Sunday, March 9, 2014

About Buying a Church.....Maybe

I also went out on Tuesday to look at that property I talked about last Sunday.
The realtor was late(whatever)but we got a look inside the church.

Here's a shot of the outside front with the steeple.  The steeple looks to be in good shape.  The building is sided in aluminum and really sad looking.
There is a white aluminum awning over the front of the entrance as well as over the basement entrance.

Behind the altar was oak woodwork on the wall and framing the two doorways to the vestment room....

There were still 8 pews in place and all the original large hanging lights.  Also 2 ceiling fans.
The ceiling beams weren't exposed but plastered over but still 12 foot high.
The alter area is raised up but the floor configuration under the carpet is unknown.

All the stained glass windows had been removed when the church was deconsecrated and standard sized regular windows had been installed in the window openings.  These windows were much shorter so the window openings had been enclosed partially and every other window opening had been covered over.  From the outside of the building you could see where the windows that weren't replaced are located.

The basement has no inside access from the church.  You have to go outside and enter from the side of the building.

Your typical Church basement set-up.....

There is a kitchen area walled off in the basement.
Wouldn't you love to have that 9 burner commercial gas/propane stove?

There were also 2 powder rooms in the basement, as well as a powder room upstairs in the vestry area.

The foundation is stone and the heat is oil.  I am NOT loving the heat source.
There was once a back access from the basement but it's been walled in but the concrete stairs are still there.  Not sure on whether it's feasible to redo the back of the basement/vestment room and make an inside access from basement to main floor.

This church was built in 1888 but basically seems solid.....but not being a professional in the building trade, what do I know? ;-)

The roof is newer and in good shape.  Flooring under the carpet is unknown, probably wood but probably not a quality/grade you could do anything with.
The front church doors are just commercial grade double doors and glass.  No wooden or fancy doors here.

The total lot is over 1/3 of an acre.

I've talked to our insurance guy and he's working on some numbers.  He doesn't have a problem with writing a policy for it as he's written one before for someone who turned another church in another town into a home.

Now about the rectory house next door.......

The realtor wouldn't even let me go inside it.  He says he doesn't have the key.  They put no value on the house as it's been abandoned for years.  I suppose they don't want anyone going in it because of the risk of injury(falling through floors, ceilings and plaster walls buckling/falling, etc.).  That I can understand.
But if someone is seriously considering buying this property, you'd need to let them see it, no matter it's present condition, right?

This sort of turned me off.
Knowing if the house is rehab-able or needs to be demolished is a big deal to me!
If it can't be rehabbed then I have to spend $10K or so to have it torn down once I've bought the property(as the Seller is NOT going to have that done), so that would affect how much I'd be forking over to get this place up to snuff and thus affect how much I'd be willing to pay for it all.

So I got as close as I could to the house and snapped some photos.....

It's a large 2 story home, built in the 1930's so it might have "great bones", plus it's a classic style of home.  There is a balcony on the 2nd floor over the front porch but the porch roof is in very bad repair.

Unfortunately, though you can't make it out from the photo here, there are 3 missing windows on this side of the building.  No clue how long they have been broken and no one had even attempted to cover the openings with plastic or plywood.
I suspect there is a lot of mold inside at this point due to rain and snow having gotten in.  Perhaps it's a toxic mold situation now which raises red flags on even being able to rehab this house.  Plus the roof on the house is in bad shape and needs immediate replacing.

There is a lovely hedge of rhododendron in the right of the photo, which acts as a fence to hide the back of the property where the makeshift parking lot is for the church.
There is also a 1 car detached garage back there directly behind the house.....

It looks like it was put up in the 40's or 50's(one of those Sears and Roebuck kits?) and it's wood and in desperate need of a paint job.  The roof also needs replacing and there is rot along the side bottom exterior wall.

Besides the problems with the rectory house, getting the church itself into a configuration to be a home would be challenged.
There are 3 toilets and sinks-1 upstairs and 2 downstairs(as well as a sink in the basement kitchen), but no tub/showers.  So plumbing would have to be changed and moved unless we want to cook and clean ourselves just in the basement.  Possibility to expand the powder room to include most of the vestment room to make that a full bathroom with tub/shower.

Besides the plumbing changes(and there are some very old pipes in this place)and perhaps changing the electric wiring, there is the problem with oil heat.  I envision massive solar panels on this church(a great building for those as it's oriented east/west!)but changing the heating source is another expensive proposition.
Plus there is asbestos covering pipes in the basement.

The foundation looks solid but the chimney(where the heating is vented out of)probably needs work(cleaning the flue and pointing the bricks at least).

One stumbling block to buying this is where it is located.  This is a town that only existed because of a coal mine and colliery.  It was a company town up until the 1970's practically.
Where there are coal mines there are tunnels underground.
And where there are tunnels they can be mine subsidence.
Think sink holes.

The earth opens up without warning and swallows things up decades or even a century after a mine has been closed.
It's a big problem around here.

