 70s kitchen. And Kevin points out that we can strip the paint off the woodwork and refinish it, that we can add crown moldings to the ceilings, and stained glass to the windows. Heck, I can take a stained glass class, learn how to do it properly, and make some new stained glass for our house myself. I'd get to customize it too, which ought to be a plus. If what I want is beyond my skills, I could get a piece custom made -- maybe a knight on his charger to hang in the dining room, or inset in the front door?

Those houses are more reasonably priced and not in need of nearly so much work -- the Mad Hatter house is desperately overdue for a paint job, for example, which may be a $15K fix, but might be $30K instead, or more, and its garage is an old barn, which may just fall down at some point if not properly supported, and we have NO IDEA how much that would cost, and the master bath is a relic of the seventies, a totally incongruous sauna thing that requires steps to climb into it, so we'd really like to change that out as well. The other houses are move-in-ready. But they're also lacking in the kinds of things that I don't think I can just add back in. Generally no built-ins -- like these original china cabinets in the Mad Hatter dining room, for example. I suppose I could get a woodworker to come and add such a thing, but I have no idea what that would cost, especially if I wanted it to look reasonably true to period. And while I can add stained glass, I can't add bay windows -- or not without a major structural remodel, which I know there's no way we'd actually do.

Am I nuts, to think that those sorts of original details are worth an extra $50K, or more? Am I crazy, given how busy my life already is, to take on a house that is going to be a serious of never-ending projects, in order to rehabilitate it to its former glory? I feel like an idiot, because if I had never looked at this house, I might have been reasonably content with one of the other PERFECTLY NICE HOUSES that we can more easily afford. But now I've seen it, and the beautifully finished Wesley Victorian that got away, and I just am having a hard time believing I could love one of these modernized houses nearly as much, or believing that I really could renovate them back into what I think they want to be.

Kirsten asked me to take better photos of the Mad Hatter house -- I know it's hard to tell from their images why I think it's so lovely. If we go back, I will. But you have to look past all the frou-frou Victorian style they used; they've got layers of swag curtains and the like, all of which we'd strip out. The Victorian style I love is closer to early Victorian, I think it's called, or Gothic Victorian, or possibly a mix of both. Here are a few photos from around the web, to suggest the kind of look I'd be hoping for. The bedroom is my favorite; the two baths are just a bit more stripped down than I'd like.

These rooms have neither built-ins nor bay windows, so maybe I should just calm the hell down. Maybe I could do exactly what I want in one of the less expensive Victorians. I just don't know. Argh.

13 thoughts on “Am I crazy? I look at…”

  1. You may be crazy. Hard to say from here. There are firms that specialize in saving period details from houses which might be able to help here.

    And do you need to save the barn? Would it be a simpler option to tear it down and build something that will stand up, especially in the Chicago winter.

    I think in the end it comes down to finances. Will you have the money to have a life beyond the house? Save for retirement and college? Go out to eat once in a while? If so, go for it!

  2. It sounds like you have work to do with either choice. And I agree that you want to make sure you have money left over to do things besides renovate! I agree with the suggestion to find a friend or two who understand/s your aesthetic to look at the Mad Hatter and a few others with you. Maybe one of the less expensive ones is closer than you think and with a few small accents could be on the road to greater charm…? But also keep in mind the possibility to make a low offer on the Mad Hatter… it might still be overpriced.

  3. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    I think we may not be allowed to tear down the barn; it’s a historic home. That’s part of the concern.

    I think we’d be okay for retirement and college, because Kevin is prudent. But eating out and other similar luxuries (my twice-a-month cleaning service!) would probably disappear. Now, with two small kids, I imagine there’s a lot of mac-and-cheese and board games in our future anyway, so maybe the lack of funds for a social life won’t matter so much?

    But Kevin warns me that even once they’re in school and our childcare costs drastically drop, there are apparently other costs associated with raising kids. They need to eat and wear clothes and have an occasional music lesson or sports uniform or some such? Me, I think we just stick ’em in the barn until they’re old enough to start working for us, but for some reason, he objects to this plan…

  4. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    I did take Roshani with me yesterday to see the Mad Hatter, and I’m hoping she can go with me today when I go back to the Beautiful Gunderson.

    We’d have to make a low offer on the Mad Hatter in any case — but even if we get them to drop the price drastically (from $650 to $550, say), it’d still be at the top end of our range. Do-able, but without much margin for error if things go wrong. Things going wrong like: a) me losing my job, b) Kev not getting his grant renewed (which effectively would chop our income severely), c) the barn falls down, d) there’s some massive fundamental problem with the house that the inspection doesn’t catch, etc. None of these are so likely, but Kevin worries about us not having a buffer if things do go badly.

  5. Having a fixer-upper steals all your weekends. It’s going to be very different from living in your condo. VERY. And I can’t imagine you living without a budget for things like parties and books. Consider what makes you happy now. Will you still have time/budget to do these things if you buy at the top of your price range? Will you be able to enjoy the house if you’re worried about money all the time? Make sure you don’t sell off your peace of mind.

  6. I can’t imagine having a house that huge without a cleaning service if you’re also juggling work, new baby, toddler. On the other hand, we got that “this is it” feeling with our current house & have been really happy despite it’s limitations (small house, small yard).

  7. After reading this post, I withdraw my earlier suggestion. To paraphrase Coleridge (I think?) we have known for some time that an albatross is perhaps not the best choice for a necklace.

  8. Humphrey Ave. house is not bad at all, I think, *and I think they’re asking too much…. Bought in ’07 for 375K, and price seems high for market.

  9. I’m torn.

    On the one hand, I want to advise you to go with what you love.

    On the other hand, I totally agree with Lori’s comment.

    I suspect that you would love having a fixer-upper at first—projects! Lots of new projects! But I think you may be underestimating the amount of time and energy that the fix-upping will take long-term. If you’re still fixing things up five years from now, will that be a problem?

    And it seems to me that you’ve been pretty unhappy about it at times when you’ve had to cut back significantly on—let’s call them grace notes. Eating out, cleaning service, books, nonessential-but-nice clothes, little stuff that makes life more enjoyable. It’s not that you can’t do it, just that my impression is it tends to make you unhappy and stressed.

    …I think I may also be being influenced by finding that my new house—which was obviously by far the best of the ones that I looked at, the one that I really loved—has flaws, now that I’m living in it. Most of them relatively small and fixable, but it’s not the amazing perfect fixes-all-my-housing-issues house that it was in my imagination. Though of course the same would’ve been true if I’d settled for a house I liked less.

  10. You write the house doesn’t have all you want — bay windows or built-ins. It sounds like you’re saying there are other houses on the market that are similar.

    Your writing about this house doesn’t have the certainty that Jed does about his. I’m not quite sure why Jed was/is so crazy about his new house, but it does make me appreciate my current house more.

    I really adored Jasmine House. You know how much I loved that house. However I could afford it.

    As you know, buying things I can’t afford isn’t in my makeup. But I can’t help but wonder if calling the house mad is your way of telling yourself that you’re being crazy.


  11. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Thida, I’m not sure I was clear. The Mad Hatter house and the Beautiful Gunderson both have fabulous built-ins and the MH had bay windows too. The name Mad Hatter house came from my sister; I didn’t pick it. 🙂

    I think part of the problem is that Kevin and I have different definitions of ‘afford.’ 🙂

    And just to clarify, it’s not that we’d have to immediately give up all the little luxuries if we bought either of the nicer houses — just that we’d have to if something went very wrong, like a big unexpected repair or me losing my job. Whereas if we chose a notably more modest house, then we’d have a serious buffer in case of catastrophe.

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