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Month: January 2004

Tips on How to Buy an Old Home

Have you always dreamed of owning an old house, one that dates back to, say, Queen Victoria? If the answer is yes – the next question is what would you be getting into? What better way to find out than to ask some of the people in Victorian Cape May who have already undergone the task.

Mike Brogan recently purchased the former Poet’s Inn now called 35 Jackson at, appropriately enough, 35 Jackson Street. He is no novice to renovations and offers the following tips.
1. Make sure you get a copy of the city’s Historic Preservation
Commission (HPC)  Design Standards.
He says the guidelines are well done and you want to be sure to follow them,35jacksontips
particularly where it concerns exterior painting, and window replacements.
One thing you don’t want to do is to find out too late those modern
replacement windows do not conform to the standards outlined in the booklet.

2. Look at the number of electrical outlets in each room.
Then look at the  number of extension cords leading from each outlet. It will give you an idea of whether or not a room will need to be rewired or, at the very least reconfigured. This is of particular concern if the property is to be used as a rental or a Bed and Breakfast.

3. There is no good explanation for a water stain in the ceiling. If you spot such a stain get a full explanation as to what it is. Often, he says, such stains occur on the first or second floor ceiling because of radiator leaks in the winter. A third floor leak could indicate a roof problem but also a nor’easter often blows the rain in such a way
that it gets under the shingle and leaks down into the ceiling.

window4. Open every window. Many of the older homes have windows which have been painted shut. If you live in the historic district of Cape May all window frames must be wooden in order to conform to HPC standards. So, a little window test will tell you where you stand with regard to future repairs and renovations.

5. Avoid a crooked house. A leaning house is an indication that a center beam has dropped which indicates a serious structural problem. Another indicator that the house has dropped is when the doors to a room have been cut an angle to accommodate a slanting floor.

5. Use the Internet to find outlets and resources to purchase period materials such as wooden shutters, hinges, reproduction plumbing fixtures, and electrical adornments as well as doorknobs and the like.
6. Was the house used in the winter? The answer to this gives the buyer an indication of whether or not the heating system works but also whether or not the building was allowed to repeatedly freeze over successive winters thus causing stress on the walls, the beams, as well as the plumbing.

Joe and Joanne Tornambe have owned and renovated three properties in Cape May,
their most recent is Woodleigh House, at 808 Washington Street. It is an 1866wodleigh2
Victorian farmhouse. They give the following tips to prospective owners.
1. Have lots of money unless you plan on doing the renovations yourself (which they do) and even then, have lots of money.

2. A home inspection prior to settlement is invaluable in detailing what is in store for you as the new owner.

3. Check that the foundation is sound and that you are dealing with a solid structure.

plumbing4. Is the roof sound? If not, how much will it cost to make it so?

5. What condition is the electrical wiring in? These are hidden concerns which require an expert eye.

6. What condition is the plumbing in? Again, someone knowledgeable in this area should do a walk-thru for you.

Joe McLaughlin, Realtor, former owner of the Poet’s Inn at 35 Jackson Street and current owner of one of the historic Seven Sisters homes at 18 Jackson Street offers the following tips.

1. Figure out, before you make an offer on the house, what you plan to do with the house. Will it be used as a private residence, a rental property or a Bed and Breakfast.

2. Have an home inspection done. Like the Tornambes, McLaughlin feels a home inspection is important as a guideline for future repairs.

3. Plan, as best you can, what you want to do to the house in terms of renovation and/or redecorating and get an estimate of what it will cost. Add that to the cost of the purchase pricehomeinspector to give you a more realistic idea of how much you’re going to be spending. For example, when McLaughlin was thinking about the 35 Jackson Street property he knew ahead of time that he wanted to expose the old porch and put in new wooden floors. He had a list of things he wanted to do the house and got estimates on how much each repair would cost.

4. Historical and Modern. The secret of buying an old house is to figure out how to keep the integrity of the house, yet add the modern conveniences needed for today’s living i.e. kitchens and bathrooms need to be modernized in order for the occupants,
be they permanent residents or guests, to be comfortable.

5. Do it right the first time. Use quality materials and don’t skimp on the workmanship because it’ll cost twice as much to redo it a second time.

6. Add 50% to the estimated cost of repair or renovations. You never know what you’re going to run into in an old house once you start tearing things down so be prepared for the unexpected.

7. If using a contractor make sure it is a company with experience in renovating old houses. workGet references and before and after pictures.

8. Keep your own before and after pictures. They’re invaluable when you go to sell the property and interesting to look at. And try to find other old pictures of the house either from previous owners, neighbors or newspaper files. The more history you can collect on your house, the easier is to keep the integrity of it alive.

9. Keep receipts. When you sell the house proof that you made certain improvements which are hidden such as rewiring will help in the sale of the
house.


