The Safe House

It will soon be three years since we moved into Tett House.

The first two were fraught with stress and unexpected challenges. Not only were we adjusting to a new home, new jobs, and new people in a new place, but things kept going wrong and the repairs were adding up. We were constantly on edge, waiting for the next unwelcome surprise. Early on, I realized that I had become afraid of the house I’d initially fallen in love with, and it took us a long time to feel safe and comfortable in our new lives.

But even the toughest times slowly make their way into the past. One by one, we tackled projects, and they were no longer major, urgent repairs, but little upgrades we wanted to do.

Last summer, with delight, I fitted out the screened in porch as a bright, fresh gathering space with rocking chairs, an alfresco dining table, and a vintage daybed, which I talked about in my last post.

I also picked a couple of new nightstands and bedside lamps. Little pieces, big impact!

We finally got around to cleaning out and painting the room we had earmarked for Trevor’s office.


During.

Colour: Beau Green by Benjamin Moore. I love the depth and contrast with the cinnamon-toned wood. The office isn’t quite finished yet, but at least it’s functional!

We wallpapered a feature wall in the Front Hall and loved it.

I even started painting the old grates, but this is still an ongoing project. The paint is fairly noxious and I can only do one or two at a time. What a difference, though!

My favourite thing this winter has been our brand new wood stove! Our propane furnace – which is also new – heats really well, but we wanted to cut down on fuel costs. Thanks to the removal of several large, dead trees on the property, we had a carriage house full of wood to burn, so there truly is no great loss without some small gain. Jim from Rideau Valley Hearth & Home installed a brand new Jøtul F500 for us and it’s a beauty.

I love that it looks as if it has been there, always. When you’re working with an old house, it’s so important to honour and not compromise the historical character. We try to find a balance between new and old.

We had to completely reconfigure our living room to accommodate the wood stove, but it was worth it! We’ve enjoyed many cozy nights around the fire this past winter.

We hosted a reunion of first cousins in September and a big family Thanksgiving dinner in October. Together with our improvement projects, these served to re-establish my original connection with the house, which has been growing stronger ever since. One day, I woke up realizing that Tett House had finally become my home and I didn’t need to be afraid of it anymore. I could embrace it, with open arms. I gave myself over to that feeling, and frankly, it’s the only place I ever really want to be now.

And it’s a good thing, too. Who could have foretold that the Spring of 2020 would bring with it a pandemic that meant we couldn’t leave our house even if we wanted to?

With the advent of the Coronavirus, the house I’d gotten used to fearing, suddenly became our safe place. Its aloofness and remote location made self-isolation easy, and we feel quite independent. We can go outside and wander our six acres of trees with no chance of encountering others or compromising anyone’s health, including our own.

Our family was at low-risk for COVID-19, but we sequestered ourselves in mid-March, willingly and gratefully. Since then, we’ve found solace and boundless inspiration in the beautiful natural landscape that surrounds us.


We miss our friends and family, but the deer enjoy the view, too, and have been keeping us company… while respecting social distancing recommendations, of course!

Life may have suddenly slowed down, and the Great Pause of the world is upon us, but every day at Tett House still brings something new: budding trees, flowers poking up out of the ground, and even snow! Trevor captured this bit of mid-April magic and made a short video out of it, just because he’s awesome that way.

I feel as if Tett House is rewarding us now, for all the blood, sweat, and tears we put into the property early on. This stately Victorian lady is taking us under her wing and offering shelter, a safe haven. Even when the news is scary and things are uncertain, we feel protected and comforted.

When we first moved in, I joked to Trevor about wanting the house to be a place where we could “survive a Zombie Apocalypse.”

Please don’t let there be any zombies!

To read the story of our move to Tett House from the beginning click here.



New Year at Tett House – The Cost of Making Magic

When it comes to living in Tett House, every once in awhile Trevor and I have moments of overwhelm and regret. Not always at the same time, which helps. One person can usually bolster the other one up. Sometimes, we find ourselves saying things like, “Why did we do this?” or (only half-jokingly), “How soon can we put this place back on the market, recoup our costs and our sanity?”

The answer, of course is never. You don’t make the kind of investment in time and money and heart and soul that we have made, just to flip a property. At this point, we’ve kind of made a deal with the gods to stick it out, whether we like it or not.

But, there are also moments when we both feel like we have nothing left to give. (This feeling is backed up by our renovation budget.) Moments when hard work, uncertainty, and the latest repair bill push us to the dark edge of our dream… the one you never look at too closely when you’re at the beginning of your adventure.

Yesterday, December 31, 2018, was one of those moments. I woke up in the morning after a mostly sleepless night of obsessing over all the unfinished Tett House projects hanging over our heads. Trevor had just said, “Good morning,” when I dissolved into tears. “I feel like this house has bested us,” I sobbed. “And I don’t know what to do anymore.”

Trevor said simply,  “I feel the same way.”  He reached out to hold my hand and we just sat there while I cried for, like, 20 minutes. Neither of us had the capacity to comfort the other.

