Building Autumn Hill: Finding Home

EN guest blogger Katie Murphy and her husband, Roger, are building their dream farm in New Hampshire, and we’ve invited her to blog about the adventure. This first installment details Kate and Roger’s year-long quest to buy the right property. Please feel free to ask Katie any questions about the process at [email protected].

The house!

From Katie:

I am thrilled to share our happy news: Roger and I have found a farm to call our own! After more then a year of looking, and five offers later, we have finally found a home for ourselves and our four-legged family members. We could not be more thrilled, and yet terrified at the same time. It has been a long and arduous process. Time after time, we were certain we would never find a property within our parameters, and yet each time an offer fell through, the next property was better then the one before.

Property #1: The Dream Farm. An 1,100-square-foot, 1970’s ranch with 24 acres on the same road as my parents. I had loved that property since I was a child, and would fantasize about living there as I road by on my conditioning sets. Well, 20 years later and a closer look revealed that the home was tiny, painfully outdated, in need of repair, and the 30-plus-year-old barn had no foundation. Additionally, the land is traversed by two streams, which makes clearing for more paddocks difficult. Not such a dream after all. Negotiations ended with a $10,000 difference of opinion. Roger was angry. I was stubborn. We are now both grateful.

Property #2: Moist Stunner. This property took our breath away. A stunning late-1700’s Colonial that had been completely renovated, and aside from a contemporary bathroom, was true to its historical character. The antique bank barn was in disrepair, but Roger’s relative, an antique home and barn restoration specialist, was able to ease our concerns. However, the water frontage along the Piscataqua River was cause for apprehension, and through our own due diligence, we learned the property’s fields were in a flood plain. The low-lying fields were moist, and although neighbors assured us there had never been standing water, we feared that pasturing horses there would have been a detriment to the land and this beautiful home.

Property #3: The Pig Farm. Sited on 90 acres of conserved land just miles from our townhome, this little gem was a darling example of beautiful design and construction. Another petite home, the living space was designed after an antique home at a smaller scale. Used as a pig farm, the out-buildings were ideal for our horses after a few equine-friendly modifications. Though the existing fields were limited, the location was peaceful and protected. We submitted our offer along with three other buyers, and upon resubmitting a highest and best offer, we placed second. We were disappointed and frustrated, though upon reflection we realize the property may not be the best match for us given our needs and the conservation restrictions. At this time, we decided to wait until the spring of 2013 to continue our search.

Property #4: The Plague House. Yup, you read that right. Twelve beautiful acres on a quiet dirt road, with a private pond and historic colonial of an ideal size. The home came with new windows, new wiring, recent septic and leach field, and an automatic whole-house generator. It also came with a history. While driving back to feed the horses, we shared our good news with my parents over dinner, and they asked for the address. Later that evening over dinner, we learned a little more about this special property:

Carol (my mother): “So, did your father tell you what he found?”

Tom (my father): “You told me not to tell them!”

Me: “What?” (Roger and I are expecting fun news about wonderful neighbors, community happenings, etc.)

Carol: “It’s called the Plague House.” At this point, Roger dropped his fork and pushed back from the table in his chair as the happiness drained from his face.

Roger coughed and nervously sipped his ginger ale. Me: “I’m sorry. What was that?”

Tom: “The Plague House. It’s all over the internet with personal accounts. People with the disease were sent there to die and were buried in the woods to prevent animals from eating their bodies. The only problem was that the people caring for the ill also caught the disease, and they died too. And, there is a woman in white that is known to walk across the property at dusk.”

Me: With the enthusiasm of a teenage boy watching a ballet performance, I replied, “Awesome.” Roger said nothing — for the rest of the evening.

We decided to submit an offer. Despite being located in a less then desirable town, when we first arrived at the property, I immediately saw that Roger loved it. Ghosts or not, Roger was excited and happy. Inspections uncovered several substantial issues, and after some negotiations, our contract ended. Perhaps the current “residents” did not care for us?

Property #5: Disbelief. After the upset of The Plague House, we decided to take a break. That did not last long. Twenty-four hours later, I was on the web searching for our future home. I discovered this gem. The house was stunning, the land was perfect, and there was even a historic barn. The home was large, the price was large, but I had to see this house. As we drove through the wooden gate, our jaws dropped. A meadow stretched alongside the private drive toward perennial gardens, and woodlands provided a buffer from eager eyes.

Set atop the hill, the Colonial stood tall and proud on an original granite foundation. To our right, fields appeared from behind the tree line and stretched beyond our view. A historic barn centered the property, blending beautifully with the scenery. Original granite fence posts created the illusion of a bygone courtyard now speckled with apple, pear, peach and apricot trees. Behind the home, a gunite pool welcomed a dip of our toes and another field stretched toward the rear of the property behind a stonewall with entry. Hello, heaven. I had not been in the house, but I was sold. Roger said he loved the property and was amazed that we may have found “the one.”

As we walked room to room, I was amazed: plaster walls, original paneling, chair railing and indian shutters, seven fireplaces and two bee-hive ovens. Opening each door was like unwrapping a present. I could not wait to see what was behind the next one. With a cool exterior, Roger asked me: “What do you think?” With a muffled voice so the seller’s agent would not hear, I replied “I love it! Don’t you love it?! This is incredible!”

Devoid of all joy and enthusiasm, he replied “I hate it. It’s old. It’s dirty — there are bugs everywhere.” Stunned by the contrast of our impressions, I frantically searched the walls and floors for dirt and bugs. I saw none. There were none. I was upset, but I was not giving in. After all, I was willing to sleep with hundreds of damned souls in a crummy town for him!

After the showing, we talked. We reviewed. We spoke with our lender. We visited the property once more. Roger admitted to seeing our future at Autumn Hill Farm. We made our offer, and from that point forward, everything was seamless.

While we transition from our townhome to The Farm, we are also meeting with professionals to modify the barn for horses and install a riding ring. We are excited and still in disbelief. As we turned onto our new driveway this afternoon, tall and proud on the knoll, the Colonial basked in the summer light and seemed to welcome us. Roger and I are not just home owners; we are stewards. And we could not be more excited or more proud to care for Autumn Hill Farm from this day forward as so many have before us.

Thank you for riding alongside us. Here’s to the future!

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