SIDNEY — The goal of the Shelby County Land Reutilization Corp. (land bank) is to remove blight.
It does that in two ways: it acquires derelict properties and demolishes them, and it acquires derelict properties and sells them to people who will fix them up.
One remarkable example of the latter process is a house at 715 Foraker Ave. To have called it a diamond in the rough when the land bank got the property would have been more than generous.
“If you had seen this the first time (we saw it) — it was coming down,” said land bank board member John Coffield, Shelby County treasurer.
Now, it shines as a jewel on its block of Foraker; although with its distinctive blue vinyl siding, it may shine more as a sapphire than a diamond.
Its transformation from dump to gem was the work of Jeff Wood, of Sidney. The land bank put the house up for auction in August 2018. Wood bought it and went to work to refurbish it.
Why didn’t the land bank board tear this one down? They almost did, said director Doug Ahlers.
“But, it had good bones,” and it was in a nice, residential neighborhood, he added.
The house, built in 1910, had stood empty for seven years. It was in bad shape. There were missing window panes, holes in walls and ceilings, mold in the bathroom. Vines had even grown through some windows.
The land bank had got it through a protracted foreclosure in July 2017. It was what Ahlers calls a zombie property.
“The owners are dead or lost. We just can’t find them, and they stopped paying taxes long ago. There are a number of those (types of properties),” he said. “Jeff took a serious chance.”
Wood tore out everything, taking the house literally down to its frame. He rebuilt all of it: walls, floors, windows, roof, utility lines, porch and more.
“It’s a brand new house built on an old frame,” he said. “I changed the whole layout.”
He moved the kitchen, added a downstairs half-bathroom and laundry room, and cut the number of bedrooms from four to three to create a master suite with its own bath and walk-in closet upstairs.
“Every light is LED, and there are a high efficiency furnace and water heater. I special-ordered the siding. It’s thick vinyl. There’s a fully insulated Clopay door on the garage.” he said. The attic features a 5-foot tall window.
“It’s the best view in town for watching the July 4 fireworks,” he said.
Wood did most of the work, himself.
“I have three guys who come to help for things I can’t do alone, like putting up a wall or carrying in a stove,” he said. His work week at the house averaged 50 to 60 hours. He estimated that with his helpers, the rebuild has about 3,000 man hours in it, not counting the roof, which was done by an outside company.
“I bought it Aug. 23, started work the second week of September, and it was done, Jan. 23,” Wood said.
It’s the fourth house in three years that he has rebuilt and sold. The Foraker house is under contract already. The others were near state routes 47 and 65 in Maplewood, along Lyndhurst Street in Sidney and along Wood Street in Versailles.
“I had to buy that one because of the name,” Wood laughed. He has been buying, rebuilding and selling properties off and on for 25 years.
“I’ve never called a repairman for anything,” he said. A registered master auto mechanic who got tired of working on cars — “Houses are way more fun,” he said — he has lived in several states. He was born in New Hampshire and grew up in California before working his way around the country. It was his purchase of the Historic Sidney Theatre in 2006 that brought him to Sidney.
“I’m the reason it didn’t get torn down,” he said.
He’s the reason the Foraker house didn’t get torn down, either.
“The condition of this house was dragging down the value of every other house in the neighborhood by $20,000. Now it’s the other way by $20,000,” Wood said. “I’m surprised anybody lets (houses) get that bad.”
Ahlers and the land bank board are not surprised. Of the 67 properties they’ve acquired in the last two years, 60 have been demolished, and just five have been sold.
“We don’t find many that are feasible to redo. Jeff put a lot of money into this one. We need more people like him,” Ahlers said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.