Let’s pick up where we left off.
If you recall, our last installment had us calling the Historic Preservation Officer in Gainesville because the house we wanted, the one that River Phoenix’s girlfriend lived in, fell through. We already had our minds and hearts set on moving to Gainesville. Luckily Thad Crowe, the Preservation Officer had a house in mind. It had been taken off the market but he promised he would make some calls. Thad set up a meeting for us to look at the Baird Mansion (its historic name) on Easter Sunday. We dragged Joe’s mom and dad with us hoping they would be the voice of reason. Jane Myer, the realtor met us at the house. As we drove up, Joe said “this is the one” and I said “are you out of your mind”.
We were obviously looking at two different houses. Joe saw this stately three story Victorian with a central tower. I saw a house with a couch on the roof of the porch, screens hanging off the windows and 1/3 of the windows. Turns out, the inside was not much better. As soon as we walked in the back door there was a lovely pile of something the dog left. It appeared the floor had not been swept in years and there was spaghetti stuck to the walls. As Joe’s mom and I were walking around she notices a container of starter plants on the window seat. She said “these kids can’t be all bad. Look they’re growing tomatoes”. As I took a closer look I realized they were, well, not tomatoes. Was this day going to get any worse? After we saw almost the whole house I saw THAT look in Joe’s eyes and knew….it was over. I was doomed to buy this house. All I had was Joe’s mom and dad and the fact that they were reasonable people.
Oh no, they had that same look.
Even Jane, the realtor was swept up in the frenzy. Jane explained that the owners, Jean and Terry had purchased the house 5 years earlier with the idea of renovating it into apartments. Their contractor, Mike, was a young guy who Jean and Terry fell in love with. They kept buying houses for him to restore. They watched him graduate from college, fall in love, get married and have 2 little babies. Shortly after he began working on the Baird Mansion he developed melanoma and died. Jean and Terry were devastated and basically walked away from the house.
Their son was about to enter the University of Florida so they told him he could move into the house and take on roommates. Their only house rule was not to paint the woodwork. Their son had graduated by the time we entered and new boys had moved in. They were semi college students. Taking just enough classes to get mom and dad to pay for them to live but not really taking enough classes to ever get a degree. We nick named them “Granola”. There was one room in the house that we could not get into. Phillip kept 3 dead bolts on his bedroom door and we could not get him to open the door. The owners sat on the stairs for hours waiting for Phillip to come out of his room. When he did, they called their carpenter who took the door off the hinges and then they called us and we drove up from Orlando to look at the room.
A few years after we had restored the house, Phillip came back and brought his parents. He wanted to show them where he lived for 3 years. When he came down from showing his parents around he asked us how we were able to put the fireplace in his old bedroom. Joe explained that the fireplace was original to the house. Phillip said that he had lived in that room for 3 years and there was not a fireplace in the room when he lived there. Do you remember the pot plants that Joe’s mom and I found? Sounds like Phillip was sampling a bit of his product.
We had no idea what to offer for the price of the house. The realtor made it very easy. It seems the owners just wanted out of the house. They went to their lawyer and asked him to figure out a sales price so they could walk away from closing with nothing. They ended up selling the house to us for $35,000 less than what they purchased it for 5 years earlier. Joe and I decided we would both quit our jobs. Joe figured he would be able to find a job in Gainesville and I was going to concentrate on restoring the house. When Joe tried to quit his job the owner of the company said that he had been thinking of opening a branch office. Gainesville was not his first choice but he did not want to lose Joe as an employee. So while we were tearing down walls and stripping woodwork, Joe was also opening a branch office. When we first closed on the house, we did not really think through the logistics of where we would live. Jane, our realtor refused to allow us to move into the house in the shape it was in; plus the Granola boys were very slow at moving out and we didn’t really want them as roommates. She was leaving on vacation and invited us to live in her house for 3 weeks while we worked on getting the house empty.
At the same time we were visiting banks trying to get some financing. We went to 5 banks in town and they all turned us down. One bank agreed to loan us the money we needed but only if we tore the house down. Another told us they would loan us the money but not if we were going to turn the house into a “boarding house”. Frustration did not even cover our feelings. We called the City and they referred us to the Economic Development Officer, David. David was very sympathetic to our issues with the banks and discovered that the City of Gainesville was given Grant money for certain projects. Until the projects started, the money just sat in the bank. He somehow, magically got the City to agree to loan us the money until the project was due to start. We could not interfere with the project the money was granted for. Also, someone out there in finance world needed to agree to hold the permanent financing and pay off the construction loan. Sounds good right? Not so much. The project the money was slated for was due to begin construction in 120 days. That means we had 4 short months to completely gut 5,400 square feet of 100 + year old house, hair plaster, rewire, add a fire sprinkler system, install 6 bathrooms, sand & refinish floors and strip blackened woodwork. To say espresso and I became besties is an understatement.
But this is only the beginning…