What prompted this despair, you might well ask? Well… I’m sorry to say, but we found a mouse in the pantry the night before. You wouldn’t think a single mouse would be the breaking point, would you? Not when we’ve been catching mice off and on since we moved in. It’s a house in the country, you might be saying to yourself. They should expect to have a few mice. And you’d be right. We did expect it.

It wasn’t just the mouse. Obviously.

When we bought this house, we worked with professionals, and thought we were financially and emotionally prepared for the major work that had to be done. What we expected to undertake was challenging enough, but we were up to it. We had the momentum of excitement and love for the house to propell us through the many projects we had planned. But, try as you might, you can’t be prepared for everything. Because LIFE.

We weren’t prepared for our well to be vandalized, or the creepy knowledge that someone had visited the property with a motive to poison the water source… a motive that had nothing to do with us, and a serious crime that brings a serious charge. I am grateful every day my son never drank or bathed in that water and that none of us are sick because of it. But I will never feel 100% safe again.

We weren’t prepared for the underhandedness of the previous owners, who lied and covered things up and violated their contract with us on so many levels, costing us thousands of dollars.

We weren’t prepared for the incompetence of our lawyer and our bank manager, again to the detriment of our finances.

We weren’t prepared for the multitude of little wrinkles to be ironed out following all the work on the house:  minor plumbing issues, carpentry repairs, defective smoke alarms that went off randomly in the middle of the night for weeks until we could get them replaced.

We weren’t prepared for ticks, not knowing the South Frontenac area is a hot spot for them. Our son was bitten early on and had to undergo a round of heavy-duty antibiotics.

We weren’t prepared for bats in the house: eight in total, three within the first month after we moved in. Always in the middle of the night (of course.) Our cat caught a couple and then had to be put in soft quarantine in case of rabies. Rabies! Pest and animal control have been working on sealing the interior and exterior of our home over the past year, but we still catch mice on a regular basis. We have to hide this from our son, who’s OK with most things, but is distinctly creeped out by mice.

We weren’t prepared for the large, dead trees (x 4) that needed to come down, for insurance purposes, because they were either over-hanging the road, or too close to our house.

We weren’t prepared to excavate our backyard to put in a new drain field, because the old owners chose not to update the septic system properly. We weren’t prepared to discover that the new tank they had installed was initially the wrong size and didn’t have a permit.

We weren’t prepared for the ants and the wasps and the cluster flies. OMG, the cluster flies with their incessant buzzing and that final, frenzied death spin. (Many thanks to Greenshield for getting those under control for us.)

We weren’t prepared to have a mason come to repair our fireplace mantels and tell us the chimney was falling in.

We weren’t prepared for the sheer amount of leaves we have to rake every autumn (25+ bags.)

We weren’t prepared for the cost of propane to heat a house this old in the winter.

We weren’t prepared for vegetation in the pond to choke our water pump and cause our water to turn a gross shade of brown and smell even grosser. Fortunately, this was just a glitch and is now sorted out. But I stressed for weeks about our contractors having to go out on the icy pond to pull the pump apparatus out of the water.

As a decorator, Tett House was going to be my big project, my pièce de résistance. I wasn’t prepared to have to go back to work with it not even close to being finished, and no more budget left to work with. And I wasn’t expecting to get laid off only a few months after being hired at a dream job.

I feel like I’ve just done a lot of complaining. But all of this has happened within the last 18 months ! As you can see, it wasn’t just the mouse in the pantry. It was the fact that I am now scared of the house I initially fell in love with. Each step we started out taking on solid ground has ended in quicksand. So, where the hell do we go from here?

After I stopped crying all over Trevor, he wrung out his shirt, and I made myself a cup of tea, which everyone knows is the answer to everything. I decided to go for a walk and get some fresh air. I needed to remind myself why we were so drawn to this spot; why we left everything and everyone in our old life behind to start fresh in new surroundings.

It was an overcast day, but warm for the end of December. A little damp, a little soggy. This is what I saw.

The view of the old Bedford Mill from my backyard:

Buttermilk Falls, from Devils Lake:

Tett House, from across the Bedford Mills pond:

And the path home, through the forest:

That’s a lot of magic for a crappy, grey, mid-winter day.

When I was a kid, I read a book called The Ship That Flew,  in which a boy finds a magic toy ship in a shop, only he doesn’t realize it’s magic. He just knows there is something special about it, and he tentatively approaches the old man proprietor about buying it. The old man, as it turns out, is Odin, the Norse God of Wisdom, and knowing the ship’s significance, Odin says, “It would cost all the money you have in the world — and a bit over.”

I feel like this is where we are at now, with Tett House. You don’t just get all this magic for free. It costs all that you have… and a bit over.

Happy New Year.

Read previous post here.

(To start our blog at the beginning, go to Part 1.)

 

Tett House – Post-Chaos Clean-Up

As much as we wanted to move in after most of the big repairs had been completed, our new life at Tett House could only begin after a massive clean up had taken place. For the better part of two months, we bounced around between a truly awful AirBnB rental, and both our parents’ homes. We tried to stay upbeat.

Several years of vacancy and neglect are not kind to a home that is 130+ years old, and the necessary but invasive upgrades had left Tett House in pretty rough shape.

