An article in the Washington Post describes Montgomery County Public School's efforts to recruit recent college graduates from surrounding states to teach in the county. The article also describes the housing shortage. New teachers move here and can't find a decent place to live. We are not surprised. The last time we advertised a house for rent, so many people called that we couldn't even show it to all of them. With teachers in two of our rental houses, we realize that we could do more to ease the shortage.
We find a wonderful old house for sale on University Blvd. It even has a swimming pool. We think we can convert the attic and create enough space for four teachers to live without feeling crowded. We talk to the owner about our idea and he likes it; says he would be willing to carry back a second mortgage. We do the math. It doesn't work.
We find a great house in Takoma Park. It has two kitchens, room enough for five teachers, and we would only have to charge $600 per teacher. We write a contract and it is accepted. And then we find out about Takoma Park rent control. The city will only let us charge $420. Now we understand why there are so many run down looking apartment buildings in Takoma Park. We cancel the contract.
Times are pretty good. We are doing well financially, our first rental properties have been good investments, and we have room for some risk. We hire our nephew to replace siding on two houses and build a deck for the nuns who beat out 30 other applicants at our last open house. After weeks of open houses we find a little apartment building. It needs a little work but the market value of each apartment will provide enough income to do things right. We buy the building, replace the plumbing, build another deck, landscape the yard, clean 60 years of debris out of the basement and replace the dangerous wiring. One apartment is vacant and we rent it to a teacher and her husband.
There's another big house down the street and across from a park. The sellers want half a million dollars. They can't be serious. Still, the space would be perfect for three teachers. Each could have 2 big rooms and a private bath. The living room, dining room and kitchen are big and full of light. We can furnish the apartments, provide a great audio-video system and house keeping, and create an office area for whatever school prep the teachers might need. Apartments not nearly as nice are going for $1000 or more. We do the calculations, decide we could survive a loss each month, and offer the sellers $425,000. We're pretty sure we hear the laughter at the other end of the street. So, we continue our search for the perfect place.
Wednesday, September 4, 2002
We have been searching for two years. Wandering around on the internet, I find an old farm. It's listed for nine hundred thousand dollars and I know we can't afford it, but I call our realtor and friend, Jeanie anyway.
Friday, September 6, 2002
Jeanie knows we can't afford it, but she takes us to see it anyway. We love it. It's like stepping back into history. Three houses, one built in 1860, another built in 1880, and the other one is just a mystery. From the back yard of the farm house we can't see any neighbors at all, just woods. The paint is peeling, and we don't care. The roof needs to be replaced, and we don't care. There is no central heat, and we don't care. We add up over one hundred thousand dollars in repairs and upgrades it will need in order to provide a great living space for teachers. We still can't afford it and we don't care. We write an offer and wait.
Friday, September 13, 2002
We still wait.
Friday, September 20, 2002
Monday, September 23, 2002
Our offer is rejected. We were right. We can't afford it. And we still don't care. What if we mortgage our home? What if we sell our portfolio? What if we stop giving to our 401Ks? What if I take extra on-call hours? It's still tight, but just maybe and Jeanie, who has caught our enthusiasm, says, "What if I lend you the difference?" And now we can afford it, we think.
Thursday, October 3, 2002
Our contract has been ratified, we have written bids for a new roof, replacement of rotted wood, paint, floor finishing, heat installation, kitchen updating, extra washers and dryers, creation of a loft in the left wing, another bathroom and a half, replacement of one of the front columns, chimney repair, and termite treatment. Just how badly do we want to send our son to college anyway?
Friday, October 4, 2002
Disaster. Our insurance company refuses to give us a policy. We have no contingency for this in the contract and stand to lose our $20,000 deposit and the farm.
Friday, October 11, 2002
Seven different insurance companies have turned us down. No one wants to cover one house that's over one hundred years old, let alone three. My pager goes off at the end of the day. Lloyds of London will insure us for $5,000. Not great news, but it brings us back from near death.
Sunday, October 13, 2002
Now we just have to find teachers. If we build it, will they come?
