Big old house

Big old house
Canon PowerShot S95
2021

Where Margaret and I will live next is a frequent topic of our conversation. We agree that it’s time to move on from this house. We’d stay in Zionsville if we could afford a house in the original town. It’s lovely and charming there, and a small but vibrant downtown is within walking distance.

Trouble is, homes here are among the most expensive in the state. The median list price for a home here is about $450,000. My neighborhood is the least expensive way to get a Zionsville address, but you can’t move in here for less than $200,000. I know that these prices may not shock you if you live on the coasts or in a major population center, but here in Indiana these prices are ridiculous. In Indianapolis, the median house list price is only $179,000. Outside of Indianapolis, it’s even lower than that!

We’d like to have a large home so we can host our seven kids, their partners, and their children. And our parents, while they’re still with us. This one would be a grand-slam home run for us with five bedrooms and four bathrooms. Built in 1870, it oozes character.

Unfortunately, it’s listed at three quarters of a million dollars. A similar house in Indianapolis, even as well cared for as this one, couldn’t command anywhere near that. If it were in a desirable neighborhood, I’d say half a million tops. In an average neighborhood, even less.

I’m not willing to pay a half million, either. But man, this house would be a lovely place to live.

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single frame: Big old house

A grand old house in Zionsville.

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30 thoughts on “single frame: Big old house

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    I don’t know where people are getting their income to make these house buying decisions? When I moved to Indianapolis to take a job I thought would be a good fit, I did it after having moved back to the mid-west from D.C. to be around for my Mom, after my Dad passed. After she passed, this was the first professional job offer I received, so I felt I needed to take it, BUT, the job paid the same amount as I was making in Milwaukee fourteen years before!

    After I got down to Indy and started looking at some of the marketing sites I had access to for data, I wasn’t all that surprised to find that salaries in Indy were not very high even compared to places in the Midwest like Madison WI. and Minneapolis MN. In fact, Indy has a lot of rich, as a percentage of population, more than a lot of other places I’ve lived, but the schism between the middle class and wealthy are far more acute than most places I know of in the Mid-west! In other words, the reduction of the middle class and the accelerating propensity of the U.S. to become a rich/poor economy, with no middle class, has been happening longer and faster in Indy than a lot of other places in the Midwest!

    Average home prices were “cheaper”, but that’s because a lot of those houses were in what I would consider to be “marginal” neighborhoods. If you wanted to live in safer, nicer, neighborhoods, it was going to cost, and might out-strip the salary a middle class person was going to get.

    I LOVED living in Zionsville, tho. I met a lot of “euros” there, mostly working for Eli Lily, who were far more culturally educated than most of the people I had been meeting before in Indy. I lived in an apartment on the North side of downtown, two blocks from the library. Being able to walk to the library was a real joy! I could walk to the Friendly for a drink, I could walk everywhere. Every day above 40 degrees I would walk around town in the evening, smoking a cigar, and petting the neighborhood dogs! My apartment owner was an “old style” apartment owner like I was used to in Milwaukee and Chicago, who kept the rents relatively stable, took a check instead of making you sign up for some on-line portal that wanted access to your bank accounts, and kept the property clean. She was a joy to rent from, after two years of being screwed by weird rental companies and crappy, and poorly built apartments that seem to be rife in Indy.

    It sounds like the houses there have actually gone up by between 200K and 300K since I moved away, and I have to say, a lot of people I met there, were “townies” that were born and raised there, and had owned there property for over 40 years. If you met someone who was NOT a doctor, lawyer, or Eli Lily person, and seemed to have a ‘regular” job, you could almost guess that they were townies that had been there forever!

    Like everything tho, there was a dark shadow. No place is perfect. It was a little TOO “Stepford” there. I met smart, funny people who were moving out because their kids were being bullied at the high-school, and the staff wouldn’t do anything about it. They were just a little too “different”. I actually met someone who as recruited to come to Indy, hated her job so much, hated how here kid was being treated at Zionsville high so much, she sold off and happily relocated to Bloomington Indiana, the college town.

    Like I always do when I move to a new city, I spend a lot of time driving around and hanging out. I always though that sociologically I would have been a much better match for Irvington (also getting expensive), or Little Flower, and if my job had worked out, I probably would have moved there. Again, loved my time in Zionsville tho!

    • It’s clear that you don’t resonate with the lower classes and prefer a more educated, and therefore upper middle class, environment. Nothing wrong with that! I do agree that the middle class has all but disappeared and this creates incredible instability in our nation. The current administration would be wise to focus almost entirely on that.

      My wife’s kids experienced heavy challenges in Zionsville schools because they aren’t cover-model beautiful, insanely talented, and rich. They’re average kids, really; nothing wrong with that, but in Zionsville it makes them really stand out.

