This is a companion piece to the Truck Of A Lifetime tribute to my 1966 Ford F-100. This chapter is mostly autobiographical, and picks up from the previous one that covered the Telemundo years. It covers our transition from Los Gatos, CA. to Eugene, and how I eventually figured out how to make a new living there that included using my truck. Disclaimer: It’s long, it’s mostly about moving and renovating old houses, and there’s not much automotive content.
One fine spring day in May of 1992, I was told by my secretary that a certain executive from the Telemundo corporate offices was in the lobby to see me. I had been expecting him for some weeks now, and I knew exactly what was going to transpire. Thirty minutes later, I walked out the door of KSTS in San Jose with a box of personal items, got in my 300E, and headed home to our house in Los Gatos. I was free! But now what?
The timing was awkward, to put it lightly. Our third child had arrived a few months earlier. We had just sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into an extremely extensive rebuilding, expansion, and renovation of our beautiful historic (1866) house in Los Gatos, which had been damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. This was money that I had made from selling my stock in Telemundo before it tanked totally and from a five-year employment contract that had generated some very hefty bonuses based on meeting/exceeding certain thresholds. Pouring almost all of it into an old house via an expensive contractor meant that fulfilling our intention of living there forever was now in serious peril. But did I acknowledge that in the spring of 1992? Naw; I much preferred denial and the idea of being free. i was living in the moment.
I got a severance that paid my full salary for six months, so I just pretended like it was going to keep coming forever. I sold my beloved 300E. I started riding my bike around town. I did stop my contractor, who was mostly finished by then, and set to doing some of the final details myself. But that was mostly minor stuff at that stage. I had really wanted to do the whole project myself, but I had neither the time or knowledge then.
So I dreamed instead; that’s what beds are for, right?
Like how to be financially independent and never again have to deal with corporate politics, or just even a boss. And how to make a living that allowed me to use my truck and my hands, and not just my head. I had always been an outdoorsy person, and working in an air-conditioned office wearing a suit had long worn on me; I was sick of it, and ready to toss it all aside even though I was a known quantity and could certainly have found another job in television.
Bu then I was sick of tv too; I felt like a vegetarian butcher. We were raising our kids without tv (lots of books instead), and I drove off to a tv station every day. I remember my son’s eyes popping when he came to visit me at the office and I had two tv on, of our station and the competition.
I had some tentative job conversations, but my heart wasn’t in it, and I certainly wasn’t going to pack up and move to some other big city away from mountains and the ocean. Los Gatos, nestled up against the Santa Cruz Mountains and 30 minutes from the Pacific felt pretty idyllic, in relative terms, for being right in a major metropolitan area.
Actually, the town was becoming insanely expensive, a Silicon Valley enclave, and I was increasingly uncomfortable with the snootiness, pretentiousness and one-upsmanship that was ever-more pervasive. But on our one acre plot surrounded by trees, garden, chickens and with a seasonal creek, we could pretend to be in a world of our own, even if we were practically right in town.
So instead of job hunting, I laid out a giant garden instead, in the sunny front yard, where the storage unit and construction equipment had been. I ran water lines and installed my first drip irrigation system. I hauled loads of well-aged manure from a tiny local dairy with the Ford, and double-dug it into the hardpan soil. I had all this pent-up energy from sitting behind a desk for years.
The results were spectacular. It was a riot of green, and we had produce coming out our ears. But was this how I was going to feed my family? In Los Gatos? Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.
After a long-shot attempt to buy a tv station in LA (did I really want to move back there?) fizzled out, it came to me one day a full year after losing my job that this simply wasn’t sustainable. Doh! And that we were going to have to sell the house and move somewhere cheaper; but to a place we really wanted to live. A smaller city, a good place to raise kids, enjoy the outdoors, hike, camp, garden, and…figure out how to support the family, eventually.
In July of 1993, while the older kids were at camp, we drove to Eugene, Oregon to check it out. I had spent a few days there in 1972 on my hitchhike up the West Coast, and it was now calling to me. We left three days later, having bought a house and enrolled our kids in school. We tend to act quickly; impulsive, in other words.