The vandalized well problem had pushed our renovation timeline back by nearly eight weeks. We had to move out of our old place long before everything was completed, which meant all of our stuff was in the house while the messiest work was being conducted. Not only was every surface coated in drywall dust, and splatters of insulation and patching compound, but so was every bin, every box, every piece of exposed furniture.

For example… this is what the front hall looked like when we bought the house: a little worn, a little dusty, but what old house can’t use a little polishing?

This is what the front hall looked like after plumbing and electrical upgrades, insulating, drywalling, painting, and about a dozen tradespeople working in and out of the house at any given time… plus random storage of our belongings, because we couldn’t move in on time.

It was a daunting task, but so much of our journey up to this point had been daunting that all we could do was roll up our sleeves and get at it. This was us on Day 1.

Every available space was piled high with boxes and furniture. All had initially been organized neatly according to room, but necessity required our contractors to push them out of the way or relocate them based on wherever they were working at the time.

Living Room:

Dining Room:

Upstairs Hall and Landing:

I think it’s safe to say we were exhausted before we even began. The warm and stately house we’d fallen in love with was unrecognizable in all the chaos.

We worked room by room, reorganizing our belongings and then cleaning the floors, the baseboards, the walls, the fixtures. Anyone who’s done any renovation work knows that drywall dust (the worst!) gets into EVERY nook and cranny… and old houses have A LOT of nooks and crannies. Just when you think you’ve gotten it all, it continues to fall gently but imperceptibly like invisible snow for weeks afterwards, settling back onto your furniture, and leaving behind a fine white powder that turns frustratingly to paste when met with a too-damp cloth.

Every box, had to be wiped down and vacuumed before opening. I wore holes in my cleaning rags, earned bruises and backaches. While some rooms needed to be cleaned, others had to be prepped for paint and primer and THEN cleaned. I scrubbed the floorboards on my hands and knees.

As clean-up gained momentum, so did we.

One of my favourite little projects was the restoration of a chandelier that came with the house. Clearly not an antique, the fixture was loaded with dust and appeared too dirty to have much value. I couldn’t even tell what finish it was. At the time, cleaning it almost seemed more trouble than it was worth.

My mother didn’t agree; she insisted we bring the chandelier to her house, where she helped me rescue and repurpose what ended up being a nice little showpiece.

After removing all the dangles, I was able to clean the candelabra frame and brackets. My mom painstakingly washed each chandel-earring in hot soapy water, followed by a vinegar and water bath, carefully labelling their location and laying them out to dry on tea towels.

I’m so glad she talked me into keeping that chandelier, and putting in the extra elbow grease. It ultimately became one of those special little before-and-after moments that gave us inspiration to keep working toward our vision. And in the beginning, those moments were few and far between.

Another project was sealing and painting the interior of all the beautiful original wood cabinetry in the house. On the outside, the handmade cupboards were warm and lovely, but on the inside were stains and cracks and in some cases, a graveyard for dead bugs. They smelled musty. We wanted the cabinetry to be functional as well as decorative, and Brodie Burt of CL Paintworks did an amazing job for us.

Brodie also weatherproofed our picket fence, which was decent but sort of nondescript before he stained it a crisp country white.

One by one, our contractors packed up their tools and materials, shook our hands, and said good-bye. The biggest and most immediate projects had been addressed and we finally had our white picket fence. Things were beginning to fall into place and we were on the cusp of coming home to Tett House.

(To start our blog at the beginning, go to Part 1.)

Finding Tett House, Part 10 – Renovation Reveal

By the time we moved into Tett House – two months later than expected – a LOT of work had been done on the home. It was a mess; but it was also finally functional according to modern standards, and had been brought up to current safety and building codes.

When you move into an interesting and kind of spooky old house that needs renovating, people express a lot of curiosity. Friends and family want to “see what you’ve done to the place,” and it’s a little like being on one of those homeowner shows on HGTV. Everybody wants to see the big reveal. And I get it, because *I* want to see the big reveal!  But there’s nothing aesthetically satisfying or dramatic about working on stuff like wiring and hot water tanks. There’s no “feel-good” moment after someone pours diesel down your well.

As a visual designer (Hearth & Gable Interiors), Tett House was going to be my pet project. I had big plans, and a big imagination… unfortunately, due to the clean-up and repair of our vandalized well, and then a costly septic issue, we weren’t exactly left with a big budget. I also didn’t anticipate the anxiety hangover I experienced following that stressful time. After all the major repairs and expenses, I’m not ashamed to say I took a good long break and focused on unpacking, one box at a time. It moved forward at a pace you might expect.

I’ve made peace with the fact that my decorating goals are going to take longer than I’d hoped to achieve. Like, it’s a year later, and I’m only just picking paint colours now. But for everyone who’s been curious to see “Before & After” shots… here they are. The un-sexiest (and most realistic) home renovation reveal ever!

RE-WIRING:  Before

Every room in the house had its walls and floors ripped open like this.

I had so many misgivings about a lighting fixture this size.

RE-WIRING:  After.

