While we were looking at the Gillis house, Ken the architect remarked how much material we would need. All of a sudden his face lit up. “I know where we might be able to get things!” he announced.
This led to a story of something that’s become very common in Austin, and probably in other large cities where land is at a premium. In addition to designing houses, he also develops and renovates properties, in a much different market from ours, the high-end one. He found a nice house in the Tarrytown area of Austin, which is very near downtown. The house is on a beautiful one-acre lot, with a seasonal stream and many mature trees. The key here is “one acre.” That is a lot of downtown real estate.
Ken knows the area well, and right from the start, he knew he could build four multi-million dollar homes on that much space, so he was happy to buy the property at the (high) going rate for the neighborhood.
What to Do with the House?
But, the property has a very nicely maintained older house smack dab in the middle of it. What about it? He figures he has two choices:
- Sell the house at a low price, with the contingency that the owners would have to move it.
- Demolish the house.
There actually has been some interest in option 1. It would be interesting to know what the house moving estimates are. At least it’s a pier and beam house. However, it would need to be broken into three pieces (there are two additions) and the second floor would need to be detached. And trees would need to come down. And the house is on a hill. To me, this does not sound practical, even though it would save a nice house.
Option 2 is easier to achieve, for sure, but you can’t just tear it down.* That isn’t very “Austin” at all! We must recycle!
That’s why we visited the house. Ken envisioned many parts of his house that could easily be re-used elsewhere. Since the house has a lot of high-quality finishings, they might fit in well. We drooled over really fancy toilets and sinks, a new-looking Murphy bed, some gorgeous light fixtures, solid doors, and reasonable kitchen appliances. We would love to use at least some of these items, and we have space to store them, if Ken doesn’t want to put things in his own warehouse.
So, the guys are negotiating on possible ways to accomplish the removal and transfer of as much of the house as possible. It would feel good to help it live on, while its land becomes a home to four new families.
I sure hope the folks who are tearing down so many old Austin houses to put in huge new ones are salvaging as much material as they can. Just look at Preservation Austin’s data on how many demolition permits in historic areas of Austin are requested. It’s a lot. But there is a huge demand for new housing close to the city, thanks to all the traffic issues.
I was encouraged, though, to read many articles saying that people in Austin are choosing the other “re-” option, which is to renovate. That’s the best way to preserve structures while creating larger, more modern spaces. Many others choose to add additional buidings without tearing down, when that option works.
*And don’t worry, you cannot “just tear down” anything in Austin. Many, many permits must be obtained, trees must be surveyed, and historical records consulted. It ain’t easy.