      Ah, Bloomington! Two of my kids live there. Every time I visit I think about what it would be like to live there. I’d need a full-remote job. I actually prefer the smaller city. I lived in Terre Haute before moving here — very blue collar, I didn’t fit in well with the people, but I liked the pace and the cost of living. The big American Foursquare I lived in (had the back apartment) in a solid middle-class neighborhood is valued today at only $65,000 per Zillow. I’d love to buy it and live in it. But there’s nothing for me to do for a living there.

      Maybe my wife and I should retire to a place like Bloomington.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        Actually, the pandemic has put a crimp on my searching for a place to live! I wasn’t a fan of Indy, but Milwaukee is showing a lot of problems as a result of the 40 year brain drain, and the medical expenses here are out of control! My bro works for the paper, and not that long ago he sent me an article about how medical costs in Wisconsin can be two or three times the recommended Medicare expense! I need a crown, and my high-end dentist in Carmel charged me 800 bucks not long ago; my current dentist recommended by Medicare in Milwaukee, wants 1550 for the same!

        I have friends that left big urban centers to semi-retire in places like Las Cruces New Mexico and Centralia Washington, and are pretty happy. When the pandemic ebbs, I’m going to concentrate on selling down a lot of stuff, and then traveling the country and looking at places that I might like to be! Weather’s never been a deal-breaker for me, but if you’re gonna move, it might as well be someplace warmer!

        I might caution you about the assumption that I don’t resonate with the “lower classes”. There’s Money, and then there’s Education, and being educated doesn’t mean you’re rich! If you’re from Chicago or Milwaukee, there’s a long history of “Germanic” trade and union mentality, and the autodidactic education that it entails. I was raised financially lower middle class, with a first gen college educated Dad, and a Mom that worked for the utilities; but that has nothing to do with the expectations of our personal education and constant reading! I’m actually retired, just above the poverty level now, and holding on. If you’re from Chicago, you get the Nelson Algren / Studs Terkel “poet of the factories” mentality of the educated blue collar. The Germans that came to the upper Midwest from Europe in the 1800’s, after the “guild wars”, were in the guilds and trades and valued education highly! Most of the factories pre-WW2 had literary clubs and orchestras!

        What I found disconcerting about living in Indy, was the difference between the blue collar I was raised with and among, and the blue collar working in the factories that came up from the Kentucky and Tennessee and the Appalachians. Extraordinarily different! What’s tough is being educated, and somewhat poor (having been in the arts) and now not having middle class neighborhoods to live in!

        • Good luck as you figure out a suitable place to settle in retirement! It is true that in Indianapolis and in other cities more or less along the same geographical line across the Midwest that there is a much stronger Appalachian component of the working class. I come from an Appalachian background on my dad’s side and I am therefore fairly familiar with the strength and the challenges of these people.

  2. DougD says:

    You must forgive me for once again being gobsmacked at your low housing prices. That would be multiple millions here.

    I love old houses like this, but the maintenance aspect is rather terrifying to me. Maybe it’s not so bad in your area because you get fewer freeze/thaw cycles? Old homes don’t like that.

    • Multiple millions? zOMG. How does anyone afford to live in the Toronto area?

      In Zionsville, the houses are very likely to have been maintained. That helps a lot.

  3. Nancy Stewart says:

    Wow …. Those prices are amazing …. my parents only paid three thousand dollars for the whole farm …. and that was 65 acres with a house and barn !!! And such snobbiness in the schools …. I don’t remember any issues with that. Sure makes me glad to have been raised in a farming community. I really like the big homes … but when your getting older , as we are, the upkeep on a large house and 20 acres is getting more difficult, so we are beginning to think of downsizing. It is nice as you mentioned, to have enough room for the whole family at holiday time especially. O. K. …. Sorry for so much … “back in the day” comments !!

    • When my parents moved to Erskine Blvd. we saw the original deed for the house and it was built for $7,000! My parents sold it for almost 100k. Crazy!

      Margaret and I would like to buy a larger home next time so we can have the whole family in. We have 7 kids between us and the space would be very helpful. But I can imagine that upon retiring we would downsize heavily.

  4. tbm3fan says:

    That house could easily sell for $2 million in San Francisco, Los Gatos, Orinda, Alamo, Danville, or other similar places. After being sold it would then be torn down and replaced with something new and much, much bigger I kid you not.

    • We’re starting to see that behavior here. I can think of a few lots in Zionsville where elder home was torn down in favor of a much larger new home. Sometimes the new home keeps the architectural spirit of the neighborhood, and sometimes it doesn’t.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        I had an older retired woman friend from Texas that live near me in Zionsville, she moved up because her son lived in the area. They decided that she needed to go into assisted living, and within a few weeks of moving out, her house was completely razed and they started building a “in-fill mini-mansion” on the lot (on Maple, south of Ash, in 2017)! It was a perfectly nice little house, had been moved there from a farm area decades ago (at least 80 years or more), and had a historic sign on the side that listed it’s original construction from the late 1800’s. It reminded me of my Grammie’s house in Evanston. I kept asking people, because of the signage: “…isn’t this on the historic registry? Can someone just come along and do this? Isn’t this a historically viable house?” The answers were, nope, yep, nope. People laughed and thought the “historic registry” thing was hilarious. Apparently not really a “thing” in Indiana! Nobody cared, and even the people that did care, just shrugged, nothing you can do! Appalling! Don’t let history get in the way of money!

