Fixing Up the House of Usher

Casa de Smidlap looks like the House of Usher to me.  You like my red and blue disco lights?

Nearing the hopeful big expense finish line

Have you ever wanted to own or just live in a big charming stone house like this one?  I did too and got lucky that my spicy pepper pot had already bought it when we met or I would have talked her out of it.

When I moved to this place in 2003 Buffalo was still pretty rough in our neighborhood.  The real estate plunge around the great recession of 2008-09 hardly hit this small city because there wasn’t far to fall.  She was frugal and lived in a $300 apartment in the ‘hood for many years to save up for the downpayment of 20%.  This big beast sold for less than a hundred G’s in ’98 with not much needed except the original wooden floors needing sanding and refinishing.  I wrote about some of the up’s and down’s of owning a big old f’ing house a few months ago.  Well, with the roof replacement in the rear-view mirror, a new water heater a couple of years ago, and a needed bathroom makeover about 5 years back we’re nearing the home stretch of major repairs!  The painters came today to start work and it will take a week or two and we will no longer have the shittiest looking house on the block.  I’m particularly excited to have it done and know where our home repair/vacation/gift bucket stands for the rest of the year.  It’s like our good time meter or Magic 8-ball.

A funny thing happened on the yellow brick road to financial independence and home ownership:  the neighborhood and economy finally caught up with the rest of the country and these old places became far from the dirt cheap that we paid.  That was pure luck on our part but we’ll take it and spend the profit if we decide to ever peace out of here.  This joint has been paid off for about five years now so saving for a high end paint job wasn’t too much of a task on the budget, even having gone down to about 1.2 incomes in the past year.  I know some of you Smidlappers are probably saying “that lazy ass Freddy ought to be frugally painting the damned place himself!”  If that’s the case, look again.  The peak of the house must be about 40 feet in the air with certain death or dismemberment the penalty for a little oops up on that ladder.  The cost of a professional paint job like this is about 5 grand in the interest of full disclosure and I’ll update you when I write the final check.  We took a home equity line of credit last year that I explained in Do It Before it Becomes an Emergency.

We haven’t touched that and never intend to use the line but it’s free if you don’t borrow and at the time we didn’t know the cost of the roof.  I didn’t want to sell investments to cover it and borrowing at 4% seemed pretty reasonable if we needed to tap it.  We haven’t needed it but you never know when we might take the whole thing and break parole and head on down to South America!  So we just saved up for the roof and paint and part of the upside of Mrs. Smidlap working very part-time is her ability to act as an arranger and type of general contractor while the workers are around on these projects. She had also done some insulating of the studio space in the attic (the large white window in front) along with a handyman friend who even got us a big stack of closed cell insulation for free from the local Re-Use place.  I continue to believe that karma is a beautiful thing as she has been sincerely nice to everyone on life’s journey and it comes back to give when you see folks willing to help you for free/cheap.  Hopefully this year the studio will be insulated with new electrical and drywall and mostly in a DIY fashion.

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The painting studio will be presentable and no longer unbearably hot in summer and cold in winter.

Another big benefit of these old houses is the pure architectural beauty of living in something that was put together 150 years ago by real craftsmen.  I believe it to be friggin’ bulletproof.  This joint has a bunch of stained glass, leaded glass near the disco light, wooden wall panels and floors that would cost you a zillion dollars if you wanted them in a new house.  All the doors are real wood with brass hardware so you bitch and whine too much when the upkeep costs a little more than your average house.

It really is a joy to live in this place.  That’s Banjo! making a mess with that darned sock monkey.

One last thing I learned today

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the end game of selling investment in the spend-down phase of retirement.  I also know a lot of the personal finance community thinks that home ownership is for suckers and rubes and renting your homes and cars is the only way to reach the promised land.  It’s true there are associated costs and taxes in this state are like prison sex, but for the right price it makes sense to own a casa.  The reason I was thinking about the end game is possibly needing nursing home care via Medicaid.  There’s a long post coming on this subject but you can chew on this while waiting for the Dr. Doom end of life article:  In NY state your home is protected up to 850 thousand ducats if one spouse gets ill and needs long term nursing home care.  On the other hand the amount you can keep in assets is only a little over a hundred grand.  So when things look bleak for yours truly I’m advising Mrs. Smidlap to spend all that’s left on 850 G’s worth of the nicest Taj Mahal looking place she can get.  So we got that going for us, which is nice.

The finished product.  The Addams family sold us the place.

Tell me where I’m way off base on these opinions.  This way isn’t the way for everybody but it’s working for us until it doesn’t.  Do you own a house that you truly enjoy or is it just about utility?  Thinking of buying a place?  Let it fly.  I can take it.

August 8,2018 edit.  Final cost was $6800 for the paint job.  Final cost for last year’s roof was $34k.  The roof cost a ton due to asbestos abatement and the fact there was no plywood up there and it’s big and high.  We ought to be good for at least 10-15 years on these items now.



24 Replies to “Fixing Up the House of Usher”

  1. I gotta admit, it could be on the cover of a Stephen King novel 🙂 Your point about older homes and the quality is so true. I have some architect friends and they tell me how incredibly shitty most everything is today versus the older stuff. My house is from 1953 and brick, although I’d prefer a nice Cape Cod with a wrap around porch. But my house will likely survive a tornado!