So in late August of 1993, we packed up the ’92 Caravan and my truck and trailer, and headed to Oregon, which has been and continues to be a popular destination for folks in similar situations. Call them California equity bums: Sell an expensive house in the Bay Area, buy a cheap one in Eugene, and start over. Or commute back to Silicon Valley weekly, like the dad of one family we knew. In our case, we had bought the house in Eugene even before selling ours in Los Gatos.
I picked up a trailer skeleton for what had probably been an ATV hauler, put in plywood floors and sides, and loaded both to the gunnels. For trip #1. There would be several of these trips up I5 in my truck-trailer combo, because we had accumulated a huge amount of stuff (much of which should have been jettisoned), but also because I had to come back and sell the house while Stephanie and the kids lived in Eugene, so the kids could start school there right away.
The truck and trailer rolled along quite well, although I did have a couple of hairy drum-braked moments. And I had one trailer flat, but had a spare. I’d come up to Eugene with a load, spend a week or so, and then head back down.
Timing is everything: this of course was right during the 1991-1992 recession that hit CA particularly hard, especially real estate. I ended up selling the house myself, as the realtors all gave me target asking prices that were too low in my opinion. I sold it for about $70k more than they had said, and with the saved commission, saved about $100k, which got me a bit closer to breaking even. Yup; I sold a house in Los Gatos for a substantial loss; bad timing, and I had just sunk a small fortune into it. It’s now worth about five times times as much.
The deal I made was a two-year lease-option, so I wouldn’t get our money out of it right away. But the lease payments were almost enough for us to live off, given that we made drastic changes to our expenses. Very drastic. Instead of expensive Yuppie bakery bread, Stephanie bought day-old bread. Etc.. But I was determined to not eat our capital, and to live within whatever it earned, or I could earn.
I was still enjoying my freedom, and that first year in Eugene I diddled around. Took esoteric classes. Rode my bike a lot. Explored the beautiful back country. But I knew that was not going to last forever.
I met a carpenter at my kids’ Waldorf school who really wanted to build an environmentally-responsible house, since he had become chemically sensitive to all of the formaldehyde and other chemicals used in typical construction. The lots behind our house had come up for sale shortly after moving, and I picked up one and helped him buy two of them. And I lent him and his partner money to build the house, which was designed by two architects and part-time UO architecture professors. It was certified passive solar construction, built from sustainable-harvested wood pulled out of a wood lot with a team of horses (seriously), had 8″ walls with super-insulation, used environmentally-friendly materials, and all sorts of very nice and comfortable features.
The builder was in a bit over his head, so I started helping out, shingling the exterior and painting. But as a spec house built with all of these expensive features, we couldn’t realize its value, and lost money on it (we did pay ourselves a very modest wage). But I learned a huge amount, and became increasingly interested in building.
We then built the second house on the other lot, but this time I was his 50% partner, handled all the books, and made sure expenses were better controlled. Compromises, in other words.
It was mostly just the two of us, so I got a deep immersion from the ground up in what it takes to build a house. And the Ford hauled materials when we needed something more than what the lumber yard dropped off.
It was hard work. We managed to make a modest profit on this one, which resulted in a break-even on the two-house partnership, but we had paid ourselves very little, and I quickly realized that building beautiful, unique and high-feature eco spec houses was not going to be the way to go for me, given the modest price of houses in Eugene at the time. My partner James did well later as a custom eco-builder, but only after he found really wealthy Californians who wanted him to build for them.
The second house was for sale recently, and it was fun to go back in and relive the memories, for better or for worse. Interior pictures can be found here
It was now the summer of 1996, and we had some more money after selling this second house and the option on our Los Gatos house had been exercised. Someone steered my to a house for sale, about eight blocks away, that sat on a large, double lot. Its price did not really reflect the intrinsic value of the potential in the land, so we bought it and rented it out.
Around the time we were building that second new house, a young house mover bought the lot between it and the one we had bought behind our house, and he moved in this fine old house from downtown, to be his own home. He first got me thinking about moved houses, especially since I now had a couple of buildable lots. And soon I would have several more.
The red Mazda 626 was my son Ed’s first car, which we bought from a charity lot. He lived in that little converted garage then.
