Editor’s note: The Internet has been a partner in the home ownership explosion of the last decade, prompting anyone with a computer to find his or her perfect home. In this special three-part series, we explore some of the more unique homes people have found online. These are homes that, pre-Internet, would’ve been difficult, if not impossible to find. See Part 1: Dream homes on eBay (Barbie not included) and Part 3: Buyers trade city digs for slice of rural paradise.)
Marci and Don Camacho originally planned to build a replica Victorian on land they own in California’s Sonoma County. Instead, they ended up with an 1831 Greek revival house from Michigan.
View Wilcox house slideshow.
The timber frame house journeyed west after being dismantled piece by piece and carefully stored. It’s now being pieced back together much like a jigsaw puzzle in the little town of Occidental, about 90 minutes north of San Francisco.
The process is far from over – Marci Camacho estimates it will take another two years – but the couple already has come a long way in their quest for their dream house.
While most people might not consider a 173-year-old house their idea of the perfect home, the Web has opened up such possibilities to those who aren’t enthralled by newer homes. It’s simply one more area of real estate the Web has made accessible to people across the country.
Without the Web, Camacho said, none of this would’ve been possible, including Michigan preservationists finding someone who even wanted the home.
“The house definitely would have been demolished,” she said. “I don’t think they could have found somebody without the Internet.”
The Camachos adopted the 19th century David Wilcox home after abandoning their plans to build a replica Victorian. To their disappointment, what they once thought were design flaws with replica Victorians were actually modern code requirements. They’d have to apply for code variances if they built the house the way they wanted, and there was no guarantee they’d get them.
They wanted an older-style home, but Don Camacho didn’t want to move to an urban area where most older homes exist. They couldn’t afford one in the country since those usually include acres of land. Instead, the couple researched the idea of buying a house and moving it to their redwood-tree covered land.
They made an offer on a local house, but the deal fell through when the topic of moving it came up. Disappointed, the couple started snooping online and discovered many old houses that needed new homes in different locations. They liked one house in New York, but would’ve had to move it within a week.
Marci Camacho found such short notice common with houses slated for demolition. That’s why she was surprised when she saw the Wilcox house online and learned the developer and owner of the house was willing to help the couple move the house from its original location in Shelby Township, north of Detroit.
Vicki Papesh, a member of the Shelby Township Historical Committee, put the house listing online. Papesh inquired about the house after seeing it empty and discovered the parcel was slated for future development. She wanted to save the house, given its historical significance.
Built by pioneers who came to Michigan from New York in the first wave of westward migration, the house has a form and style fairly typical of affluent early Greek revival, Papesh said. But the house’s timber framing is heavy and robust and it still had nearly all of its original windows, doors, flooring and hardware. The house’s architecture and joinery, all peg-and-hole, are historically significant.
Local efforts to save the home failed, so Papesh posted information about the house on several bulletin board Web sites in 2002. Two New England architectural firms contacted her about buying the house and scavenging just the frame. The goal, however, was to preserve the house intact.
Enter Marci Camacho, who found the listing after following different links from house moving Web sites. She and Don flew out to see the house twice, testing to make sure it was in good condition. They eventually decided to dismantle it, move it to California and pay the developer a $1 commemorative coin Marci Camacho had saved as a good luck charm.
It would’ve cost about $200,000 to have a company professionally dismantle and move the house, and the Camachos couldn’t afford that. Instead, they devised an elaborate labeling method for each piece and dismantled it themselves with lots of help from volunteers. Marci Camacho found many of them through Web sites of local preservation groups.
Now, it has to be pieced back together. A timber framing company installed the frame, but the Camachos must work with a general contractor to put the rest together. Marci Camacho, a landscape architect, will only work part-time for the next few months so that she can oversee the project.
Marci Camacho won’t say how much the project will cost, mainly because she hasn’t sat down to add it all up. Plus, she doesn’t want to discourage anyone or falsely encourage anyone who thinks it’s an overly inexpensive endeavor.
By the time winter comes around this year, the couple plans to have a roof on the house and continue with the assembly next spring. But even as assembly continues, the Camachos are working out details with the county, such as how many light and electrical sockets the house must have. That’s just one of many red-tape issues they’ve dealt with so far.
Still, the hassle has been worth it. When it’s completed, the house will instantly become Sonoma County’s oldest. The house, which has a style uncommon in the West, has delighted everyone who’s worked on it or seen pictures of its distinctive look.
“A friend said, ‘Good God, it looks like Paul Revere lived there,'” Marci Camacho said. “It’s just not the style you see in California.”
They’ve made many new friends, and both enjoy the challenge of moving the house. Marci Camacho also likes the idea that they’ve saved a house from demolition and aren’t using a ton of new materials to build their home.
“It just feels like it’s kind of a win-win situation in all sorts of aspects,” Camacho said.
And it’s a labor of love that began with simple Web surfing, despite the house being a completely different style from what the couple originally envisioned.
“We just wanted something classic,” Marci Camacho said.
Tomorrow: We follow recent home buyers who used the Web to find the rural property of their dreams.
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