Check out that smokin’ hot new electrical panel. OK, maybe “smokin’ hot” isn’t the best way to describe updated wiring, but you get where I’m going with this.

INSULATION:

Every exterior wall was drilled with holes from the inside and filled with spray foam insulation. Then the holes had to be patched.

Two worlds collide:  when foam insulation leaks out of your new exterior junction box.

We insulated the crawl space, too. I don’t remember how much we paid the contractor to go down there, but I feel like it wasn’t enough.

FURNACE: Before

The old oil furnace had seen better days, although the tank was fairly new.  We removed them both…

     

… and replaced them with a shiny new propane furnace with air conditioning. Those ducts are to die for.

Removing the oil tank created so much more living space!

Thanks to whomever vandalized our well, we also had to get a new hot water tank. Can you tell the difference? Neither can I.  #everygirlsdream

        

FLOOR REPAIR:  Before

OK, this was kind of a cool project. We had an old stovepipe hole that needed to be repaired. Not that looking down into the basement at our new furnace wasn’t an uplifting experience, we just didn’t want our son or our cat unexpectedly falling into a pit.

FLOOR REPAIR:  After

Our carpenter was a magician who found old boards under the stairs and used them to patch the hole.

*Flooring Footnote:  The hardwood throughout the house remains pretty raw. Although the original boards are strong and in good condition, the finish is in rough shape. Most of our floors look like this, or worse. Full disclosure:  sometimes I’m into it, sometimes not.

WATER SYSTEM:  Before

Somehow, we inherited the bad karma of the home’s former owners, and lonely and vulnerable, our water source was a target for the disenchanted.

WATER SYSTEM:  After

This baby is on lock-down…

… and our water now comes from the lake, with an elaborate new filtration system, and I never, ever, ever want to talk about that experience ever again. (You can read about it here.)

           

BACKYARD & SEPTIC DRAIN-FIELD:  Before

Our backyard is very simple – gently sloping grass, lots of trees, and one heck of a view. After moving in, one of the few things we were able to enjoy early on was this pretty little fire pit my husband built from a kit.

We spent quite a few afternoons and evenings enjoying a beverage or five with a beautiful sunset.

This year in early spring, sewage started flooding our backyard. We discovered the previous owners of the house had not adequately updated the septic system (nor gotten a permit for the existing tank) and our yard had to be excavated for a new drain field. These were good times.

Hooray! No more pee water in our backyard.

BACKYARD & SEPTIC DRAIN-FIELD:  After

The yard has been re-graded nicely, but the newly seeded grass came back as mostly clover… Of the four-leaf variety, I’m hoping.

And this is our fire pit. It’s still dismantled and the grass unmown because my husband threw his back out, so back off, haters.

Well, there you have it:  a series of the most uninspiring but absolutely necessary renovations you could ever expect to see. But, I will say this…

Our house is warm and dry in the winter, and cool on the hottest days of summer.

All lighting and appliances run safely on properly grounded outlets and junction boxes, and we have a generator for emergencies.

Our water is clean and safe to drink.

And boon of all boons, our backyard no longer smells like poop.

We’re still working hard to make Tett House our home. I’ve already established some cosy nooks and corners, going from this:

to this:

And this:

to this:

From the moment I saw it, I knew Tett House was my forever home. Every step we take is an adventure, and every new project, a gift.

We are grateful to the following local businesses and contractors for their tireless efforts and support. We truly had the best, kindest, and hardest working people on our team:

McNichols Electrical & Plumbing

Erica Grey (XCG Consulting Environmental Engineers)

Scott Blair & team (Scott Blair Contracting)

WC Gas Works

Levac Propane

Comfort Zone Insulation

Thompson’s Septic & Gravel

(To start our story at the beginning, click here for Part 1.)

Finding Tett House, Part 5 – Negotiations From Hell

When it came to real estate transactions, Trevor and I had always been lucky.

Our first house was a little “granny” house on a corner lot in an old neighbourhood.

The family we bought it from were SO NICE… they invited us over and served us tea on the porch. They bequeathed to us a daybed and a handy step stool and free cable for two years. Just before we moved in, they held a BBQ for us in their backyard so we could meet all of our new neighbours. They even left their contact information and never, ever got upset, even when we had to call very late at night one time to ask, “Can you tell us where the water shut-off is again?”

Buying our second house was a very similar experience.

The woman who owned it had raised her family there and was ready to retire. She was an impeccable record-keeper and left us a tidy accordion file full of alphabetized instruction manuals, warranties, and general paperwork for every service or appliance in the home. She left blueprints and architectural drawings for additions on the home from the 1980s. She gave us a contact sheet for all our neighours, and also one for tradespeople she’d hired for work or repairs. She and I remain Facebook friends to this day.

I guess you could say, we were spoiled.

Tett House was going to be the third home we had purchased.

Third time’s a charm, right? It turns out that’s only true if the people you’re dealing with aren’t total jerks.

When our family decided to put an offer in on Tett House, we were all excited and terrified. The owners of the house at the time weren’t officially working with a realtor, although they had been formerly. The negotiation process started off the way it normally does, with insurance and maintenance inquiries, a home inspection that turned up a few surprises, etc. It seemed like the whole thing would unfold like your average real estate transaction. Until the legal title search.

