I Bought a Total Dungheap of a House: Watch Me Renovate It!

Do visions of mouse poo, buried bones, beer bottles of piss and used condoms strung about like Christmas lights spell Home, Sweet Home to you? Me, too!
Publish date:
August 1, 2012
housework, household drama

I, along with my handsomer half, just bought our first house. I know, who cares! But I promise this is not your average "House Hunters" tale. After trolling house sale websites unceasingly for months and hounding my gratis real estate agent (I love you, Doug, kiss kiss) to navigate his shiny Rittenhouse Square car, with driver, into skinny Fishtown hoods, (the streets often being so skinny he was a set of wheels up on the sidewalk), we finally found the one.

“Love/save me”, I heard her call and we ran with stupid open arms.

It was a Friday (should that mean something?), and the sun waned on a chilly, late November day. We had been in oodles of houses and our spirits and bodies alike sank in the leather back seat. We were o-v-e-r it. Sighing to myself, I shuffled through the printouts of houses in our desired neighborhood. A cheap, ugly one stuck out. But it had A FRONT YARD, nearly unheard of in our city.

“Could we go see it?” I asked.

There was no electricity and we held our breath as we crept over soggy, um -- everything, books, records, boxes, etc. The house was chock full of stuff, mouse poop sprinkled atop all of it. A wet hospital bed next to a container of used needles in the dining room, a kitchen sink piled high with dirty dishes, fly traps twirling with long dead flies, and black garbage bags full of who-knows-what. Mustard colored mold covered the walls like an old, wool blanket. We couldn’t even enter one of the bedrooms it was so stuffed, a la Hoarders.

My palace.

The refrigerator was even still full of food, albeit rotted. Trash bags that never made it to the curb filled the back yard. Ceilings on each floor were caving in. But get this, there were actual squatters floating in and out, partying down in all this drudge. I’ve yet to reconcile how that was possible.

A bedroom, dare ye lay down your head?

Something about this place spoke to us (I can’t yet know what that says of us). The seller’s agent warned us they already had five offers. If we wanted in, we had to give a bid by noon on Saturday, as in the next day. OH, and one little catch. There would be no negotiating. Whoever made the highest bid would win. A whole house. Come again? That’s right, this place was considered a hot commodity. The price was low and the neighborhood was a beaut.

The only real house hunting advice I had been given was "Buy the worst house on the best block." I had no idea how true that comment would later ring. As the story goes, Friday eve we saw it, Saturday noon we offered, Sunday night we were new homeowners.

We did what is perhaps the biggest no-no in house hunting. We forwent the house inspection. I KNOW. But really, what was some guy going to tell us for $1,000 that we clearly couldn’t see for ourselves? The house was uninhabitable (despite the ongoing squatters). Besides no electricity, all the copper piping had been cut out (that means no plumbing/water). Everything was damp and spore-laden from a long leaking roof. This place was a complete cluster fuck. And now, mouse poop and all, it was mine.

We bought an utter 1875 dung pile not because our wallets were spilling with money begging to be spent, but because we thought rents were too high to keep, um, renting. And first time homebuyers get good benefits and don’t require a lot down, so why not?

NOTE: I wouldn’t recommend the average homebuyer do this. We grew the brass ones because D has a background in construction and has even renovated a few Philadelphia homes before.


Because I truly believe life will give you a grander story than you can ever imagine yourself, our plot thickens. This past November marked just over one year that D, former craftsman, had been unable to work, because his body, at the age of 28, seemed to fold. That is to say, by the time we were house hunting, he was just getting over his latest episode of some unnamed autoimmune flare-up. Doctors have most closely linked his disease to MS, though no tests have been definitive.

At this point, he was unable to walk the distance of a grocery store parking lot and his body was in constant pain --well, the part he could feel, anyway. His legs and feet were essentially numb from brain/spine scarring. On a plus note, do you know how convenient a handicap parking pass is in a city?

As for me, I was going to be of little help. I sit behind a desk all day as part of an academic editorial team and one of the most exciting things to happen to me in the last three months is the discovery of BB creams, fer real.

An easy fix would have been to just hire a general contractor to sort the place out. But remember the non-spilling wallets? Yeah, that wasn’t an option. This gut would be DIY. Construction crew: 2. One of us with the mental know-how, two of us with the wobbly bodies of Gilligan. GAME ON.