The House

February 16, 2017

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

Last spring, I bought a house in the Haughville neighborhood of Indianapolis. It’s a two story house in the American Craftsman style and was built in the 1920s. Though the house has been well-maintained and is very livable, with a house this old, it’s not surprising it needs some work. As I do new projects around the house, I’ll post about them, along with pictures. But before I do that I want to write a bit about the neighborhood, in general, and the house, in particular.

I moved to Indianapolis in March of 2000, and prior to the move I’d lived in Colorado for more than 20 years. I didn’t know anything about Indy, but I knew that if I wouldn’t be able to see mountains, I wanted to live in an urban area, where the tall buildings would block the mountainless view. Basically, I didn’t want to see that the mountains weren’t there. Weird logic, I know. Upon moving to Indy, I got a 500 sq. ft studio apartment in downtown Indy at the corner of 13th and Pennsylvania (around the corner from the President Benjamin Harrison home). It was a nice place, but rather basic. Rent when I first moved in was $325 per month. And life went on.

After living in the apartment for several years, I began toying with the idea of buying a house. I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford a brand new house, but I knew there were some programs for first-time home buyers, and the local and federal governments sometimes sold houses that had been repossessed or seized for back taxes. So buying an older home seemed like a possibility. My main criteria for buying a house was that it had to be near IUPUI, where I work, and that it shouldn’t need major repairs before I moved in.

IUPUI is an urban campus, and most houses and condos downtown are prohibitively expensive, at least for me. However, on the other side of the White River from IUPUI is an area known as the Near West. It’s a bunch of working-class neighborhoods with lots of older, yet charming houses, and in 2014 I started idly looking online at houses in these neighborhoods.

Most of the houses in this area are pre-WW2, which appeals to me because I think older homes have more character than newer ones. Yes, in neighborhoods full of similar-looking American Craftsman style homes, it’s easy to see the seeds of future suburban subdivisions full of cookie-cutter McMansions. Yet I feel the older homes are better in many respects. Where modern houses feel sterile, older houses feel cozy. The hardwood floors are actual hardwood planks nailed to beams underneath, not some veneer of nostalgia attached to a plywood subfloor.

Early in 2015, I started looking at the Renew Indianapolis website. Renew Indianapolis is a community land bank which is tasked with selling properties owned by the city of Indianapolis. While they had a large selection, most of the properties needed more wok than I could afford, however, through that website I became aware of the different Community Development Corporations (CDCs), in particular the Westside Community Development Corporation. Through talking with someone at the Westside CDC, I found out about the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership (INHP).

INHP is a public/private partnership that works to get mortgages for first-time home buyers or people with bad credit. In summer of 2015, I contacted them, trying to find out how much I could get approved for. They had me go through a credit and money management course first. It’s not a short process. For me, it wasn’t that I had bad credit. I had no credit history, so they couldn’t evaluate me. They suggested I get a credit card from my bank, then use it for a few months and come back. I did that and came back in the fall. Armed with reports of good credit, they said they were pretty sure I could get a mortgage and that I should go ahead and start looking. Looking for a house in winter is a bit of a pain, so I mainly searched online (at Zillow and Trulia) during the 2015 holidays and waited until January 2016 to start looking at them in person. Fast-forward to April 2016 and I finally bought my home.

Prices of houses in the area vary, but most are in the five-figure range, which seemed reasonably affordable. Going by what Wikipedia has to say, the neighborhood is mainly blue-collar, working-class. It’s mostly residential, with some commercial buildings, churches, and schools. Most of the houses are occupied, but there are quite a few that are boarded up or otherwise empty. There are also quite a few vacant lots where derelict homes have been torn down. Coincidentally, one of those is right next door to my house.

Despite the slightly impoverished appearance of it, I have high hopes for the area. In 2016, the city of Indianapolis announced Great Places 2020, which is a program to help transform some historic Indianapolis neighborhoods, which will hopefully help them attract more businesses and more residents.

I bought the house from a guy whose family buys old homes, fixes them up a bit, then sells them. While there are some nicer homes in my neighborhood, most look like they need more work than mine, so I feel lucky that mine is in good condition.

It has two stories, plus a full basement. Most of the walls are lath-and-plaster, though in some spots it looks like drywall was used for repairs. The walls are uninsulated, sadly.

The top floor is carpeted, except for the bathroom, which has faux-wood laminate flooring. The main floor is mostly painted hardwood flooring, except for the bathroom and kitchen/dining room where the faux-wood laminate is used. In the basement, I can tell the bathroom and part of the kitchen has plywood subflooring underneath the laminate.

The attic had a few inches of blown-in cellulose insulation, but it was nowhere near enough, so I added some R-38 fiberglass insulation a few weeks ago (see the next post for more on that).

I see a lot of things I want to do over the next few years to improve the house inside and out. I don’t have the budget or the time to tackle everything at once, but it’s should be easy to break it down into separate mini-projects, and work on it room-by-room. There’s no definite timeframe on these, but I’ll probably do them in the following order:

– Shed in back yard (need a place to store the lawnmower, which is currently in the dining room)
– Dining room table and chairs
– Sofa
– Make workbench in basement
– Pantry (basically a closet off the dining room) (These closets are will be practice for larger projects.)
– remove baseboards
– remove laminate flooring and glue
– remove lath/plaster from walls and ceiling
– insulate exterior wall
– install drywall on walls and ceiling
– sand hardwood floor
– finish walls (mainly joint compound and paint)
– install new or rehabbed baseboards
– seal hardwood floor
– install shelving
– Living room closet (similar to pantry)
– Downstairs closet (similar to pantry)
– Potting bench for garden
– Downstairs bathroom
– remove door for refurbishing
– remove toilet
– remove shower curtain/rod
– remove sink
– remove mirror/medicine cabinet
– remove light fixture
– remove baseboards for refurbishing
– remove faucet, showerhead, etc from tub
– remove tub surround
– remove lath/plaster from walls and ceiling
– move/raise tub above floor or remove tub
– remove laminate flooring
– remove plywood subflooring
– evaluate beams and joists for mold, and treat as necessary
– install new plywood subflooring
– install concrete board on floor
– reinstall tub
– install concrete board on walls and ceiling
– replace toilet wax seal
– install tile on floor
– install tile surrounding bathtub
– install tin ceiling
– paint tin ceiling and untiled walls
– reinstall light fixture
– reinstall toilet
– reinstall sink
– reinstall mirror/medicine cabinet
– install new or refurbished baseboards
– reinstall shower curtain/rod
– reinstall refurbished door
– Basement stairwell
– remove drywall from walls and ceiling
– move light switch near door
– install light fixture at top of stairs
– insulate exterior wall
– install drywall on walls and ceiling
– paint walls and ceiling
– Guest bedroom
– Master bedroom
– Sewing room
– Office
– Dining room
– Kitchen
– Exercise room
– Living room
– Upstairs bathroom
– Upper stairwell
– Sauna in basement

The goal for refurbishing most of these rooms is to remove the lath-and-plaster to allow installation of network jacks, more electric outlets, and insulating exterior walls, then installing drywall and repainting after.

These plans are pretty rough at the moment, and undoubtedly there will be unexpected problems along the way, so there’s no definite timeframe on these.