Open Door

Open Door
Indianapolis, Indiana

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Finding a New Contractor - Part 3 - The Search Begins

The idea of finding a person/company that will do the work on the Horner House is very daunting. Like owning a business together the relationship between a contractor and a home owner is similar to a marriage. It’s a long term commitment that requires excellent communication for both parties to be happy. And every way I turn I hear some new horror story about a major problem that was caused by an ignorant or untrustworthy contractor. So how do I make sure that I am getting the best possible person at a rate I can afford?
True story.
My first stop was Indiana Landmarks. They have a list of people that do this type of work, but anyone can be on it, so it’s not really a recommendation. I also called a couple of friends and got a few names that way. At first, I was only looking at the three companies that had been recommended to us. Even starting that small, it was hard for me to articulate to prospective companies what our project entails and what I need in a contractor. Fortunately, as I went through this process it became easier and easier.

Eric and I had a long conversation about whether we would just talk to those who had been recommended to us or if we should look further. Knowing the possible repercussions of not getting a good match we decided to look at a wide range of people. I went through the list from Indiana Landmarks very thoroughly and checked the yellow pages as well. We were able to mark some companies off the list from the information on their web sites and by using Angie’s List. 

After that I sat down with a list of names and phone numbers and began calling. Many of the places I talked to were not even interested in talking to us. Some were interested, but not willing to work with our timeline. And others just didn’t think that we would make a good fit, but were quite helpful.

Kathy Cuppy at All Phase Group was very helpful to us. She didn’t think that the project was a good fit for her company, but did recommend someone else and offered to talk to me anytime about any aspect of the project. I have known all along that the only way to protect us from making too many, or too big, of a mistake on this project is to educate ourselves. Kathy was the first contractor I talked to that understood this and the difficulties involved in doing so. Kathy deserves a big thank you. Not many companies are willing to help when they are not getting anything out of it. 

So after many phone calls I thought I was pretty much at the end of the options. Then I went to the Home Show. I was not really planning on talking to any of the contractors there as most of them seemed to be more focused on hail damage or building new homes. By a rather odd route of heating companies and architects suggesting that I talk to specific contractors, we ended up with several additional companies that were interested in the project.

Throughout the process we had meetings with each person/company at the house. They were asked to give their opinion on the process and the issues. We asked each person to give us a bid for the work on the West Wing and the process they would use to stabilize the house. Additionally we asked for references from prior clients and wanted to see something that each group had done. We also let them know that we would be asking for an understanding of their hiring requirements (i.e. Do they do background checks.) and let them know that we would ask for background checks on the principals of the companies and needed to get a copy of their insurance.

I know that this sounds like a lot, but these people will be on my property and in my home. Almost every company was 100% understanding of our requests and those that were not we have marked off of the list. They may be wonderful people to work with, but they just are not a good fit for us and this project. This house is so special to us and many people in the surrounding communities that I want to be the best caretaker I can possibly be. The Horner House has stood for over 135 years without us and anything we do should be able to stand for another 135 years.


Next Blog: Our New Contractor (Hopefully coming soon!)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Abstract & Title – Recap of the First 25 Years

One of our first posts was Horner House History – Part 1. In this post, we gave some high level history that we had come across in the first several months of poking around.

Then we went to a class at the Irvington Library where Joan Hostetler of Heritage Photo gave us some great advice on how to research an old house. And that’s when we hit pay dirt: the Abstract & Title for the property from the beginning of the State of Indiana through the 1940’s. Using this information, we were able to piece together the owners of the property and more importantly, the house.

We discovered that Abraham Horner and Emma Z. Horner, his wife, became the owners of the house in 1875. And in December 1875 and March of 1876, there were more than 20 mechanics liens filed against the property. The house was put up for a Sheriff’s sale later that year and was eventually assigned to the Franklin Insurance Company in November.

After a number of other entries in the Abstract, the property is deeded over to the Horners again in January 1878. After that, there were a number of owners who lived in the house for short periods of time until 1900. The Turrell family lived there for a little over 2 years before selling to the Thompsons. The Thompsons were residents for a little less than 8 years. The next family was Joseph & Victoria Jordan. They lived in the house for about 2 years before selling to the James Risley family.