Renovating the Woodleigh House

woodleighhdr2

When it comes to buying an old house and renovating it, Joanne Tornambe has one guiding principle – “In life you have to be flexible.” joanne

Joanne and Joe Tornambe are the current owners of Woodleigh House an 1866 Victorian farmhouse turned bed and breakfast located at 808 Washington Street and the third Washington Street house which the Tornambe’s have renovated in the past 9 years.

Their Cape May adventure began in 1994 when they bought a 1902 Queen Anne style house at 1023 Washington Street as a summer home.

Previously, the Pennsylvania residents spent their summers in Avalon but the charms of Cape May were such a lure that they soon began trying to figure out how they could afford to live here year round. The answer? Become an innkeeper of course.

They could have an income and enjoy the pleasure of renovation all at the same time. “But owning a B&B wasn’t the draw, the draw was Cape May,” said Joanne. And facing the daunting task of period renovations? “It’s our relaxation,” said Joanne.

Joanne took a sabbatical from teaching and signed up for the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts’ (MAC) annual March Inn Deep Workshop. She also started working at the Wooden Rabbit to see if she would like playing hostess. “I liked it,” she said, and thus their innkeeper career began in 1996 with their next purchase The Trellis Inn at 822 Washington Street.

The Trellis Inn had been a rooming house which they converted to a Bed & Breakfast. This required a license from the city in addition to extensive repairs. “It was a labor of love,” she says now looking back on it. While running the Trellis Inn, the Tornambe’s continued to live at 1023. Three years later the opportunity to purchase Woodleigh House presented itself.
frontba2

“Woodleigh House,” said Joanne, “afforded us the opportunity to have five rooms to rent, plus resident’s quarters.” Eventually, they sold their other two properties.

Although structurally sound, Woodleigh House needed a complete facelift which required 57 rolls of wallpaper and new wooden floors.

Looking around the cozy parlor, Joe Tornambe said the biggest challenge in renovating an old house is that “you don’t know what your going to find” once you start scratching the surface, parlorbahence the “in life you have to be flexible” philosophy. For example, he said, they had trouble peeling the wallpaper off one of the downstairs rooms. There was at least three layers of wallpaper some of which had been on there for 137 years.

When they finally started to get close to the bare walls they started noticing a foul odor like that of a decaying animal. They came to find out that in the old days horse hair was used in the plaster to strengthen it.
“It sure worked,” said Joanne, “because the walls were in good shape.”

parloratxmasBeing prepared for the unexpected in an old house is particularly true, Joe said, when it comes to tackling existing wiring and plumbing. This is an area where the old and the new require some serious creative thinking.
The second biggest challenge, Tornambe said, is finding the right materials that go with the time period of the house. This requires research and in some cases, travel time.

The Tornambes do all the renovations and redecorating themselves and to say that Joe Tornambe is “handy” is a bit of an understatement. He once put on a 1200 square foot addition to one of their Pennsylvania homes. That project required tearing out a bearing wall (that’s the thing that holds the house up). Proceed with caution, he warns, when it comes to doing something as major as tearing out walls or “your two story house could turn into a rancher.”

Looking at some of the details of Woodleigh House a little closer reveals beautifully constructed crown and picture molding. The fireplace in the parlor has a small gas stove similar to one which would have been used at the turn of the century. The mantel has marble which is original to the fireplace but Joe Tornambe reconstructed the actual mantelpiece.
crownnpicmolding4fireplaceinparlor3

His biggest source of pride is the work he did on the stairway as you walk in leading to the upstairs bedrooms. The wood was rotting and the stairs were carpeted using hundreds of staplesstairs which had to be removed before any further work could begin.

How did they learn how to do all this? Books. Every time they started to tackle something that they knew nothing about Joanne would say to Joe “We’ll just get a book and learn.

One day he said to me if you say one more time we’ll just get a book and learn….”

But learn they did. They have never tackled a project which they couldn’t figure out and have sold all of their houses in relatively short period of time.

Another learning tool which has been beneficial for them is travel. In the off months – January, February and March – the Tornambes close the inn and travel south visiting other B&Bs, talking to the owners and getting new ideas. So you’ll have to wait until spring to get a first hand look at Woodleigh House which is decorated in a “country Victorian” theme.

willanmarybaAnd if you’re planning to buy an old house yourself and fix it up? Joe Tornambe’s advise is to look at the town first and “be sure that this is the place you want to be. That’s number one. After that, you’ll be satisfied.”

And if you want to be an innkeeper, Joanne Tornambe advises prospective buyers to take the Inn Deep Workshop offered by MAC in March.

Is it worth the aggravation? Yes, they both agree. They love hearing compliments from guests and visitors and they love waking up each morning to see their finished product all around them. And yes, they would do it again.

“Opportunity always presents itself,” said Joanne, “Whether you take advantage of it or not is the key. Regrets are chances you didn’t take.”


