Posted by: navalanche | February 17, 2011

Tremendous opportunity or money pit?

To slow the influx of FreeCycle items, whenever I see a post that I am interested in, I try to wait at least 2-4 hours before responding to the post.  It serves two purposes, one being that a popular item will go quickly and secondly it gives me time to consider whether or not I truly need the item.  But what about my extended family?  What if the item would benefit them?  Over the holidays, a local pastor posted this item (condensed version):


A friend who does not use a computer asked me to offer his house in Bridgeville.

His children are grown and gone. The house is in poor shape and will need extensive repairs to make it livable. It has one off-street parking space. If you are interested in this house, please let me know and I’ll put you in contact with my friend.

Another option would be to dismantle the house for the building materials. It was built sometime after or around 1900. This is not a house to move right into. It must be repaired or dismantled.

I hope this can be useful to someone. The house would be free and clear.

Obviously, I do not need a house.  But Bridgeville is close by and I started thinking about my niece Erika, Luke (Gabe’s new older brother) and baby Jaxon.  Erika and Jaxon are still living at Kat’s and Luke is still bunking with us and I thought that maybe just maybe this could be a golden opportunity for them.  So I asked Kat (who just happened to be at my house at the time) if she thought the kids might be interested and she all but screamed “YES!”

The post contained the name of the street that the home was located on (which is a busy thoroughfare) so I suggested that even without the house number, it should be pretty easy to find a “free” house that must be “repaired or dismantled” before we answered the post.  But Kat insisted that I respond to the ad immediately so that kids did not miss the chance to be considered.  After much debate, I eventually tired of arguing with Kat and sent a reply to the post.

I have a niece and her boyfriend with a 18 month old boy who are looking for a place of their own.  Currently, my niece and her baby are living with my sister and her boyfriend is sleeping on my couch as they have had some financial difficulties and are trying to get back on their feet.  They have been looking for a fixer upper since Luke (the boyfriend) has done rehab work on homes before.  It is close enough to Grandma’s house, who lives nearby, as she would still be helping with babysitting.  If the home could be repaired, it could be a wonderful opportunity for them to start over.  Thanks for FreeCycling, especially such a generous offer.

So email sent, Kat, Gabe (who was home for the holidays) and I went in search of the free house.  And although there were a few run down homes along the road in Bridgeville, it did not take long to determine which house was free.

As soon as I saw the house, it was obvious that this was not a good idea.  Starting with the location, the house sits against a two lane roadway without any real buffer (no sidewalk or fence) from the heavy traffic.  Across the busy street, there is an old stone wall that was likely built in the early 1920’s to prevent cars from falling into the creek that runs along side the roadway.  The house is nestled against a rocky cliff that defines that rear of the property.  And the house itself?  It was in poor condition.  The bottom of the house had been boarded up, one of the porches was falling off, the gutters had pulled away from the roof and those were the just the problems that we could not help but notice.

Where I saw money pit, Kat saw a tremendous opportunity.  She could not be dissuaded.  Kat countered my concerns by telling me that I was just being negative.  Plus, she had called the kids to tell them about the free house and now they were excited about it.  So I went home hoping that we were wrong about the house or that someone else would be given the chance to rehab the home.

The next day, I received this email confirming that we had indeed looked at the right house and indicating that my request was among the ones being considered (condensed version):

The commitment will be significant. The copper plumbing is already gone. If this is important to you, I understand. The roof leaks. The house must be repaired before being lived in it. It will need to be gutted (walls and ceilings) and everything be replaced (plumbing and electrical wiring) and a kitchen and bath need installed. I do not know the condition of the furnace. The house has been vacant for about 2.5 – 3 years. The foundation is good. I offered to put it on Freecycle to find someone who could use it instead of it being torn down and put into a landfill.


I spoke to Kat to discuss the email assuming that she would realize that this house, free or not, was much more than Erika and Luke could handle.  But Kat firmly disagreed with my opinion.

Me:  The location is terrible with a baby.”

Kat:  “But it’s free.”

Me:  “The porch is falling off and it needs a new roof.”

Kat:  “Maybe they’ll just take the porch down and it not unusual to have to replace a roof.”

Me:  “The home has been vandalized and needs gutted.”

Kat:  “But it’s free.”

Me:  “The entire house needs rewired.”

Kat:  “Easier to do if the house is gutted.”

Me:  “They can’t afford it.”

Kat:  “It’s cheaper than rent.”

Me:  “It has NO kitchen and NO bathroom.”

Kat just stared at me.  She’s still upset about Christmas kitchen repair disaster that went awry at her house over the holidays and has yet to be finished.  Suddenly, she started nodding in agreement, it was too much for the kids to handle.  And I happily wrote a note thanking the pastor for the opportunity.

Thank you so much for the update on the house and all the information.  Unfortunately, the house would be too much for my niece and her family especially with an 18 month old baby.  Please thank the owner for his consideration.  I hope you find the perfect person who will truly benefit from this opportunity.

Disaster avoided and lesson learned.  If I’m going to restrict my use of FreeCycle, I better not look for any projects for other family members.  They’ll just have to find their own freebies without my help.

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