    1. for some reason this comment didn’t show up and went to trash. very odd that is. i know all about those old materials. mrs. took some scrap wood from the attic that must have been original to build a little outdoor tiki bar. you could hardly get a nail through the stuff! bricks are heavy – L7

  2. I do’t have much to say on the subject of home ownership in that in LA it wasn’t even on the radar because it’s damn near impossible without two very high incomes (if you don’t want to commute 2 hours one way). I love those old houses in Buffalo and have seen several on house hunters: renovations. I could also see the downside of a big house, but once it’s renovated it would for sure be worth a lot more!

    1. these places were a steal 20 years ago. now it’s getting more competitive for the good places. i just told the mrs. that if we went to napa or sonoma for a year or two we would be renters. the only real renovation needed was a bathroom that was busted up, but the maint. can be pricey. i said it before, c’mon over to the rust belt.

  3. I hear you on the painting. I allowed Mr. Groovy to only paint the front part of our house that was reachable by climbing a normal ladder (and not his massive extension ladder). I’m glad we didn’t spend the money on a pro because the person who bought our house is using it as a rental property. He paid full asking price too. But 5K sounds pretty reasonable to me for painting your house.

    NY has a few different asset protections for estate planning that are different than in other states, doesn’t it?

    We went through Medicaid and VA benefits planning for my aunt whom we moved to NC from FL. With seven degrees among my brother, me, and Mr. G, it’s still been an uphill battle to figure out. The bureaucrats hope you’ll give up while they continue to add more jobs and employees to their agencies.

    1. estate planning is crazy complicated even for intelligent informed people. yes, i think they have different protections up here. i envy y’all leaving this state. thanks for stopping by.

  4. We co-own a house with the bank and will own it outright in 7 years. . . and then continue to pay rent in the form of property and school tax to the county, township, and school district.

    Unlike most FI’ers, we are not planning to travel the globe once we retire. We did enough traveling compliments of Uncle Sam while on active duty and will be very content to sit on our very sexy dock we built ourselves and watch the world float by. Having said that, since we won’t be saving for travel experiences, it was important to us to have a home that was in close proximity to the things that we anticipated doing more of in retirement. So we’re located on a river, next to a bike path that goes all the way into the city and connects to other area bike trails, close to the municipal golf course, 3 miles from the train station, close to family, and on enough land to raise bees without pissing off the neighbors. And so we’ve paid somewhat of a premium for that. It’s not extravagant, and certainly less than my SoCal folly in my early 30’s, but it’s more than someone who used geoarbitrage to accelerate FI.

    We couldn’t do that as renters. I’ve watched relatives who rent and are getting near retirement age wonder where they’re going to live next as rents rise annually. That’s scary to me. I couldn’t imagine renting a house for the rest of my life and knowing that my housing costs are a variable expense.

    We too have a budget line for House Maintenance that will roll over annually expecting that at some point will end up being used to pay someone else to climb a ladder and fix stuff since like you, our house is one oops away from a splat.

    1. i want to see a picture of the magic sexy dock and the bees. if you’re gonna golf, which i gave up, you want a decent muni course. i would take it back up if there was one right down the road and i could get a cheap season pass. proximity to what you value is key.

      1. As requested, since I don’t have a blog, here is a pin of the magic sexy dock.

        I don’t have a recent bee picture since we had pretty rough winter and lost them. And I didn’t get packets ordered for the spring. We’ll have them again next year.

        Also, and I apologize for not mentioning it in the first post, I love the colors you painted your house. I’m a giant fan of navy blue on houses and your accent colors are gorgeous.

        1. cool dock. i surely would spend a lot of time down there. we have some river places across the state here where we could think about a retirement like that. thanks on the colors, i picked ’em. inspired by the design of a drum tobacco tin.

  5. Well, we are close to paying off the teeny tiny condo which I moved into after selling the behemoth in December. But I bought at a good time, turned a nice little profit. I love the condo because the little space is easy to clean, meaning I’m not the psycho OCD wench screaming at my hunny all the time, easy to to organize and keeps my collecting habit and artistic pursuits in line. But, if I had a parallel life, one of them would live in a house like this. LOVE the use of color!

    1. thank you, ms. beverly. i was in a great little one BR before i moved into this place and was happy as hell. i guess i could go either way on housing but now having owned something it’s growing on me. i’ve never been so excited to spend a bunch of money.

  6. Yeah, we are looking at buying a house this year, so i guess i am against the FI community with that respect.

    The paint job looks good. I definitely wouldn’t have attempted it either. I do or have climbed 60ft high pressurized tanks for work. Lol not fun.

    Congrats on the home appreciation as well! Cheers Freddy!

    1. i’ve been up on those tanks and the like. it’s charming when it’s 105 degrees outside too. the home appreciation was pure luck as we just looked at it as a place to live. if i was buying a house i would ask my inspector about maint. costs for the 10 most expensive items.

What do you think? You must think something. This is the place to let it fly or just say hello.