Can a place this big, this wonderful, the future site of an incredible community of teachers, the place that could ruin us financially, not have a name? We can't think of one. Maybe we'll have a naming contest like we did when we couldn't agree on a name for the parrot. We try on different names:
Peeling Paint Farm
It should be fun. Shouldn't be too cute, shouldn't be too weird, shouldn't sound like a nursing home or a prep school. I remember games from my Quaker high school, in Sandy Spring. Frazzlyram... Friedlefrapp... Nerdlyball... Brindledorf... Brindledorf!
November 3, 2002
I did a little research on rental housing this weekend. I looked at houses and apartments advertised in the paper and on-line. By the time you figure in utilities, the cheapest places started about $1.10 per square foot and went up to $1.85. If we add up all the square feet at Brindledorf and charge $1.14, we will come in about $1500 short every month, assuming utilities aren't more outrageous than I imagine, and assuming that anyone even wants to live at Brindledorf... Last night I startled awake in a cold sweat again.
We were able to sneak out of the house for a couple of hours and go take a walk around Brindledorf. For all of the hours we've spent on this project, you'd think we would have actually explored the woods a little, but this was our first time. We noticed a couple of old paths and what looks like a very old, almost disappeared dirt road, just the right size for a horse and buggy. Nancy is anxious to find the area where the people threw their trash in the 1880's. There may be some colored glass bottles or other treasures that survived the years. Does any one have a metal detector they'd be willing to loan us?
I ordered living room furniture a few days ago. We're aiming for a not quite casual, but definitely not stuffy look. The couch and love seat are an earthy chenille, and the arm chair has an understated pattern with leaves and fall-ish colors. My father gave us a big oriental rug that belonged to my grandmother. The last time I saw it, I was 13. We'll have to see how it looks when it comes back from the cleaners. Right now, it's still folded up, filling almost the whole back of my VW beetle. We'll need some other pieces to create a second seating area (the living room is BIG), but we'll see how these first pieces look before we go buying more.
We won't have to buy any furniture for the kitchen. We have the table and chairs that belonged to my great grandmother and the bread making table that she used on her farm in Pennsylvania. I do have my eye out for exactly the right chair to go in front of the wood burning stove, though.
We haven't had any more mishaps in the settlement schedule, so it looks like we'll actually take ownership on Monday, December 2nd. We have tentatively planned the open house for Saturday afternoon on the 7th, probably around three. As soon as the ink dries on the papers, we can release the address. We hope to see every one on Saturday, but it will be easy to schedule other times for people who can't make it then.
November 16, 2002
Good news from Jeanie yesterday. The appraisal, which was the last thing that could squash Brindledorf like a Brindlebug, came in high enough to satisfy the bank. Two weeks, two days, and a few hours, and Brindledorf will be ours.
Nancy's brother and sister-in-law came up from South Carolina last weekend. Rick can do anything in his woodworking shop. He said he'll be happy to carve a sign for the end of the drive. Dianne and Rick both helped us to pick out new dishes and flatware.
I came home from work yesterday to find our front yard filled with roofing shingles and other supplies. True to my nightmare, our own roof did spring some leaks and needs to be replaced. And then one of the houses in Wheaton needed a new roof. A third house wasn't quite ready for a new roof, but at that point, what the hell. Might as well go for a bulk discount. At least this way, we can see what "Weathered Wood Architectural Shingles" look like after installation. If it turns out to be ugly, we can choose something different before we have the Brindledorf roof rebuilt.
I found some cool stuff at Sears the other day. I got in a little trouble, too. I had my camera with me and thought I would snap some shots of stuff to show Nancy. Even though I was still wearing my scrubs, with my clinical ID visible, I guess I looked like an industrial spy. I took one shot of a really cute ride-on mower, and security was there in a heartbeat. They were nice and let me keep my camera, but after that, I kept the camera in my backpack.
Later today, I'm meeting Dave and Mary at the cottage. Dave is our master painter and is competent with carpentry.
November 23, 2002
We had a wonderful dinner with our tenants, Caleb and Andrea tonight. They helped us do a little brainstorming, and agreed to come to the open house as official guides. We'll order their Brindle tee-shirts tonight.
