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From $25 House to...

That's not a typo, you read it right. We really did pay $25 for Cottage West in July 2014. 

Back then, before we owned it, we called it the Old Lady House. Rather unoriginal, I'll admit, but there you go. 

According to the neighbors who sold us our 1899 Victorian just 150 feet away, an older woman had lived in it for decades until it became too much, and she was taken away to a nursing home. For ten years, the house had been left unoccupied and unloved. Broken into repeatedly, it had long since been boarded up by the city. The only occupants now were a troupe of raccoons who entered and exited through a hole near the roof line each morning and night.

Raccoons are terrible renters. So messy and they never pay their rent on time!

When a sign went up in August 2013 in the front yard stating that the house would be sold on the courthouse steps for unpaid back taxes, I was so excited. But we had just moved into our house six months earlier, and we certainly didn't have the $3,000+ they were asking for lying around. We waited to hear who the new owners would be. But at that time, there was no land rush like there is now. The house didn't sell. Instead, it went into a land-holding entity, Land Bank, which was managed by the city. 

To say that the city was overwhelmed with properties in dire need of care is an understatement. At the time, over 4,000 properties were listed with Land Bank. Most were empty lots, but many, like the Old Lady House, were buildings in various states of disrepair.

By early 2014, we were heavily involved in our local community and attending the monthly meetings. My husband, Dave, was asked to serve as the vice-president, and later president, of the Lykins Neighborhood Association. We learned a lot about revitalization in those meetings, as well as the ins and outs of working with Land Bank. And as a direct result of that, we toured the property in spring 2014 and submitted a Scope of Work to Land Bank and applied to purchase it. Land Bank's stated price was $14,000, but the Scope of Work was accepted in lieu of payment with the additional $25 added to the top of it.

All in all, with application fees and money orders et cetera, we paid a total of $131.50 for the property and were handed the deed in mid-July 2014.

Land Bank really wanted us to complete all of the work within two years of receiving the property. But with as many properties as they had on hand, there wasn't a ton of oversight. In the end, it took us just over five years (and $95k in repairs) to fix everything. It would have likely cost us a significant amount less if we had known what we were doing, but it was our first (but not last) home renovation.

We named her The Cottage until mid-2017 when we purchased the house on the other side of us (to the east) for $2,000. Then she became Cottage West, whereas the new one is Cottage East. That's our next project!


So, let me tell you what we did to make Cottage West the warm, welcoming, and comfortable property she now is:


  • Replaced the roof and nearly all of the windows

  • Painted the exterior

  • Rebuilt the front porch

  • Removed the overgrowth and old fencing and installed new fencing and new plants

  • Took the interior down to the studs

  • Insulated with foam insulation

  • All new electrical wiring and plumbing

  • New HVAC and on-demand water heater

  • Moved the old kitchen into the dining room and made it a dine-in kitchen and painted the metal cabinets and sink combo. 

  • Installed a washer & dryer in the utility room

  • Re-did the bathroom floor and laid tile

  • Found a fantastic old claw foot tub from 1907, painted it and had it re-finished and installed the shower adapter.

  • Finished out the rest of the bathroom with a new skirted toilet

  • Had all new drywall installed

  • Painted all interior walls

  • Refinished the original hardwood floors

  • Re-did the inside of the enclosed back porch and turned it into a sunroom with yoga mats.

  • Installed a new back stoop in 2023


Now Cottage West is a welcoming two bedroom, one bath retreat.


In the near future we will be finishing out the attic into a third bedroom with a half bath. This should be done by early 2024. After that, We hope to finish out the basement into a separate studio for our teen son. We also have plans to lay sod in the back of Cottage West and lay walkways, as well as have a place for guests to BBQ and enjoy the newly added firepit.

A view of the Old Lady House from our home.

Trees grew all along the base of the house.

The enclosed back porch had broken, boarded up windows.

Inside, the clutter was knee-deep.

We found two Civil War bayonets, along with Depression-era glassware

The rickety, leaning stairs that led from the basement up into the house.

The fireplace in the living room.

The siding was rotting on the back.

The dining room (now kitchen) looking into the living room.

From the living room looking into the dining room (now kitchen).

Bedroom 1, from the doorway we removed (the door led off of the living room)

Getting to the front door was a challenge.

The original porch was rotten and dangerous.

The day we took ownership. You could barely see it behind all the greenery!

One of the first things we did was cut down all of those little trees.

A penny I found in the former dining room.

Cleaning the back bedroom.

Cleaning the front bedroom. We ended up removing this tiny closet.

My daughter and a neighbor examining our found treasures.

The living room and front door.

I was so excited to find hardwood floors under the carpet, and in great condition!

The back of the house. As you can see, it needed a lot of work.

The front of the house and the attic windows.

The back of the house and basement entrance.

First upgrade - installing power.

We demo'd down to the studs.

Everything was taken out - old plumbing and pipes - everything.

The original doorway to the 1st bedroom. We walled over it since there were two doors into the room.

We hauled piles and piles and piles away to the dump.

Respirators were necessary. It was a dirty, messy job and we did most of it ourselves.

Here I am, taking out the wall between the front bedroom and the dining room (now kitchen).

We learned a lot about demo work. A lot!

Next up, getting the roof replaced. When they removed the old one, sun shone in from the attic above.

New roof in process of being installed.

I can't tell you how happy I was to see this roof in place!

After the insulation, electrical and plumbing was all in place, it was time for drywall and painting.

Meanwhile, outside, the front porch was being rebuilt and we were painting.

Paint choices...

Friends and neighbors showed up to help one weekend and we got it all done.

It really livened it up!

Drywall done, time to paint!

The back bedroom...

The old kitchen and future utility room with the back porch beyond that.

We painted the old metal cabinets and installed them in the new kitchen.

The living room lights were up and the walls were painted a warm golden yellow.

The new kitchen underway...

The claw foot bathtub was made in 1907. We got it free and it took four adults to move it. It was HEAVY!

I painted the outside of it and had the inside professionally refinished.

My husband laid the tile floor in the bathroom.

Getting the tub inside of the bathroom wasn't easy!

The original metal cabinets looked so much better with a coat of paint!

The back bedroom coming together...

I cleaned off a bit of the drywall gunk off the floor. Yup, nice hardwood there!

In the old kitchen, there was some gunk to scrape off before we could sand the floors.

Little Miss, our foster daughter, did not like the sound of the floor sander!

Floors in progress...

We didn't know a lot about sanding floors. We learned!

We decided to not stain, just put a clear coat on top.

Here is my husband, adding the water-based poly.

I love how they turned out!

My daughter, "helping" roll the carpet out.

The living room getting finished.

I bought this old stove for $100 years before. The oven doesn't work, but the stove does. It's from the 1930s.

Adding numbers to the bedroom doors

Stocking the linen closet

Adding low-care air plants

I bought this antique glider and gave it a facelift with green paint to match the cushions.

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