Monday, April 20, 2015

"So What Brings You to Pinehurst?"

Chapter 2:  Lisa and Bill Take the Plunge

Lisa and I awaited Mrs. Dunne's response with an equal mixture of anticipation and worry. What in God's name were we doing? Was tendering  a bid on this dilapidated museum of a house a foolhardy move?  And given that we were accustomed to life in the faster lane of downtown  Columbus, could we - would we- be happy in the slower-paced quaint Village of Pinehurst, North Carolina? In reality the whole venture seemed fanciful given the low likelihood that Mrs. Dunne would reduce her price to a number within hailing distance of what we then thought was our rather modest offer.

      Mrs. Dunne's counteroffer crossed Lisa's computer screen two days later. Wow! To our surprise, if not downright shock, we were not very far apart!  But before making another offer, Lisa and I took stock of the situation. The bottom line was we had no idea what it would cost to put the house in  acceptable shape. Our realtor, Jamie, suggested that we ask the seller for a lengthy "due diligence" period to assess what the rehabilitation of the property would involve. If we found the cost prohibitive, we could under North Carolina law back out of the deal, no questions asked, until the due diligence period expired. After conferring, we submitted a reduced offer and requested that Mrs. Dunne grant a 60 day due diligence period. In short order, Mrs. Dunne accepted our counteroffer. Perhaps these two lifetime Ohioans were about to become Tarheels!

We realized that the  60 days would  go quickly. We had to act fast on several fronts. Our German Village house would have to be fixed up and made ready for sale. And we needed to choose a home construction contractor in Pinehurst's environs.

Soon we were back in Pinehurst for a scheduled home inspection and interviews of two contractors who were interested in doing the work. The inspector's report contained some sobering findings. He deemed the ancient "knob and tube" electrical wiring unsafe in several places and the roof definitely required replacement. On the plus side, he informed us that the home possessed "great bones" and its heart pine timbers and joists appeared to be in excellent shape.

Both contractors we interviewed impressed us, but we rapidly concluded that a soft-spoken gentleman from nearby West End was our leading candidate. Yates Hussey came to us as the result of a recommendation  by our great Columbus friends Paul and Jackie Thompson. They had employed Yates to build their lakeside vacation home in Seven Lakes, not far from Pinehurst. But while Yates and the other competing contractor were able to provide estimates for some of the likely costs of rehab, both expressed the difficulty of predicting the entire cost of the project at this preliminary stage. Clearly, a decision to go forward with the acquisition and restoration of Rose Cottage would take a mammoth leap of faith by the Cases.

Back in Columbus, we deliberated once more. Our final opportunity to pick up our chips and withdraw from the transaction was at hand. Do we pass or play?  Lisa and I decided that if Mrs. Dunne would agree to another reduction in the purchase price, we would proceed.  In retrospect, I suppose Lisa and I subconsciously felt we had invested far too much time, emotion, and energy to simply back away. Mrs. Dunne acceded to our reduced offer, and  we advised Jamie to schedule an August closing. We telephoned Yates Hussey to inform him that we had selected him as our contractor. Yates is not one prone to overly display his emotions. Still, he clearly was pleased to be leading our restoration efforts. He suggested we hold another meeting at the cottage to plan the work. Yates also recommended we retain an architect to re-design the kitchen and to provide an analysis of  how best to reconfigure the hodge-podge of little rooms on the first floor into more useful space. We ultimately chose solo practitioner Priscilla Bailey to join our expanding team. Priscilla brought  Brooklyn-reared savvy, creativity, and good humor to the project.

Mrs. Dunne graciously allowed us to meet with Mr. Hussey and Ms. Bailey on site notwithstanding the fact we had yet to close. Our planning meeting with Yates and Priscilla focused on two tricky issues: (1) how were we going to redesign the kitchen given its current small dimensions? and (2)since the floors in the house were far from level, something would have to be done to correct this before installing new kitchen cabinetry. The downstairs floor plan with which we were coping is below.

We considered expanding the kitchen into the existing laundry room, but then where would we relocate the laundry?  Given plumbing concerns etc., the laundry would have to stay put. What if we flipped the existing kitchen with the existing breakfast room?  Then we would be able to view the  outdoors from our new  kitchen through the attractive set of three angled windows on the north side of the house. Nope!  Still not a large enough room to accommodate a modern kitchen!

 "Ok!" said I. "What if we knocked down the wall that separates that space from the existing downstairs powder room and closet areas?  That would give us a good size kitchen, wouldn't it?" Hmm. Maybe it would. But as Priscilla pointed out, such a move would cause a loss of closest space, and a new location would have to be found for the powder room. Perhaps the closet on the south side of the downstairs could be converted to a powder room. As we  turned this rubix cube puzzle over in our respective brains, Yates suddenly threw up an unwelcome caution flag. "That wall may be load-bearing. If it is, we can't knock it down. We'll check it out."