We've got a week and a day until settlement, a week and two days until the crowds of workers arrive. By the day of the open house, there will be a new roof already in place. If we're lucky, the ugly kitchen wall paper will be gone. The beginning of new bathrooms will be in the library and on the 3rd floor. Tony will be there with his floor tiles and carpet samples. A few of the gas log stoves should be in place, but probably not functioning yet. Some of the furniture will have arrived, the cable guy will have come and gone, the phone will be working, and I'll be saying little prayers that my beeper not beep.
I continue to crunch numbers, looking for ways to get the rents as low as possible without sacrificing quality. There are so many ways to judge the value of space. After I did all my research on rental apartments in the area, I found that the cost per square foot ranges from $1.10 to $1.90. Most apartments seemed to fall in the $1.30 to $1.50 range. The farm house has 4679 square feet. Each square foot will cost us about $1.38 per month to own and maintain. We can comfortably take a $0.25 loss. At $1.13 per square foot, Brindledorf is a bargain, but there are a lot of square feet and not all square feet are created equally. Each space has unique qualities that might make it worth more than the others, depending on the tastes of the tenant. The third floor has the most privacy. The second floor has a great balcony. The library has a great patio and two floors. The pine and brick suite will have a wood burning stove in addition to the gas log stove, and space for a private washer and dryer. The left wing will have the cool loft and cathedral ceiling (yep, those plans changed again).
In the end, the realtors are right; it's worth what people are willing to pay. We just want to make sure that people are able to pay it. And we have to charge what will keep us from going broke. If we had to take a bigger loss, we could, but only up to a certain point. There's only just so much over-time a nurse can do and stay off drugs. Worst case scenario, it doesn't work and we have to sell it to the developers who wanted it in the first place.
December 5, 2002
Brindledorf is ours! And the bank's of course, but we have the keys. Only a few things have gone wrong so far; the old owners let the gas tanks run dry so there's no heat in two of the buildings and the roofers are another week behind schedule. The gas company promised to be out on Tuesday, and on Wednesday they promised to come today, but now there's all this snow, so who knows. Thank goodness for Home Depot and cheap space heaters. No broken pipes yet.
Dave, our very reliable painter, has been hard at work from the minute we signed our names in 59 places on the settlement papers. Joe and his crew showed up bright and early Tuesday morning to start building the library bathroom. Steve's crew came yesterday and began tearing the ceiling out of the left wing. Nancy and I have been taking loads of stuff to the cabin every day. One more day and we could have been snowed in over there instead of here on Bradford Rd.
The library bathroom is going to be bigger and nicer than we thought. It will have a big window and a jacuzzi tub. The tiles will have an old fashioned look. We're having a little trouble now with the placement of the stairs to the bedroom and the study, but Steve is sure that we'll work something out.
John is arranging to have another electric panel box put in the cellar. There will be more than enough juice for jacuzzi tubs, air conditioners, hair dryers, microwaves, toasters and hard drives.
I took $10,000 over to the Fire Place Shop yesterday. We'll be giving them more money before the month is through, but at least we qualify for a bulk discount.
We really aren't sure how many people to expect for the Open House on Saturday. We think we have 30-40 for sure, a lot of maybes and probably lots of folks who are still thinking bout it. I bought food and champagne for 100. If it's too much, that's okay. At least we know we won't starve this month. If it's not enough, well, then the house won't stay packed for too long.
Tuesday, Dec 10th
The open house was a great success. Everyone had a good time, Mary Sue's performance was wonderful, Gabriella managed the kitchen with help from Jen and John, our charter Brindledorf members.
The best thing, apart from meeting John and Jen, was how much people loved everything, even with holes in the walls and ceilings and floors. It's never been hard for us to imagine Brindledor as the perfect place to live, but it was exciting to see that other people could share our vision. Everyone had different thoughts about which was their favorite suite, but everyone agreed that there is no bad space anywhere on the property.
This morning another suite was reserved by Whitney. We think she'll be a wonderful addition to Brindledorf, too.