The rental house I bought was 2769 Jackson. I knew I could put a house on its second lot (where the shed sat) right away, and I could also create an additional lot, an alley access lot, in the rear. But then I noticed that the house next door (2743 Jackson) also sat on a double lot, and I saw even more potential. I looked up the owner at the courthouse, knocked on his door (elsewhere), and asked if he might consider selling that house. He said “good timing; my brother and I just decided yesterday that’s one of the ones we’re going to sell to pay inheritance taxes on the 22 houses we’ve just inherited”.
We agreed on the price, and a few days later I met him at the bank to notarize the deed after I handed him a cashier’s check. Simplest real estate transaction ever.
What I realized is that there was just barely enough square footage to create an additional lot, resulting in five new lots, given the 4500 sq.ft. minimum lot size in this low-density zone. So I started a subdivision process, although at that time I did not know yet what would go on the lots, as is shown in this drawing. Plus I had two more lots on the block where I lived. Seven in total. Meanwhile, the two houses I bought were rented out, and earned us a decent return from the get go. Essentially, I got these five lots for free; well, the subdivision cost me $5,000. So $1,000 each.
Meanwhile, my house mover neighbor found a little bungalow that needed to be moved or torn down. He made me a good deal, and he moved it onto the second lot at Jackson, before the subdivision was completed. That was in late 1996, and then the heavens opened up for an epic winter of rain, so it sat there until the spring.
I had them move it in backwards, as I planned to open up the walls in side, and wanted the main living spaces to face south for better light. And I added a front porch to what used to be the back of the house. But most of that work would have to wait, because something much bigger was afoot: Six houses needed to find a home, asap, or get demolished! And I was the only one who could/would take them in.
The University of Oregon started buying residential houses to the east of its compact urban campus many decades ago. They rented them to students, but in recent years have redeveloped some of the land for new construction.
In the summer of 1997, they had to get rid of seven houses for a new large building project, and had given them to the City of Eugene Development Dept., who was now making them available for free, with certain conditions. One of them was they had to be moved within six weeks. I was the only one who had lots available within reasonable distance from the campus. And my house mover made me a very compelling package deal.
Needless to say, the university had done only the absolute bare minimum of maintenance on these houses, especially since they knew these were slated for eventual demolition or removal. They were in really rundown shape; I asked if I could pass on this one above, which also had an atrociously weird floor plan. “Nope; it’s a package deal”.
Before we go any further, I should explain that house-moving is an old tradition, although there are easier ways than this one. Any structure can be moved, with enough resources. And many large buildings and structures have been moved for centuries, even large masonry buildings. But needless to say, moving a moderate-sized wood frame house is a whole lot easier; it’s actually not difficult. A wood house is built not all that different than many trailers. It just needs some wheels.
These two videos show the basic process, although they had to deal with a basement, which is a bit more complicated.
Holes are knocked into the the foundation. Two large steel I beams are then slid under the house about a third of the way in from each side. A unified hydraulic jacking system raises the beams (and house). A couple of smaller cross beams are attached underneath the main beams, and dollies are attached to the cross beams, two in the back and one in the front. This is for a basic wood house, like the ones that I had moved; larger houses need more beams and dollies.
So early on a Sunday morning in August, 1997, I met the them where they had four of the larger houses all prepared to roll (the two little one-bedroom cottages came a couple of weeks later). Here they are being all assembled in a row and just getting ready to head out. Oversized Load indeed!
There was a good reason to move these four at one time, because the biggest expense outside of the mover are the utility lines and street lights in town, which have to be raised at almost every intersection. That’s an important consideration in house moving: the route and the impediments along it. The shorter and fewer, the better (cheaper). These were coming about 1.5 miles, but much of it had to be along busy 18th Avenue, which has stop lights on almost every block. Not ideal, but not too bad either.
Four houses just barely fit in each block, so they could sit and wait while the electric, cable, phone, and city linemen raised and lowered the lines. And motorcycle police controlled traffic. And everyone one of them was getting double time, which even back then hit close to $100/hour each.
Here they are, lowering or raising lines. House moving tends to bring out the spectators, especially when it’s four in a row.
Trees were a bit of a problem too, but a guy sitting on the roof of with a chain saw made quick work of the obstacles. One or two bystanders had some less than positive words to say about that. Trees are sacred in Eugene, despite the endless numbers of them. And the dump trucks pulling the houses hauled off the cuttings. I rode on that porch for a good part of the way, sitting in an old chair.
