The Haunted Homesteader

Andrew and I have always loved old places. Optimally, we’d like to live in a wizard’s tower on top of a mountain. However, we’d be willing to settle for a castle with a thousand acres of land. More realistically, we’d like an old place with a couple of acres. That you can reach without a car from NYC (I said more realistically, not actually realistically).

So, sometimes I browse the real estate listings, especially near the train stations along Metro North and one day I noticed something unusual. There was a place that was being sold right next to the train station. It was 10 acres of property. They were asking less than $1 million.

Okay, those were the good things. There were… a couple downsides. It was old (good) and had obviously been abandoned for years (not so good). It was missing certain crucial elements like windows. And a roof. It needed a completely new septic system and well replacement (well water in combination with septic tank problems: eww), needed new wiring, and god knows what else. It was a “historical property,” so any repairs we made had to be okay-ed by a historical accuracy board and materials would probably be exorbitantly expensive: no off-the-shelf windows from Home Depot. On top of all that, the walls were literally made of asbestos, so either we pay an exorbitant amount to have all of the asbestos removed, or pay an exorbitant amount for each repair we did because everyone would have to wear spacesuits and take crazy precautions.

So, I said, “Let’s just go up on the train an take a look. So I can get it out of my system.”

Andrew pretended to believe me and off we went. We got off the train and… the property was right there. Like, 5-minute stroll up the hill from where we got off the train. Note the “up-the-hill” part: this thing was basically invisible from every angle. We’d gone hiking from this train stop a hundred times and never seen it before. It was on a bluff overlooking the Hudson. We carefully circled the property, the ridiculously large property, trying to get a clear view of the place. There was no actual road leading to it, it was just… abandoned by time, on a bluff overlooking the Hudson. I was done for.

We continued to circle it and the “backyard” (the part not overlooking the Hudson, did I mention it fucking OVERLOOKS THE HUDSON?!) melts into reserved state land, so it’ll never be developed. We’d have a forest in our backyard for perpetuity. We walked down one of the trails through the woods in the “backyard” and sat down on a big rock overlooking a waterfall. We discussed, and negotiated, and fantasized. We started off agreeing that we’d both be comfy offering 1/5 the asking price. A few hours later, our butts were freezing, Domino had crawled into Andrew’s lap, and we had negotiated ourselves up to, “well, the asking price is sort of reasonable…” We’re terrible negotiators.

So, we contacted the real-estate agent so we could see the inside of the house. She took us on a tour and, in some ways, the place was amazing: floor-to-ceiling bay windows with views of the river, fireplaces in every room, and more rooms that we knew what to do with. In other ways, it was… not so amazing. For example, it was built before indoor plumbing, so the original floor plan had not accounted for things like bathrooms. Nor closets, apparently that wasn’t a thing. It was built for rich people in the 1800s, so the kitchen was in the basement (keep the help out of the way). There was obviously no electricity, so none of the ceilings have wiring for light fixtures. The owners built an addition with plumbing & electric in the 20s, but given its size and shape, it’s a bit quirky. For instance, they added an awesome “secret door” bookcase that swings open to reveal… a bathtub in a closet.

After seeing the inside, we were in love, but the love was tempered by the desire to not have to work until we died restoring the place. We talked to a some contractors. We talked to our friends. We talked to our parents.

And… we decided against it. I’m a bit heartsick over it, but it’s just 10 years too early for us to be able to dedicate that kind of time to fixing up a place. Doing the mature, responsible thing sucks.

Now we’re mainlining Ask This Old House. When the time comes, we’ll be so ready.

The living room.

The living room.

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