First week!

We’ve been living at the house for around a week now. So far so good! There’s a lot of work to be done, and we’re talking with a lot of folks in the trades. There are some pressing issues to fix right now.

First up is hiring an arborist. We have beautiful trees on the property. Unfortunately, one of them is near-death and needs to be taken down (it’s close to the house). Some of the trees are being strangled by grape vines; and there is brush that has grown out of control throughout the property. “Volunteer trees” have also grown everywhere; they need to be removed. The longer they’re growing, the more difficult they are to remove. We’ve talked with a few arborists already and hope to hire one soon.

The second issue we need to deal with is the state of the garage roof. It’s a slate roof, and during a recent storm a 10-foot section of one of the nearby trees came down and smashed several tiles. They need to be replaced. There are also several holes in the eves due to tree damage. Finally, one roofer pointed out that the ridge, flashing, and hips of the roof are loose enough so that you can see light from the inside. There’s even one part of the roof that’s leaking so much that the wood has rotted away on the inside and you can see the slate. The inspectors both noted that there were roof problems in the garage, but it looks like it has gotten worse.

During this time of Coronavirus, everyone is taking steps to stay far away from each other and wear masks. Unfortunately, the longer we put off this kind of essential work, the higher the risk to the house and the garage.

We’ve taken care of a few other things while we’ve been here:

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  • Moved the gas and electric to our name
  • Paid the remainder of fees for the closing
  • Started to order essentials, like garbage cans, toilet paper, and light bulbs
  • Installed Verizon Fios as Internet access is critical for us to be able to work from home. Cell service gets far too expensive too quickly
  • Installed a home security system. We’ve chosen to use Abode with professional monitoring

The water and electric work well enough for us to get ready for work in the morning, and the kitchen is good enough for cooking nice meals!

We bought a house!

We closed on our house today! We originally planned to closed in April, but due to the Coronavirus crisis, we pushed the closing a month. Everyone involved decided that a “remote closing” would be most appropriate at this time. On Wednesday, we wired a large amount of money to our attorney, Jamie Abrams of Bass & Abrams, PC. Jamie has done a great job of working with us throughout this entire process. She was referred to us by a long-time friend.

In our remote closing the title insurance company helped coordinate everything. Of course, it helped that we were working with people we trusted! (After all, the Scarborough Presbyterian Church is hardly going to abscond with our money!) We worked with Mitch Usavich of Statewide Abstract Corporation to handle the title search and insurance. James Simmons was the lawyer representing the Church.

Finally, the realtors gave us guidance throughout the entire process. We worked with Randy Florke and Mary Jones of The Rural Connection; the Church was represented by Kathryn Davis of ERA.

Interestingly, due to the crisis, we haven’t even met our lawyer in person! When things get less crazy, we’re hoping to have her over!

It’s been an interesting process. This wasn’t a standard closing, given the interaction with the state and the coincidence of the virus. But everyone did a great job.

Views of the house

We went up to visit the Manse today. We mainly wanted to see the back property lines after being staked by the surveyor. We walked around the house; I took some photos.

The surveyor did a great job of staking the back property line; we now know where the property ends and the Sparta Cemetery begins. In this photo, you can also see one of the old rebar-and-cement fence posts. We’ll have to decide if we want to put in fencing or repair these posts at all.

Back property line with surveyor stake and old rebar-and-cement fence-post.

It’s a little early, but there are already snowdrops popping up around the property. This batch was in the front yard in front of the retaining wall.

Snowdrop flowers in front of the property.

Hired a surveyor

Part of a closing process is getting Title Insurance. Investopedia has a great definition of Title Insurance. Basically, it insures that the title of the property does not have any liens against the property, and that what you are buying is what you think you are buying.

The seller of the property hires a title insurance company. Part of the process of getting the title insurance is ensuring that there is a valid, up-to-date survey of the property. This survey is generally paid for by the purchaser of the property.

The survey company performances an ALTA Land Title Survey. (ALTA stands for the American Land Title Association.) ALTA and the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) created standards for surveys for the purpose of a title search; the NSPS has a detailed document describing the Land Title Survey.

In addition to the Land Title survey, we’re also having the back line of the property against the Sparta Cemetery staked. When a property line is staked, metal or wood stakes are put into the ground with markers to delineate the exact property line. This will allow us to visually see the end of the property–including which trees will be on our property.

We also considered doing a detailed topographical survey. This kind of survey shows the elevation lines across the entire property; any major construction including the house, driveway, and walls; as well as the location of all of the trees. We decided against doing the topographical survey for now since we will be removing dead trees. We may do one of these in the future.

About the property

The Manse is located at 191 Revolutionary Road in the village of Briarcliff Manor, New York. It’s part of the Scarborough Historic District. A “manse” is the residence of a Presbyterian minister when it is owned by the church (other terms for similar homes are parsonages, clergy houses, or rectories).

The cornerstone of the Scarborough Church was laid in 1893 by the married couple Elliott Fitch Shepard and Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt Shepard. It was completed in 1895 after Elliott Shepard’s death. In 1913, Margaret Shepard built the Manse and donated it to the Church.

The Manse sits on 1.5 acres in a triangle shape. Along the East side of the property is Revolutionary Road; along the West side of the property is New York Route 9 (otherwise known as South Highland Avenue or Albany Post Road). To the North of the property is the only direct neighbor: the Sparta Cemetery, a Revolutionary-era cemetery which has not had a burial since 2007. (The geography and road names of this area have a fascinating history; that will be the subject of a later post.)

Over the years, the Manse has been occupied by several ministers of the Scarborough Church. However, the last two ministers did not occupy the building. Very little work has been done to the home over the past hundred years; notably, the footprint of the building remains the same.

The Manse is currently assessed as a six-bedroom, three-and-a-half bathroom house [Tax Map]. The building actually has two-and-a-half working bathrooms (with a generous definition of working). There is a non-working remnants of a three-quarters bath in the basement, and a disconnected remnant of a bathroom with tub in the attic. [The basement bathroom is a bit frightening.] There are six bedrooms, including four on the second floor and two in the attic.

Very little in the house has been renovated. The kitchen was apparently gutted sometime in the last fifty years; there was a bathroom that was added post-WWII as well. The house also has an outdoor porch, an enclosed porch, two fireplaces, and a formal living room, dining room, study, and office.

There’s also a garage that mimics the architecture of the original house. It was clearly originally built to accommodate both horses and cars. There’s a chimney that has been closed off and a hay loft. The garage originally had both power and water, but both of those have been disconnected.

Later posts will feature more photos of the property. We’re looking forward to renovating the home. It should be an exciting journey.

In Contract

Today, our lawyer let us know that she had received a fully signed copy of the contract. This means that we are in contract to purchase The Manse in Briarcliff Manor. It’s exciting: at this point, we’ve made a large commitment to purchase the property.

The next steps are:

  • Have our earnest money deposited (10% of the final sale price)
  • Get the contract approved at the local church meeting
  • Get the contract approved by the regional church authority
  • Get the contract approved by the State Attorney General and/or the Westchester courts

We need to get the contract approved by the state since this is a transfer of property from a non-profit entity. If our contract is not approved within eight months, we have the option of leaving the contract with no penalties. We’re hoping to get approval much sooner!