And son Will got to ride in one of the trucks;. here he is grinning ear-to-ear. You can see here why the street lights had to be swung around (modern street light pedestals do that fairly readily).
When they got to my neighborhood, one of the houses split off to my block, and the other three continued, with fewer impediments, to the Jackson St. site. They all arrived by early afternoon, and were just rolled onto the prepared pads for them, which involves peeling off the top 12″ or so of topsoil, and putting down 4″ of compacted gravel. No basements or cellars.
The one that came to my block was more complicated, as it was a lot with considerable slope. The excavation was deeper, and a bulldozer, off to the left of the picture, winched it into place after it firmly dug its blade into the ground. There was considerable groaning and creaking. Needless to say, all the plaster walls had a lot of cracks. But that was to be expected.
The houses were lowered unto wood cribbing, as seen here. After the foundation is built under them and the utilities are in place, the house mover comes back and drops it on the new foundation, and slides out the beams. Sounds simple,eh? Now the fun part started, for me. Not.
My subdivision was expected to be completed in August, just before the houses came. Everything had gone well, until it got to the City Surveyors office. They would find some little thing to change or fix, I would do it right away, and then they would find something else…this dragged on into the beginning of November. Which means I couldn’t get actual building permits and start until the subdivision was approved. In fact, the city made an exception for me to allow me to “store” the houses on the property pending approval. Well, it was in their interest, after all, as I was the only one who could take them off their hands.
And when the approvals and building permits were in hand, it was mid/late November, and the rains started. And kept coming.
Digging trenches for the storm sewer, water and sewer lines was a taste of WW1 trench warfare. Over night, trench walls would collapse. Cutting and gluing lines in the muck was a real blast. It’s heavy clay, so one gets taller and taller. Until the rubber boots get so heavy they come off. That open bedroom of one of the existing houses had to be cut off partially to make the subdivision work.
Out by the street, we had to put in a manhole for the storm sewer connection of all the houses.
The winter/spring of 1997-1998 was a long, hard one, as I had to hustle to get the foundations ready so that the mover could drop them and get his steel beams back. That happened one at a time; I did my own footings, sometimes with a helper. I laid the concrete blocks for the first house, but that was just too hard and slow. I’d hire a mason for the day, to keep things moving along and save my back.
This house had a lot of rotted floor joists, so I spent a goodly amount of time underneath it with a Sawzall and then pounding on 2x8s with a sledge hammer to jam them into place. Let’s just say I am intimately familiar with the undersides of my houses. And I put them all on three-block-high foundations, so that it wouldn’t be so tight under there. I hate the crawlspaces of my two existing houses, which are nasty and claustrophobic. The new ones are a dream in comparison. Eveything’s relative.
This is one of the two little twin cottages that came a couple of weeks later. They were small and low enough that the house mover did it completely surreptitiously one very early Sunday morning, with no police escort or utility companies. He attached a PVC pipe along the ridge of the roof, and bent it down at the front, so that utility cables would just ride over the ridge. He played fast and loose too often; he ended up losing his license to move houses a few years later. One too many knocked down live electric lines and a house in the ditch, or something like that.
It felt so good getting them all back on foundations, and having the trenches covered up.
Of course, that was just the start. Now they needed to be completely renovated. If I’d been smart, I would have taken out a big loan and hired a proper crew and banged them out all in a year or so. But no; I wanted to do them one by one, the hard way.
I did hire casual labor; some were better than others and stuck around for a while. Here we’re opening up a wall to put in much larger new windows.
Only the two little cottages needed a new roof right away; the others were still pretty good. In fact they’re all still on the houses today, although some are finally needing replacement. Of course, I don’t replace a roof until it really needs it. I see roofs being torn off and replaced that I’d be glad to have on my houses. Invariably, leaks don’t happen from the shingles themselves; it’s almost always some interface/opening, with a chimney, vent stack, wall, etc.. Which can readily be fixed without replacing the roof. But roofing companies love to keep replacing roofs, whether they need it or not. And when a homeowner calls on a roofing contractor to look at his roof to see whether it needs replacing, what’s the inevitable answer going to be? No; that roof is good for another 5-10 years.
Oh; that’s Jim the roofer that’s hand nailing up there. He was this very laid back older guy who charged (very modestly) by the square (100 sq. ft), but refused to use an air gun for the nails. He enjoyed sitting up there nailing away at his pace, and he didn’t care how long it took. And he did a very good job.
