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Looking for Feedback on a Potential Homestead (pics)  RSS feed

 
Posts: 113
Location: Hatfield, PA
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Hey All,
I've been keeping my eye on a particular property here in Chester County, PA for a while now and just saw it drop significantly in price since it's been on the market for a while. The old asking price was way too high given the work it needed, but now it's about what I thought was on the high-side of fair. I think it would make a great homestead, but wanted to get some feedback from folks that have been through this before as no-one in my family has...

The Place
The place is a 10 acre farmstead and has several older buildings on the property. The land is relatively flat, but has enough contour to make it interesting. It is mostly open, with some trees near the house/barn and property boundaries. It is a corner lot on a main-ish road (main for the country) and has some great schools. Taxes aren't great, but at 10 acres we can start applying for some farming/ag exemptions. We can pay it as is, but I like to give the government as little as possible on general principle. The soil survey says the property has the following makeup

CaB Califon loam, 3 to 8 percent slopes 2.5 25.7%
CpB Cokesbury silt loam, 3 to 8 percent slopes 0.4 4.5%
GdB Gladstone gravelly loam, 3 to 8 percent slopes 5.9 60.4%
W Water 0.9 9.5%


The main building was done in 1774, with three additions done after. One of those additions was remodeled into a separate suite/apartment which is probably where we'd live while doing renovations on the rest. The whole thing is solid stone. The layout is a bit rough, but my wife (an architect) and I (a competent builder) think we can relocate the stairs to improve the flow, and then redo the bathrooms, kitchen, and interiors as necessary. From what I can tell, there are no structural issues with the main building.


There is a carriage house that has been updated into a stand alone apartment, but it needs some major work done to the roof. It's a really cool building, though. Water comes from the main house and it has it's own electric water heater, kitchen, bathroom, and electric heat. It also has a chimney set up for wood heat.


There's a shop/garage that's a bit rickety, but in decent shape. There's also a small one-car garage that needs to be taken down.



Rounding out the out-"buildings" is a genuine, concrete, walk-in spring house, complete with trench, which feeds the 1 acre pond. This is a major selling point for me, and also one of the reasons the place is a bit expensive.


Finally, there is the barn. Oh, the barn. It's an old stone bank barn, probably close to three stories, and just recently had the roof redone. It's down-right awesome. The problem is that the floors are in very rough shape, and that one of the timberframe joints (a nibbed scarf joint) has slipped about 4". This has me worried as the only way I think a joint like this could slip is if the outer walls have bowed out. In my mind, that's a type 1 problem that can't really be fixed. I'll be bringing a level and camera to look very closely at that this coming week. The end goal with this would be for shop space in the basement and event space in the main area.

The Plan
The wife and I are currently working about a half hour from the place. It's within an hour and change commute of Reading, Lancaster, and Philly, so long-term job prospects are good for the both of us. We would move in to the in-law apartment and do the base required renovations first. This would probably mean moving the stairs, redoing the bathrooms (they need it for more than just cosmetic reasons), and getting the barn professionally repaired (that's just out of my league). We'd also paint (me) and seal (professional) the house right away.

Next year, we'd look at hardscaping changes, getting sheep/ducks/fish, starting the perennial plantings, and probably having kids of our own. We'd probably rent the carriage house out for a few years to bring in some extra income.

Eventually, we want to turn the place into a sustainable B&B and permaculture project space. Ideally, this would support us, but we would be willing to keep doing part-time or project based work as necessary. Even if the B&B didn't happen, though, it's a great area to live, have a family, and really live.

