Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Preservationista Goes House Hunting

One of my favorite obsessions is real estate. Sounds stupid, right? Really dorky. But from the time I was a kid I loved going to open houses or to view model homes for no real reason. Maybe partly to see how the “other half” lives, to pick “your room” and decide how you would decorate it, to be escapist and imagine a new life for yourself in a new place, new surroundings.

The internet has really fed this obsession. Virtual tours, endless interior and exterior photographs, a peek inside that mansion for sale over on East Avenue. Heavenly.

When we were getting ready to move to Rochester I was on every day, multiple times a day. Even though we knew we weren’t going to buy a house right away I had to check out what was available, what might be possible. Now that we have been here for a little while and are actually thinking about buying a house it’s gotten even worse. First thing when I get to work I check the listings, again after lunch, again before I go home, again when I get home. It might be a little unhealthy.

We have gone to see a few houses at this point and I am definitely seeing how my job as a preservation planner, specifically one who works to promote a healthy housing stock and strong neighborhoods, is going to work against me in this process. First, we look mostly at fixer-uppers. Not totally for flipping purposes, we would be living there for a period of time as we work, slowly, on the fixer-upping. It’s more of an inclination to find a house that needs to be loved and to love it. To love its crumbling plaster into repair, to love its wood windows into renewed energy efficiency, to love the porch and yard into a welcoming array of plants and cozy furniture. Unfortunately this desire to love up a house is happening with each and every one that we look at.

Second, most of the fixer-upper houses we have looked at have been converted to multi family. They clearly have not been loved in years, instead being used up by the tenants and turned over from lazy landlord to lazier landlord until the house is almost beyond saving. Will these landlords who are looking at the property right now give it the love that it needs? Will they return it to a beautiful asset to the neighborhood or will they allow it to deteriorate a little further? Are they thinking about their obligation to house, to the tenants and to the neighborhood? Or are they only interested in the size of the checks they will be cashing one the first of the month? Nobody can love that house like I can and if I don’t do it who will?

So begins my little delusion of buying up all of them, fixing them, loving them and turning them back into an asset for a challenged neighborhood. Opening up that enclosed porch and painting the house an inviting color. Repairing the fireplaces that still has most of the original tiles. Shining up the old hardwood floors with the stunning inlays that you just won’t find in any suburb or subdivision.

Sigh, what is a Preservationista to do?

Posted by Rebecca Rowe, Preservation Programs Coordinator

No comments: