Saturday, April 12, 2008

Back Story

FRIDAY, APRIL 11, 2008

I thought it might be time to give a little goes!

David and I were married in 1982....aged 22 and 23....that seems really young now, but apparently it was the right decision because here it is 26 years later and we're still married....we're each other's best friends sharing many of the same interests, but perhaps more importantly, sharing even the interests of our partner that really don't interest us individually! Take for example my obsession with genealogy....David really could care less except of course when I find out that one of my ancestors fought in the War between the States and was at Appomatox...then his interest perks up! Even though he's not all that interested, he travels every summer with me to Sumter South Carolina where we spend two or three days in dusty courthouses looking at documents hundreds of years old or putting on our steel toed boots to hike into dense woods to search out abandoned cemeteries...and well, he's really into fixing up old boats and although my eyes glaze over and I really want to get back on the computer and dig up some more records, I go outside and ooh and awe over this or that! And when he's ready to hit a boating yard sale or visit a boat yard and dream, well I'm right there with him! And when he was into RC racing, you'd sometimes find me there at the race track, sitting in a chair while he and Dallas went round and round and round...............David also endulges my love of go-carting and even bought me one this spring...

Me (driving) and a friend taking the new go-cart for its first ride!

One of the interests that we share is a love of old houses and finding damaged previously cherished furniture and bringing it into our home and restoring it.....and that is why we find ourselves now living in an almost 100 year old farmhouse surrounded by potato fields and spending a whole lot of time saving money to put into it all.

David grew up in what could loosely be termed "country" - his childhhod home was inside the town limits, but it sat on two acres of river front land.....and it was 60 years old when his folks bought it (1966)....that house had quite a history as it had been built for the Mayor of the town at the turn of the century and had a spot being a Retired British Soldiers Home before his parents purchased it and made it a single family residence once again...I grew up an Air Force brat with a South Carolina Farmer Boy father and an English School Girl mother....we never spent very long in any one place, but whenever we could live off base, Dad made certain we had an acre or two (or three) and that those acres had hogs, chickens and horses. During my childhood we lived in two old farmhouses, one in South Bend Indiana and one in Canton Ohio.....!

Although David and I never really talked about old houses while we were dating, we realized it was a shared love shortly after we were married and had purchased our own first home, .....we just had never really realized it until we found ourselves living in a subdivision on a 90 X 120 lot with neighbors on all sides and found ourselves shutting the windows whenever we had an argument.........! Suddenly, an old house in the country was being discussed.....often.

But, if you're over 35, then you know how life can get in the way of your dreams for awhile.....soon we were parents of two children and had to consider schools and proximity to grandparents etc. and "country living" was disappearing from our area which meant a real move to find a place we'd feel comfortable in.....and I didn't want to move too far away from where we were then living. I had moved around all of my childhood, I had never felt I had a "home town" and I wanted that for my kids. David, who had lived in our small town since he was 6 years old wasn't quite as set on staying put.....and so we talked, and we dreamed, and went on.

We lived in a little starter home purchased just after we were married....and there we had our first two children born in 1983 and was a typical ranch house in a neighborhood where three versions of what was pretty much the same house was all that you could find. As I wrote earlier, we knew shortly after moving in that we were not happy with subdivision living....other than base housing, neither of us had ever had neighbors close enough to hear you argue......we shut the windows a lot those first couple of years.

But, it was more than just the issue of privacy during heated discussions...i.e. it was little neighbor boys who snuck into your backyard while you were at work and took your german shepherd off the run line to wander about the neighborhood where said german shepherd took to doing his "business" in other folks yards.....not a good thing. In fact, one of our neighbors thought it was so far from a "good thing" that she shoveled up the evidence, stomped her way across her yard, then the street, up across our front yard...knocked on the door, and when David opened it, she threw the evidence at his feet! (she was thereafter referred to in conversation as the "shit lady".....)

A 6 ft privacy fence became absolutely necessary for two people who'd never been fenced in before...with bolted gates.....and then blinds went up in the windows after Nikki was born to keep the old couple across the street from commenting on the fact that we rocked her every night for several hours! (Nikki had crying spells lasting 3 hours every evening until she was about 4 months old....rocking was our survival technique!) - need I go on?

We discovered the shared dream of an old house in the country on a drive back from my parent's place (which was on 3 acres in the country btw~)......we took a back way into our subdivision and saw an abandoned farmhouse sitting back about an acre from the street. We pulled into the overgrown drive and discussed whether or not we should call the real estate agency listed on the for sale sign or just stay where we were for a few years. We decided that we weren't financially in a position to purchase such a neglected old home....but for the next few years, we took that back road home from mom's just to look at it and dream. Eventually that old farmhouse was torn down and a shopping center soon took its place....and the "country" began to disappear in the area where we lived.

1990 - 2002

With two growing children, our small starter home was rapidly becoming too small for our family...and as happens in a lot of starter home neighborhoods, as the original owners moved onward and upward, the area began to deteriorate....and there were reports of gang activity was time to go.

But where to go became the question....I was firmly entrenched in child rearing by this time and my biggest consideration was the school the time, the one we lived in was one of the best in the state and I feared placing our kids in a lesser system. Although we discussed moving north a bit, I was very leary of the areas that could still be considered as "country" AND still be close enough to allow David easy access to work....and for myself, I wanted my children to have easy access to their grandparents, something that I'd never had as a child.

