There’s a big difference between fixing up someone else’s home, and fixing up one you own yourself.
That’s the lesson This Old House host Steve Thomas, master carpenter Norm Abram, general contractor Tom Silva, and plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey learned when working on last year’s project, “The Milton House.”
The home, a 275-year old colonial home and barn on 2.8 acres in Milton, Massachusetts, was the first house the show had bought and renovated as an owner.
How’d they do? As a homeowner, you couldn’t expect to do better. The show spent $450,000 to buy the property and $550,000 to restore it. At the beginning of the summer, they listed the home for $1.3 million. At the end of July, they sold it (by multiple-bid submission) for $1.55 million.
In addition to netting $550,000 in profit (minus, of course, the broker’s commission, transfer taxes and other costs of sale), the show opened up the house to more than 15,000 fans, each of whom paid to go through the house and receive a special version of “This Old House” magazine about the project.
So financially, WGBH (which bought the house for the show) did beautifully.
What surprised the cast and crew of the show was the overwhelming attachment they felt for the house. It grew on them, surprised them, and, ultimately, delighted them. It became a home, rather than a project, and they restored and outfitted it lavishly, including many of the luxuries and renovations that top every homeowner’s wish list, including a gourmet kitchen (designed by Julia Child and chef Marian Morash, of PBS’s “The Victory Garden”), state-of-the-art media room, a home gym, full-stocked wine cellar, master and children’s suites, and beautiful landscaping.
But as Norm Abram designed a dream workshop inside the old barn, he found himself growing more and more attached to it every day, revealed WGBH spokesperson Kim Cotter. In fact, all of the This Old House team became attached to this property in a different way from other projects completed through the years.
“I feel like I’m marrying off a favorite daughter. This renovation project has been a favorite of ours,” said Russell Morash, executive producer and creator of the show.
Selling is a bittersweet experience for most homeowners.
On the bright side, Morash, Thomas, Abram and the rest of the crew are delighted with the new owners. Suzanne and Bob Grudem seem to have caught their excitement and emotional attachment to the Milton Project.
According to Suzanne, she and her husband were in Home Depot, near their home in Bellevue, Washington, purchasing some grout when they saw the special edition of the magazine on the newsstand.
“We bought the magazine, and flipped through it. We fell in love with the house from the magazine and when we got to the end and saw that the house was for sale, we decided to make an offer,” she said.
As a gift for her 42nd birthday, Bob wrote a poem about the house, expressing everything he loved about it. Suzanne included the poem, as well as a letter about why they wanted to purchase the house, with the over-list price bid they submitted.
“My grandmother was born and died in an old house in upstate New York built by her ancestors, probably dating from 1798. I spent many childhood summers visiting that house. I think I imprinted on old houses at that time,” she wrote. “My husband and I immigrated to Seattle for reasons of work — but never intended to settle here. We now have three very small children and want to find a home where we can live permanently. I miss the coast, terrain, and weather of the Eastern seaboard. When I heard that this house is available, restored by the masters, I did not have to do much talking to convince Bob that this is the place for us.”
“We were looking for a whole new way to start our new phase of life. We could have chosen to go anywhere, to any kind of place. The price of the home was a few hundred thousand dollars over our budget, but we decided to bite the bullet and live with it,” Suzanne said.
They did hire a professional home inspector to tour the property before they closed. This Old House fans may be surprised to find that the house still has problems and will need maintenance and upkeep in the future.
“The inspection revealed that the basement is wet, mostly because of the torrential rains (this spring). It’s better than before, but it might be an ongoing thing,” said Suzanne. “The roof will need to be replaced in the next five years. It’s not really bad, but will need to be done and will require continued maintenance. The show didn’t rehab every single thing, but we can live with it. After all, it’s not like buying a new house where everything is expected to be perfect.”
Although Suzanne and Bob had never seen “This Old House,” the show sent them tapes of the 19 episodes that feature the Milton Project.
“It was really inspirational. We hadn’t seen all of the detail and energy that went into fixing up the project. When we did see it, it made the deal all the sweeter,” she said.
And if there are problems with the house down the line?
“We know where to find them,” she said with a laugh.
Published: Jul 20, 1998