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.)

 

Finding Tett House, Part 7 – Fallout

Once we sold our house, and the conditions of the Tett House purchase started to fall into place, our world stopped spinning for a short time.

It had truly been a whirlwind experience up until that point. Throughout the real estate process, the negotiations, the purge, the reno’s, we had been breathless and excited, and slightly intoxicated by our own daring. Isn’t this what people dream of doing – buying a big old house in the country, leaving the city and all of that traffic and corporate bullshit behind?  Carpe Diem, am I right?

Yes!

But.

(You knew there had to be a but.)

There’s a reason that it stays just a dream for so many… because turning it into a reality is really scary and here’s what all those TED Talks don’t tell you:  the Fallout is real.

The Fallout comes in many forms. It creeps in as second-guessing and self-doubt. It shows up as regret, establishing itself in your newly staged home, which you suddenly love more than ever because it looks so good, but now fruitlessly realize belongs to someone else.

Fallout makes you wonder if you can truly handle a rural property on the edge of a forested cliff, because the only wilderness you’ve known in the suburbs is an unmown lawn with too many dandelions.

Fallout reminds you that you’re leaving behind the close proximity of your home town:  the landmarks and memories of your childhood, and your sister, who still lives there.

One evening, I found myself driving to the only corner store in the small village where I grew up and, and I bought a piece of licorice, by way of saying goodbye. I ended up parking my car in some stranger’s driveway, with a Twizzler in my hand, bawling my eyes out.

  

Fallout shows up on the faces of friends who can’t quite hide the fact they think you’re crazy. And not the good crazy, either. I’m talking, cray-cray. It was late in the game when we finally started telling people about Tett House, and we encountered two very distinct reactions:  the people who were all like, “OMG THAT’S SO AWESOME I’M COMING TO VISIT,” and the ones whose smiles froze onto their faces while they pretended to understand just what in god’s name we were doing.

We didn’t mind. Underneath our bravado was the gnawing suspicion our brand of crazy was legit.

Fallout also makes an entrance as your parents, torn between supporting you, and feeling saddened because you already live several hours away and are now moving several hours further. Fallout further reveals itself in the reaction your mother has when she finds out you’re turning the extra bedroom in your new house into a home office instead of a guest room.

Fallout grandstands as people who claim to be hurt or offended that they were “left out” of what was ultimately a hugely personal decision for your family. A lack of respect and understanding for the privacy and logistics of our choice led to some irrevocable changes in our old world.

The most challenging Fallout is the one that tiptoes in as your child at bedtime. One night, after weeks of enthusiastically endorsing our move by falling in love with the new house, and raving over his new bedroom and large backyard, our son Oliver suddenly collapsed in tears under the pressure of impending change.  I lay down with him until almost midnight while he cried inconsolably and said, “Why are we leaving? We have a nice house. I love my friends. We have everything we want here. Why?” I had no answers for him, and eventually found myself sobbing as well. At that point, I was pretty convinced we were Carpe Diem-ing our way into making the biggest mistake of our lives.

We weren’t just moving; we were leaving behind an entire life.

And as it turned out, the Fallout had only just begun.

Click here for Part 8.

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

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