From what I can tell from the little research I've done so far, the Breaker and the mine tunnels, which ran right under the center of this town are all west of where the church and rectory sits.
I can't find anything definite that states there are no tunnels deep underground of where this property is located so there is that uncertainty.
It would not be a good thing to buy this, rehab it and then have the ground open up and swallow me up.

Plus Hubs is not totally on board with this plan.

Well the "plan" is still up in the air really.  
Do we live in the church, rehab the rectory(or have a new house rebuilt on the rectory's foundation once it's demolished)and rent the rectory out?
Do we fix up the church and open it as a bed & breakfast, rehab or rebuild the rectory and live there?
Can we "unmarry" the church lot and the rectory house lot, rehab/rebuild the rectory and then sell it some time down the road?
Can Hubs use the church to start a microbrewery and we rehab/rebuild the rectory to live in? lolz

Just so many questions and possibilities.
And Hubs really doesn't want to be a landlord when he retires.
I thought we'd rehab/rebuild the rectory and have one or more of our grown children move in, but you just don't know if they could find decent employment for themselves and their significant others around here.

So really nothing has been decided yet but it's not looking hopeful.

Having these facts, what would you do?





  1. The fact that I couldn't even go in the rectory is a deal breaker. The additional info you gleaned, frankly tells me to run away from this opportunity, there will be another down the road. Sorry. : (

  2. Sluggy this is big, I mean big. Are you going to do all these renovations yourself? Oil heat and such a large area? If you did open a bed and breakfast are you going to do the cooking and cleaning? I have always wanted to do this (own a big old church and have a bed and breakfast) but I don't know if I could do it anymore. Love the property..

  3. I was on board and excited, explaining away all the deficits until "and the ground opens and swallows me up." Tunnels? whew

    If the church is that old, the floors under the carpet are probably magnificent. I have 1902 heart pine floors, originally a cheap, substandard wood and now treasure, I hear.

    Don't pay to demolish. Sell the house for $1 contingent on it being moved or demolished. And, get it in writing. lol...I know you will. Mold remediation can be had for a pretty price.

    I like the microbrewery idea. The church could be a party Rent it for weddings. Rent the bottom for parties. Of course, there is insurance! Plus, could the residents afford to rent at the price you need? Probably not.

    If the plumbing is in bad shape, moving it would be no more expense. I have one of those old light fixtures over 3' tall, The historicity makes them valuable. Mine has been wired to sit on the floor as a light fixture, sort of a conversation piece, but a light source. I paid $100 for mine but a local salvage company sells them for $900. Member of the church who have moved would pay lots for those. I think you should bathe in the baptismal pool. just kidding...well, if it has been deconsecrated, what's the difference? I did not know a church could be deconsecrated.

    Did you mean the church and house are on 1/3 acre? My house is not quite as large, but on my 1/3 acre a church could not co-exist comfortably with the house and garage and parking area.

    I like having no access to my basement. Animals can get into mine, somehow! But, that is a nice basement in the church and a very nice stove! that I would want to be able to reach from the inside. And, an elevator would be nice.

    Yes, you could do lots if money were no object. Hopefully, you will get inside the house soon. Keep saying "microbrewery!" Whisper it in his ear at night when he is asleep.

  4. It would be easy for me to decide. We could not afford to rehab the buildings or even one of them.

    It sounds like you have a lot of thinking to do.

  5. Having all the facts, three words come to my mind and they are; maintenance free condo. If I had to add two more words, they would be; in Florida. :-)

  6. It really makes you wonder what kind of danger could be inside the place if they're not even allowing you a peak... maybe it's one of those "make it or break it" features, and they're willing to play it a surprise vs exposing it.

    Again, I have never considered living inside a church... the project seems very large. I'd go for it as a project and not as a livelihood item (ie, living in the church or the side house), but renting it out once fixed could be interesting.

  7. Lorraine took the words right out of my mouth! Are you certain you want to stay up there in the frozen north? BURR

    I say keep looking. I'll bet there are a lot of churches or schools out there that are located in thriving towns that are not above a honeycomb of old mine shafts.

  8. Wow, I would run away :) It seems too much to deal with, especially with a danger of mines and all...

  9. I think the only way to make this not a money pit would be to do all the work yourselves. Hiring out everything will put you very upside down, at least with what you have into the property.

  10. Maybe I'm the only fool of your readers but I'm just going to give the guy the benefit of the doubt; he just didn't have the keys on him :-)

    Shoot, you've been dreaming about this. Any property like this is going to have TONS of hurdles. Just put them in order of importance and ask yourself how and if you want to address them.

    You've been living wisely and frugally for SO long. You have this big dream. Dreamers face obstacles by the truck load. I just say don't write it off so soon. Keep looking into it, following your gut, and then do what's right for you (even if that means taking a leap off a cliff and hoping you land on soft, beautiful, wonderful ground like none you've ever seen in your lifetime).

  11. I know that you will make the best decision. I was all for it and Den and I had a nice long conversation about it. I'll update him on the second house. Like what we think matters. LOL
    The fact that you weren't allowed to see the house scares me too. I think that means that it needs to be torn down. And I had no idea about the sink holes. Ya learn something everyday!


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