The Issues
  • I'm really worried about that barn beam. I'm going to try and track down an Amish barn inspector team and see what they think. Obviously I'll also be getting a full regular inspection done of the whole place, and will be contracting with a realtor to assist with that stuff as well. If the stone walls are bowing, I think that's a type 1 issue.
  • The old lady who used to own the place passed away and the house is an estate sale. My real concern is that there's no property history or buyers statement. I'm not too worried about this, but wanted to see what folks thought.
  • It's expensive. The thing is at the upper end of our budget, but well under what most calculators say I can afford. I've redone the number with taking my wife's income out of the equation and we can still handle it, but if I lost my job it would be rough. I'm not too worried about that, but if it happened while we were doing the renovations I'd have to rely on a home equity loan which I'd rather avoid if possible.
  • It does need work. Not a full gut and remodel, but a good amount of work none-the-less. It's livable as is, which is a big plus, but the things that need work, off the top of my head, are: Kitchen rip and remodel, 3x bathroom remodels, full paint job interior, external stone sealer, possibly move staircase, ideally convert from oil to propane, redo barn siding in non-stone areas, rebuild roof on carraige house...
  • It's very overgrown. There's a lot of general cleanup work on the property, but that's not a big deal. Wondering if I should try and do some clearing to look at anything in particular?


  • So...
    I think the place is a fantastic opportunity and am leaning towards yes. The wife's largely on board at this point too, but is holding he full judgement until we do some measurements and get the inspections done. Just wanted to get some feedback and thoughts from folks that have been through this before.
     
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    Hello Derek,

    Well it looks like a beautiful place with much potential...

    I am, among other things, an Old Order Amish train Barnwright/Timberwright, and I specialize in Historical restoration work, inclusive of my many other interest...

    I will hit your highlighted concerns, yet will stress now that the scope and breadth of feedback needed is too broad to really achieve in a post with the limited information thus far. Heritage architecture and its inclusive vintage host fabrics are, or can be a real money pit, as well as, a goldmine. It will depend on many different factors, skill sets, and related information to yet be obtained.

    I'm really worried about that barn beam. I'm going to try and track down an Amish barn inspector team and see what they think. If the stone walls are bowing, I think that's a type 1 issue.



    The "gape" in the scarf joint could be an issue yet seldom really is in most cases. This is a stone walled, canted queen post barn, and does need to be assessed by someone that actually works not only in heritage architecture, but has a valid background in historical restoration. Many contractors work in and on old building, this does not render them Historical Restoration professionals with the ethos of knowledge and skill set to guide and give appropriate advice. You as the consumer get to heed or ignore the advice, yet too often I see very poor advice offered in the first place, leaving the client lost in the fog of it all. Updating these structures alone can be a real challenge of both conservation and restoration efforts, let alone modernizing properly, without creating irreversible damage to the original materials, thereby devaluing the historical investment.

    Obviously I'll also be getting a full regular inspection done of the whole place, and will be contracting with a realtor to assist with that stuff as well.



    I would advice against the need or fees of a realtor. You will need an inspection if going for a loan, and most importantly a deed search which can be done by a closing agent or real estate attorney both of which usually cost less than a realtor's fees unless they themselves are closing agents/lawyers.

    The old lady who used to own the place passed away and the house is an estate sale. My real concern is that there's no property history or buyers statement. I'm not too worried about this, but wanted to see what folks thought.



    Locals and a deed search will reveal a great deal of information, then comes your local Historical Society. Any home of this circa date should be on the historical registry, and if not should be placed there, which is a good "pull in" for B&B.

    It's expensive. The thing is at the upper end of our budget, but well under what most calculators say I can afford. I've redone the number with taking my wife's income out of the equation and we can still handle it, but if I lost my job it would be rough. I'm not too worried about that, but if it happened while we were doing the renovations I'd have to rely on a home equity loan which I'd rather avoid if possible.



    Not enough info yet to ascertain the level of risk this property really has...

    It does need work. Not a full gut and remodel, but a good amount of work none-the-less. It's livable as is, which is a big plus, but the things that need work, off the top of my head, are: Kitchen rip and remodel, 3x bathroom remodels, full paint job interior, external stone sealer, possibly move staircase, ideally convert from oil to propane, redo barn siding in non-stone areas, rebuild roof on carriage house...



    This "work" is dependant on all manner of thing, from "good practice" guidance to the time you have to actually do most of the work yourself. I split my time between working for clients and helping those that have the "gumption" to do it themselves. There is a great deal to consider on a home of this age...especially stone and timber...

    I

    t's very overgrown. There's a lot of general cleanup work on the property, but that's not a big deal. Wondering if I should try and do some clearing to look at anything in particular?



    It being overgrown, at this time, is the least concern, and may even reduce taxes a bit for the mean time...

