As a born-and-raised Austinite, I loved running around the Barton Creek Greenbelt and visiting Barton Springs Pool as a kid. Those places instilled a sense of freedom and independence within me that still fosters my creative side today. I had since moved to New York City, but as I got older, the city became suffocating. My dream was to purchase some land, preferably three acres or more, on water that was less than an hour from Austin. A farm could be a place for my niece and nephews (and my future children) to enjoy the outdoors just like I had. I longed for space to be in nature and breathe.
At the end of 2018, I returned home and found an empty plot in Georgetown, Texas. It was three-plus acres and close to town and there were beautiful trees. That’s what sealed the deal for me! Plus the owner was going through a divorce and would match the price of a previous property I had visited. I closed on it in January 2019. Buying a house was always the goal for the future, but my money had gone into the down payment for the land, so I planned to save up and put up a temporary structure in the meantime.
Six months later, though, my aunt told me about a home she’d seen for sale on Facebook Marketplace. It was a Folk Victorian built in 1897 on East Sixth Street, a gentrifying part of downtown, by Swedish immigrants, Gus and Ida Anderson. In its 120-plus-year history it had only had two owners. I knew the second I walked in that I needed it, and my family agreed.
Making the Purchase
Better yet? The house was for sale for just $15,000. It was originally $30,000, but the homeowner had recently marked it down. He had two more people coming to look at the property, so I didn’t want to pass it up. I messaged the seller on a Wednesday and by Friday was writing a check.
Weighing the Cost of Relocation
Developers had purchased the land for a multifamily unit, and lucky for me it would have been more difficult and more costly for them to tear it down than to sell it. However, this also meant the seller required the structure be relocated after I purchased it.
While the price of the home itself was a bargain, I knew it would be expensive to move it 35 miles east of Austin (but still less than buying a new place!). It cost $34,000 to cut the disassembled main house and porch addition (which wasn’t structurally sound) in half and bring it to my land in Georgetown. When the home arrived, it was set on steel beams and concrete blocks. I named it after its original owner, Ida.
The 11-foot ceilings, large windows, and opportunity to salvage a piece of history were just some of the house’s charms, but what lay beneath was challenging. Ida sat vacant for a month until I got the keys, during which squatters moved in, punching in doors and causing other unforeseen damages. On top of that, not much remodeling had been done in a while, and what had been done was clearly not by a professional.
The wiring was scary; the ceilings had been dropped to 8 or 9 feet in some spots (I assume to accommodate the heating and cooling systems); and Sheetrock cut off parts of the windows, taking the original trim with it. Furthermore, the ceiling joists weren’t made from one continuous piece of wood but rather four pieces that had been nailed together. It was bizarre to say the least.
To start off, though, the house would need a new foundation. It was only after it was poured that the structure was finally lowered to the ground. This was a surprise to me; I thought the foundation would have come first!
Straying From the Blueprint
There is a lot to be said about slowing down, building with more sustainable materials, and reviving homes of the past. New houses now barely last 20 to 30 years, while Ida could last another 200. I’ve always gravitated toward older homes with character, and I am glad to see a resurgence of restoration and craftsmanship. (My first home in Austin was a 1940s bungalow in Hyde Park.)
I’ve joined many Facebook groups dedicated to home restoration. In these communities, there’s often an unfair pressure to restore a place to its original integrity. In my book, you’re already saving the house, so why not make it something you love?
In the beginning, I had an engineer assess whether I could remove one of the exterior walls and hired a general contractor. Sadly the contractor let me down, so I pulled in my own subcontractors and started running the project myself (but leaving things like electrical and plumbing to the professionals). While there are still many things to do, my boyfriend, Adam Mink, and I have moved in and been working continuously on Ida ever since.
We have completed the first phase of the kitchen remodel, which features a vintage O’Keefe & Merritt stove (also found on Facebook Marketplace) and concrete countertops by Caeserstone. Our next step is finishing the trimming, a true labor of love. To see our progress and follow along, check out @savingidahouse on Instagram.