The Devil Queen

How my wife and I sold our souls to the Queen Anne Victorian we tried to save.

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Location: Crow Mountain, Arkansas, United States

Synopsis: This is a cautionary tale. A seriously disturbed couple find the charming, old ruin of a Queen Anne Victorian in Russellville, Arkansas, and buy it for $1.00. They tore the roof off, cut it in half, and had it moved to some land they owned sixteen miles away because they didn't know any better. Since then, they have hired and fired contractors, had all of their tools stolen, re-wired, re-plumbed, insulated, and essentially rebuilt the entire house. Their only problem is that after four years it still isn't finished. Now they are tired, broke, and wonder what in the hell it is they've done to themselves. And, it's haunted.
(Last updated on April 3, 2008)

Press: Russellville Courier Article - December 2003, HGTV website article, AP story - October 2006, and Victorian Homes Magazine - February 2008 (link coming soon).
Art: From time to time, I receive requests for my art. If you would like to look at more of my art, go to The Failed Artist. If you would like to buy my art, email me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Weighing on the Scales

Some good news for a change. The telephone company came out yesterday and set up our phone line. All we have to do is spend 15 minutes connecting the line from the house to their box and voila! Unlike Entergy, they were courteous, professional, and efficient. They dug the trench, ran the line, and installed the box themselves. And, it took about one work-week to get it all done. I never thought that I'd be so happy with my phone company. As for Entergy, we still haven't heard whether they found the house or not.

The weather has been what you usually expect for August in Arkansas. Hot, humid, and unrelenting. The official forecast for today is 99 or 100 degrees with a heat index of 108-110 degrees. A 20% chance for rain and the humidity is at 53%. There is a heat advisory in effect until 7 PM. Nice, right?

Even with summer in full swing, I can feel fall coming. Not in the weather or because school just started, but something more. Maybe it is because every morning is darker than the day before, and the sun rises later in the day. It has me feeling dread.

Come November we'll have to beg the bank for another extension on the construction loan and cough up a couple grand for the interest payment. After the pleasant cool of early fall, it will become dark and cold. If we don't get our central heat & air installed in the next two months, once the temperature dips below 50 degrees painting, caulking, and other projects are no longer an option.

This will be the third winter the Queen has sat up on Crow Mountain and the end is nowhere in sight. Depending on how productive we are in September and October, there is a chance that we may be able to move in. I will believe it when I see it though.

My wife and I have been doing a lot of talking about the house this week. From the time that we started this project in the fall of 2002, the Queen as been the central focus of our lives. It intrudes upon every moment of our lives. In the beginning it was a passionate obsession, now it is a heavy weight around our necks. In light of how far behind schedule and over budget we are, we've had to reevaluate our situation.

Based on our new estimates, we believe the Queen will be "finished" by March - May 2006. By this we mean, all rooms will be finished (refinished floors, new paint, 100% intact but rough around the edges), all major systems will be installed and working, and the Queen will be 100% sealed from the elements. We estimate that it'll take a minimum of another $20,000.

I think that it'll take another 3 to 5 years to complete the house. This includes rebuilding all the gingerbread trim, screening in the back porch, installing two or three tin ceilings (some rooms have ugly yet functional ceilings now), installing crown molding, and other final touches. It also includes landscaping around the house and building a garage or carport (required by our neighborhood's covenants). Since we've under estimated on everything, it'll probably take five years or more. This brings us to a new set of problems.

Our original plan was to work like the Devil on the Queen for three years. The idea was three years would be enough to make her livable and that we'd move in. We figured that she'd still need some work, but we wouldn't have to devote every free minute of our time to her. At that point we planned to weigh our options. Ideally we'd either have kept the Queen and refinanced her to buy another old house to fix up or we'd sell her out right and move on. In either case, the idea was we'd devote more time to our careers (for me this includes finishing grad school) after that.

Since we acquired the Queen, three major things have happened. The local economy has taken a downturn, we had an child (accidentally), and my wife lost her job.

The economy is the most immediate problem because it has a very direct bearing on our property value. We are afraid that if we continue pouring money into the Queen that we will owe more in the short term than she's worth. For all practical purposes at that point, we are stuck where we are and with the Queen for the foreseeable future. And, while by Arkansas standards I have a pretty decent job, there isn't much else for someone with my experience and education to do here. My upward mobility in this location and job market is very limited. To have any hopes of advancing, I'll probably have to either leave the state or start my own business. Unless I acquire more money, there isn't a way to manage either and keep the Queen. We can't afford for my wife to get a new job (if she could even find one) because of the cost of day care. We are further ahead with her not working at this point.

In five years, I will be 34 and my wife will be a couple years behind me. My wife is starting to worry about her age. Not in a vain, narcissistic way. She is worried about her mortality. This may seem odd. How may women in their mid twenties worry about their inevitable demise? In my wife's case, this is probably a real concern. In her family (maternal and paternal), 90% of the women die from cancer before their they make it out of their 40's. Most don't even make it to 40. From her perspective, she only has about 15 years to get what she wants out of life. Living in Atkins, Arkansas, for the rest of her days(even in a lovely 1890 Victorian) falls far short of her expectations.

Arkansas, in short, can not provide us (or my son) with any future. We are not willing to trade the next five, ten, or twenty years of our lives for a house no matter how beautiful it is. As such, selling the Queen is going to be one of our top priorities. To be honest, we don't really want to sell her. In a perfect world, we'd have the money to finish her and do what we wanted.

This decision doesn't change much for the next six months to a year. We will work on the Queen, and, if things work out, we will probably move in at some point. I don't think that anyone will buy her at this point. The Queen will have to be closer to finished to lure in her next victim. I have noticed most people can't see a finished product when they look at her.

It's a sad decision, not easily made. But, in the end, some things are worth more than others.

In the mean time, work shall continue. Even if we can't keep the old hussy, she still needs to be taken care of.


Blogger Gary said...

I suggest you reevaluate every 6 months for the time being. When you hit the mid 30s it is like a hammer hits you on the head and around your 40s it is driven home. You become patient and accepting and stop worrying about what other people are going to think. If you continue to work on your home you will gain skills that people pay to learn and even more people pay to have performed on their homes. If you lose your job you can probably make more money as a self employed handy man. If that fails run for congress! I was 33 when I walked away from the corporate workforce. That was when I was finally confident in my own ability. Now at 44 nothing phases me and I know that there is little that I can't do. If your child learns the skills you are learning now there will be plenty of work available in 20 years when all the 1950s houses start to fall apart and if you start at age 10 they will have 10 years experience when they are 20. School will teach children how to get a job. You have to teach them how to create a profession for themselves. If you sell out now for less than you deserve then you will regret it in future years any money won't bring your past back. A smart person learns from their mistakes. A wise person learns from the mistakes of others.....

1:54 PM  
Blogger Joe Remodelo said...

wow, that's a pretty heavy posting. But, right now you may just be feeling a little burn-out. Re-evaluate in a few weeks...

and, Gary is right, learn from other's mistakes cause you ain't got time to make 'em all yourself!

8:10 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn said...

I don't know you guys, but I bet it's a combination of things getting to you both. First of all, the heat there would make me crazy I know. and you have a helluva lot on your plate with that devilish Queen.

We all have to do what's right for us and you do too of course. I just hope you guys feel better and whatever you decide you will have gained in experience and knowledge of yourselves and restoration as well.

I have read recently (though not commented) on some of the problems you've been having. We had the advantage (or disadvantage) of being able to live in our place thru the construction and do it room by room. It was definitely rough at times.

Hang in there and know you're fighting the good fight whatever you decide.

4:24 PM  

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