We bought our first home in Granger, Utah (now West Valley City). Having grown-up on the east side of the Salt Lake valley, I had an unhealthy east side prejudice. I was an east side snob. My husband didn't grow up in Salt Lake, so all areas of the city seemed the same to him.
We wanted a new home for our little family, but the only new house we could afford was on the west side--way on the west side. We had only one car and Bill worked in downtown Salt Lake City. Taking the bus took him one hour going to work and one hour coming home. He hated it. My kids and I hated him being gone ten hours a day. If he took the car, we were left stranded for nine hours. He couldn't find a car pool. Unfortunately, we didn't like living so far from town and so far from my parents who were our only baby-sitters. We were stuck in a place we didn't like and didn't want to be.
A friend of Bill's, who worked in his department, owned a home in the inner city which he was rehabbing. It was the '70s and yuppies all over America were trying to revitalize the cities by purchasing old houses and restoring them to their former glory. This idea appealed to us. We weren't yuppies, but preserving an old house sounded challenging but fun (at the time).
Bill's friend heard that a house on his street was going up for sale. It was old and it very bad condition, but it qualified for a 0% "Redevelopment" loan offered by the city to encourage rehabbing. We went to see the house. Inside, we blocked our noses to the smells (dog urine, cigarette smoke and dirty diapers) and tried to ignore the cramped, crowded, messy rooms--stained carpets, dirty dishes on all the counters and heaps of dirty laundry.
We optimistically noticed only three things when we went to see the house. First, I noticed that the outside reminded me of my grandparent's house (see my blog "Gramma's House" 2/27/2008). The second thing was right inside the front door--a beautiful cherry wood mantle--(although it was surrounded by ugly, cheap brown paneling which we'd obviously remove).
The third thing we noticed was the second dark walnut mantle in the room used as the master bedroom.
Mantle in Master Bedroom
We decided to buy the house for those three reasons. Those plus the fact that the house was close to town and on the East side. Never mind the old plumbing, frayed wiring and broken windows. Never mind the lack of closets, one tiny bathroom, the kitchen counter which was exposed plywood. Never mind the fact that my dad advised us against it. . ."It's a fire trap. . .the wiring is obsolete. . .the ceilings are too high, you'll never be able to heat it. . .I don't want my grandkids living there!" We were so young, stubborn, naïve, idealistic and thought we were making a huge difference in the world! We also thought we would make fine fix-it-people.
The real estate listing agent made the the final decision for us--he bought our house in Granger in order to close a three-way deal. He'd sold the owner's of the inner city house a home in Bountiful which he'd also listed. It was a win-win-win situation for him. He promised us that the property would appreciate quickly and the price would probably double in five years, especially if we were making improvements. Soon after we bought, the bottom dropped out of the real estate market.
We moved in right before Christmas in 1979. Immediately, we removed all the carpeting and drapes to get rid of the smells. We applied for and got the Redevelopment loan--a stunning $10,000 which we thought would completely update the house and make it comfortable and liveable while we waited for the value to double. The $10,000 barely paid for the rewiring, replacing the broken window panes and rebuilding the collapsing front porch and steps.
The rest of the updating was sweat equity including out-of-pocket repairs, purchases and labor. I stripped and refinished all of the wide, bull's-eyed moulding and wide base boards. We patched and repaired walls. We painted. We wall-papered. We replaced light fixtures, put Levelore blinds on all the windows, bought new carpeting, new kitchen cabinets and counters, a new roof. It took many years and many tears and it still wasn't our cup of tea.
My children spent their childhood and youth in Central City, among every race and creed-- every economic class. The Mayor lived on our street but so did crack-addicts and gang members. We had a delightful grandmotherly Greek neighbor and we had crazy, insane, very frightening neighbors. For twelve long years we waited for the real estate market to turn around. For twelve years we were disappointed. Our kids' childhoods slipped away.
One day when my kids were teenagers, our house was burglarized--the back door was literally knocked down when we were not at home. Our car had already been broken into several time, the radio, binoculars and other items stolen. Bicycles were stolen off the porch. A claw-footed bathtub, which I was going to restore and put into our bathroom, was stolen from our backyard. A tub! A tub which took four men to move into the backyard. When my son was offered drugs on the sidewalk outside our home and my daughter was propositioned by the Crips, I said "Enough was enough. It's time to sell."
After twelve years our house had not appreciated one penny! In fact, the market in Central City had actually depreciated. We'd spent $30,000 in updates and improvements and ended up selling our house for the same price for which we bought it. We had to PAY $1500 at closing to get out of the house! We were left with nothing for a down payment, so we rented a duplex on 11th Avenue for six years--a great move, a great neighborhood.
In life, we learn from our mistakes as well as our success. Unfortunately, our mistakes effect the lives of our children. . .time and experiences were lost that can't be recovered or repaired. Our kids have forgiven us, God Bless Them. Now if I can forgive myself for trying to be something I was not! Dad, if you can hear me in Heaven--YOU WERE RIGHT!