This is going to get really long, but I suppose I should show you a bit of what I did to the insides. The extent of the work varied, depending on their condition and floor plan. I tried to keep the kitchens and baths largely intact, as that gets expensive. This house had no plaster or drywall, just some old fiberboard nailed to the walls, so that got all taken down.
This house had already been majorly expanded from a tiny cottage in the 1930s, and they used recycled boards. Quite the patchwork.
The first one to be finished was the one that had come six months before the others. That wasn’t until May 1998, and a PhD candidate from New Jersey and his wife moved in, and stayed for some years. It’s now been named after them; “The Dubin House”.
The next one to be finished was one of the two little cottages, in the lot behind our house. That was in October of 1998. The garage also came along with the houses, on the back of a flatbed truck. I converted that into a little studio cottage, and both my sons as well as some tenants lived in it.
This is the lot where I more recently built a new house, attached to the front of the garage-studio. That house is chronicled here.
The very back end of the Toyota Corona Liftback from the 70s that my first tenant drove in that cottage is just barely visible. And today, it’s surrounded by the trees that we had just planted back then.
I’m almost embarrassed to say that it now fetches $995/month, for 500 sq. ft. and a tiny bedroom. But I could rent these little cottages all day long; folks practically fight over them when I advertise one.
Six moths later, “Big Pink” was finished. This was the nicest of the houses, built in 1915 and with 10′ ceilings, and front and rear porches. But despite its tallness, it has all of 1050 sq. ft, but very efficiently laid out, bungalow style, with no hallway.
Living room, dining room, and kitchen on one side, with the three bedrooms and bath opening directly to them. I did have to cut in a new entry to the bath from the living room, as originally it was accessible only from one of the bedrooms. Now that’s a bit awkward and obsolete.
I was working at maximum speed in 1999, and had some help most of the time. Three months later, in June 1999, the other little cottage was finished. By the way, I only used an electrician on the very first house. I either completely rewired or upgraded the wiring in these houses myself. I find electric work very straightforward. Plumbing is a bit more of a pain, but I eventually did most of it myself too.
It was almost a full year later, in May of 2000, when I finished the next house. It required more work, help was more sporadic, and I was slowing down a bit, and allowing myself to get distracted with other things, including a six week trip to Europe with my boys.
By now, the pressure was off; I had enough houses rented to cover or more than cover living expenses. The City offered us very low-interest rehab loans, and I took $100k worth, which was used for living expenses and paying for materials and helpers, as our own capital was used up by this time. Making this all work financially was a bit of a challenge, as Stephanie was a stay-at-home mom, and home schooled. The only way it was possible is of course the fact that we had enough money to buy our own house for cash and these first two houses, as well as the other two lots. So we had extremely low debt (only that $100k), which I soon paid off totally. Been debt-free ever since. The new house I built recently was paid out of cash flow. I hate dealing with banks and mortgage brokers.
I took down the wall between the kitchen and dining room in that house, and along with the bigger windows, it now has very light and airy living spaces.
The attic conversion had no insulation, so we took it down to the studs, filled the bays with rigid insulation, and dry walled. I put a lot of attention to insulation on all of these houses, and upgraded them as much as possible to stay cozy in the winter and comfortable in the summer. New windows across the board. A lot of old rental houses in Eugene have little or no insulation, which the kids that rent them find out the hard way when they get their first electric bill of the heating season.
For some years I had playground equipment that someone gave to me in the common yard area between some of the houses, and one time we had over 10 kids in this cluster of seven houses. But it started to rot and we have fewer kids these days, so I eventually offered it for free on craigslist. It went real fast.
The last house at Jackson took almost another year to finish, in the spring of 2001 (this is a later picture). It had a very weird floor plan on multiple levels, plus part of it sat on a slab, which had to stay behind, of course. But I finally made my peace with it, and got it done, pretty much all alone.
It’s the youngest of the bunch, built in 1947. And it has plywood on the walls, skimmed over a bit, and the siding is also plywood ripped into “planks”. Eugene is a major source of wood products and plywood was the hot thing after the war.
