Friday, February 01, 2008

Home Ownership the Ev and Kwachie Way!

The only thing more fun than renovating an old house is renovating an old house with an audience, don't you think? And since the house renovation project will, no doubt, be fodder for a LOT of blog posts in the coming months, I thought I'd get a good early start by introducing you to what a $13,000 house in Cairo, Illinois looks like. That way you'll be able to really appreciate the story as it unfolds.

Right off the bat we know we have to rent a big dumpster and fill it up so we can see what we haven't been able to see under all the junk. Everything in the kitchen and basement goes in the dumpster, down to the walls. Then we get the home inspector to come and give us a thorough checklist of what we already know it needs and what we don't know about yet.

What we know already is that it has no heating or cooling, so we're going to have to buy a furnace. The chimney attached to the fireplace needs a flue and the old chimney that used to be attached to the original heating system has collapsed and will have to be removed. Then we need an electrician and a plumber to a) determine what works and what doesn't and b) fix what doesn't.

This is not Ev's first renovation and it's in far better shape than her first one. Her first renovation was a 100 year old farmhouse with big woe. The electric had to be 100% replaced, starting at the power pole. The bathtub had fallen through the floor into the basement, the roof had to be replaced from the rafters out, large areas of the wood floor had to be repaired, there was no kitchen to speak of, the septic system had to be replaced ... and then the whole front porch fell off one night while she was sleeping. When she tackled that project, on her own with the help of library books, she was a single mother with three little kids and two jobs, and her strategy was to get one room livable and then they all lived in that room while she worked on another one. The kids remember gathering around the kerosene heater holding umbrellas while it rained in the dining room.

In this house it won't be hard to have livable rooms to retreat to when we need a sanity break. There are many rooms that don't need anything but paint and cleaning. There are others that are more daunting, and unfortunately those are the ones that allow you to pee indoors and eat food. But there's a damn fine library in Cairo for the stuff Ev's forgotten, and now we have the Internet! I've already registered with an old house renovation discussion forum where we can pick up advice and encouragement as needed. I anticipate that our biggest hurdle is going to be the fact that we ain't as young as we used to be. On the other hand, we ain't as poor as we used to be, so we can pay people to do stuff this time. Hey, it's good for us AND good for the Cairo economy.

I'm going to call my friend who works in the Assessor's office in Cairo and find out about the house next door. It's a big, beautiful old thing on the corner lot that looks like it's had a fire upstairs. We want to find out if it's on the demolition list, and if it is we want to find out whether we can find the owner and pay them to let us salvage the good stuff before it's gone ... and then we want to buy the lot it's sitting on.

And so, without further adieu ... blogosphere? Meet the house. House? Meet the blogosphere.



Anonymous said...

Adapting the philosophy of if you live by it sometimes you will live in it? Where the Ohio meets the Missippi and like New Orleans the high ground being a levee and, when strained the solution is dynamite (sound familiar?) And, like New Orleans Cairo becomes a bowl surrounded by 60’ of water. Win Win for the rivers.
Cairo seems to be described as a sad place with the decline having many blames but, the largest being racism. (Let My People Go : Cairo Illinois, 1967-1973 by Jan Peterson Roddyn / Preston Ewing Jr. -photos
Lovely woodwork and original glass knobs. Hows the flood damage ?

Ev said...

Cairo indeed has a long history of sadness and racism. Recently, however, there's been an effort on the part of many old and new residents to get away from that tragic history and start moving forward. We think that Cairo, while not even remotely poised for something big, has become the sort of quiet small town that people like us look for.

And the house has no flood damage. The last major flood was in 1937, and the levees held and Cairo stayed dry. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it hasn't happened in our lietimes.

And's a project that we're excited about. It may not be perfect, but it's perfect enough.

XUP said...

It all looks and sounds awesome -- like a Hollywood Sunday Afternoon at the Movies movie starting a dream and some hard graft and ending with a miracle. Bon voyage!

marl said...

big time congrats on the new house. wish we lived nearby, as we have 3 sets of time-live how-to books.

we both would love to help gut & renovate. we're not as young as we used to be, so it could be a fun time for all of us!


Kwach said...

The whole idea of "high crime rates" in Southern Illinois is sort of funny to us. Two people were recently stabbed at the "Cut Mart" in Cairo and taken to the hospital. It was the top news story in the tri-state area, with breaking news updates every day for a week.

I lived in Phoenix. That story wouldn't have made the news at all except maybe a small blurb on a back page in the newspaper.

The news here cracks us up. They talk about the weather ... a lot. If there isn't any weather happening, they go back and interview people about last year's weather to see if they've put the barn back up yet.

So ... yeah. We'll probably have to learn to lock our doors, which we haven't done since we've lived here. That'll be hard to remember to do. As for the flooding? These old houses dry right back out again. :)

The most prevalent rumors about the sad decline in Cairo are the racism and poverty rumors. Cairo is 2/3 black and 1/3 white, and the 1/3 of the population who live at or below the poverty line in Cairo reflects the same 1/3 of the population of Southern Illinois who live at or below the poverty line ... and that 1/3 pretty much cuts across the color line. We aren't a wealthy area, for sure, but that keeps all the suburban, subdivision-livin' riff-raff out. :)

In a newspaper article yesterday, they interviewed a lifelong resident of Cairo. He's someone we know from the Vision 20/20 meetings and he said that when his high school classmates came back for a reunion they were shocked at the decline and asked, "What happened to Cairo?" He said, "You did. You left 50 years ago and never came back."

Someone has to start coming back, and they have to come back with the determination to make a difference. We're not the first, and we won't be the last.

Yes, Cairo has a history of racial tension ... it's the "town racism killed" ... but a town's history, or a country's history, isn't necessarily it's future. God willing we might just be about to elect the first black President (oh please, oh please).

Racism was a bad idea that's overstayed it's welcome. We're doing our part to starve it to death.

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Kwach said...

Oh, sweet! Barbara, you must be in the Broadway cast of "Spamalot!" huh?

Lovely to meet you, too.

Kathy said...

Loved the photos! I have old-house envy. Wish I could be there to help out. Please take lots and lots of pictures and keep us posted about the progress. Cairo needs people like you.

Jazz said...

Hello house, nice to meet you!

Now, do tell, who did the paint job on your walls?

Suzanne said...

My goodness. I got behind in your blog and completely missed that you bought a house to fix up. Congrats! It looks beautiful and I have no doubt it will be gorgeous by the time you are done.

Kwach said...

Jazz, the paint job is apparently courtesy of the last renter. It's sort of a study in descent into madness. The higher in the house you go the more manic and colorful she seemed to get.

I'm thinking the only possible way that stairwell ended up like that is Meth.

Thank god, her rental agreement ended before she got any further.


Linda said...

Well, the woodwork is in excellent shape, so its got good bones! This should be fun reading about your renovation adventures!

Linda said...

Oy, but I just looked at the pictures! What the hell were they thinking with that paint? Still, its only paint!