Free house up for grabs in North Haven - 27 East

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Free house up for grabs in North Haven

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Back porch view of the two-story farmhouse in North Havenm which Gayle Ratcliffe would rather give away than have to tear down.

Back porch view of the two-story farmhouse in North Havenm which Gayle Ratcliffe would rather give away than have to tear down.

Back porch view of the two-story farmhouse in North Havenm which Gayle Ratcliffe would rather give away than have to tear down.

Back porch view of the two-story farmhouse in North Havenm which Gayle Ratcliffe would rather give away than have to tear down.

Gayle Ratcliffe and Kevin Leavay

Gayle Ratcliffe and Kevin Leavay

Gayle Ratcliffe and Kevin Leavay

Gayle Ratcliffe and Kevin Leavay

author on Oct 15, 2009

A free house in North Haven−what’s the catch?

There is no catch, according to owner Gayle Ratcliffe and her partner, Kevin Leavay. The couple is desperate to give away the 2,000-square-foot, two-story Sears kit home on Ferry Road—a cherished family heirloom for Ms. Ratcliffe—in order to save it from demolition.

Ms. Ratcliffe, whose grandparents Stefania and John Kondratowicz built the house from a mail-order kit from Sears in the early 1920s, has owned the house for going on three decades. She and her former husband, Bob, purchased the house—which used to be part of a working poultry farm back in her grandparents’ day—from her family approximately 25 years ago.

But Ms. Ratcliffe and Mr. Leavay decided late last year to start building their dream home on the North Haven property she owns, a move that necessitates tearing down the memory-filled home where Ms. Ratcliffe spent many a holiday with her family.

“We would have Polish Christmas Eve here with eels and traditional Polish food,” Ms. Ratcliffe reminisced during a recent interview. “We’d used hay as the table ... That’s how I remember this house as a child.”

The couple, who met three years ago, decided about a year and a half ago to both sell their homes and buy a new house together. Although Mr. Leavay’s Southold home sold fairly quickly, Ms. Ratcliffe’s house and just over 3-acre lot, listed for $2.4 million, languished on the market for eight months with no bids.

“The initial plan was that we would both try to sell our houses and live in the one, temporarily, that sold last,” Mr. Leavay said, about the plan, which would allow the two to pool their money to buy a new house together. But he said the sluggish economy, and the continued high prices of East End homes, changed his and Ms. Ratcliffe’s plans.

After shopping around and exploring the houses for sale in the villages of North Haven and Sag Harbor, the couple—he’s a retired teacher and coach from the Southold School District and she’s a math teacher at East Hampton Middle School—quickly saw that the most economical choice would most likely be to build on the property that Ms. Ratcliffe already owns.

The only problem was that although they received permission from the village of North Haven to build on the lot, there can be only one certificate of occupancy on the property, according to Mr. Leavay.

“We have a variance here to build and live,” he said. “But they will not issue another C of O unless this house is destroyed.”

Mr. Leavay estimated that he and Ms. Ratcliffe have until just after the first of the coming year to give the house away, which is when he estimates their newer, bigger digs will be completed. Ground was broken on the 4,200-square-foot house, currently being built on the property just behind the older structure, last April.

Ms. Ratcliffe explained that giving away a house isn’t as easy as it sounds. She said that although she and Mr. Leavay have tried to spread the word in order to find someone to take it, the logistics and cost of moving the house make it difficult for potential recipients.

According to Ms. Ratcliffe, the most interest she and Mr. Leavay have received to date about the house is when they held a yard sale in July and advertised their intentions.

“We made a big poster that said ‘free house,’” she laughed. “It generated a lot of inquiries but no takers.”

Ms. Ratcliffe reported that in the last few months, she has also received a number of phone calls from people in neighboring communities, but that nothing has panned out. The couple is now in the process of giving away the rest of furniture in the house not slated to be used in their new home, including an original pink horsehair-stuffed couch purchased by Ms. Ratcliffe’s grandmother decades ago.

“I love it, but boy is it heavy,” Ms. Ratcliffe remarked.

Still, Ms. Ratcliffe is steadfast in her resolve to save her family home before times runs out and she has to demolish it, she said.

“Everywhere we go, we tell people about this ... At Provisions for breakfast, at the store, everywhere. People react very positively,” she said before pausing. “Then the logistics kick in.”

Although Ms. Ratcliffe reported that she and Mr. Leavay are absolutely ready to gift the house, there will still be costs associated, mainly those to physically haul it away, in addition to owning a piece of land to put the house on.

Guy Davis, the owner of Davis Construction Building Movers in Westhampton Beach, said the cost of moving a two-story house can quickly turn into a higher four-figure, and maybe even a six-figure, price tag because the height of the house adds extra moving challenges.

“General ballpark, it costs in the $35,000 to $45,000 range to move a house,” Mr. Davis reported during a telephone interview last week. He said that it costs more to move a two-story structure than a one-story building because of the height, which necessitates working with local utilities—such as the Long Island Power Authority, Verizon and Comcast—to “drop the wires” and then reinstall them.

Mr. Davis also discussed some of the other costs of moving a house, such as pouring a new foundation and putting in septic, water and utilities. He estimated that the wire costs to move a house approximately 5 miles on the East End would be in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. But he pointed out that there are ways around the “wire drop” costs.

“We have taken the second story off a house and then put it back on after the move,” he said. “No wire drops then and that works out fine too. And the owner saves the money.”

As for Ms. Ratcliffe and Mr. Leavay’s quest to find a new home for her old home, the couple has even tried to donate the house to Habitat for Humanity.

“They said ‘no thank you,’” Ms. Ratcliffe reported. “They didn’t want a house already built.”

Mr. Leavay said that he and Ms. Ratcliffe also considering contacting Sears since the original kit came from the company, but that they weren’t sure who to call now that the department store closed its kit house business years ago.

The cedar shingle two-story farmhouse still has the original plaster, original casings, and the original numbered and labeled beams and rafters typical of a Sears kit house. Additionally, there are 4 upstairs bedrooms, 1½ baths, a partial basement and full attic.

Ms. Ratcliffe reported that the house has been renovated, most noticeably in the kitchen where there’s new Mexican tile and late model appliances, and in the bathrooms. There have also been some additions to the original structure and a new roof has been added since Ms. Ratcliffe purchased the house.

Owners of a similar home in Sagaponack are also trying to give away their home.

And though the couple is excited to move forward in their life together in a new home—which will boast double the living space, separate suites for visiting children and grandchildren and modern amenities such as a wet bar—Ms. Ratcliffe said she doesn’t want to just plow under the past before embarking on her future with Mr. Leavay.

“Anybody who needs a home, I don’t want to destroy this,” she said. “There’s a shortage of affordable housing and it would thrill my heart to give it away rather than destroy this.”

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