Katie and David Wright are in a whirlwind period of life. She has a new job, they bought a “new” house — built around 1870. They’ve only been married three years, they have new dogs, and a three-week-old daughter, as well as a six-year-old son.
And they’re renovating that historic home, where they expect to live forever, in Hamilton’s Dayton-Lane neighborhood, into a residence for themselves, with two apartments on the second floor, and another on the third floor that looks like it could have been built yesterday.
Given the house’s age, size (about 5,800 square feet) and historic pedigree, the couple bought the house for a surprisingly low $84,900 in May from the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (also known as Freddie Mac). The house in the 600 block of Dayton Street needed so much loving care that David has been spending 20 to 40 hours per week working on it.
For those willing to renovate, real-estate opportunities are plentiful in Hamilton — and as city officials like to point out, the buildings in their town have “authenticity,” unlike other areas, where houses in subdivisions can sometimes all look the same.
The Wrights said never expected to be living in Hamilton now, and also didn’t plan on having their “forever home” so soon, they said.
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The pair had moved to Hamilton while she earned her master’s degree in American history from Miami University and while he worked as an engineer of jet engine parts at General Electric in Evendale.
“We came to Hamilton as it being a temporary thing, and then we just fell in love with the city, and got really excited about the revitalization of it,” Katie Wright said, “and just thought, ‘Why not set roots here?’ So what better way to set roots than have a 10-, 15-, 20-year project?”
Bob Kugler of Bowling & Kugler Realty in Hamilton, who was not involved in the Dayton Street sale, calls the Butler County seat “a good market — you get a good value for your dollar. It’s an up-and-coming city, it’s being developed, businesses are coming in, and it’s going in the right direction, for sure.”
“There’s every price range, all price ranges, no matter what you’re buying, versus you get into some of the other areas, and you pay a lot higher taxes, higher utilities, and a lot more for square footage,” Kugler added.
Also, “They’re revitalizing the entire town,” he said. “There are whole areas they’re revitalizing, and putting in new infrastructure. Buildings are being rehabbed. There’s a lot of good things happening.”
“I think when it’s all said and done we’ll have spent $70,000 (on renovations), and because I’m doing the majority of the work, we’re actually saving a ton of money,” David Wright said. “We would have spent probably $150,000-$200,000.”
“It’s something that David and I wanted to do when we were dating,” she said. “We talked about something we were going to do. We thought it would be later in life, but the opportunity came up, and we thought, ‘Why the heck not?’”
She’s a 2008 Mason High School graduate. He grew up all over Cincinnati, and is a 1998 Roger Bacon High School graduate.
Things seem to be meant to be: The historic-looking fence Katie picked out because she liked it, “is the exact same style” as the fence in the 1876 photograph of the home, David Wright said.
The house has some architectural cachet: Its 1890 addition was created by eminent Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford, who also designed Cincinnati Music Hall and Middletown’s Sorg Opera House.
Around 1950, the Wrights’ house was divided into five apartments, so many of the walls were not original. They’ve been removing those.
The house was empty last winter, and suffered water damage from that. David became skilled at humanely capturing bats living inside and releasing them. The slate roof is repaired, eliminating leaks.
“We’ve done a complete history on the house, and know a lot about it,” Katie Wright said, “and even have a picture of it from 1876. We have an etching from 1875.”
The parents of daughter Indiana “Indy” Wright, 3 weeks; and Drake Wright, 6; also call their new neighbors some of their best friends and enjoy what people in the area call their “neighborhood sashays” — progressive dinners, where people talk about their bat and dry-walling adventures.
It has, and will, be worth it, David Wright says.
“There are times when I feel like I want to quit, and I want to cry, and I just want to give up,” he said. “However, I know that in the end, once all the hard work is done, it’s all going to be worth it, and we’re going to be enjoying this house for years to come, probably the rest of our lives.”
His advice to others: “You really have to be committed to it. You have to realize that it’s going to be an absolute nightmare and headache when you first start, and as you go through the process, especially if you’re doing it yourself.”
Also: “However much you think it’s going to cost? Triple it. However long you think it’s going to take? Quadruple it.”
“There have been times we were like, ‘What the heck are we doing?’ Katie Wright said. “But I know once we’re done, we’re going to be like, ‘We’re so happy that we did do it.’ As crazy as it was, it was worth it. Every single tear, sweat, blood — mostly from him.”
She’s told friends things are happening in Hamilton, and now’s a great time to move in. Some have followed them to the city, she said.
“One thing that we really wanted to do is to just be part of the revitalization of Hamilton,” Katie said. “The city is doing just such a great job of bringing in local businesses and getting people excited. Even though we’re not Hamilton natives, we feel like we are now, with how connected we are with the city.”