(To keep things as uncomplicated as possible, henceforth, the former owners of Tett House will be referred to as the “Jerks,” or, alternately, “Total Jerks.”)

The Total Jerk owners of Tett House claimed that a certain picturesque, but unusable boathouse on Bedford Mills pond belonged to the Tett House property. Additional water access to the pond was also included in the real estate listing, described as a “kayak launch.” However, when our lawyer pulled the PIN (Property Identification Number) for the land, he discovered these areas in fact belonged to the neighbour, Barry – the owner of the mill. Remember Barry? I told you in my last post to remember Barry.

This is the crumbling boathouse. It has been painted and photographed A LOT, but that is the extent of its purpose, being evidently housed by beavers and other wildlife.

And this is a photo of the “kayak launch” lifted directly from the real estate listing:

We engaged in some back-and-forth communication with the Jerks of Tett House via various professionals. Our exchanges went something like this:

Us:  Yeah, so… Our lawyer did a title search and it turns out you guys don’t own the boathouse on the pond.

Jerks:  Yes, we do. Our lawyer says we do.

Us:  Okay, if you could just go ahead and share the documents to prove that, that would be great.

Jerks:  We don’t have documentation. But our lawyer says it’s ours.

Us:  Can he provide legal verification, given that he operates as a lawyer?

Jerks:  No. We just believe him. And we think you and your lawyer should believe him, too, even though our claims are legally unsubstantiated.

Us:

The professional people involved couldn’t help us. The lawyers engaged themselves in a half-hearted title search mystery stalemate that neither seemed particularly interested in solving.

Ultimately, we ended up reaching out to our (future) neighbour, Barry, who had the only existing copy of the survey, along with other historic memorabilia.

Barry has been living at the mill for something like 25 years, and he had no time for the Total Jerk owners of Tett House. When I emailed him to ask if he could share any information about the house, here’s what Barry had to say about the Jerks:

“Hi, I can tell you that I feel the present owner ruined it [with] cheap inappropriate “improvements” He is a “flipper” almost as much a scumbag as most real estate agents. He also illegally cut down trees so he could view the mill. ALL the waterfront around the mill pond belongs to the mill not that house. I have the surveys.”

(The opinions about real estate agents expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of this blogger!)

But otherwise… a truly glowing recommendation, right? Yikes. Needless to say, I was a little intimidated about meeting Barry, but I needn’t have been. Barry was thrilled that the Jerks were leaving, and happy to see a family moving into the home again at last. He sorted out all of our questions about boundaries – including some complicated grandfathered clauses tied to his unique property.

We conceded his ownership of the boathouse and he generously granted us courtesy use of the pond’s waterfront. Barry is also a passionate naturalist and eco-science guy, so he instructed us NOT TO CUT DOWN ANY MORE TREES. Being tree lovers ourselves, we were more than happy to oblige.

As our realtor prepared the purchase agreement, the Jerks of Tett House continued to insist the boathouse property was theirs. Trevor and I had to request that every boathouse reference be stricken from the contract, so as to prevent future legal disputes. Further challenges of arbitration included, but were not limited to:

1)  Discovering one of the contractors we wanted to hire refused to work on the house until he found out that he’d be working for new people (us) and not the Jerks.

2)  The Jerks’ refusal to make certain repairs – some basic, others more serious – deemed their legal responsibility, based on the home inspector’s criteria.

3)  Finding out the home’s “updated electrical work” had been last “updated” in the 1940s or ‘50s, and the entire house had to be re-wired with grounded outlets and junction boxes (a massive and expensive undertaking.)

4)  Previous work had been done in the basement, necessitating important legal documentation. The Jerks refused to provide us with these documents, requiring us to search the public records system and pay to obtain them ourselves.

5)  We had expressed an interest in purchasing a few antique items the Jerks were keen to sell. Despite several requests, they never told us the value of any of the pieces, so eventually we suggested negotiating them into the sale of the home. This offended the Jerks, who said they had believed “in good faith” that we had already committed to buying the antiques. Apparently, they planned to simply quote us a price and we were expected to pay it, unquestioned.

6)  We requested the cleaning and junk removal of a large garage on the property. Considered a “Carriage House,” only by those blessed with the most vivid of imaginations, this building contained an inaccessible 2nd floor with an abandoned living space, open to the elements and littered with broken glass, furniture and general debris.

We had a standard real estate clean-up clause written into the contract, which was to be fulfilled by the Jerk owners before the closing date. (More on this later.)

As we hammered out the final purchase agreement, the Jerks continued to insist the property had waterfront access on Bedford Mills pond, right up until the very last minute.  In the final moments of mediation hell, we and the Total Jerk owners of Tett House ended up in a bitter stand-off, with me in tears, and they wrapped in an entitled cocoon of their own asshole-ness.

We were fifteen minutes from the negotiation deadline, when everything would be declared null and void and we’d have to start the negotiation all over again from scratch. Having known all along that they couldn’t sell what they didn’t own, the Jerks suddenly deleted the kayak launch from the contract. That conversation went something like this:

Us:  So, the property just went from having two points of water access on the pond, to zero?

