The empty lot looked perfect.
Across from a low-slung red barn in Carlisle that housed horses (most people, including realtors, assumed it was for cows because it was so squat), it met our main criteria: good southern exposure, an excellent perc test for the leaching field, and reasonably priced. That this last requirement was in part due to mortgage interest rates in the mid-teens didn’t deter a couple of bliss-filled newlyweds like us. It also didn’t stop us from thinking that taking on the role of general contractors in order to shave a few dollars off the final cost would be a piece of cake — as our New Hampshire-based builder proclaimed. Nor did it prevent us (although my wife says in this case “us” meant “me”) from thinking two people with no building experience could handle many of the tasks themselves — from waterproofing the foundation to sanding and finishing the wide-pine floors.
Now here is where the horror stories are supposed to begin — everything from discovering a gigantic granite boulder lurking just below the surface where the basement was supposed to go (that didn’t happen until our third house) to subcontractors who start a job on Tuesday and leave for their monthlong winter vacation in the Bahamas on Wednesday. But that didn’t happen either.
We had incredibly good luck right from the start.
After getting a few quotes on the foundation work, we selected a young entrepreneur just getting started who underbid more established businesses. Normally, here’s when the red flags go up. And it certainly looked like this decision was going to start us out on the wrong foot.
It was the first week of December, so we were racing winter’s bite. Our go-getter contractor had all of the forms in place by midweek, promising to pour the concrete on Friday, when the temperature was forecast to be in the low 70s. This unseasonably warm weather arrived right on schedule. The concrete didn’t. His “excuse,” just as the naysayers had warned, was that the truck had broken down en route. He vowed that the concrete would be there that Monday. Well, we all know that the weather in New England can go from balmy to blizzard in just one day, much less three, but this is a good tale, remember? On Monday it was still 70 degrees (we should have known then that global warming was just around the corner), and the concrete arrived just as promised.
From then on the project proceeded on a relatively smooth path, with only a few potholes along the way. The main crew showed up every day as scheduled, as did the subs. We, in turn, worked every weekend, as well as more than a few evenings, staining clapboards, tiling bathrooms, installing kitchen cabinets, and getting well acquainted with the inventory of every lumberyard in a 20-mile radius. We also shelled out a sizable chunk of change on pizza and beer for the posse of friends and relatives we roped into helping us out.
In the end, we managed to go from newlywed apartment dwellers to contended homeowners in less than nine months. And for the next six months we often lingered at our sun-splashed dining table, eating sumptuous meals fresh from our sparkling new kitchen — until my sister announced that she was relocating from Florida and asked whether she and her two kids could stay with us for a while. Well, we could hardly refuse family, could we?
The following day we began, as befitting the seasoned builders we now were, plans to finish the three bedrooms on the second floor that had been left for another day.Rick Blum is a freelance writer and occasional poet living in Chelmsford — and waiting for his third home (where the boulder won the standoff) to be finished. E-mail your 600-word essay on your first home to Address@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we will not pursue.