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I fell for a huge century home in need of major repairs

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I swaggered into home ownership with the naive confidence of a first-time buyer. I had a down payment, a spreadsheet of monthly expenses and an IKEA gift card – I was ready.

After a few weeks of looking at well-built, renovated homes in my price range, I grew bored. These houses looked like everyone else's houses. They had no heart, no character. They didn't speak to me the way I felt my first home should. I wanted a warm, fuzzy feeling in my gut.

In that moment of weakness, I saw it – a listing for a century home in a charming town just 15 minutes outside the city.

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"I like old stuff," I thought. "I like charming small towns with fall fairs and friendly neighbours. They'd probably bring me a pie the day I move in!" How could I resist? A viewing was scheduled.

The warm fuzzies started as I drove down the street. The house sits across from a huge field and winding river. This field and its adjacent community centre are home to annual bake sales, community breakfasts and theatre productions, and the all-important fall fair. Images of being buddies with the locals and looking out my living room window to see livestock and midway rides flooded my head.

My real-estate agent made a valiant effort to bring me back to reality. "That river floods," he warned as we turned into the driveway. I barely heard him as I gazed up at the sprawling white house with periwinkle trim. It was already whispering my name.

The front door brought us into a charming enclosed front porch flooded with sunlight. A turn of the glass doorknob (and a gentle shove of the shoulder) revealed everything I hadn't known I wanted. Creaky hardwood floors, an exposed brick wall, a nook off the family room – perfect for my library and office – and the kitchen, a huge room with original tin ceilings, a functional 1950s Frigidaire stove and a view of the gigantic backyard. This was it.

I was ready to move in immediately, but somewhere in the back of my mind, a little voice prompted a home inspection. I was a knowledgeable and well-prepared purchaser. I knew about these things.

One week later the inspection took place and the results were (mostly) favourable. The roof would need to be replaced in a year or two, a shower wall was mushy and it seemed like some of the electrical work had been a DIY job. Over all, I was told there wasn't much to worry about and it was a great, character-filled home. A real gem. I agreed wholeheartedly.

The three months before the closing date flew by. Paint colours were selected, furniture was ordered, room layouts were sketched onto many a sticky note. I experienced a few moments of doubt that I considered a natural result of making the biggest purchase of my young life, but was still convinced I had made the right decision.

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The first time I really began to wonder if a 135-year-old behemoth of a house was the best choice for a single, 25-year-old woman was when we went for a final walkthrough. My brother pointed out that I wouldn't be able to put a chair with wheels into the library nook because I would roll back over the home's sloped floors. I noticed that every surface in the bedrooms was wallpapered, including the ceilings and inside the closets, and that the kitchen counter was abnormally low. I reassured myself that the house was sound, that these were cosmetic imperfections and I didn't want a chair with wheels anyway.

A month after I moved in, every ceiling in the upper level started to drip when it rained. After hours of chipping decades-old wallpaper from the master bedroom and remudding the walls, water seeped in and effectively melted the work that had been done.

It turned out the previous owners had been less than truthful about their oil heating costs, and I had been unaware buyers can ask to see previous bills. Then an inspection by an electrician revealed $5,000 in work to bring everything up to code. And how had I not processed the fact that my laundry room was in an unheated addition at the opposite end of the house from my bedroom? Those pipes burst soon enough.

It was time to admit I had been blinded by the excitement, distracted by the charm and foolish to ignore the advice of those around me. What had I been thinking? Why hadn't someone stopped me? In truth, my parents and boyfriend, co-workers and friends had tried, but I was too convinced of my own invincibility to listen. I finally understood why parents get so frustrated with kids who think they know everything. Because kids who think they know everything make ridiculous decisions.

Thousands of dollars flew from what I had considered a well-padded bank account. The roof was replaced, a gas line and new furnace installed. Empty paint cans piled up as I slowly worked through each room and made the house my own. I can stand at my oddly low kitchen sink and watch my dogs frolic in the yard.

A year and a half later, I have learned to appreciate, and more importantly listen to, the opinions and advice of those around me. I still look around and add tasks to a constantly expanding list of improvements. But my roof doesn't leak, I can afford heat and I love the work I've done and the knowledge that my friends and family will stick by me even when I'm being unreasonable. The neighbours may not have brought me pie, but the house didn't flood this spring and that's good enough for me.

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Robin Albrecht lives in New Hamburg, Ont.

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