Among the casualties of last decade's real-estate meltdown have been some historic homes—buildings purchased by owners who couldn't handle the fallout from the market collapse, the recession, and the lending crunch. One example: the so-called "Sanford-Bristol" house in Milford, Connecticut, which was neglected for a few years, then purchased in a foreclosure sale by owners who now want to tear the house down.
After a court battle involving local advocates for historic preservation, a settlement leaves the home in a temporary limbo: if a buyer can be found for the house by January 14—no strings attached—the owners will let it go. If not, they're going ahead with their planned demolition.
Preservationist John Douglas Poole noted the situation on his blog, calling the house an "Excellent opportunity for a preservation-minded restorationist-reseller, or home owner willing to reinvest for future returns while residing in a beautiful location." (For Poole's full blog post, see "Urgent Historic Home Sale.")
In an email to Coastal Connection, Poole elaborates: "The Sanford-Bristol House (c.1789) is one of several very visible, showpiece historic homes in an historic district of Milford CT. It's always been a very visible landmark in the area and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's an extremely unusual house architecturally...essential Dutch detailing and gambrel front roof and saltbox-style rear lean-to. The home was in maintained in pristine condition until 2005. At that time, it was sold to a new owner for $450K who later found himself underwater when the housing bubble burst. He neglected the home, even stripping and selling off much of its historic interior paneling and artifacts (all which, by the way, has been found and is now held in trust). The house then went into foreclosure."
A story in the Milford Patch summarizes the history of the dispute over the home, noting various legal arguments and engineer reports, and ending with the current situation: "Both parties negotiated and settled on selling the house within thirty days to an owner that will complete the rehabilitation. The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation will step in and purchase the house if a buyer does not come forward in the first 30 days. After 67 days, if neither party can purchase the home, the Farrells [the present owners] may proceed with the demolition as approved. The asking price for the house is $200,000--cash only." (For the full Patch item, see "Historic Milford House Saved from Demolition--For Now," by Jason Bagley.)
John Poole maintains a running archive of local press reports on the home's situation at his blog, "A Preservationist's Technical Notebook." (For Poole's full archive, see: "Sanford-Bristol House Links.")
In his email to Coastal Connection, Poole explained why he thinks the house should be saved, and why a buyer might want to. Writes Poole: "Why is this home worth saving? It's an extremely rare (in terms of architecture, detailing, local history, etc.) historic home, situated in a beautiful location, and has always been something of a local landmark. Furthermore, the home is not really in all that bad shape. The historic district in which it's situated has many beautiful old homes whose values run from about $500K to $800K. In my opinion, acquiring and restoring this place would not only amount to doing the right thing, from the standpoint of local history and culture, but could also return a reasonable profit, whether for a preservation-oriented 'flipper' or long-term homeowner who chose to live there for a while and invest in the home a little at a time. I cannot tell you what a good estimate would be for the cost of a reasonable restoration; many numbers are being guesstimated and thrown about by various folks, and as you are well aware, different owners always have different budgets and different priorities. But even if one reinvested an amount close to the purchase price, they could almost certainly get this home somewhere back into the price range I'd quoted above."
Anyone who's considering buying the house, by the way, could learn the details from the Bristol Mirror (see: "How to buy Sanford-Bristol house").