The first house I bought was a Dutch Colonial in Lakewood, originally built in 1897. I was only the fifth owner of the property and one owner had the house for a little over 50 years. I bought that house in 2006, at the height of the pre-recession market when there was limited supply and significant demand due to good interest rates and favorable underwriting. Sound familiar? Fast-forward to present day and we find ourselves in a similar market, with the lowest lending rates our country has seen in decades.
If you’re out looking at houses in popular areas such as Ohio City, University Circle, Tremont, Lakewood, etc., it’s likely you’re going to be presented with houses that are, shall we say, seasoned. According to the U.S. Census, there are approximately 250,000 housing units in the ZIP codes that comprise the City of Cleveland, East Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, and Lakewood. Of these, about 55 percent were built prior to 1940 and an 87 percent were built prior to 1970.
So if you’re in the market to buy a home and don’t have the money to pay for a fully renovated place, you may need to decide to take on a house that requires a little sprucing up. Worry not! While hardcore DIY work isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, there are lots of small things that can be handled by a homeowner that take just a little bit of knowledge and the right resource. With that in mind, here are a few resources that I have found to be invaluable as an owner of a classic house.
If you’re going to own an old home, you’re going to need to know about Cleveland Lumber. Don’t let the name fool you. They’re far more than lumber or building supplies. Many of Cleveland Lumber’s staff are former tradesmen who live in the area and have years of experience helping contractors or homeowners. They have excellent knowledge and experience with the old homes that make up the surrounding neighborhoods. With so many old homes featuring building products from the turn of the century, it can often be hard to match the dimensions of the thick case molding around a door or the ornate sills under a window. Cleveland Lumber stocks molding that matches many styles of homes in the area, but also can order pretty much anything you’ll need or at least tell you where to find it.
Don’t freak out. For some reason, people are intimidated by plumbing. And yes, putting in copper pipes, PVC drains, etc. requires a licensed plumber with specialized knowledge and experience. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. If you’re going to end up owning an old home, odds are you may have a kitchen or bath (or two) that still have plumbing original to the house. Whether that be the older galvanized pipes in the wall or the sink, shower, and toilet fixtures, things weren’t as standard then as they are now. And this is where Menyhart comes in. When you first walk in, it may not look like much, but you’re there for the knowledge of the gentlemen behind the counter, not the looks of the room. Similar to Cleveland Lumber, these guys have seen it all. So before you pay $1,000 to replace a sink and toilet that you can’t seem to understand, take some pictures and run down to Menyhart. Chances are they have a fitting that’ll stop that leak for you or new faucet and knobs just like the ones you have, only newer.
OLD SCHOOL ARCHITECTURAL SALVAGE
The folks at this fun establishment specialize in collecting building materials, fixtures, and pretty much anything under the sun from old buildings and houses that, most of the time, are getting torn down. When you own an old house, in this writer’s humble opinion, there needs to be a balance of maintaining a house’s aesthetic while imparting your own look and bringing modern functionality to the home. This is where OSAS excels. You can find 100-year-old wood flooring that may have been taken out of a school or doors and windows from houses that once looked exactly like the one you’ll own. When comparing these items to ones you could opt for at a big-box store, the pricing ends up being pretty darn similar by the time you have someone install it for you. The purveyors work by appointment only, but are very accommodating. Look them up on Facebook.