Tips for Buying That Old House

tipshdrHave you always dreamed of owning an old house, one that dates back to, say, Queen Victoria? If the answer is yes – the next question is what would you be getting into? What better way to find out than to ask some of the people in Victorian Cape May who have already undergone the task.

Mike Brogan recently purchased the former Poet’s Inn now called 35 Jackson at, appropriately enough, 35 Jackson Street. He is no novice to renovations and offers the following tips.

35 Jackson Street

35 Jackson Street

1. Make sure you get a copy of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) Design Standards.
He says the guidelines are well done and you want to be sure to follow them,
particularly where it concerns exterior painting, and window replacements.
One thing you don’t want to do is to find out too late those modern
replacement windows do not conform to the standards outlined in the booklet.

2. Look at the number of electrical outlets in each room.
Then look at the number of extension cords leading from each outlet. It will give you an idea of whether or not a room will need to be rewired or, at the very least reconfigured. This is of particular concern if the property is to be used as a rental or a Bed and Breakfast.

3. There is no good explanation for a water stain in the ceiling. If you spot such a stain get a full explanation as to what it is. Often, he says, such stains occur on the first or second floor ceiling because of radiator leaks in the winter. A third floor leak could indicate a roof problem but also a nor’easter often blows the rain in such a way
that it gets under the shingle and leaks down into the ceiling.

window

Can you get the windows open? You'd better try!

4. Open every window. Many of the older homes have windows which have been painted shut. If you live in the historic district of Cape May all window frames must be wooden in order to conform to HPC standards. So, a little window test will tell you where you stand with regard to future repairs and renovations.

5. Avoid a crooked house. A leaning house is an indication that a center beam has dropped which indicates a serious structural problem. Another indicator that the house has dropped is when the doors to a room have been cut an angle to accommodate a slanting floor.

5. Use the Internet to find outlets and resources to purchase period materials such as wooden shutters, hinges, reproduction plumbing fixtures, and electrical adornments as well as doorknobs and the like.

6. Was the house used in the winter? The answer to this gives the buyer an indication of whether or not the heating system works but also whether or not the building was allowed to repeatedly freeze over successive winters thus causing stress on the walls, the beams, as well as the plumbing.

Woodleigh House

Woodleigh House

Joe and Joanne Tornambe have owned and renovated three properties in Cape May. Their most recent is Woodleigh House, at 808 Washington Street. It is an 1866 Victorian farmhouse. They give the following tips to prospective owners.

1. Have lots of money unless you plan on doing the renovations yourself (which they do) and even then, have lots of money.

2. A home inspection prior to settlement is invaluable in detailing what is in store for you as the new owner.

3. Check that the foundation is sound and that you are dealing with a solid structure.

plumbing4. Is the roof sound? If not, how much will it cost to make it so?

5. What condition is the electrical wiring in? These are hidden concerns which require an expert eye.

6. What condition is the plumbing in? Again, someone knowledgeable in this area should do a walk-thru for you.

Joe McLaughlin, Realtor, former owner of the Poet’s Inn at 35 Jackson Street and current owner of one of the historic Seven Sisters homes at 18 Jackson Street offers the following tips.

1. Figure out, before you make an offer on the house, what you plan to do with the house. Will it be used as a private residence, a rental property or a Bed and Breakfast.

Home inspector

Home inspectors identify what needs to be repaired

2. Have an home inspection done. Like the Tornambes, McLaughlin feels a home inspection is important as a guideline for future repairs.

3. Plan, as best you can, what you want to do to the house in terms of renovation and/or redecorating and get an estimate of what it will cost. Add that to the cost of the purchase price to give you a more realistic idea of how much you’re going to be spending. For example, when McLaughlin was thinking about the 35 Jackson Street property he knew ahead of time that he wanted to expose the old porch and put in new wooden floors. He had a list of things he wanted to do the house and got estimates on how much each repair would cost.

4. Historical and Modern. The secret of buying an old house is to figure out how to keep the integrity of the house, yet add the modern conveniences needed for today’s living i.e. kitchens and bathrooms need to be modernized in order for the occupants,
be they permanent residents or guests, to be comfortable.

5. Do it right the first time. Use quality materials and don’t skimp on the workmanship because it’ll cost twice as much to redo it a second time.

6. Add 50% to the estimated cost of repair or renovations. You never know what you’re going to run into in an old house once you start tearing things down so be

Don't skimp when it comes to materials!

Don't skimp when it comes to materials!

prepared for the unexpected.

7. If using a contractor make sure it is a company with experience in renovating old houses. Get references and before and after pictures.

8. Keep your own before and after pictures. They’re invaluable when you go to sell the property and interesting to look at. And try to find other old pictures of the house either from previous owners, neighbors or newspaper files. The more history you can collect on your house, the easier is to keep the integrity of it alive.

9. Keep receipts. When you sell the house proof that you made certain improvements which are hidden such as rewiring will help in the sale of the
house.