I have added a covered patio or porch to almost all of them, Each house has a modest-sized fenced private yard, and the rest is common area. My tenants are mostly young or youngish; lots of grad students, who make good tenants, in my experience.
That leaves one more, the one that was moved unto the sloping lot on my block, next to the new house we built some years earlier. This one was a real bear, and a much more ambitious undertaking, as I decided to add a complete new second unit under it, on the ground floor. And the original house was such a mess, it was essentially gutted. It probably would have been easier to start from scratch.
The full lower excavation took place while the house was sitting on tall wood cribbing. I didn’t trust myself, and hired an experienced operator. If it got knocked it down, I didn’t want coming down on me.
The exterior walls of the lower level, which is really something of a daylight basement, is built with a somewhat unusual product, Rastra Blocks. Developed in Austria in 1972, Rastra is the original Insulated Concrete Form (“ICF”), but substantially different than the ones made from virgin foam. Rastra blocks are made of 85% recycled polystyrene beads and 15% cement, and have hollow horizontal and vertical cores that are filled with concrete (and rebar) to give them their structural strength. They are dry-stacked, glued together with a foam gun, and then filled with concrete. The result is a very strong, essentially air-tight, high-R value wall that is ideal for basements, as it requires no added insulation. It’s used a lot in the southwest for adobe-look houses, as it can be plastered directly.
It’s a bit different to work with; plumbing and electrical lines are run in cavities easily carved out of the blocks. I bought a cheap electric chain saw for the job, which worked very well.
This is the wall behind the kitchen sink, and shows how the lines are run. One also has to foam in pieces of 2×4 where one wants backing to screw in cabinets later. One can plaster directly over the Rastra, but I chose to put up drywall sheets, which I just glued to the wall with a foam gun.
Unfortunately, PEX water lines were not approved by our code authority until this time, which meant I had to use copper and CPVC in the other houses. But now I could use PEX, which is so much better than previous materials for the job, and so easy to work with.
Here the upper floor exterior is essentially done, and the lower floor Rastra is a getting a traditional three-coat stucco finish. I had gotten very expensive bids from contractors for a stucco finish. One day I drove by the place where I often picked up Mexican and other Latino day laborers, and asked if any of them did stucco. One guy said yes, and I showed him the job. He said he would do it for $500 and materials. Deal! I became his helper, mixing up the mud which he applied expertly. I felt almost bad for what he charged me for that three-coat job, but he made plenty when I also hired him to do the drywall finishing in both the upstairs and downstairs units. He did the most amazing smooth finish.
That sun porch turned into a massive job. It was all rotted out, including some of the windows. I had to rebuild it essentially from scratch, but re-using the old wood windows. I had to take them totally apart, meaning all those many pieces of glass was removed. and I found a custom window shop that made the mullions I needed to repair them. And then reassemble all of it, and putty all those panes. What a pain!
And I wanted the two side units to open, so I found a rail and roller system as used on rolling doors and such which I adapted. That alone took several weeks. Anyone else would have tossed these aside and installed some vinyl sliders. I could go on, but it is a wonderful space up there now.
And the views are fine too. But it took several months for that porch alone.
I gutted the upstairs, and opened it it up completely, from back to front. I cant remember exactly when I finished it, but I think not until about 2004.
And then I started the lower unit (both levels are 3 bedroom, 1 bath), and finally wrapped it up in the early spring of 2006. I struggled with this house; it was just a bit overwhelming, and I was getting tired of working mostly by myself. Not enough interaction with other humans, and not enough mental work. I got a bit depressed, actually, although that might have been a symptom of a health issue that came up at about that time (and which has since disappeared).
But this house has always attracted terrific tenants, mostly law and other older grad students, who love it and have mostly been good to it.
The inevitable question is: “what are the economics of house moving”? Folks often can’t believe when I tell them that I got these houses for “free”. Well, that’s just the start, and misleading. Frankly, it’s not an easy question to answer simplistically. It depends on many variables, perhaps the most important ones being the condition of the house, the cost of building new, and one’s ability to do the renovation and other work required. If one has to hire a contractor for all or most of the work, the economics rarely work out unless it’s an exceptional house. These certainly weren’t. Oh, and of course one has to have a suitable lot, and not too far away. That alone is a big obstacle as lots close to town are extremely hard to come by.