The house is full of dust, holes in the walls, ceilings and floors. Dave has finished repairing all the plaster and has started painting. The dirt floored cellar has a new electric panel that will support blow dryers, microwaves, hard drives, and other gadgets. The new library bathroom has walls, and the old left wing bathroom doesn't. We got estimates on re-tiling all the existing bathrooms and decided it would be nice if everyone felt like they were getting a brand new bathroom. The crews are enthusiastic about making the entire house a showcase. We'll have another open house after the paint dries and the dust settles.
Today the bathroom in the left wing was re-tiled. That was not an original part of our budget, because the bathroom was perfectly functional, just had some cracked tiles and was a little on the ugly and dingy side. Now there is nothing about this space that won't be fabulous. The new tile was definitely worth the price.
The ceilings in the living room and the kitchen have been pulled down and light from the upstairs windows shines through the rafters. Once the electrician contains the wires that hang everywhere, the rafters will be removed and the new ceiling will be dry-walled. For lighting in the wing, we're going to hang a ceiling fan over the kitchen and another one over the living room. That will really help move the heat around and keep the loft warm. There will be extra light from the windows at either end of the wing. I don't know if it'll be enough natural light for an artist, but it'll be a good start.
We discovered wide pine planks under the ugly flooring in the attic. We're going to expose the ones in the bathroom and not tile the floor. We're also creating a mini cathedral ceiling in that bathroom. There's a guy coming to tour this weekend. He was very disappointed to learn that Whitney claimed the suite with the loft, but this may end up being a suite that will make him happy.
Almost every day we find out that there's some other really neat thing we can do, and it will only tack another few hundred dollars onto the project. I think we've tacked on an extra 10K by now, but that is the way of construction.
December 15, 2002
I would have made a great ad for Murphy's Oil Soap today. I washed all the wood in the dining room and then oiled it. The wainscoting came from a walnut tree that fell on the property over fifty years ago. The wood really gleams now.
Elizabeth McCullough was a great believer in re-cycling. The cabin, which had been a milking barn, was enlarged with boards taken from another barn when some of the land was sold off. When we took the ceiling out of the sleeping porch on the third floor, we found more recycled barn wood. There are rough cut boards from other fallen trees stacked in the smoke house, just waiting for the next project.
The electricians got to work in the left wing yesterday and are actually ahead of schedule. Joe promises that all the bathrooms will be finished in another week. Gabriella is going to paint the attic while Dave finishes the rest of the suites. The roofers, barring ice, snow or rain, will be tearing off the old roof tomorrow. Good thing, since the kitchen ceiling has a very active leak. The floor guys will have just enough time to refinish the living room floor and lay new carpet on the 2nd and 3rd floors before the first tenants arrive on January 1st. Whew! It's hard to imagine that this time two weeks ago we didn't even have the keys yet.
Three suites are spoken for, however two of those will be free again in April when the smaller houses are ready to rent. We're so pleased with everyone so far. I think Brindledorf is either a place you get and love, or not. The people who are moving there didn't need any time to think about it, despite our encouragement to sleep on it for a few days. Seeing people so excited about moving to Brindledorf is the best thing of all.
December 21, 2003
It hasn't even been three weeks since we bought Brindledorf, and all the changes that have been made so far make it seems much longer. On the other hand, days pass in a heart beat. The livestock insists on breakfast by six, I check my email, get to the office by 7:30 or 8:00, do yesterday's paperwork, see a few patients, check on Brindledorf, check my watch and another three days have gone by. I have done exactly no Christmas shopping, there is almost no food in the house, unless you count dog chow and parrot kibble, our son arrives home from his final exams in five hours and we have nothing to feed him, my sister and her husband arrive in thirteen hours, and we have no bed for them to sleep in.
It'll get done though. We'll give Riley the car keys and a shopping list for Giant. We'll blow up a new double bed for Debbie and Keith, and I've at least done some Christmas thinking, so I know where I need to go.