        • It is definitely a thing in Indiana. It’s called a “historic preservation district” and if your neighborhood meets the qualifications (as downtown Zionsville most certainly does) you can hire someone to do the legwork for you et voila, you can’t tear down houses just to build McMansions. Trouble is, you have to have neighborhood support for it. I’m betting people in Zionsville don’t want it precisely because it limits their freedom to demolish these older homes.

        • tbm3fan says:

          This is one reason why I so admire Europeans as they have a much stronger interest in preserving their old architecture compared to us. To walk into a house, built in the 1600s, is a feeling hard to describe. To walk into a McMansion the only thing I want to do is throw up.

  5. Darts and Letters says:

    I’ve always found the towering front and side gables of these two and three story Victorian Stick (or (Queen Anne, I’m not sure) places to be quite remarkable, appealing and overwhelming at the same time. I’d be proud to own a historical house like this one but I’m partial to the hipped form of the foursquare, it always struck me as a little more folksy and not quite as formal as this one, for example. That attic could be wonderful office space though it’s probably a little dark up there with such comparatively small windows. Looking for a new home is an intriguing mixture of perilousness and fun! I’m partial to old houses because I’ve lived in one for decades although all the deferred maintenance and our impending remodel in the face of soaring construction costs around here sometimes makes me wonder what’d it’d be like to live in a newer, contemporary home.

    Just out of curiosity, have you given any thought to aging in places issues? We’re relatively young (48-49) but not so young that I haven’t given some thought as to whether we’ll be able to live in our house after ten or fifteen years (lots of stairs and our street is obnoxiously steep), a sobering but sober consideration. It’d be nice for our boys to at least live in the same place before they come of age. I want always to be able to have a extra room for visitors but I like the idea of retiring to one story flat bungalow with just a couple rooms on the main floor.

    • I’m a Foursquare fan as well. I generally find Victorians to be too fussy. But I do like some of the interior features you find in Victorians.

      We have thought about what happens as we age. You know, if we didn’t have two adult children who will move with us we might choose a 2-bedroom bungalow now and just stay in it forever. But we do want to be able to host family gatherings in our home so we’re thinking about a larger home now, and then downsize when we retire. By that time our kids will be no younger than mid-30s and we can just tell them that we expect them to invite us for family gatherings!

      That doesn’t mean Margaret and I won’t change our mind on this and decide to downsize for our next home.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        The actual “churn” rate of housing in Zionsville is a big reason for big prices as well. Not only is it a “hot” market because of its “quaintness”, but also the school is considered very good (altho as I said before, probably not the sociology I’d like to raise my kids with). The “townies” I knew that went to high school there 50 years ago, and bought their property back then and pretty cheap, are still holding on to it, and living nicely there. The people that are working at Eli Lily, Dow, and RR Aero are in and out of there based on the needs of there employers, so there lies the “churn”. I remember remarking when I lived there, that for a place that nice, there always seemed to be house selling going on all the time, and there was, always people moving on based on being transferred someplace else!

        Darts and Letters has it right, tho. I live in a bridge neighborhood, and just west of me on my walking path are huge “Vics” and houses built in the 20’s, and the people who are old and living there, are living there because they have a lot of income and there are crews coming to do all the house work, all the time. I see their trucks parked along the street every day I’m walking! I know a lot of people that had fairly large houses that “went small”, in their mid 50’s, before they retired, into small 2 bedroom ranches and town-houses; and are happy they did so, at least from a financial standpoint!

  6. Oooh wow that is a very lovely house! But yikes what a price tag. As people who just bought a home in Indiana, my husband and I can say the prices are going up elsewhere too, even around Valpo which is where our house is. Not quite as bad as the prices you mentioned, but some were listed for way higher than I would have thought for Indiana!

  7. Oh, what a dilemma! A surprisingly frequent one at that. What would be the value of no Toyota sign I wonder? When my wife and I were married five years ago we were able to sell each of our homes (mine was very modest) and buy a large older home. We enjoy being able to offer hospitality from time to time. We live in a part of the country that has typically enjoyed much lower property values than elsewhere, but in the last three years that has changed rapidly. A lot of New Zealanders are returning from overseas due to the pandemic, and that seems to be driving the market. Very grateful I came back ten years ago when the market was affordable :)

    • Heh, maybe that’s the salient question: what cost to leave the Toyota sign behind?

      Indiana is a remarkably inexpensive place to live, compared to much of the rest of the US. I just happen to live in an expensive bubble.

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