Before we knew it, we'd found ourselves in a new house in a new subdivision.....I'll admit now that I'd been shortsighted in that I never really thought about how a new neighborhood was going to change as more houses were built in it....when we moved felt almost like the counry- a farm lay across from the entrance - we even woke up one morning to a pig in the backyard - there were only 11 houses and ours was on cul-de-sac bording a nature preserve....even with a larger lot, a bigger became obvious over the next 18 months that it was still a subdivision with all the yuck that comes with it.

But, the kids were in a good school system; we had neighbors we liked; our church was just down the road from us; and we began to get settled. The dream continued to be a "some day we'll...." we talked about but never really made any attempt to achieve....

Time went on.....Nikki and Dallas completed elementary school, Hunter was born, and then suddenly, Nikki was graduating from High School......and we were staring our future in the face...! It sounds so silly to ask "where did the years go" but believe me, it does get asked...! Although it seemed David and I had just gotten married, only begun to be parents suddenly, our kids were growing up, looking at colleges and talking about getting their "own" places. We realized that the time to make our dream of owning and renovating an old farm house had arrived....or it may end up never coming true. But still, where could we go to realize this dream? Our parents were now aging and moving too far from them would have been selfish....but God had a plan for us.....

"Children pass through a marriage - they are not the marriage!" A friend of mine had once told me that and we were staring the reality of that in the face. The realization that time was passing us by and that we needed to start thinking about OUR future aside from our children woke David and I up and we began to really consider our options. David worked with a few men who lived in Georgia and actually drove into Jax for work each day....we began to consider that. David's sister had moved back to Florida and my sister Amy was now a grown up so the idea of moving a little more than an hour or two from our folks wasn't as big a concern.

Dad and Jan had moved to South Carolina back in 1990 and in 2001 had returned to live in Florida; they had purchased a home in Deland, roughly a two hour drive from our place....shortly after they moved into their new house, I put Hunter on the school bus and drove on down to spend the day with them. Dad had suggested I drive down the "back" way through Green Cove Springs and Palatka.....and as I drove, I was amazed at what I was seeing. David and I had been thinking our only option for a move to the country would be to go to Georgia and here were acres of land with horses, cows, and crops almost under our noses.....and farmhouses....lots of them!

The Three Year Plan

Suddenly, I completely "divorced" my house....I was ready to leave right that minute....but Dallas was a freshman in high school and I had made a promise to myself that I would never cause my children to change schools in high school unless I had no choice in it.....I'd come to Orange Park as a Junior and had a very difficult time fitting in with kids who'd known each other all their lives. We'd have to plan this out.....and so in 2001 we came up with a three year plan...........

Dallas would graduate in May of 2004; we'd put the house on the market that month of that year and hopefully be in our new place by the fall when Hunter would start third grade.....We began to look at our house in terms of its selling points and made plans to start making the neccessary upgrades to market it quickly......we knew we'd need a new vehicle soon and so we cashed out some equity and paid cash for a trail blazer.....paving the way for additional cash flow to fix up the old farmhouse that we now could believe we'd actually one day own.

And about once a month David and I would put Hunter on the school bus and head down to the area we'd chosen .....we bought a road atlas and with a highlighter and pen marked the locations we liked and those we disliked (think county dumps etc.). We trekked through abandoned homes and properties and called Real Estate Agents on others, trying to guage the cost of the houses in the area.

About 18 months into our plan, we noticed that the market was changing - house prices were rapidly going up and we had to start thinking about the possibility that we would soon be priced out of the market...houses on the market (in our search area) had been about $100,000 for a four bedroom brick home with a example sold in 2001 for $99,000 and was back on the market in late 2002 for $145,000 and as we took a second look, we knew that absolutely no improvements had been made to justify that price was simply the growing real estate bubble that would eventually burst.....

And suddenly the interest in old houses was high and the number of old houses was low - HGTV had contributed to that.....and prices were going up accordingly. An article in the Sunday paper highlighted the scenic nature of the exact area we were looking at and we noticed many more sight-seerers than we had previously......we began to get a little nervous about our three year plan.

In the fall of 2002, we knew that it was time to talk to the children and let them know that we needed to change the plan - we instinctively knew that we had to move.....soon....or we'd be priced out of the market for almost any home we'd been interested in let alone a historic house. So we decided to let the kids know......but before we did that, we spoke to David's sister Karen......bless her heart, she agreed to let Dallas stay with her during the week if we had to move before his graduation from high school. Nikki's drive to college would actually be about the same distance so there was no issue with her moving with us!

Stepping up the pace.....

On our next drive, we dropped in on a Real Estate Agent and explained what we were looking for; MLS was just taking off in her office and so she began to send us new listings on a daily basis.....and we had a new issue....we were looking for an old farmhouse with a couple of acres included but were slowly realizing that the cost of land was rising so rapidly that we were unlikely to realize that part of the dream. We knew that we'd be more likely to find an old house without land then with it and began to think of possibly purchasing land and building a house to look like an old house....

First Offer.....January 2003 - we dropped in on another one of the R.E. agents in the area and had a nice little chat with him....although he didn't seem too interested in finding us a house, he did eventually mention that he had sold his grandmother's 6 bedroom farmhouse on 10 acres for $80,000 last year (2002)......David and I both inwardly groaned and then as we nodded and smiled at the agent through our disappointment, he eventually stopped talking about driving his race cars and got around to talking about an old house just down the road that was in foreclosure and might be available.....but instead of driving us there, he just gave us directions...!

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