The Risley’s lived in the house for about 3 ½ years. They did contact us after the blog was published, letting us know that the house was used as a real estate office for Risley & Toon. Best of all, they included a picture of the family from 1900.

The final family that we wrote about was the Mary Miller family. They purchased the house in August 1897. Mary passed away in 1898 and her 3 children and their spouses sold the house in March 1900 to the Silas F. Fleece family.  

At this point, the house is only 25 years old and has changed hands 8 times. If you would like more information on any of these owners, the blogs about Abstract & Title contains most of what we’ve been able to discover on them to date. The next history blog will be about the Fleece family. 


Friday, March 22, 2013

Finding a Contractor – Part 2 - Why It’s Not Just a Search for a Contractor

Back in December my search for a contractor began. It was slow going at first. I was still not feeling well, the business was unusually busy, and I had no idea where to start with this process. I had a few companies recommended to me and I began with them.

After going through the house with a couple of the prospective companies it became clear that we have additional work to do. When we originally wrote the proposal for working on the house we were expecting to go to closing much more rapidly and have more time that first summer. In the proposal our first priority was to stabilize the walls of the west wing, remove the debris from the cellar, put in floor joists for the first and second floors of the west wing, and to lay in the subfloor and throw up a temporary stairway to the second floor. The next items were to empty the trash from the front part of the house and get the doors, windows, and roof watertight. All of this was to be completed by fall and over the winter we would begin working on reinforcing the floor joists in the rest of the house. The structural engineer recommended that the joists become a priority. We also planned on doing the work on the Bungalow, get moved, and get the Beech Grove house sold.

(Temporary stairway was intended to protect this wonderful front stairway.)
Needless to say none of those things happened in the proper order and timeframe. Only part of the stabilization was done and that was not completed until early November. Just getting the board removed and the front door replaced was a real challenge with Eric’s broken ankle so we did not get to the weatherproofing or floor joists. The only items we completed on the Bungalow were getting the electricity on, the security set up, and many of the supplies purchased. In the late winter and early spring we had a number of setbacks that just added to the work: the break in of the Bungalow, a major hail storm did significant damage to our Beech Grove house, and then I got sick and was down for several months.

How does this change what we are doing? Well, all of the contractors have pointed out that we are no longer on a crazily tight timeframe with the stabilization, so just throwing up a temporary staircase is a waste of time and money. That means we need to know where I want the stairs when the house is done. Hmmm. That’s not an easy decision and I was planning on getting an architect to help us with that. So, now I need to go ahead and find an architect and get started on that part of the project. Well, when conversing with the contractors pretty much all of them recommend that we have an HVAC company help us with the design for whatever system we are going to put in since the technology is always changing and they are the experts on that. Now we need to decide on a company to work with on the HVAC system, choose what kind of system we are going to put in, and then have them collaborate with the architect on where and how to hide all of the pipes/ducts/whatever else there might be.

Part of the current/remaining HVAC system.
All of this means that I am not just looking for a contractor. The contractor needs to be able to do the work on the Beech Grove house too or at least help me find a reliable company to do that work. I also need to choose an architect and HVAC company, become an expert on heating and air conditioning options, learn about plumbing, and pretty much make my final decisions on where I want everything to be when the house is complete. We also need to finish the work on the Bungalow and get moved.

Wow. Just writing this out is making me think it’s time to stop and go have a drink. J

Next Blog: The Search Begins

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

National Register of Historic Places

It dawned on me, after posting the last blog, that not everyone may be familiar with the process to have a building added to a historic register. We were certainly clueless when we began this whole process. It turns out that this is actually a rather complex subject. While there are some locations or cities that have their own process, we’re just going to take a quick look at the Indiana and national registers.