The new roof is completely finished, the whole second floor is painted, the bathrooms are tiled and the Jacuzzi tubs are in. The left wing looks promising, but it's a good thing Whitney doesn't need to move for another month. The floor guys are coming to sand and refinish on the 27th and 28th, then coming back with new carpet and a new kitchen floor on the 31st. The fire place guy is running late. We have nine gas log stoves stacked up in the garage. We also have a gaping hole in the library ceiling where the new stair case was supposed to be by now but isn't. We're about two weeks behind where we wanted to be when we started planning in September, but considering that settlement was a whole month late, we're doing better than anyone thought we'd do.
December 28, 2003
Oh happy day, the sanding and finishing people left today. Once we're allowed to walk on all the floors again we can start moving furniture in and Brindledorf will be home. The gas stoves will be installed on Monday. The carpets and new kitchen floor will be finished on Tuesday. People will be moving in on Wednesday. All this in less than a month!
A wonderful gift came in the mail. Elizabeth McColloch, who owned the farm as a young woman in the twenties until her death a couple of years ago, had a nephew who spent much of his boyhood on the farm. He sent us a whole stack of photos of the farm through the years. There's a shot of Elizabeth riding a tractor, another shot of her milking cows, we can see the cottage before it was added on to, we have the cabin when it was still a milking barn, and there is even a shot of the great walnut tree before the lightning strike and its subsequent conversion to living room steps and dining room paneling. We'll put the photos on the web site as soon as we get a chance to scan them.
I spent this morning cleaning the pine and brick suite. I want it. I think maybe we won't rent out every single suite after all. I always knew it was nice, but there is just so much to take in, I really couldn't appreciate that part of the house until I oiled the paneling and cleaned the wood stove. You could spend the whole winter in that study. I scrubbed the bathroom until my hands started to resemble a palmolive commercial gone wrong. In a little while, I'll clean the windows. Once the fresh paint and the new carpeting is in, I just don't know how I can let any one else have it. On the other hand, I don't know how to talk the bank into taking a smaller mortgage payment, so I suppose I'll just have to be a grown up and stick with the original plan. Break my heart and throw it on the floor.
December 31, 2002
What very long days these are. So many workers here today that white vans circle the property like a wagon train; two guys putting in the kitchen floor, three guys from Joe's bathroom building crews, two guys moving the gas log stoves all around the house, four guys putting in carpeting, and two drywall guys sanding the new walls in the left wing. Gabriella was here for a while too, but finally gave it up. There's just not enough oxygen to go around.
January 17, 2003
We built it, and they came. Now we just have to clean it so they will stay. The Brindledorf Community is here. Almost everyone is actively involved in education, but there is a diversity of interests, ages and back grounds. It will be April before everyone is actually living at Brindledorf, but in the mean time almost everyone knows one another and there has been an immediate rapport every time another person joins. Only one person came to Brindledorf and didn't want to stay. We knew she wasn't a good fit when she saw the wide planked floors in the bathroom and said, "That's okay. I can always put carpeting down."
We still have trash piles in the yard higher than an elephants eye. Old appliances have to be hauled away. The driveway needs new gravel after 6 weeks of daily big truck caravans. Dave's plaster dust will be with us for at least another two weeks. The new stair case in the library lies on its side while two different crews argue over who got the measurements wrong. The carpet guys have to come back one more time for the sun room and the left wing loft.
I have to get back to my day job. No more impromtu vacation days and Brindlebusiness between patients for me. My new promotion came with just enough extra pay that if I give it all to Gabrielle, perhaps she'll agree to do the chores I thought I would be doing every week at Brindledorf.
I had so many anxious nights last fall. At least three times, I called Jeanie and told her to dump the whole deal. What if no one wanted to live there? What if the hostile neighbor who yelled at me for nothing had hostile friends? Jeanie was smart enough to talk me out of it. I was smart enough to listen to her. She's not my mother, but it turns out that she is always right. We won't go broke, people will be happy, the developers went away, and Brindledorf is here to stay.
March 20, 2003
It had to happen, but it was terribly sad. The smoke house was torn down a couple of weeks ago. The only thing holding it up was all the junk inside it. We saved some old doors and windows, and found a sighn that Elizabeth must have had made: McCollogh
We have no idea where "Lurelake" came from. I suppose when we're dead, people will say the same thing about "Brindledorf".