When hubby and I built our new home back in 2001-2002, we had to buy the land first. Being the city slickers that we were, we had no idea how to tell if a rural property was going to make a good setting for a home. It was a heartbreaking circumstance for us, unfortunately, that a couple had planned to buy these 3.5 acres, had all the blueprints drawn up on where to place the house, where to place the driveway, septic, well and electricity lines, when they both perished in the 9/11 bombing of the Twin Towers in New York City.
There isn’t a day that DH and I don’t think about this couple. They both worked for Cantor Fitzgerald at The World Trade Center and perished along with 658 fellow employees (click here). Needless to say, the owner of the land had invested a lot of money into the preparation of the land for the couple and had never gotten paid for his work. By the time we came along to look at the property, the desperate owner had lowered the purchase price to an amazing $51,000 for the 3.5 acre parcel.
Life has a strange way of working out. DH and I were relocating ourselves to upstate New York strictly because of 9/11. We lived on the eastern end of Long Island and when the towers were hit, we had to evacuate our then home. We realized there was only one road in and one road out from where we lived. At that time, back in 2001, no one knew what the future was going to hold. We just knew we had to get out of Long Island should another attack happen.
Fortunately, we owned a townhouse up in the Catskill Mountains, and that’s where we drove ourselves and my two children to wait out the attack. After three weeks, my kids wanted to get back to their lives, get back to work, get back to school. So, we drove down the mountain and boarded our kids onto the Amtrak train lines to take them back to New York City. Thinking back, these were really scary times. No one had any idea what the future held. We just knew that we had to move to safer ground.
The Amtrak train station was located in a beautiful town along the historic Hudson River. Without even thinking, all four of us came to the same conclusion: this beautiful area would make an ideal location to start our lives all over again. And safer. So, the hunt for a new home began.
And that’s how we came to move to upstate New York and take on the project of converting 3.5 rough-as-hell acres into a homestead. We sold our Long Island home and The Catskill Townhouse and had enough equity to restart our lives debt free. That was eighteen years ago and we’re still not even close to finishing. With tight funds, we followed what the previous couple dreamed their home to be and moved into our new home June 8, 2002.
Over the years, DH and I have been our own landscapers. Why? Because we just can’t afford to hire any one to take on a property of this magnitude. So, how did we do it? First off, not ALL the 3.5 acres have been cleared. We left at least 2 acres in their original pristine condition. That means the property is heavily treed. Second off, we set up a system that we would only do outside landscaping work one hour at a time, per day. Anyone can handle doing hard work for one hour, IMHO. Next, I looked over the land and decided I was going to follow it’s natural beauty and only enhance the land in such a way it would honor Mother Nature.
The first thing I do every spring is take out my trusty wheel barrel (that we got for free from one of the neighbors) and go around the property picking up all the dead branches that had dropped onto the lawns over the winter. After doing this for 18 years, I’ve collected quite a pile!
To give you an idea of how many trees are on this property, here’s a street view of our property line (follow the black arrow) It’s longer than a NYC city block! Thankfully (or unthankfully, however you want to look at it) each winter takes down a bunch of trees, naturally. We just have to clear them out vs cutting them down. Also, this year, the trees, especially maple, have been invaded by a un-native insect and trees have been steadily dying.
Here’s the entrance to our property. I got those two entrance, wooden fences, for free (of course!) from another neighbor. They were just sitting on the side of his storage shed. I rang his doorbell, asked to buy the fence gates and he gave them to me for free. He was happy to get rid of them. One man’s garbage is another woman’s treasure. I love the way they look!
As mentioned, every spring, DH and I have to clear the property of all the fallen branches, plus prune out overgrown trees. To hire someone is not cost effective. We have to do it ourselves. So, we do it the ‘one-hour-at-a-time’ method. It takes us around a week, but it gets done nonetheless and looks great once we’ve finished.
Other features of the property that DH and I had done are a pond and enhancing an already existing stream that runs through our land:
I’m not much of a gardener and NO! I don’t really want a garden (especially a vegetable garden!) But I did manage to plant hostas (deer safe) and andromedas under the two windows along the front of the house AND a white flowering hyacinth under our bedroom window (which emits a lovely scent into our bedroom when our windows are open).