Jerks:  Yup.

Us:  We should probably renegotiate the purchase price, then. And address your possibly fraudulent real estate listing?

Jerks:  Nope.

Even though they had misrepresented the property, withheld information, and been less than cooperative on a variety of issues; even though the work that needed to be done on the house was now greater than we had initially been led to believe, the Jerks refused to adjust the sale price. By the end of this process, we were asking our realtors if the Jerks really even wanted to sell the house. Anybody else would have walked away by this point. But I was still desperately in love with Tett House, further strengthened by the conviction that the place needed to be rescued – by me – from evil jerk villains. (I read a lot of books.)

In the end, we said, to hell with it. We’d come that far, we’d already committed time and money… we wanted the house. So, we decided to suck it up. We stopped trying to reason with the unreasonable, and signed the papers. Tett House would be ours, and we wanted the Total Jerk owners – now officially promoted to TOTAL ASSHOLES – out of our lives as soon as possible so we wouldn’t have to deal with them any longer than was absolutely necessary.

Turns out, they left a legacy. A stinky one.

As assholes are wont to do, I suppose.

*sigh*

Original outhouse at Tett House. (This was not the stinky legacy.)

Read Part 6

Previous posts:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Finding Tett House, Part 4 – Signposts & Billboards

I’m a real estate junkie. I love houses and I’m nosy about them, too – especially ones that I like. But I knew Tett House was gone and I had to find a new favourite, even though I knew I would  never see another house with that kind of charm and magnetism.

Just over a year ago (mid-January, 2017) I made a cup of tea and casually logged onto realtor.ca to stalk houses look at listings across southern Ontario. I had no way of knowing the GTA was just a few weeks away from an unexpected and precipitous boom in the market.

After entering and adjusting my search parameters, a group of random homes popped up and among them, I was astonished to see once more the listing for MY house… that beautiful but unfinished yellow house on the hill. The house I thought was lost and gone forever, sold to other people who would never, ever, ever love it the way that I already loved it.

Tett House had found me – again.

I still remember the significance of this… the thrill of realizing this was more than just a coincidence. The house was practically throwing itself at us. (If you haven’t already, please go back and read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 leading up to this point, so that you can understand the significance.) I had actual goosebumps. Our family was at a crossroads, and this was clearly a signpost. Moreover, additional work had been done on house, and, miraculously, the price had dropped. How many more times did I need to be hit over the head with this? Obviously, zero. But the question was, how many times did Trevor need to be hit over the head?

Turns out it was zero for him, too. After emailing him the latest listing, he suggested we make a trip out to see the house together… with our son, Oliver. This was getting serious. We contacted the realtor and made plans to drive out and see it that very weekend.


Oliver playing in the secret staircase.

All in all, I think we visited the place three times within a span of 6 weeks. The first time was to get Trevor and Oliver’s approval – check. The second time, we brought a contractor. The third time, an inspector. It was imperative to both Trevor and I that we fully understood the scope – and cost – of the renovations required, and any potential issues affecting a house over 130 years old. Our biggest hesitation hinged on having the budget to make the necessary repairs.

It was pretty much as we expected. The house needed to be completely re-wired. It needed insulation, plaster and drywall repair, and other cosmetic updates. There were no laundry facilities, so we’d need to plumb and convert one of the tiny upstairs bedrooms. And it needed all new appliances, as there were none currently in the home. The fieldstone basement had been my biggest concern, but the inspector declared the foundation solid and well-supported, although it needed to be better sealed against mice and other critters. The oil furnace wouldn’t need replacing for several years, and the oil tank was new. In fact, the bathroom and kitchen reno’s, the roof, the fence, the septic tank, the well and water filtration system were all new. We were nervous and intimidated by our own daring, but also vastly encouraged. This is how the house looked when we visited:

In between these visits, the stars in their courses were aligning and three very important things happened:

1)  Our realtor took a sample of water from the house and sent it off for testing. It came back as excellent in quality and very safe to drink. (Remember this.)

2)  I decided to contact Barry, the man who owns the Mill across the pond from Tett House. I reached out to him sort of impulsively, thinking he might have information about the property that we would find interesting. Remember this, too, because boy, was I ever right. Connecting with Barry ended up being an excellent argument in favour of following your gut instincts.

3)  Our realtor friend contacted us. Several months earlier (out of the blue) she had offered to conduct an appraisal of our current home. At the time, we had been very satisfied with the figure, and filed it happily under “Things That Are Good to Know.” Now she was calling to say that the assessment was no longer valid. Unusual changes were happening with property values in our neighbourhood; in only four months, our home’s selling price had increased by an additional $100,000.

So, what I had initially thought to be a polite little signpost was turning out to be a goddamned billboard with flood lights and flashing neon arrows saying, “THIS WAY, YOU STUPID *FUCKING* MORONS.”

The Universe had our attention. We were listening. We met with our bank manager. He said, “You’ve got this,” and took us to the cliff edge of our financial destiny.

We jumped.

