FRIDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2004

Olde York Homes

This morning we met with Gary Geiselman of Olde York Homes. We’d already talked to four contractors this week, not to mention the other 14 meetings we’d had, and I was pretty tired. Since this was a preliminary meeting, I wasn’t supposed to talk about cost with Gary, just find out if we liked him. So of course the first thing I did was name a figure. I think I was hoping he would just leave, and I could go back to bed. He spent the next two hours walking through the house, clucking and whistling and telling me I was woefully optimistic. I also said I wanted to be finished within a year, and he said that wasn’t going to happen, either. Despite that, we both really liked him.

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2004

Barry Stover

One of the more interesting meetings this week was with Barry Stover, an historical consultant. Several people had recommended him but I wasn’t sure what he did, so I was reluctant. Dawn went ahead, though, and will forever regret it.

Keep in mind that we were under the belief – and no one had challenged this so far – that except for the windows and floors, the house was pretty much original. Within minutes he was pointing out that of all the cabinets, only one was probably original – the rest were just copies of the first one, probably done in the 20th century. Not only had the floor been replaced, but most everything beneath the floor had also been replaced, indicating someone was dealing with structural problems at some point. (There was even an old railroad tie used to support one wall!)

Our house went from being “pristine” to “about 40% original” in just two hours. At the end of our meeting, however, I still wasn’t sure what Barry did (other than upset Dawn).

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2004

Lawyers and Accountants and Engineers, oh my!

Dawn’s mother agreed to put the property in joint tenancy with Dawn, so today we met with our lawyer to review an “operating agreement” to draw the proverbial white line down the middle of the farm.

We also met with our accountant. It seems every time we talk to our lawyer, we have to run over to the accountant to see if we can still use the tax credits. (If we can’t, this whole project changes dramatically, and the B&B goes away.) So now the the rent is out, the lease is out, the subdivision is out; Dawn is on the deed; we’re running the B&B as a corporation and restoring the house as a personal expense–are we okay? Yes, we are.

Finally, we met with our engineer, who came in on his vacation to review the status with us. After a lengthy (and expensive) survey, he conclusively showed that:
1) We are above the “100-year flood” mark. (The county road, on the other hand, is not.)
2) We have sufficient parking for seven cars. (On 120 acres, this seemed like a no-brainer.)
3) It is safe to exit the driveway provided we put up a “no left turn” sign and paint big white arrows, just like you see on the highway. No, seriously, I’m not kidding here, we have to do that. Most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. A small B&B on a rural road, and we have to paint arrows that can be seen by passing airplanes.

But you know what? Painting those arrows is cheap; arguing with the county is not. Guess which option we’re taking?

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 25, 2004

2004 in Review

We’ve made seven trips to Pennsylvania this year, and managed to take three giant steps backwards. Our general contractor had done nothing all year, and when we were ready to start in October, he told us the roofer was busy until March. Then he asked for a $50,000 deposit. So now we have to find a new contractor.

The house sat vacant for twenty years without major incident – until this summer, when they had record rainfall, the roof failed, two rooms were covered in mold, and the furniture warped and buckled. So now we have even more work to do.

We danced around with the township and county as they threw every permit and requirement they could think of at us, none of which was related to restoring the actual house, which is all we’re trying to do. So now we think we’ve addressed all of them, but we’ve said that at least three times so far.

Finally, we spent a lot of time and money trying to take advantage of the historic tax credits, which we thought was a slam dunk. Someday, I’ll put together a chart of what our expectations were, compared with the reality of it. That should be scary.

I think the only thing we actually accomplished this year was the web site…

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2004

Merry Christmas
Merry Christmas!

We just arrived in Pennsylvania, and went in search of our septic field. We knew they had moved it, saying something about the “nitrate plume” and “high quality watershed” and “12 degree slope” and other such nonsense, but we had no idea where they had moved it to. Well, they put it a quarter-mile away, at the top of a hill! It’s an insane distance! The only problem is, the township has already approved that spot, so we couldn’t move it if we wanted to. The good news, I guess, is that you can’t see it from the house.

On the bright side, they did end up approving a single ‘community’ system for all of the houses. I don’t know why they fought that at the beginning – heck, I don’t even know why they re-considered it – but I’ll take my victories any way I can.

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2004

Christmas “Vacation”

We’ve got appointments next week with four contractors, two architects, a septic engineer, a heating/cooling engineer, a land engineer (not sure what else you’d call him), our lawyer, our accountant, a roofer, and an historical consultant – in all, we have 18 appointments in five days. That is our Christmas vacation. To add insult to injury, we just heard that a pipe burst in the guest house (where we stay) and so we won’t have any water. It’s going to be a long week…

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 01, 2004

National Historic certification

I promised (a year ago) to discuss the process, so here it is. Note that I only have experience in Pennsylvania; your mileage may vary.

  • First, find someone who has done this many times. Having someone with credibility will make things go much smoother.
  • Second, listen to them. Your house is important to you, but they will tell you if it’s important to everyone else. By the way, “historic” means it’s important; “historical” means it is old. There’s an important distinction.
  • Third, recognize that it’s a lot of work. No doubt you have lots of stories and anecdotes, but they have to research and document everything. As a general timeline, at the very minimum allow two months for the first draft, 1 month for the SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) review, and another six weeks for the second (and final) draft. After that, the SHPO will schedule it for their quarterly meeting, and either accept or reject it. If they accept it, it then takes about six weeks for the National Park Service to review it and add it to the National Register.

Expect to pay around $4,000 plus fees, and don’t expect anything in return. (You even have to buy the plaque yourself!) As you can see, there’s a lot of expense and not a lot of benefit for individuals, which is too bad. I think they assume that individuals will preserve buildings on their own, while businesses need incentives. I don’t think that’s true. One last note: A property can be listed “eligible” at any time, even without the owner’s consent. I’m not entirely sure what that means, though, except in terms of tax credits, which I’ll discuss another day.