We don’t ever use our front entrance. We mainly use our side entrance. I placed red square blocks as an entrance to our front door (with a red brick border). Our side entrance, is a work in process. DH and I have this argument every season: he wants to install a cement entrance complete with stairs (ka-ching!) I prefer a more natural look. I accumulate natural flagstone pieces (for free), gently place them haphazardly up into the side entrance (gravity and rain pushes them down into a more secure position). I personally love the look. Each time I enter my home, it’s an adventure!
Here’s my inspiration piece:
Here’s what I have so far: (note I just planted white baby breadth seeds and will be buying the smallish pebbles later this season)
Here are some of the finished, competed lawn areas. Note: the white statues and white wrought iron benches all came out of my dad’s garden. I inherited them when he died. I did have another one of his statues at the front entrance but someone actually drove on to my property and stole it. NOT a good way to start our new home experience! The state police never did find the culprit. Oh well.
The land cost us $51,000. Our modular home was $65,000 with only the first floor finished. The whole project: to get the land cleared, put in the driveway, lay down the foundation, dig and install the well, lay in the septic, plumbing, electricity, put in appliances, a back deck, a water treatment system, boiler, water heater, heating and air conditioning system, yada, yada, yada cost us $170,000. Cash. That was back in 2001-2002. I don’t think anyone could replicate those low numbers ever again.
To be truthful, once we were done with construction, the house sat on a mud patch. We technically ran out of money to fully finish our new, downsized home (1120 sq ft on first floor. 800 sq ft on 2nd floor). To throw misery onto difficulties, we had all our furniture in storage. When we called to have our stuff finally delivered to our new address, we were given the sad news that ALL our furniture (dishes, cookware, TV’s, clothes etc. etc) were destroyed in a flood. The storage company filed bankruptcy and never paid us a penny on our approximately $12,000 loss. We furnished our new home and bought new clothing all from Goodwill. It wasn’t a happy time for us, for sure.
As I said, our home is a miracle home. Strange, wonderful, good things have happened to DH and I since we moved up here. I knew I was giving up a once rich lifestyle (we moved from The Hamptons, NY) but Jesus always said, if you wanted a true, happy, joyous life, we were to give up ALL our worldly possessions and come follow HIM. DH and I were starting our new, downsized life with NOTHING from our past. Not even our cars. Also, I think the original couple (I never found out their names) were also looking down on DH and I and keeping us safe. People who we didn’t know somehow magically appeared to lend us a hand. It was just DH and I building this home. DH did all the general contracting, all the heating, plumbing, electrical wiring all by himself. One day even the UPS delivery man lent DH a hand!
Anyway, I got this phone call from my sister. My father wanted to come and see me. He and I hadn’t spoken for three years. My father was very ill and dying but begged my sister to bring him to me. He wanted to see my new home (which sat on a mud pile by this time!) My father and sister came. My dad could barely walk. But after he looked around, he told me he was going to leave me enough money to finish my new home. And he did. My dad died three months later and left me enough cash to finish my home AND take my children, husband and I for a 15 day, all-exclusive trip to Italy to visit the hometown of my father and meet his family.
DH and I managed to get the remainder of the cleared property landscaped, we lay down more good dirt (did you know dirt is very, very expensive?!) sowed grass seeds, cleared out a few more trees. I had enough money to buy a bedroom set and mattress, a couch and some other much needed living room furniture (I inherited my father’s kitchen table and chairs) cookware, glassware, cutlery and whatever else we required to get our lives back together. Over the years, DH and I finished the 2nd floor: put in another bathroom and two bedrooms upstairs for when my kids come to visit.
The best part however, was we were able to erect this pre-fab barn (complete with foundation, additional driveway, electricity, heated concrete flooring and eventually a bathroom complete with shower (the parts are in we just need to buy the appliances and connect the dots) thanks to my dad’s generous inheritance. Total cost, so far: $50,000 cash. When you enter the barn, clear as day, you are greeted with the inscription: ‘Dedicated to our father, Walter’