Our House: In the Beginning

Browsing the MLS real estate listings on my way to work yesterday—as entertainment, natch, not because I’m house-hunting—one of THOSE postings caught my eye. It was a house on Boston’s famed Acorn Street, one of the most photographed streets in America.

 The listing.  Source: Coldwell Banker

The listing. Source: Coldwell Banker

There were no interior shots—just a few images of the door, a shot looking out onto the street from the entry, a shot of a sad-looking deck, and a handful of images showing the property’s best asset, its unmatched location. (That cobblestone! Killer on heeled footwear, but so easy on the eyes...)

What a listing like this usually means is that the home is in total disrepair, and may or may not have a wild animal living in the basement. “For a buyer with vision! Customize to create the home of your dreams!” the blurb will usually say. At $2.7 million (dropped from $2.9!) and, oh, at least 200K of needed upgrades, probably more, there’s only a handful of people who’ll bite on this type of project. But listings like this always stop me in my tracks. Astronomical price aside, the cryptic listing isn’t unlike what compelled me and Dave to schedule a showing of our own place seven years ago.

This was the listing that got us:

Mansard roof complete rehab needed. 4 star location. wood floors period detail.

That’s it. Typos included, no extra charge! And this was the lone picture:

Entryway before

STUNNING, right? I mean, that industrial blue runner stapled to the stairs just really sets a tone.

We started poking around for more info, and Google Street View showed us that the home looked like one of these:

  Source: Zillow

Source: Zillow

Heyyyy pretty housey! This was starting to get interesting. Eventually we got in for a showing, and took some pics of the interior. We were prepared-but-not-quite-prepared for what we found. 

This was the state of the kitchen:

 Lighting goals—am I right?

Lighting goals—am I right?

 Those cabinet doors and drawers neither opened nor closed fully. And who wants to play "Is This Lead Paint?"

Those cabinet doors and drawers neither opened nor closed fully. And who wants to play "Is This Lead Paint?"

 The homeowners were kind enough to leave us some cinderblocks that we could use as footstools. And that amazing "command center" with a free dry-erase pen! So sweet.

The homeowners were kind enough to leave us some cinderblocks that we could use as footstools. And that amazing "command center" with a free dry-erase pen! So sweet.

There was no fridge. The ancient range was fueled by a gas pipe sticking out of the chimney wall; we were advised not to try and turn it on. The sink was one of these bad boys, an all-steel hulk of a unit built by Youngstown Kitchens some time in the ‘50s.

We mockingly called the front room, with its broken lamp, Rubbermaid garbage can, and gratis postal bin, "the parlor." The name has since stuck, and now my kids, in weirdly Boston-like accents, call it the pahlah

 Really great job maintaining those floors, guys. 

Really great job maintaining those floors, guys. 

I can't find pics of the rest of the house, but rest assured it was all in similar condition. The house had been owned by one family for many decades. After the kids grew up and the mother passed, the real estate agent said, the home was rented to relatives of the family, and then others moved in after that. Neighbors have told us there was a junkie living in the house at one point. There were holes punched in the doors. There were sticky beer stains on every wall. In the basement, we opened a door and found an iron toilet with a wooden tank hanging above it, a vestige of the time when servants lived downstairs. The toilet was buried under a pile of broken bricks. There was one bathroom in the house, upstairs, and it had a blue faux-marble sink unit and a rusty clawfoot tub enclosed by a mildewed shower curtain.

In short, the house was disgusting. And we loved it. We loved the plaster moldings, the staircase spiraling up three floors, and the heart pine floorboards we knew were hidden under those layers of dirt. We loved that it was an end-unit single-family, and I adored the Victorian styling of the home's bay window and mansard roof. We could see it all coming together, from the grease-encrusted marble mantels that begged for showstopping mirrors to the front entry that ached for gleaming, glass-paneled doors.

Because the sale was complicated, with an estate and multiple sellers involved, and because we had a condo to sell and no means to carry two mortgages, we didn’t close on the place for six months. By the time we closed, in March 2009, a bird had taken up residence on the second floor. Add it to the list, we said: Remove Bird.

We moved our stuff and our cat in, and treated ourselves to one night at a nice hotel before donning rubber gloves and starting the cleanup process. When we arrived the next morning, ready to work, our house was covered in feathers, there were blood stains on the wood floors, and our cat was chirping like a madman. Remove Bird.

We are brave people, I tell you. The next seven years were full of (more) blood, so much sweat, and so many tears. Today it’s close to the home of our dreams. There are several more projects to wrap, and of course there’s all of the the inevitable tinkering and maintenance that comes with home ownership and a life in the decor industry (read: I’ll never stop redecorating it).

But if you’re the renovating type, you can’t help but peek at these listings when they come around. Just to see what prices things are going for, you tell yourself. All I can say is, it’s a good thing I don’t have $2.6 million burning a hole in my pocket right now. In fact, I think there are ACTUAL holes in my pockets right now.

Godspeed, 7 Acorn Street. I wish you and your future owners the very best.