Congratulations! You Bought a House for $25!

Did we really pay $25 for The Cottage?

Yes, we did. That’s the short answer.

The long answer is that we promised to fix it up and spend at least $17,000 on it. There were also some fees we had to pay. All in all, we spent $144.50 for the house and the fees necessary to register it in our names.

This is not a normal thing. We just were incredibly lucky. Call it a perfect storm of events:

  • Our home is within eyesight of The Cottage and it is just 25 feet away from the end of our property.
  • My husband is the neighborhood association president, so we were well-known in the neighborhood (this helps since all Land Bank applicants are reviewed and checked to be sure they are in good standing and live in the area)
  • Another neighbor was concerned about a tree in the┬áback of The Cottage and had called Land Bank repeatedly requesting it be cut down. It is an old cottonwood tree that still has plenty of years left in it according to an arborist who checked on it for us.
  • Land Bank, a repository for vacant land and abandoned houses, is overburdened and underfunded. Thanks to urban flight in the 80s and 90s – this area is still underfunded and houses are decaying faster than people can move in and fix them. The economic downturn in 2008 was especially hard on Kansas City and many people suddenly found themselves upside down in their real estate investments. Many simply closed the doors of their houses and walked away.

All of these combined to make it possible for us to offer just $25 on a house and have it accepted.

And now that we were owners of a $25, 900 square foot house, we had to figure out what to do with it.

We began by cutting down some opportunistic trees outside that were a) giving the raccoons easy access to the attic and b) causing significant damage to the roof and foundation. We also needed to take down to trees on the property line in order for KCP&L to be okay with running a new line from the pole to the house.

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Look at those suckers! They were right up against the house, parts of them lying on top of the roof.

We then set about cleaning up the inside of the house. We went through the massive amount of debris and found some amazing discoveries, including two Civil War bayonets, hundreds of 30s and 40s era science magazines, Depression-era glassware, 1910 and 1918 wheat pennies, a Civil War button, an entire set of 1900 Encyclopedia Britannica, and more.

A Civil War button and also a ring made from a silver spoon.
A Civil War button and also a ring made from a silver spoon.
One of the many fun magazines we discovered in the attic
One of the many fun magazines we discovered in the attic

And then there were the lovely hardwood floors beneath the linoleum in the back bedroom, kitchen and hallway.

THREE layers of linoleum over hardwood. The top layer being (laughably) wood look.
THREE layers of linoleum over hardwood. The top layer being (laughably) wood look.

We also dug down, removing the carpet to discover hardwood floors in reasonable condition underneath…

The wood floors were actually in fantastic shape
The wood floors were actually in fantastic shape – they will need a good sanding and then a few coats of poly, but there are no gouges or problems at all.

We found quite a few of the original sci-fi greats, including Lester Del Rey, who later founded Del Rey Books.

For an old book nut like me, this was kind of a dream come true.
For an old book nut like me, this was kind of a dream come true.

With the trees cleared, we were able to install a new electrical box.

Time for a new electrical box!
Time for a new electrical box!

We now had power to The Cottage and had invested around $3,000 total for the box and getting the place cleaned out.

And that’s where we were stalled. We tried getting loans and funding – but there weren’t any to be had. So we were kind of stuck. We didn’t have enough in funds to move forward and we still didn’t have a vision for what we wanted to do with it.

Luckily, houses tend to not complain very much.

Our First Look Inside

Abandoned and unoccupied for more than a decade, here are the photos from our first look inside of The Cottage. At that time, all we knew was that a Nadine Burnworth had been the last resident to live there. After she was taken away to a nursing home sometime in 2003, the house had been boarded up.

Unfortunately, it did not stay that way. Metal scrappers repeatedly broke into it, removing anything of value and leaving a mess behind. The house slowly decayed. Eventually, raccoons, squirrels, and other creatures moved in. It was a mess!

The basement was filled with all kinds of debris - all the way up to our knees in places
The basement was filled with all kinds of debris – all the way up to our knees in places
Up in the kitchen there was a large double sink and metal cabinets above and below
Up in the kitchen there was a large double sink and metal cabinets above and below
And everywhere we stepped there was such a mess!
And everywhere we stepped there was such a mess!
The attic was open to the elements and the raccoons had taken advantage of this during our cold winters.
The attic was open to the elements and the raccoons had taken advantage of this during our cold winters.
The main level didn't look much better and scrappers had stolen the cast iron bathtub and broken the sink and toilet in the bathroom
The main level didn’t look much better and scrappers had stolen the cast iron bathtub and broken the sink and toilet in the bathroom
The house was small - just two bedrooms and it stunk of raccoon.
The house was small – just two bedrooms and it stunk of raccoon.
A large pipe was broken and dribbling water from the roof down into the attic
A large pipe was broken and dribbling water from the roof down into the attic
The ugly carpet was on the top of my list to get rid of.
The ugly carpet was on the top of my list to get rid of.
Outside the back lap siding was missing paint and rotting away.
Outside the back lap siding was missing paint and rotting away in places.

Boy oh boy, we had our work cut out for us.

We thought about it for a month or two. And then we made an offer…