I have spent the last six months going into debt. It has been a lot of work. I am pretty tired now. During this process I worked two jobs and tried to start a business. Now I have one part time job, no business plan and some really good debt.
We bought the house next door and tore it down. That’s what we did. We made a bold move, saved our house and increased its value immeasurably. Our house will be worth more with a secure front lot and a clear view of the ocean. But even more pertinent to our present lives, we have cleared an emotional path. We have taken back what hurt us and we have taken control.
At the beginning of the summer we noticed that our most recent neighbours were making all the noises of someone who is about to move; even less attention to their house than usual and then a sudden short burst of activity which ended up being a small ugly deck.
I had to ask them if they were selling. We are on a shared driveway and their front lawn is basically in front of our house. If you sit on our porch you can wave at them as they go in and out of their house. We both had the courtesy to give each other a lot of space and we looked after each other’s cats when we traveled so we were on good terms.
The couple in the house had decided to sell, or in fact their parents had, as they did not own the house and that explained why they never did any work on it. They wrote out a rough ‘for sale’ sign and told us that they were selling privately to avoid the costs of a realtor. They knew that we were going to buy it. The negotiations started.
When we first moved into our house 14 years ago our neighbour was a 98 year old woman named Phyllis Anderson who lived alone in her family home. I brought her the mail and sat and had coffee with her which she heated on an uninsurable old ceramic gas stove. She soaked up sun in her run down sunny porch with the ancient windows, surrounded by old photos and knitting and books. She told me all about her history in the house and stories involving her father and brothers.
I loved having her as a neighbour and I was truly sad when she died at 101 years in the local old age home. She held out in her home until she was 100 years old and I will always admire her grace and good temper as she accepted the move. As a retired nurse she was fairly comfortable in a institutional environment and whenever I visited she would be busily involved in activities like bowling, bingo or cards. We were good friends; she would have found this crazy house history endlessly entertaining and accepted out ultimate decision as practical.
When the house went up for sale after her death we asked her young nephew if we could buy the front garden that was basically in front of our house. Unfortunately he wanted to sell it as a whole package and we were new to debt at the time, having only recently bought our own house and still paying off a student loan, so we decided we could not afford it.
We threw our fate to the winds and said, what will be, will be. And then the worst thing happened. A family bought the house on-line, unseen. After getting to know them I suspect they fled from their last house and neighbourhood in shame and debt.
To put it succinctly and with the dark humour that helps survivors, they cut down all the trees and their children sexually assaulted our four year old daughter. I don’t really need to say more. It was a long couple of years but eventually they moved on leaving a scar in their place. The quiet garden with apple trees was gone and replaced with a excessively large septic mound. It was hideous and made the sharp turn of the road even more dangerous.
This time when the house went up for sale we were not going to make the same mistake. We are a healed family but we could not take that chance again. Our daughter, a strong and confident 11 year old now, was content and optimistic about new neighbours. I believe it is a sign of how well my daughter has healed that she does not feel fear at meeting new people, and it makes me very happy.
However, my husband and I were not comfortable with our chances of having another family from hell. As soon as the sign went up I pictured chained or wandering dogs and motorcycles and loud radios. And I knew if that happened we would have to move. It would be too stressful and I would never feel comfortable allowing my daughter to be home alone.
So we bought the house for a very good price. But that house, like ours, was built in the 1850’s. And no one had worked on that house since possibly the 1950’s. In the fourteen years we had been at our house we had spent a lot of time, sweat and money. We had ripped out old linoleum and false ceilings full of crap, we had insulated, and put on a new roof and painted and plastered. We had planted trees and and flower beds.
Nothing had been done on our next door house. The foundation was crumbling, the electricity had to be replaced, the roof was not good and would have to replaced in at least 5 years, the ceiling were stained and the walls had been painted terrible garish colours right on top of the wall paper. A geothermal had been put in, at great cost, that would never work efficiently in a house that had open holes in the cellar walls and no insulation in the walls. Trees were leveled. Everything was ugly.
At first we were both enthusiastic about fixing the house and making it pretty again and renting it as a vacation home or as a B and B. Over the summer and into the fall I calculated costs, researched comparables, talked to banks and business development organizations. I priced electricians and construction workers. The more we talked about it and looked at it, the more we were drawn to the inevitable conclusion. If we did not give up on this project now we would be forced to in about five years. And we would be carrying much more debt.
The practical costs of saving the house, and the costs of running the house as business, did not add up. And I have to admit that I never got over the dark memories of that house. The destructive neighbours had pulled down walls where there had once been sweet little rooms. I knew the moral lassitude that had lived in the rooms, I remembered how dirty and smelly it had been when they were in there. And I always thought about them as soon as I entered one of their rooms. They had destroyed the house already.
So the project that had I had been working on every day and every night, pivoted. It flipped on its head. This was a huge pivot. I moved from construction to destruction; costs, contractors, deadlines, planning commission demolition permits and a visit from the Dept of Environment.
Now as Christmas nears and I look out the window to our usual view of the ocean, the view is entirely unobstructed. The septic mound has been scraped away and dumped in the hole where the house once stood. The foundation stones have been piled up, waiting for the spring and our landscaping dreams. Dead tree stumps are gone.There will be no scar at all in the end, just a green space with a beautiful rock garden and trees; oaks, apple, and a weeping willow. And a big grassy lawn where a 12 year old girl can kick her soccer ball. I know Phyllis would understand.