The unlevel floors were of major concern to Yates. Construction of a new kitchen would be rendered  impractical without level floors. He indicated two possible remedies for a fix. He could jack up areas of the house where necessary or alternatively "build a level box" inside the kitchen to ease cabinetry installation. The latter option seemed the most feasible and least costly. Mr. Hussey also determined that the home appeared to have been built in  three different phases. An examination of an early photograph (shown at top) revealed a markedly smaller cottage in 1895. Additions had been made on both the north and south sides of the house thereafter.

Lisa and I both assumed that we would retain the fuel oil system that heated the house. However, Yates mentioned that there were numerous space-eating radiators that could be eliminated if we switched over to propane gas. So we needed to think about that too.

 Frankly, Lisa and I were reeling from the flurry of bewildering issues requiring resolution already on the table. It was only the beginning. Over the next eight months, we would be forced to address scores of dilemmas  related to Rose Cottage. After the meeting, we gratefully took time-out and marched two minutes to The Villager Deli for lunch. Savoring my delicious BLT, it occurred to me that we should establish some infrastructure in Pinehurst. I asked Coley, the owner of the restaurant, which bank he recommended. He spoke glowingly regarding his dealings with First Bank.  So Lisa and I wandered across Chinquapin Road and introduced ourselves to local branch manager Teresa, and opened an account. We also needed to hire a lawyer to assist  with our closing so Teresa provided names of several capable real estate attorneys, one of which was Buck Adams. His office was a mid-length putt from the bank, so we moseyed over there. Luckily, Buck was on the premises. We immediately liked this affable gentleman, and promptly engaged him as our counsel.

The day after we returned to Columbus, Yates Hussey called with good news, The wall separating the existing breakfast room from the powder room and closet WAS NOT load bearing. It would be possible to knock down the intervening wall and design a kitchen in the expanded space. Priscilla was instructed to go to work drafting a drawing for the design of the downstairs area including the proposed movement of the kitchen. We also told Yates to "build a level box" as he had proposed rather than jack up the house. After going back and forth on the issue, we determined to abandon the oil furnace. We would use propane gas downstairs supplemented with an electric heat pump to warm the upstairs.  Selecting this option would enable us to knock down an unattractive chimney on the back side of the house. Its removal would in turn open up room for a rear deck which Lisa had in mind. I asked Lisa how she planned to access the deck from inside the house since there was no door in the area. She cogitated on the matter for a spell and came up with a solution: she proposed removing a rear window and replacing it with a French door. She reasoned that such a door and its wide expanse of glass would provide a nice vista when dining in the proposed new breakfast room area (the old kitchen).


Priscilla came up with a brilliant design that maximized our available space. She even found room for  a pantry. She found space for a powder room in an existing closet space. Her design shows  Lisa's French door, a peninsula marking the transition between the flipped breakfast room and kitchen, and a new "sitting area" next to the  three angled windows.

But without breaking the bank, there was little we could do with the narrow, curvy,  walled in staircase. It would have to stay.

Our closing in August transpired uneventfully as Buck Adams skillfully guided us through various hurdles that typically arise in real estate transactions.  The seller's realtor, Emily Hewson passed along a note from Mrs. Dunne wishing that we would be as happy as she had been in Rose Cottage- a very gracious gesture on her part! Meanwhile, we made plans to sell our Columbus house.  Thanks to a great sellers' market in German Village and the unflagging efforts of both Susan Sutherland and Lisa to get the house readied for showings, we obtained a contract to sell our German Village home the first day it went on the market. Our closing on the German Village residence was set for mid-October, and we made plans to move to Pinehurst on October 15th. The Rose Cottage  would not be ready for occupancy so we needed to find temporary housing. Jamie McDevitt referred to us to Jennifer Maples. Jennifer showed us a golf condominium available for short term rental next to the 18th tee of Longleaf Country Club, two miles from Pinehurst. It would suffice for the transitional period.

By early September, Yates Hussey Construction commenced  work on Rose Cottage. The first order of business involved submission of plans for our planned work to the Pinehurst's Historic Preservation Commission. The Commission approved our plans and we were underway. The roof was replaced in a two week period. It was not long before Yates's crew was hard at work building the "square box" inside the kitchen area. When we arrived to stay in Pinehurst after our move, we were somewhat startled to find that the downstairs kitchen and breakfast room areas had been gutted. All the ancient floor joists had been removed. This was necessitated by the fact that a level floor could not be feasibly formed unless new joists were laid. However, Yates would subsequently repurpose these heart pine joists when we needed additional wood for flooring in the hallway. The home's kitchen sink would ultimately become  the laundry room sink. The marble basin in the master bath would find a new home in a guest bathroom. Both Lisa and I wanted to preserve the history of this venerable home as much as possible.