What drew me to house moving was the same draw that many of you feel towards old cars: the natural impulse to preserve them and keep them from the crusher/bulldozer. I also preferred to avoid dealing with banks to finance new construction. And fixing an old house seemed a lot less intimidating than building from scratch. Sound familiar?
Then there’s the cost of land and the moving to consider. In my case, five of the lots were essentially free, from my subdivision, and the other two I had picked up for very cheap before the market here really started valuing lots properly. And since I was looking for long-term rentals, these rather modest houses made sense, at the time. They wouldn’t today, as the market is so much stronger, and obsolete houses are now increasingly being torn down in my neighborhood for new construction. These are simple houses easy to maintain, and rather compact. The rent I get per square foot is optimum.
I also got a very good deal from my house mover. He was just starting out, and needed the work. Today, it would probably be at least double that or more, even inflation adjusted.
I stumbled into this cost breakdown that I did some years ago, for someone interested in this sort of project. It is a composite average (per house) of the two size houses I moved: 3 bedroom, 1 bath units sized from 900 – 1150 sq. ft., and the two 525 sq.ft. one-bedroom cottages. The house moving costs include the mover’s own cost, as well as all of the utility companies and police escort, which largely explains the substantially higher cost for the bigger houses.
The rest of the costs are my out of pocket costs, for some limited contractors, casual labor, and materials. If we pick 1999 as the mid year for these, and do an inflation adjustment, we would need to multiply them by 1.47. That would come out to about $63,000 for the 3 bedroom houses, and about $38,000 for the cottages. There’s no way I could have them built for nearly that little today, but then a new house would have functional advantages. But then that’s not counting my labor either.
There were two main reasons I built the new house, rather than look for another house to move on to the site. One was that I was tired of dealing with the negative side of old houses: the lead paint, and the other nastier sides of old construction. The other was that house moving had gotten so expensive, and I wanted to find out what it would cost to build new. Well, it ended up to around $100/sq. ft., which is quite a bit more, but then it’s a much nicer house, and worth a lot more. You get what you pay for, more or less.
In 2005, we finally got a proper internet connection, and I discovered another virtual world out there, including some automotive sites. I became a regular reader to TTAC, having found my way there through a link or search to their GM Death Watch Series. Now that really resonated with me, given that I’d started my personal GM Death Watch sometime in the early-mid 80s, if not sooner.
TTAC was willing to accept submissions and publish them if they met the editor’s approval. So one dark and stormy night (literally) in December of 2006, I wrote an article about the challenges of the then-upcoming new generation of Chrysler’s minivans. It was accepted, and I was encouraged to keep cranking out articles of all sorts for TTAC, including a weekly Auto-Biography series, that was run every Saturday and became the genesis of the COAL series that have become a staple here at CC. And son Ed eventually joined me there, and later became Executive Editor of TTAC. And went on to his career as an industry watchdog of sort.
I threw myself into blogging, and then left TTAC and started this new website in 2011, but the past couple of years I’ve had to throttle back quite a bit, as there have been deferred projects and maintenance, as well as work on the new house and our own house.In 2008 or so, I managed to build this little studio apartment on the back of one of my houses, to replace a crappy, rotted one that had been there.
It also gave me the chance to build something new for a change, which really is more creative than fixing up old houses. And it was a warm-up to the big new house.
I’ve been mostly enjoying getting back into the physical world more, as blogging can get to be a bit of an addiction. Finding the right balance is key. I love blogging, but it’s a bit like falling down a rabbit hole for me when I get started on a the scent of something interesting.
Well, you know all of that. But I’ve been asked repeatedly here about my moved houses, so I finally got around to them, thanks to a Labor Day weekend spoiled bu horrible smoke from forest fires. Needless to say, it’s worked out better financially than I could have imagined, due to sweat equity and the strong real estate and rental markets here. I have the independence I was looking for, and I enjoy keeping my fleet of “Curbside Classics” in decent shape. They’re ideal rental houses, as they’re all relatively simple and uncomplicated, built out of durable and basic materials, and easy to keep functioning properly.
A lot like my ’66 F-100, actually. Which all ties together somehow. I knew back then sitting in the back of its bed what was important to me, and that there was a future out there for me and my truck, and even my son, but I just hadn’t yet quite figured out the details. All in good time.