    That's the best I can do for now. Feel free to call if you would like, as this project is too extensive just to cover in forum posts alone. Architecture and Vintage Materials Conservation, Restoration and Reconstruction is a group on LinkedIn for professionals in the restoration field. If you are a LinkedIn member, feel free to join, and/or contact me there as moderator and I will send an invitation.

    Good luck,

    j


     
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    The pictures are lovely. It may be worthwhile to look at the business side of things a little harder; the part about it being in PA worries me, because I have heard taxes can be high, and the regulatory costs to making it a productive farm/b&b.
     
    Derek Brewer
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    Location: Hatfield, PA
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    August Hurtel wrote:The pictures are lovely. It may be worthwhile to look at the business side of things a little harder; the part about it being in PA worries me, because I have heard taxes can be high, and the regulatory costs to making it a productive farm/b&b.



    Understood. I know that it is possible to have a B&B there zoning-wise, and that the local board is keen on getting businesses in the area. I'll research the state laws a bit more to see what all that entails. The B&B is not a deal breaker for us, though. More of an idea that we might like to do in an early retirement if it worked out that way. The "farm" is more meant to supply us with high-quality food and offset our cost of living, both financially and ecologically.

    Unfortunatly, the taxes are what they are. I grew up in NYC, so it seems down-right reasonable out here!
     
    Derek Brewer
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    Location: Hatfield, PA
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    Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Hello Derek,

    Well it looks like a beautiful place with much potential...

    I am, among other things, an Old Order Amish train Barnwright/Timberwright, and I specialize in Historical restoration work, inclusive of my many other interest...

    I will hit your highlighted concerns, yet will stress now that the scope and breadth of feedback needed is too broad to really achieve in a post with the limited information thus far. Heritage architecture and its inclusive vintage host fabrics are, or can be a real money pit, as well as, a goldmine. It will depend on many different factors, skill sets, and related information to yet be obtained.
    ...



    Thank you for your input. It's much appreciated.
    I'm very glad to hear that the barn bean might not be as bad an issue as I initially thought. I will try to get some more detailed pictures when I go back to the site tomorrow. On that front, do you know of anyone in the Chester County area of PA that specializes in historic barn renovations? I feel that I can handle a lot of the lighter work, and would even enjoy it. However heavy timbers are out of my skillset right now. Eventually I want to learn that art, but time can be really restrictive.

    Unfortunatly on the realtor front, it's non-negotiable. My wife insists on it for perceived security, even though I would rather just go with a lawyer and series of inspectors. I would rather not engage in this particular battle and concentrate on making sure the place itself lives up to both of our hopes and expectations.

    On the historical society front, we plan on visiting it on our trip tomorrow. Certain members of that group actually handle approvals for renovations in this township, so it will be interesting to see what they allow and what they do not. We don't want to change many of the details or historic elements of the home, but a more modern kitchen and bathroom is a requirement for us. Hopefully this will work out.

    I will try to join that linkedin group tonight, but I do have some prep left to do for the site-trip tomorrow so I'm not sure if I will be able to post in there tonight.
    Thank you again for your input and advice.
    -Derek
     
    pollinator
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    Hi Derek,

    I restore old homes for a living; if that place was available here and I could afford it, I would be on that in a heartbeat!

    More lovely photos please.
    Bill
     
    Derek Brewer
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    Location: Hatfield, PA
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    Sorry for the delay, it's been a crazy week/weekend. I'll post more details later today if I can, however I did get out there and took many more photos. A few of them are in this album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/outoforder2day/sets/72157652128887245/

    and the rest are here:
    http://1drv.ms/1OYiTtN

    Bottom line is that all of the buildings need extensive work, and probably more than the wife and I can afford. We're estimating $100k worth of work on top of the cost of the house itself... We haven't written it off completely yet, since it is such a gem, but we're still looking around at other options.
     
    Posts: 1403
    Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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    I think it is absolutely stunning, lots of potential. Also lots of work and money. I wouldn't have that kind of money.
     
    August Hurtel
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    How badly does the local board want business there? Are there any incentives? My city, for instance, is desperate to rehab downtown, so there are incentives.
     
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