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  • Writer's pictureSusan Byers


Greetings from the beautiful Berkshires in western Massachusetts. We are ensconced at Peppermint Park, half an hour from civilization (read Starbucks, Panera, grocery stores, Home Depot, etc.) for the next three weeks. Then we head back to Syracuse to close on our new house.

Wait, what?! (Which is what our younger daughter replied when we told her.)

That's right, we're buying a house. Trip not cancelled, just postponed for a bit.

Nine months into our planned two-year tour of America, COVID hit. We're among the demographic most likely to die ... so it's not safe to travel, and won't be until we've had a vaccine and most people have had it--another year or two. Travel for us means visiting both places and people, and we can't do that. So after sitting in rural southwestern Virginia for three long months (cows were about as exciting as it got, except for the farmer's market on Saturday mornings, which is why you haven't heard from me), we decided to go ahead and look for our next home, then travel once it's safe again.

We knew we wanted to be further north, and had narrowed our search to the area around Syracuse, where we have friends, and New England, where we also have friends. We really expected to land in New England, and were only in the Syracuse area for two weeks. But I scanned the listings in Syracuse, and, a week before we were supposed to leave, there it was ...

Built in 1832, it was part of a farm named Windy Acres. Outside, it was NOT what we were looking for (think cottage). But inside, it was charming. Downstairs, it has a large living room (soon to be master bedroom) ...

... a bath we'll redo and tie into the master ...

... a dining room (soon to be living room) ...

... and a huge kitchen/family room (soon to be a brand-new kitchen/dining, family room).

There's a a little room that will become a pantry/laundry room ...

and a roomy enclosed porch out back ...

There are two fireplaces, one in the living-cum-bedroom and one in the kitchen.

In 1832, that's where you would have cooked, although this one has been updated and is much smaller.

The front door, its lock box and key are original, a real treasure (unfortunately, I don't have a picture of it ... yet). The stair rail ends in a charming curl.

We fell in love. But it was 5:30 in the evening when we finally got to see it, and we had to decide by 7:30. The cut-off for offers was 8 that evening and there were already two other offers, at least one over asking. The Realtor could not tell us how much they were, so we looked at what the house was originally listed for, and bid close to that. And we won--but not by much.

We won not just a house but a compound. In addition to the main house--which was added onto in 1985--there's a garage with what was an antique shop attached. It has a Dutch door ... I LOVE Dutch doors.

This will SO become a guest cottage. We'll put a workshop in the room to the right, which leads to the garage.

There's also a "guest house," which is really just a room on a slab with a wood stove; we'll have to add a bathroom down the road to make it really functional.

Then there's the henhouse, and the tractor shed ...

... and the pool ... We had hoped for a pond, but we got a pool, and that will do. The house is on an acre, and as you can see, it backs up on a hayfield.

There's even a hammock for a summer afternoon nap.

The house is out in the country, but 15 or 20 minutes from downtown, and just minutes to "civilization." There's a firehouse just down the street, a good thing when you're our age. Look out any window, and you see green. We want chickens, and maybe a couple of goats, and there's room for all that (the guy down the road has geese, there are goats in the next block, and lots of people have chickens) and a garden. It's kind of the best of both worlds--out in the country but close to everything we need. There's a lively theater and music scene, lots of good restaurants and brew pubs, an Episcopal church six minutes away, a Reform Jewish congregation nearby, and two very good hospitals in Syracuse and Ithaca.

Inside, there are lots and lots of projects. There's wallpaper everywhere, that would have to be steamed off. There's plaster to repair or replace, walls to open up, bathrooms and wiring to update, a kitchen to redo ... the list goes on and on. But before any of that could be done, before we could go forward with the sale, there was a major issue: asbestos.

We knew there would be some, and we figured we could afford up to $10,000 for remediation. Lead paint can mostly be sealed and repainted, but asbestos is another story. The man doing the testing found bits of it in expected places, but then he found something much worse: vermiculite insulation in the kitchen ceiling--and bits of it were leaking through the plank ceiling. The estimate to remove just that--it's tiny pellets that are extremely fragile and it's very hard to get it all out--was $12,000 to $14,000! There was also badly deteriorated asbestos tape in the basement and old linoleum in the bedrooms ... And there was now another offer. With heavy hearts, we withdrew ours.

Half an hour after I hung up on our agent, she called back. "They really want you to have the house. They don't want to go back to any of the other offers. They feel like you'll really love it," she said. The woman selling the house was the daughter of the late owners. She had grown up in the house and now lived down the street. Our Realtor had apparently conveyed some of the plans we had and how enthusiastic we were. "They're dropping the sales price back to asking," she told me. That would pretty much pay for the vermiculite removal ... Len and I had to talk.

And we did, for quite awhile. Having been spooked and having decided to walk away, we really needed to be sure. We finally decided that we wanted to go ahead--except for a pond and a mountain view, it had had everything we wanted--and the seller's generous decision would make it manageable. And so, dear readers, after a wild rollercoaster ride, we are buying Windy Acre (there's only one now) at 4573 Beef Street in Onondaga, New York.

"But ... you're in the Berkshires," you say.

Well, yes. When we set out to look for a house, the Pittsfield area was one we considered, so we made a non-refundable month-long reservation. We lost a week of it because we had to be in Onondaga for the inspection and testing, but now it's just a waiting game, so ... We're in this lovely campground trying to decompress ... and making renovation plans, ordering samples, finding fixtures and appliances, finishing projects in the camper, and ... and taking long walks. Trying to decompress ... although there was the tornado that came close enough that we had to grab the dogs and cats (we could only find two of the cats, which had us pretty freaked out) and dash to the lodge, followed by buckets of rain, and now the new AC doesn't seem to be working, but right now, it's in the 70s and gorgeous. And we'll be back in Onondaga soon. Not soon enough, but soon.

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Phyllis Sintay
Phyllis Sintay
Aug 06, 2020

How exciting! As soon as I saw the first picture I could hear the wheels turning. What a great area! A good friend grew up in Pittsfield. Another friends daughter lives in Ithaca. Can't wait to see what you do with your "compound". Was wondering what you would do about your travels. It was so much fun the see where all you went last year but figured the virus would make travel difficult this year. Can't wait to see how it all turns out.


Aug 06, 2020

Hooray, you're moving to a great area. I had friends in Mattydale, Mexico, Tug Hill Plateau. Syracuse area is beautiful, been a long time since I was there. Good luck on your new venture. April


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