It has been three years since we closed on the house in Rhinebeck. We are opening our B&B in the spring. We sold the Vail House in December of 2015. Here is the kick in the crotch. We sold our house to our philistine neighbors. They now live in my house.
Can you imagine how depressing that is to me? It was the only way out. They were the only people who would buy it. That is how bad they wanted to pave over the back yard. Virtually no one looked at our house the entirety of the time it was offered. Maybe three people tops. We were in no financial position to just sit on it for years. And renting it would have kept us tethered in the condo association.
It was truly one of the worst experiences in my life. They were total dicks the whole process, demanding concessions for lead paint removal, exterior carpentry work, and other common old house condition issues, none of which we granted. We were already taking a huge loss on the price. They demanded we remove the compost pile I created behind the garage. I honestly don’t think they understood how it worked. Incensed, our kindly realtor took it away for us to his house. Adding to the drama, we were quoted around $15,000 to move the contents of our house to the Hudson Valley, so we had no choice but to pack everything ourselves and rent a succession of nine U-hauls, plus innumerable trips in my van, to get everything out. And when I say everything, I mean all the boxwood too. I took every one with me. And I sold all my firewood. It was bad enough I had to leave the bluestone patio.
It breaks my heart to imagine what the inside of the house looks like now. While we were still in contract they dismissed the condo rules and began throwing away original sashes and putting white vinyl replacement windows in the Trimmer Store. Fearing the same fate would befall the Vail House, I removed all the antique window locks and lifts I had added to the house. How could I leave them with people who literally had a “Window World” advertisement mounted in their front yard? I swapped out all the antique lighting fixtures and replaced them with junk from Lowe’s. It really pained me to do that to the house. They didn’t have the slightest interest in inquiring through our realtor if they could have any of the historic photos we possessed of the property. I took a shoe box sized wooden trunk with me that contained all of the archeological finds I had made in the yard over the eight years I was there, always assuming it would be given to the next owner. Shortly after we moved, our old neighbor from across the street sent us an email with an image of the huge satellite dish newly mounted over the front door.
So in the end we got out, but under horrible circumstances. I felt so much older when it was finalized. There was little sense of relief since we just segued into a barely habitable and filthy new house full of uphill battles and unknown frustrations. I can tell you we went on in this new endeavor to make some more huge and costly mistakes, including bringing a contractor into our lives who made our Quakertown neighbors look like diplomats. But my marriage has managed to survive and the children are thriving. There were good people in our lives at the time too. The realtor we used in Quakertown had been really supportive and sympathetic. Our old neighbors had been really great as well. They donated packing blankets and fed me when I came back alone to get the shrubs on one of my last trips. We miss them a lot.
I don’t think I will ever love the house I live in now the way I loved the Vail House. Sure, it was a terrible buy as an investment and I would have liked a few more years to enjoy the hard work that went into it. Not to mention the expense. Who knows what has become of our extravagant Morris wallpaper or all my dry scraped doors. Would I do it again? Well, that experience certainly tempered my approach in the new place. Its hard for me now not to be even more sensitive than I already was to how fragile and irreplaceable America’s old houses are. To me it isn’t just worrying about the threat of destruction posed to what is original in your average Victorian house by the careless and ignorant, but also how easily and quickly ones restoration work can suffer the same fate.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog and I urge anyone passing through Hunterdon County, New Jersey to make a stop and explore the old Quaker Meeting House and cemetery in Quakertown. If you do and should happen to also see the Vail House, please don’t let me know if the garden in the back is full of cars. -George