About the Registers

The National Register of Historic Places (the National Register) was authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The National Park Service administers the National Register of Historic Places  for the nation. The National Register is considered the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. More information may be found at

The Indiana Register of Historic Sites and Structures (the State Register) was created by an act of the Indiana General Assembly in 1981. The Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology (DHPA) manages the State Register for the State of Indiana. More information for the State Register may be found at


Just because a building is old does not mean it is eligible for one of the Registers. Generally, it needs to be more than 50 years old and needs to have a degree of architectural integrity. In addition, there needs to be something special about that particular property UNLESS it is in a recognized historic district like Irvington or Woodruff Place. So what would be considered significant at the local, state, or national level? (The following is from the Indiana State Site)

  • Events - Properties associated with events that were important to our history
  • Persons - Properties associated with the lives of persons significant in our history
  • Architecture/Design - Buildings, structures, or objects with architectural or engineering importance. They may be the work of a master, or possess high artistic value. Groupings of properties may share a common heritage, such as a historic district.
  • Information - Resources that have yielded, or may yield in the future, important information about our prehistory or history.


The process may be different depending upon the state. Generally in Indiana, the process takes approximately 6 months to a year once the application is submitted. An application is filled out containing the history, architecture and significance of the site. It must then be reviewed to see if it truly meets the criteria for significance and eligibility. Additional information may be requested at this point. Once this step has been passed, the review is scheduled and a letter sent to the owner. If the application is approved, the site is placed on the Indiana Register and the application is sent to the National Register. If the application is approved at the National level, the site is listed on the National Register.

Our Progress

It was 2 years ago this month that Amanda & Eric began looking into purchasing the Horner House. Indiana Landmarks had already started filling out the application and continued to work on it for quite a while. They submitted it to the State of Indiana last year. The application is very detailed and we’ll begin sharing some of the information it contains soon.

Amanda & Eric will be attending the review next month. It is open to the public and anyone may attend. So we’re hoping to have the Horner House on the State Register by next month!

Horner House March 2012 - Check out the flowers blooming already
Last March, we had record high temps, this year we're having below normal temps here in Indiana. It sure doesn’t feel like Spring yet. But hope you all have a happy first day of Spring!

Friday, March 15, 2013

In the Mail

Look what we got in the mail yesterday.

This is the completion of the 2nd step in the process. If we are approved at this hearing, we'll be on the Indiana registrar and they will forward our application to the national registrar. We keep making progress, even if it is in baby steps. Stay tuned as we hope to improve the regularity of our posts. And sometimes, technology is not in our favor - which was my issue yesterday. (Don't you hate it when the computer implies you're stupid?)

Have a great weekend & we'll have more to post next week!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Finding a Contractor - Part 1

Our current search for a contractor takes me back to the early days and how we never really explained how we found our original person. Going back to the beginning, it was Match of 2011 when we first found out that the house was up for sale. In April, we gave our earnest money to Indiana Landmarks and were hoping for a quick closing. There was a problem with the title and it took until August. In those intervening months we had extremely limited access to the house itself and knew that any upkeep we did on the property could go to waste if the purchase did not go through.

This was a very frustrating time for us. I knew that we would need to act on the stabilization as quickly as possible once the purchase was completed, but we did not have access to the house to bring through the contractors that we might be interested in. Since we stay very busy with our business in the summer this was not something that I spent a great deal of time worrying about.

Once we owned the house, we had a few things that needed immediate attention. There were no keys to the bungalow, so we had to replace the locks, and we needed to get the security company out as soon as possible. We also had to contact IPL and find out what was required to get electricity to the bungalow. Without electricity nothing could be started on the Horner House without significant additional expense.  Then came the overwhelming task of finding a contractor to do the work.

I knew that Indiana Landmarks had looked at purchasing the property for their FLIP Program and obtained estimates as part of that process. (Unfortunately for them, good for us, the estimates came in too high for the fund to cover.) So, I called Chad and asked him who had given them the estimates. I don’t know the history or details, but one of the contractors had been in the house numerous times over the prior several years. By this time, the back wall and floors had been down for months and time was of the essence, so I decided to take a chance and just went with him.

Unfortunately, sometime this past fall our old contractor went out of business. I was unaware that this had happened until I tried contacting him in the early winter when I began feeling better. While this does bring about the issue of needing to find a new company to work with us, I am happy to say that there have been no other problems for us as a result of this situation. We had finished the first stage of the stabilization and not yet begun the second, so even the timing was not detrimental to our project.  Now it’s time to leave that in the past and begin our search for someone new.
To Be Continued…

Next Blog: Why It’s Not Just a Search for a Contractor