Sippican Cottage

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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

The Love Child of Professor Irwin Corey and Fagin

Astute reader and commenter Blackwing wondered aloud in yesterday’s comments if our house was worth saving. What could its value possible be? How could all this effort pay off? It’s not a dumb question. So I’ll try to answer it. What’s my house worth?

Well, it’s worth a lot to me.  More than money, really. Without a house, by definition I’m homeless. I’m not young anymore, so I can’t be sexy homeless. You know, a scruffy indie band drummer sleeping on a different strange girl’s couch every night. I’d be wino-sleeping-behind-the-7-11-grade homeless. You know the look. The love child of Professor Irwin Corey and Fagin. That’s not for me. Plus I have a family, of course. I got some estimates but they came in low would never farm my kids out for medical experiments, or palm them off on Dickensian relatives who would refuse them seconds in their gruel bowls. Not my style. And my wife needs a home to keep the rain off her cat. No.  No house doesn’t work for the Cottage family.

But that’s not a dollars and cents answer. I’ve looked on many a spreadsheet for construction projects, and there’s never a column labeled “Sentiment.” I’ve already told you that our house cost less than $25k. I’m not sure how much lower a house can go before you start comparing it to pup tents and yurts. But let’s get someone else to put a value on our house. Someone with a gimlet eye for what a house is worth. Someone with beaucoup info at the ready. Let’s ask the insurance company.

We went without insurance on our house for ten years. No one would sell us any. Believe me, we looked hard. The only offer of any kind we received back in the day was from Lloyd’s of London. They said they wanted $1,500 to send an appraiser to look at it. If he approved of it, they’d apply the money as a lump sum down payment on the policy, which of course would be much more than that. If he didn’t approve of it, they’d keep the deposit money anyway. Every other insurance company turned us down flat. They didn’t understand our house, and didn’t believe me when I said I could fix it. It didn’t cost enough to make it insurable. All they saw was the price tag. But we’re trying to figure out value. Not the same thing.

But now we have home insurance. We finally found someone who likes money at an insurance company. He must be the only one. I don’t want to say the road to insurance was a long and arduous one, but we started looking when our spare heir was nine years old, and when we finally found an agent who would sell us a policy, it turned out that he was once in one of my son’s college classes.

Our policy is written by a regular company. A household name company, really. Super Bowl ad kinda company. Just so you understand that the numbers we were given are the same sort of numbers that the average American sees when they insure their snouthouse. The insurance company does an estimate of what it would cost to rebuild your house if it was a total loss. It’s an interesting estimate, because it’s based on putting the house back the way it was before it was destroyed. What would it cost to rebuild our house, according to the insurance estimate?

Section 1 – Property Coverages and Limits

A. Dwelling     $635,000

Other Structures  $63.500

I questioned him closely on this. I abjured the need to point out that coverage is the plural of coverage, and stuck to less orthographical topics. I offered that there’s no way we could sell our house for anything like those numbers. Wouldn’t the company rather insure the house for what it would sell for? Nope. They insure a house for what it would cost to put it back the way it was, before you heaped those oily rags next to the woodstove, or left a pit bull alone with a candle burning, or whatever regular people do to make trouble for themselves. The number represents the true value of all the components of the house, (re)assembled in place.

It’s amusing to me, because I know people whose houses really are worth that kind of money, and their insurance replacement estimates aren’t any higher than mine. They don’t have a metal roof or masonry fireplaces or big porches or solid oak woodwork or cedar clapboards or five-foot-square windows, or birch strip flooring. Their houses are smaller, plastic and OSB boxes, filled with undifferentiated plastery spaces inside, with painted particle board trim, and not much of that. If it wasn’t for their granite countertops, nothing much in their houses would be worth more than a trip to the closeout aisle at the Orange Place.

Anne, another pleasant reader and commenter, asked me where I might go to find cheap building materials. I’m living in it. I’ve got $730,000-worth of stuff right here, and I only paid $25,000 for it. Subtract out the land it’s sitting on from the purchase price, and I paid maybe five grand for the 10,000 admittedly poorly arranged two-by-fours that make up the place.

So I’m making a laundry room. It needs windows. I’ll make them out of some sashes we removed somewhere else in the house. Because I’m going to beat the value out of this house if it kills me. Or it. Jury’s still out on who will collapse first.

[To be continued]

3 Responses

  1. ” I’m going to beat the value out of this house if it kills me.”

    Well, I’m nowhere near the Construction Colossus that is Sippican, but I do have a few materials tricks. Turns out there was an odd assortment of plywood and oil-stained lumber in the garage and attic of our pre-owned house. Most of the plywood has been reborn as garage shelving, and the lumber looks lumbermill fresh after a quick pass through the planer. Heck, push a $3 cedar fence slat through the planer and make nice gift boxes out of it.

      1. “…you haven’t lived a full life until you’ve pulled a piece off your house and burned it for heat.”

        Amen, brother. Mom and Dad bought a semi-decrepit vacation cabin in the Big Bear Lake (CA) area about 80 years ago, with plans for renovations. Which did occur, generating lots of scrap, all of which got shoved into the cast-iron stove on cold evenings. Later on, when I was in high school, Dad got ambitious and dragooned me into helping him build a two-story house on the same property. All of which gave me a fine appreciation for careful construction and cold beer at the end of the workday.

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