Fixing up their cottage in Essex was a labor of love


September 10, 1995|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Sun Staff Writer

There are handyman's specials and there are fixer-uppers. Then, there's the Clasings' house on Riverside Road.

When Terry and Scott Clasing bought the tiny, rundown cottage in Essex 10 years ago, they knew it would be a lot of work.

"It was the ugliest house in the neighborhood," Mr. Clasing says. "But that was what we wanted."

A decade later, the ugly duckling of this working-class neighborhood doesn't even resemble the house the Clasings bought.

Surrounded by small ranchers, Cape Cods and cottages, the Clasings' house is probably the nicest in the neighborhood these days, thanks to years of hard work and "sweat equity" by Mr. Clasing and his brother, Mark.

"People stop and look at it all the time. It doesn't really fit in the neighborhood anymore," says Mrs. Clasing, adding that many neighbors "think we're crazy" for upgrading the house so much.

But the Clasings don't mind -- they like the neighborhood and love their abode.

"If we were going to move, it would be one thing," says Mr. Clasing, adding they might not get what the house is worth. "But we're not going anywhere."

A couple of years ago, they weren't so sure.

The couple, who had lived in a rowhouse a few streets away, originally bought the house for $17,000 and planned to fix it up and rent it.

"I planned to do just enough work to be able to rent it," explains Mr. Clasing, owner of Clasing Contracting in Baltimore and a mason by trade.

Mr. Clasing and his brother wanted a challenge. They knew it would take a lot of work. Little did they know, however, that once they got started, the only thing worth saving would be the four outer walls.

"Thankfully, they were [cinder] block or they probably would have had to go, too," he says.

The brothers ended up tearing out the interior of the entire one-story house and adding a 28-by-12-foot addition off the back. Vacant for about eight months before they bought it, the house was full of debris and castaways.

"We took five truckloads out of here," Mr. Clasing says.

Once the house started shaping up, though, the Clasings reconsidered their decision to rent it out.

HTC "Everything was brand new," Mr. Clasing says, referring to appliances, kitchen flooring, carpeting, cabinets, bathroom fixtures. "We started thinking this looks too good to rent. This is nicer than what we have."

So after the first floor was renovated -- the kitchen expanded to twice its original size and another bedroom and new bathroom added -- the couple then moved in with their 1-year-old daughter, Lisa, now 11.

Mr. Clasing made minor repairs around the house, but the second wave of reconstruction didn't hit until eight years later, after 2-year-old Christopher was born.

The couple felt they had outgrown the house and bought a lot in Pennsylvania, planning to build a bigger one.

But then Mr. Clasing started having second thoughts about commuting an hour when his office was only 10 minutes from their Essex house. Mrs. Clasing started thinking about how convenient everything was and how much they liked the local elementary school.

"We either had to move or expand," Mr. Clasing says. The question was, expand how?

The lot was too small to enlarge the first floor without losing most of the yard, which the Clasings wanted for the children. So they went up, building a second floor with two full bathrooms and three large bedrooms.

On the first floor, what had been the living room and a bedroom became one large living room. The washer and dryer were moved upstairs and the laundry area downstairs became a pantry. Lisa's first-floor bedroom was converted into a playroom.

Although the Clasings are thrilled with the results, the 1993 renovation didn't go exactly as planned.

While the roof was partially removed, an unexpected storm swept through the area, dumping gallons of water into the house, ruining drywall, running down through electrical fixtures and causing portions of the first-floor ceiling to collapse.

The storm put the project at least two months behind schedule, not an insignificant delay considering that the whole family, including newborn Christopher, were bunking in with their next-door neighbors during construction.

The couple subcontracted the plumbing, electrical and heating and air-conditioning work, as well as the vinyl siding installation and driveway repaving.

Doing the rest of the work themselves, they have held costs way down. Purchasing the house and phase one of construction cost $30,000. Mr. Clasing estimates that he has put another $35,000 into the property since then.

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