Bewildered by the big real estate bubble

Admittedly, it’s a national problem, but one that’s especially acute here in New England. Home prices are soaring. Wannabe buyers far outnumber sellers.

For once, my wife and I hit this one right.

The place we just bought, as I’ve been saying, is in a remote location, and it needs some work. There are reasons potential buyers passed on it. As one I’ve met reacted, “It was more than my husband and I wanted to take on.” But thanks to our elder daughter, we have a vision, and, as we are finding, the place feels right. Besides, the bones are good. To our surprise, our bargain bid was accepted, so here I am.

And then, the city farm we just sold is in a very hot market. Readers of the Red Barn have been following some of the reasons – small-town pedestrian-friendly scale and New England character combined with proximity to Boston in one direction plus beaches and mountains in the other directions.

We watched as real-estate prices kept rising, buffeted by only one big downturn, and wondered how young couples and families could pay the mortgages. Well, rents were going out of sight, too, as are mobile homes. Around the neighborhood, the running joke was that none of us could afford to buy our own residences at the current prices. Only it wasn’t funny.

Covid, however, ramped all that up. Many people with professional jobs found that in working from home, they can live anywhere – and in working from home, they need a home office.

The real-estate collapse I had expected didn’t happen, thanks to the federal stimulus checks, extended unemployment compensation, and anti-eviction laws. Not to say there won’t be a delayed reaction.

Still, with Covid limiting a lot of ways to spend money – dining out, movies, travel, athletic events, concerts and theaters, for starters – there may be a lot of cash in reserve. Who knows if that’s a factor.

We had nine bids in five days, all above our asking price. Some were accompanied by love letters, even an excellent loaf of homemade bread, and selecting just one from that array was difficult. As was the disappointment of those who wondered what they’d done wrong.

Some of the push is coming from people from other parts of the country, who are buying sight-unseen, like the Texans with two Mercedes whose bid for a smaller property down the street was $65,000 more than the original asking price. That had a positive influence on our own property when it officially went on sale three days later.

So where are most of the hopeful buyers in Dover coming from now?

New York and California, we’re told.

Did anyone see that one coming? Or have a clue just where it might lead?

Up under the roof these days

It’s hard to believe how much I had shoehorned into my attic studio. It’s the space where I’d spent so much personal time writing and revising over the past 21 years, but looking at it when it’s stripped down to this is really difficult.
Ditto when I think how much we had in the other half of the attic, a combination of guest room and crafts-projects storage once it stopped being a bedroom for one or the other of our daughters.

Ten dream moves in our new project

As the inspector said, the house has good bones. And as others have confirmed, the place feels good.

If I were living here solo, it would be too big for my needs. The second-floor could be reserved essentially for guests in season.

For two of us, both working from home, that second-floor would definitely come into play, and adding a daughter and son-in-law to the mix, even as frequent visitors, makes for yet one more set of calculations.

So here’s what we’re looking at on the horizon:

  1. Raise the roof into extended dormers across the second floor, plus an addition over the mudroom.
  2. Get heat for the second floor.
  3. Grade and better define the parking area.
  4. Install a wood stove or fireplace in the main parlor.
  5. Redo the old bathroom, moving doorway to the hallway rather than the dining room.
  6. Add an upstairs bathroom.
  7. Add small butler pantry between kitchen and dining room and move washer-dryer to second floor.
  8. Remove the ramp to the back door and move back entrance in the mudroom.
  9. Add a deck – we do miss the Smoking Garden – and implement a garden design – one that’s smaller but deer-proof.
  10. Enlarge the front porch.

It sounds like a lot, but we’re finding it exciting. We did just as much in Dover, only piecemeal.

Some house maintenance that remains to be done

Good luck to the new owners. They’ll have their plate full. As I’ve said, we bought the place as a fixer-upper, and two decades later, after a lot of big work, it’s still a fixer-upper.

  1. The roof, again. If they’re really ambitious, they’ll go for standing seam rather than asphalt shingles.
  2. Replace the upstairs windows. Winter gets cold.
  3. Paint the exterior. We had a tradesman lined up, but he backed out after his wife died.
  4. Scrape and paint the hallway. Caulk the floor, too.
  5. Repaint the floors. The interior rooms could also use refreshing.
  6. Retackle the mother-in-law apartment. When we added it when we first moved in, it was the nicest room we had. But a two-pack-a-day habit took a toll.
  7. Downstairs toilet. Minor, but annoying.
  8. Regrade and repave the driveway.
  9. Minor landscaping issues, but they add up. I’d start by felling the trees next to the house.
  10. Improve the insulation. Seriously.

According to some owners, a boat is a hole in the water where you pour endless amounts of money.

In the same vein, an old house is a hole in the ground where you pour endless amounts of money.


Ten big things to tackle right away in our new project

The Cape we bought was listed as circa 1865, but from some of the detailing, we’re guessing it was more likely around 1835. A bird’s-eye view map from the 1835 shows a house on this site, though maybe not this one.

Many potential buyers passed on the place, for whatever reasons. It is definitely a fixer-upper, but it feels good, and we like its in-town, close-to-the-ocean location.

One chimney was in peril of collapse, and it’s already been removed. The fuel-oil tank had to be replaced. Also done.

We’re looking at the work ahead in two stages.

The first, of course, is more essential. The second, renovating the place more for our dreams.

Not that I especially wanted another This Old House kind of series, but this time we think we can tackle the project more comprehensively, rather than piecemeal.

Here’s what’s on our plate as soon as possible:

  1. Insulate exterior walls.
  2. Repair foundation and cellar. Work from the bottom up.
  3. Level the flooring.
  4. Rewire, to accommodate more electronics and appliances, especially, and add grounded outlets.
  5. Replace windows.
  6. Straighten and fix gutters.
  7. Touch up and repaint exterior trim.
  8. Add a garden shed. We really miss our barn and need more storage space.
  9. Remove the old fireplace iron insert (now sitting in the middle of a room) and the big wood cookstove.
  10. Remodel and update kitchen.