Read Part 5

Finding Tett House, Part 3 – The Spirit of Adventure

It’s amazing how a holiday or change of scene can give you a new perspective. (This is probably why so many corporations are stingy about vacation time — too many of their employees would quit!)  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In spite of all the serendipity discovering the place (see Part 1 and Part 2) I’d made up my mind that Tett House could never be mine. Someone else would buy it and wreck it with bastardized “improvements,” or someone wouldn’t buy it, and it would crumble further and forgotten into obscurity. Neither fate exactly filled me with joy.

One day in the summer months of 2016, I searched for the real estate link, and it was gone. I assumed the house had been sold. I felt sad, and realized that I had still been holding on to some far-fetched dream that owning it might become a reality someday. But now, it seemed the home was irrevocably in the hands of others, so the best I could hope for was that they would treat it well.

In the meantime, Trevor & I were approaching our 10th wedding anniversary in the fall. We had been hoping to return to Scotland where we got married.

This was our wedding day at Dalhousie Castle in October, 2006. Look how cute we were!

Also, here is a completely gratuitous picture of my husband in a kilt. Because hot.

And one of me in my wedding dress, because I loved this dress, and yes, those are feathers.

Moving on…

Sadly, changes in finances had dashed our hopes and Scotland was now out of the question. We decided instead to visit the most beautiful old-world city in our own country – Vieux-Québec.

Aside from the odd weekend over the years to mostly local destinations, we had not been on a trip together since our honeymoon. Trevor had not even taken more than a day or two off in a row in almost 5 years. The strain was starting to show, and we both looked forward to our trip with excitement.

Our time in Old Quebec was beautiful and romantic. We were at liberty and leisure to explore the city on foot. We made no set plans, preferring instead to wander aimlessly, taking photographs, and making discoveries. There was no schedule. We ate when we got hungry, paused when we needed a rest, and shopped when we found something wonderful.

We weren’t just exploring the area, we were immersing ourselves in new sights and sounds, food and drink, art and beauty. Our boutique hotel had excellent service and delightful breakfasts. Outdoors, the leaves were changing, but the sun was warm. Delicious scents wafted out of the open doors and windows of restaurants and bakeries, inspiring us to a perpetual state of snackery. The clop-clop of horses gave me thrills of enchantment that were only satisfied when we took a carriage ride, and then promptly extinguished by the overpowering smell of manure (the horses poop in a bag!)

Our favourite day was spent on Île d’Orléans, picnicking on the shores of the St. Lawrence.

We were surrounded by art and architecture and nature and French culture, and we loved every second of it.

We let our imaginations and our senses run wild.

We didn’t fully realize it at the time, but by indulging our sense of adventure, our lives had crossed a new threshold. Once you rediscover your wings, you don’t fly back into the cage and allow somebody to clip them. We returned to our “regular” life and everything looked different. We realized how much we had been missing in the routine of our daily lives, how much we had turned away from what inspired us, in order to tackle the tedium of ever-increasing responsibilities and obligation.

Suddenly, we no longer felt compelled to maintain situations or relationships that had become imbalanced, burdensome, and stressful. Everything had changed. We didn’t know exactly what our next step was, but we were on the watch for it.

And then Tett House came back on the market.

(Read Part 4)

 

Finding Tett House – Part 2

2016 was a restless, restless winter. Change was in the air.

For years, our family had been living in a house and a neighbourhood we loved, in a city we didn’t. Although we talked about moving some day, we didn’t anticipate doing so for several years. Even then, we assumed we’d stay safe and secure in the GTA, where we’d been raised and lived our whole lives.

But the personal and professional dynamics in our lives were changing and could no longer be relied upon. At some point, our life/work balance had gone askew, leaving us increasingly frustrated and powerless. Trevor & I knew we needed to take back the direction of our future; I could feel the foundation of our lives shifting under our feet, but didn’t know yet where the momentum was going to take us. We talked a lot about how to build a life with more room for our passions and talents, as a better example for our son. We were redefining our goals as individuals and as a family.

Meanwhile, I had not forgotten the house I saw on-line, back in September. (See Part 1.)  It had come to represent a kind of touchstone for me. In February, I went back to the real estate listing and it was still active. I emailed it to Trevor again. I was already referring to it as “my” house.

After viewing the listing – again – Trevor wrote back to say he thought this house might be the same one that we saw on the hill back in November, across from the mill. I was taken aback at the suggestion. No way… it couldn’t be the same house. Could it?

A quick search (thank you, ye gods of Google) revealed that it was in fact the same house. It looked quite different from the front than it did from the back, especially at a distance.

What were the odds? Trevor & I had essentially both discovered the same property at the same time, but in completely different ways. I felt this was significant, but what did it all mean?

I decided I needed to visit the house, myself. I felt an attachment to it that I couldn’t explain. I thought if I could at least see it in person, one of two things might happen:

1)  The house would be so amazing, Trevor would immediately be persuaded to say, “Yes, my love, we must purchase this magnificent dwelling and move in forthwith,

or,

2)  I might gain satisfaction enough to let it go.

