Our First Article originally published on "Old House Chronicles" website
Copyright ©2000 by Nina Stine

It all started quite by accident on Memorial Day 1994. It seems like only yesterday, and yet like an eternity ago.

After living in our 100-year-old house for the last five years and reading a lot of articles, I've learned that there are numerous ways to go about acquiring that antique dream home. A lot of beautiful old homes have been purchased in neighborhood revitalization projects; some houses go for a mere dollar, but usually there is the hitch that the house must be moved after it is purchased. Some lucky folk inherit the family homestead. Of course, there is the usual way to purchase a house -- search the want ads and contact a real estate broker. Then, there is the way that we bought our wonderful old home -- AUCTION!

Twenty-two years ago, after our daughter was born, my husband, Tom, and I decided to leave the suburbs for life in a small town. I grew up on a small farm in Illinois and my husband grew up in a small town in mid- Missouri. We both love the life in the country, where you know all of your neighbors, and we wanted to raise our children with a real sense of community. After much searching we moved our small family to High Hill, a town of 200 people located in the rolling hills of central Missouri along Interstate 70. Our daughter was a year old at the time and our son would be born a year later. Our plan was to live in a mobile home for a few years, sell it and purchase an older home. Little did we know how limited housing options are for people moving into a small community and the other unexpected obstacles that we would face first.

After living in our mobile home for 17 years, I had just about given up my dream of an old house. Those venerable homes do not come up for sale very often here. People purchase their homes when they are young and spend their whole lives in them. After all this time, though, I had become really attached to the people in this small town and didn't want to look elsewhere for a house.

About two weeks after our daughter's graduation from high school in 1994, my husband burst through the door and said, "I'm going to buy the house that you love!" "What on earth are you talking about?" I replied, thinking he was off his nut!

He then told me that the old Nebel house was going to be sold at an estate auction in two weeks. Now, this was THE Nebel house, the house that we always admired as we drove past each Sunday on our way to church. As we drove by, Tom and I would play games, saying, "Well, if it were mine, I'd take out that bush," or, "I'd put a climbing rose by the bay window."

Mr. Nebel, the most prolific builder in the area, built the Queen Anne Victorian style house in 1890, with a porch that wraps around the bow front, flanked by two ornately carved doors with beautiful stained glass windows. A mansard-style addition came later as more room was required. The present owners, Lynn and Vera Dearth, the daughter and son-in-law of old Mr. Nebel, were in their 90's, but we had always figured that another family member would come and live in this lovely old home. The community, of course, set great store in the house since it had been the Grande Dame of the main street for so long, and we were surprised that it would be going up for auction with their estate.

I looked at Tom and said, "Well, what do we need to do?" and we were off on our old house odyssey.

The first order of business was to view the house. A dear friend of ours, who had lived in High Hill most of his life, helped us set up an appointment with the realtor, who in turn put us in touch with the auctioneer. We were lucky because we knew the auctioneer, a member of our small community, so it was fairly easy to schedule an inspection. We spent over an hour looking at the house from top to bottom, Tom even crawling into the attic to check everything out. We could tell it needed a lot of work, but after seeing the intricate woodwork, wide baseboards, beautiful door molding with turned rosettes, and the wonderful walnut staircase, we knew that we were home.

Next was the trip to the bank. Now, living in a small town does have its perks. We had banked at the same small bank the whole time that we had lived in High Hill, so they knew us well, and we were able to talk with the loan officer right away. They agreed to give us the loan, if we had the time to complete the necessary paperwork before the date of the auction, no small feat since the date of the auction was just ten days away . The question was still, "How much?" It was an auction and auctions are unpredictable at best, and the bank did have its limits.

Next was the appraisal. With just a week and a half to go now, we knew we needed to work fast. The bank suggested some appraisers in the area and fortunately one had the time to do the appraisal right away. Things were looking up, but putting a price on a 100-year-old house that had been in the same family since it was built was a bit tricky. His approach was to inspect the home and then compare it with other comparable homes that had sold recently in the area.

Waiting for him to write up the appraisal and provide it to the bank was a nerve-wracking ordeal. Would he get it done in time? I'm sure I found a few more gray hairs while waiting for the bank to call!

About four days before the auction, the bank finally called and said that it was a go, and even offered to cover the down payment if needed. We had our financing, but what would happen at the auction? Who else would be there? Would the amount of the bank's appraisal be sufficient? I was finding more gray hairs all the time!

The day of the auction finally came, dawning bright and clear. The house was to be auctioned at noon, but we were anxious, arriving at 8:30 in the morning to check out the competition. It was a difficult sight to stomach. Scads of people were wandering in and out of the house that we already thought of as our home. It was rumored that there were people there who wanted to purchase the home and resell it, to make it a bed and breakfast, an antique store, or even to tear it down, which was unthinkable! Tom's dad came out and a few close friends were also there for moral support.

Time crept by. We didn't know what to expect. There was a lot of speculation about how much the house would bring. We had heard rumors from $10,000 to $100,000.

Noon came and the auctioneer announced that it was time to sell the house. After giving a brief history of the home and introducing the family, it was time to start. We got into position and my heart was pounding so hard that I was sure everyone could hear it.

The bidding started at $5,000 and quickly went to $15,000. I kept looking at Tom and wondering when he was going to jump in and bid on our house. Then, at $15,500, he gave the nod I had been holding my breath waiting for. Suddenly, a new couple joined the fray and it was a battle between the two of us. They were a young couple, possibly looking for a first home of their own, who looked very determined. Every time we'd raise the bid, they would top it! Finally, after several exchanges of the high bid, the bidding hit a lull. They appeared to give up despite the auctioneer's attempts to entice them into bidding higher. Our bid was now the highest on the table. He then went to the owner to see if she was willing to accept the price.

After what seemed an eternity, the auctioneer came back and said, "The house is going to sell today!" After a futile attempt to re-ignite a bidding war, the auctioneer went back to the family for another eternity. He then returned and pronounced, "Going Once! Going Twice! SOLD!" It was ours! The assembled crowd broke into applause and everyone came over, shaking our hands, slapping us on the back and hugging us. There were congratulations all around. The house would go to a family from the community who would live in it and love it.

Purchasing our home at auction was a wonderful experience, but there are a few things to remember. If you buy your home at auction, it is sold "as is." Be sure you check it out very carefully and that you really want that home. I would also suggest hiring a home inspector to check the house over, as they could find many things you might overlook. Also be prepared to pay ten percent of the final sale price on the day of the auction. We were fortunate that the selling price was seventy-five percent of the appraised value, which was what the bank was willing to loan, so we were able to purchase the home without a down payment.

The closing date was one month after the date of the auction and it went off without a hitch. After 17 years in a mobile home, we finally had the lady of our dreams! And this, my friends, was when the real work and a bevy of unusual experiences began. But, that is another volume of stories.