After the move, I spent considerable time visiting  the Tufts Archives at the Givens Library. With the assistance of the Archives' Director Audrey Moriarty and Kaye, I discovered the photo below which shows the Ross Cottage circa 1895 with the Carolina Hotel clearly visible  in the background behind the cottage.  The Carolina is no longer visible from this vantage point as vegetation and intervening housing block the view. But the grand old  hotel and its many amenities are still there a short walk away.

Next Chapter:  Priscilla and Yates tackle the upstairs while Bill and Lisa are confronted with more decisions.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"So What Brings You to Pinehurst?"

 I write today from the "Cup of Flow Coffee Shop"  (no not  "Cup o' Joe") in Southern Pines, North Carolina. As I sip my hazelnut brew, our corgi, Angus pup, lies  at my feet relatively content, but ready to scarf up all treats and attention that the shop's mostly younger  patrons direct his way. My advice to single men: "Get yourself a corgi!"  Angus attracts girls like honey to a hungry bear.  They invariably  stop, coo, and fawn over the queen's canine. With its shopworn furnishings and eclectic  offbeat art, Cup of Flow  is definitely reminiscent of the now-departed "Cup o' Joe" which previously  served as my coffee shop of choice in German Village. Sadly, the landlord intends to repurpose the space at the end of January, and this independent hipster coffee shop will be no more. Maybe the three months I have lived in the Sandhills of North Carolina  provide insufficient standing to mourn Cup of Flow's upcoming disappearance. Nevertheless, I will miss it.


                                                                      Cup of Flow

What a whirlwind the last year  has wrought for Lisa and me!  A year ago (today is January, 12, 2015)  both Lisa and I were happy in our German Village- Brookside Golf and Country Club  ambits. We were most  fortunate  to have friends we cared about and that cared about us. Our mutual involvement in  civic and charitable affairs made us feel  useful. And I was engaged  in the engrossing process of researching and writing blog entries concerning  a long lost golf course that  ultimately morphed  into a book.  Sure, like most retired couples we had talked over  the possibility of  relocating to warmer climes in a cursory way, but  neither of us felt any pressing need to seriously consider moving anytime soon. But sometime last winter, it suddenly dawned on me that at age 65, time was marching fast. If we were going to entertain the notion of starting over somewhere else, it made sense to do so sooner rather than later. That realization, coupled with  yet another gruesome and gray Columbus winter,  caused us to ramp our relocation discussions up a bit. Sometime around February, the two of us made a sort of pact:  we would decide by August 1, 2014 whether or not  to move. I believe Lisa would concur  that when we arrived at this mutual understanding,  there was probably no better than a 25% likelihood  we would be pulling up stakes anytime soon.

Some  tea leaves shifted during the winter that made the notion of moving on less of a pipedream for us. Since 1978, the downtown Columbus YWCA  had  served as my winter venue for noon time pick-up basketball. Let me preface this by acknowledging up-front  that I am not now nor have I ever been much of a basketball player. And age has not improved my limited skills. Nevertheless. I eagerly looked forward to my thrice-weekly games on the Y's 1920's period-piece 70 foot  court. Most of the players who regularly joined the noontime fray were my junior by decades, but there were a few survivors from the 1960's like Bernie Boltz and  Dan Strasser, who were my vintage. On occasion,  the old guys would take on the younger bucks. We savored our rare victories.  This activity  helped make the Columbus winters bearable.  But in February, the YWCA announced  its intention to totally eliminate its fitness facility, including its venerable  basketball court by the spring of 2015.  It may seem a small thing, but the impending loss of my principal wintertime activity certainly was an  element in our ultimate decision to depart Columbus.

                                                         Dave and Al- two  Y stalwarts   

Lisa had just concluded four years of service as a member of the German Village Commission, responsible for passing on the appropriateness of exterior changes to all structures in the historic district where we resided. October, 2013 marked the close of my two terms as president of the German Village Society. This 501(c)(3) organization supports in myriad ways the maintenance of historic preservation in our community. Though we both enjoyed out stints in these capacities, both Lisa and I confessed to a bit  of civic activity fatigue. This certainly played a factor in causing us to become open to exploring  new vistas.

Fast forward to April, 2014!  Lisa suggested that since we were going to be in Pinehurst for golf, we should contact a realtor to show us some houses prior to our Monday drive back to Columbus. After all, our self-imposed "stay or go" August 1 deadline was already looming. Accordingly,  our German Village  friend, realtor Susan Sutherland, contacted her Sotheby's counterpart in Southern Pines (5 miles from Pinehurst) Jamie McDevitt to assist us.