Not being a character in a Merchant-Ivory film, Trevor doesn’t use terms like, “magnificent dwelling,” or “forthwith,” so the second option was really the best that I could hope for.

I contacted the realtor, who agreed to take me through the house. She sent me information about the property:  it was called Tett House, it came with six acres, and together with Bedford Mills, was of local historic significance. Of course, this only made me love it more.

In March, I made the 3-1/2 hour drive out to Bedford Mills. Seeing the home in person was like a dream. Some attractive but superficial renovations had been done to the interior (new kitchen, new bathroom) but it was relatively raw and untouched – neglected almost. The owners at that time didn’t live on the property, so there were no appliances and little furniture. It was a lonely old place. I could feel its sadness. But also its potential.

The shingles were flaking off the roof. The floors were strong, but in rough shape. The doors were beautiful, cinnamon-stained wood, with incredible antique hardware, but a century of changing seasons had left them warped and sticking in their frames.

The house was filled with original, 19th century carpentry:  jam cupboards, shelves, and there was a walk-in linen closet upstairs in the servant’s quarters. Servant’s quarters!!  A “secret staircase” led from the kitchen to the second floor. How much had I always wanted a secret staircase? (Answer:  a lot.)

The fireplaces had gorgeous mantles, but were rusty and non-functioning.

The basement was creepy…  it had a fieldstone foundation and a dirt-floor with a tired oil furnace.

The original windows featured waves of rippled glass; they opened reluctantly, a number of the panes were cracked, and they were full of flies. Some of the rooms had been papered with ugly wallpaper that had begun to peel from the plaster walls, and in the main hallway, there was actually a hole in the floor from an old stovepipe.

A quick examination of the ungrounded outlets revealed the electrical work needed a huge overhaul. And although it was early spring by this time, the place was as cold as a barn. The realtor confirmed that the house had probably never been insulated.

It was daunting. I mean, I was daunted.

But…

The house satisfied something vital in me. For one thing, it was like something out of an LM Montgomery novel, which in itself was enough to attract me. The windows were large and bright, and each one provided a view of the water. And trees… in a house like this, I could finally have my fill of trees. My favourite feature was the screened-in porch at the side of the house, from which I could instantly see myself reading books and gazing out at the mill, listening to birds and the rustling of leaves, and that amazing little waterfall. The house and its surroundings were truly one.

My spirits fell, however. I knew it wasn’t going to happen. Trevor & I are not DIY people, nor did we have an unlimited budget to take on so many renovations and repairs. The house still needed too much work; it was rough and isolated and so fucking beautiful, and it was positively crying out for someone (me!) to love it. I thought my heart would break right there. Before leaving the property, I rang the bell again and said good-bye forever.

I went home and told Trevor all about it, and prepared to let it go. The universe had other plans.

(Read Part 3)

 

Finding Tett House – Part 1

It was the mill that first caught our eye. Well… Trevor’s eye.

It was August of 2015. I was sleeping in the car when we first drove by the mill on our way down to Kingston, because sleeping in the car is what I do. But Trevor, who is super thoughtful in this way, made a note to remember it as a place worth exploring in the future, and maybe taking a few good photographs.

We had been visiting friends and really enjoyed Kingston and its surrounding villages. Even though we had no plans to move at that time, I started randomly looking at houses in the area, purely out of curiosity. In September, I sent Trevor a link to the listing of a home I thought was incredible. This was the listing photo.

He replied that it was “very cute.” I thought it was one of the most gorgeous homes I’d ever seen in my life. Unfinished, yes. But gorgeous. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

You can still view the video tour here.

About 10 days later, I emailed him the link again, just because I get obsessed that way.

A couple of months later, we were in the area once more and Trevor said, “I want to show you something.” He drove us out to see the old mill he had first noticed back in August. It was in a little pocket of South Frontenac called “Bedford Mills,” with a few cabins, a quaint church, and not much else that we could see. At the foot of a tumbling waterfall, this steadfast, stone mill stood guard over a quiet pond, like something out of a gothic novel. Even in the stark greyness of a November afternoon, it was beautiful.

As the road cuts right through the property, we did not immediately realize the mill was a private residence (whoops.) We rambled and exclaimed and took pictures until our son Oliver sighed with ennui. Finally, we noticed a “Private Sale” sign that indicated the property was on the market, and I jotted down the email address.

Then we looked up.

High on the hill, across the water, was an old yellow house with a big old verandah, peering down between windswept pines. It was the kind of house I’ve wanted to live in all my life. I’m pretty sure it winked at me.

“Look at that house,” I said, pointing. “Imagine living there.” And in a heartbeat, I did imagine it. I considered what it would be like to look out the windows through those trees at the mill, and to hear the rush of that waterfall every single day. It was an intoxicating idea.

On a whim, we drove up the steep driveway to the house, which actually sits atop a craggy limestone cliff of Canadian Shield. It was vacant and even more charming up close. It also had an old carriage house and a bell on the property that rang with a satisfyingly loud gong.

A bell!  I was smitten.

We took some more photos, then went back to the car, and drove onward.

I had no idea this was the same house to which I had sent Trevor the link just eight weeks before.

(Read Part 2)