Keeping Up with Old and New Houses in Vienna

(Did you see that the “controversial” Fresh Market opened the other day at the edge of town? Also, Robeks opens this Saturday with free giveaways from 12:00 – 3:00pm. Smoothies!) 

My husband recently celebrated another anniversary of owning a house in Vienna. I also celebrated that anniversary, but since he bought the house before he knew me, he has more candles to blow out on the celebratory cake than I.

So I’m 33, and I’ve never bought a house. Hardly an unusual fact, as I have many friends who don’t own a house. But what I think makes my situation is different is that I married a (smart) guy who was established enough to buy a house before I met him. In some ways it’s great – I hear buying a house is one of the most stressful things you can do in life. On the other hand, I have a running list of things I’d like to massively change to accomodate our little family, and buying a new house could be the solution.

It seems that many people around town are interested in revamping the mostly 50-to-60 year old houses in our neighborhood. On any given street, it’s common to see at least one house under construction, from a minimal window facelift to an all-out tear-down. As a result, there’s a mish mash of old post-World War II houses aside gigantic, new houses. (As an aside, when the Town Council heard comments on the changes in the noise ordinance, several people spoke up not just about noise, but about what the impact of tear-downs have on the community – like the vision for community planning and safe streets while large construction vehicles work. An interesting discussion to be had further, I think.)

There seem to be two kinds of houses. The old ones, like mine, from the 1950s that may or may not have had major updates. These seem to sell in the half a million dollar range, where owners will likely want to install a modern bathroom, kitchen or finished basement for $10,000 to $20,000+ a project. The other kind are the new houses that are in the $1.2 to $1.4 million range. That seems like a tough choice – who wants to spend a ton on an old house and then more to fix it up, and who has more than a ton to spend on a brand new house? Our short term solution is to frequently hire our handyman to keep things from falling apart and make modest updates.

One issue I feel compelled to share is something we learned about the hard way: the sewage lines in original Vienna houses are old, and this is about the time they break. Our houses were built after the War, when precious metals were scarce for things like sewage pipes for houses. The solution? Builders used a pipe called Orangeburg, which (get ready for it) is cardboard covered in tar. Definitely what you want carrying sewage from your house to the Town line under the street, right? The shelf life of Orangeburg is 50 – 60 years. If you see houses with a white PVC pipe capped in their yard, they have had the pipe replaced so that there’s now an easy valve to uncap and snake in the event of future problems.

There is insurance for sewer line replacement. Get it. We spent $8,000 in plumbing to rip up our front yard and have the line replaced. Since our lawn was completely ruined in the process, we then spent another $3,000 to redo the yard. Home owners insurance covered water damage in our basement, but nothing outside the house. The Town is not responsible for covering any of this.

On that dirty note, see you around town!

One thought on “Keeping Up with Old and New Houses in Vienna

  1. Interesting debate! I used to love old houses, but after living in one that gave me trouble (renting), I vowed to rent/own new places from now on… Unless I have a handy husband sometime down the road :) Thanks for the shout-out!


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