The evening prior to meeting with Jamie, Lisa and I toured around the Village of Pinehurst to see what was for sale. I have a weakness for older houses, and I spied one adjacent to the town's quaint commercial area. It even had a name- the "Rose Cottage" built in 1895. With its  green-shingled  gabled roof, generous front porch, and fenced balcony, the home certainly gave a charming appearance from the curb. But even from the street, it was clear that the house that needed some work. We made a mental note to have Jamie arrange a look-see.

So the following morning, Jamie escorted us on a whirlwind tour of  residences marked for sale sprinkled over various neighborhoods of both Pinehurst and Southern Pines. We looked at eight different homes but none of them really captured our imagination. We returned to Jamie's office,  and said our goodbyes. But then it occurred to me that we had not seen the Rose Cottage. Jamie had another appointment, but one of her agents was available to show us the house. We faced a nine hour drive back to Columbus so we considered skipping any further showings.  We had to go back to Columbus through Pinehurst anyway, so we figured we might as well check the old place out.

For reasons I cannot explain, I felt a surge of anticipation as the agent fiddled with the lock. Lisa did not share that feeling. She was eyeing the peeling paint and  missing roof shingles with trepidation. Once inside, my attention was diverted to the large living room to my right. Some folks down south might call it a Carolina Room, others might refer to it as a sunroom. Whatever you call it, I was immediately blown away by the enormous windows that enveloped  three sides of the room. My jaw dropped when I eyed the ancient wavy glass in the 15 rectangular panes mounted in each of the six windows. It took no imagination to envision this room as the perfect venue for festive occasions of all sorts.  No doubt about it, I was smitten.

The windows lighting up the dining room were wonderful too!

So were the angled arched windows framing the dinette area in the middle of the home.
There were two attractive fireplaces- one in the Carolina Room and the one below located in the dining room.
Upstairs, there were four bedrooms. The master was generously proportioned. Two others made fine guest rooms. The smallish fourth, adjoining the master, struck us as only adequate for a  nursery. Maybe the space could be repurposed! 
The more I saw, the more excited I became. But Lisa remained uncharacteristically quiet, pretty much keeping her own counsel. That was the case  until we arrived at the kitchen in the rear of the home. She made no bones about it. This kitchen would never ever do!  Too small, too antiquated, poorly laid out- the refrigerator had been placed in a back mud room (a relic from the days when the iceman would deliver to the icebox) because there was no room for it elsewhere. She let me know right away the kitchen was a non-starter UNLESS it could be totally refitted. And where pray tell was there room to do that anywhere downstairs?
To be honest, I was a little let-down by Lisa's  negativity. But I also realized that having a workable attractive kitchen was of utmost importance to her.  Having completed a total gutting and redo of the kitchen in our German Village home a couple of short years before, I had a fairly good idea what a remodel would cost:  cha-ching! I was becoming resigned to the fact that this house was simply a bridge too far for us when I spied the carriage house in the rear of the lot. One portion housed an area  that had once served as a servant's quarters. I was re-energized!  What a perfect man cave -writing room this would make! 
Lisa found  it difficult to temper  my unbridled enthusiasm. So we weighed the pros and cons on our long drive home. Keep in mind that we  felt  no compunction to leave Ohio; yet now we were considering purchasing  this large nineteenth century house. This could never be a mere vacation home. For us, it would necessarily have to be a principal residence. We agreed on one thing:  this home could potentially be a showstopper. If we could buy it well below its listed price, maybe we could afford to make the needed renovations- assuming of course we sold our German Village residence in a timely manner. So shortly after we returned we began to consider what at the time we felt would be a lowball offer. The property had been listed for an extended period,  and Jamie advised us there was some chance that the owner might be ready to entertain a reduced price..
We learned that the owner, Renee Dunn, spent most of her time in Connecticut. She visited the home only on rare occasions. Renee was the daughter of the well-known Razook family which had once operated a department store in Pinehurst as well as stores in other high-end resort areas like Palm Beach. The Razook family had owned the property since 1940. The house had quite an interesting history. The Rose Cottage was one of the fourteen built by Pinehurst founder and soda fountain magnate James Tufts when he started the resort in 1895. It was the first of the cottages to pass into outside hands when a gentleman by the name of George  Blake bought it. The home had been added onto at least twice. The spectacular  Carolina Room had not been a part of the original structure.
So with admittedly high anxiety, we tendered our offer  to Mrs. Dunn.
Next installment:  When restoring old homes, one thing leads to another!