CHANGING GRANGE: Couple turning dilapidated houses into new business in downtown Liberty Hill
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories following the process of building a business from the ground up in Liberty Hill.
By Rachel Madison
Amy and Mike Gandy know a thing or two—or a thousand—about what it takes to completely gut and remodel a home. They’ve done it four times, including the Liberty Hill home where they have resided since moving from Austin in 2016.
When the opportunity came to buy another fixer upper, right in the heart of downtown Liberty Hill on Grange Street, the Gandys knew they couldn’t pass up the chance to at least make an offer. With her background as a real estate agent and broker, Gandy has always had an eye and a love for historical homes.
“I’ve always had this search set for homes built from 1800 to 1930, and I just look for those all the time to see if there are deals,” she said. “Sometimes I find them, but they’re too far away to manage. When this home on 109 Grange popped up and the price was amazing, I knew I had to go see it. It’s right downtown, and even just for the land, which is a quarter of an acre, it was worth it.”
Amy Gandy went to see the property—built in 1900—and realized it was a total disaster, with wood rot everywhere and the ceiling falling in. But the property already had seven other offers and the deadline was the next day.
“I told my husband I wanted the house, so that night after dinner he said, ‘Let’s go look at it.’ It was already getting dark, so we looked at it with a flashlight. He didn’t give me a lot of feedback, but he told me the project was way over his head. He is handy, and he’s done a lot of work on our other homes, but he’s not like a contractor. We went home and didn’t talk too much about it, but the next morning, I called him and said ‘Hey, somebody is going to buy that, and I’m going to kick myself if we don’t at least try.’”
The appeal of the land itself and its location in downtown Liberty Hill was enough to convince the Gandys to throw their hat in the ring. They won the bidding war.
“When you look at this house, you’re like, ‘Who wants this piece of junk?’ Most people would probably tear it down and just want it for the land, but the neighbor who live across the street has lived there his whole life. He told us he remembers going across to that house when it held the switchboard for the City of Liberty Hill’s phone lines. Just that little piece of history and the character inside made us realize we just needed to fix it up.”
So far, the only thing the Gandys have done to the home is have it leveled, mainly for safety reasons.
“It was like walking in a fun house in there,” Amy Gandy said. “The foundation company that came out said there was one beam across the center of house, and you could feel that because it sloped. That beam was held up by stacks of rocks. They had lasted that long in a 121-year-old house. Bruecher Foundation redid the whole foundation and added on to it for an addition we plan to add in the back. We also want to widen the porch in the front to go the whole length of the house. But when you straighten up an old house, it pulls on everything else. The walls are all cracked and will have to be pulled down and redone first.”
After purchasing the house at 109 Grange, the Gandys turned their focus on the house next door at 111 Grange—built in 1910—which was most recently lived in by long-time Liberty Hill resident Elizabeth Stubblefield until her passing in early 2020.
“The house at 111 Grange was owned by the same estate as the one at 109 Grange, so we knew the owner and knew they were having an estate sale after [Stubblefield’s] passing,” Amy Gandy said. “She had a recycling business and would take things and turn it over and make money off reselling it, but what didn’t sell piled up at her house in the yard. Our biggest motivation for buying the house was so we had control of cleaning up the yard and fixing the house.”
Amy Gandy said the estate owner was ultimately happy to sell the homes to her, because he knew she wouldn’t be tearing them down, and that they’d be preserved. After the estate sale, the Gandys offered to take care of anything that remained, and in he process, have scored a couple of great finds, like a Victorian-style velvet settee with matching chairs and a hoosier cabinet.
The house at 111 Grange also needs foundation work, but because they now have two homes to renovate, the Gandys are limited by time and budget. For that house, they are doing the minimum to make it usable. In about six weeks, the home is scheduled to be painted, and landscape work will also begin. A large roll-off dumpster will be arriving at the property soon so the Gandys can haul off any remaining items stored in the yard.
“We’re excited about these projects and beautifying the downtown area,” Amy Gandy said. “These are houses most people would probably tear down, but we want to bring them back to life. We have some ideas for the property at 109 Grange, but we aren’t ready to share yet. We are still working with the City of Liberty Hill on some things, and working on a site plan, which alone is $15,000. That could pay for a whole new bathroom, so it’s expensive.”
The home at 111 Grange will be Amy Gandy’s new real estate office for her recently opened business, A. Gandy & Co.
“We didn’t plan that in the beginning,” she said. “It was going to just be a rental property, but the more we’ve gotten in there and seen it cleaned out, we’ve seen it’s not in good enough shape to rent it for enough money to cover the mortgage. After the freeze [in February], there were eight plumbing leaks under the house. We just decided to turn it into a business place where we don’t need it for things like daily showering.”
The home has two bedrooms and two bathrooms with an open floor plan, which Amy Gandy said will be perfect for a conference table and seating area. The bedrooms will become offices. She also hopes to preserve the barn on that property, which locals call the Model T Barn, but isn’t sure if it will be salvageable since it’s falling apart, needs a new roof, and will have to be moved to allow for parking.
The Gandys hope to be able to move their office into 111 Grange by the end of this summer, while the home at 109 Grange they hope to have renovated by early 2022. It can be hard to find contractors who are willing to take on the projects needed in house. Some contractors have shown up, seen the homes, and have told the Gandys “no” from the beginning, while others come and take notes, but then tell them they’re not interested in the project.
“When contractors come and we tell them our vision, some of them just don’t see it,” she said. “This requires massive vision. It’s already taken longer than I anticipated. The biggest challenges with 111 is getting rid of everything in the yard and hauling off the extra outbuildings. There is also a giant wisteria vine growing in the front trees, and the vine itself is like a tree trunk. That will be a challenge. Then there’s the leaking problems, and we have a feral cat problem. There are cats on the property all the time, so under the house is flea infested. The plumber told us before he could go back under there to put insulation on the pipes, we needed to spray for fleas under there. It’s a lot of things you just don’t expect.”
At 109 Grange, the challenges are even bigger.
“This house needs everything,” Amy Gandy said. “When we leveled the foundation, we had them raise it 24 inches off the ground so everyone can get under the house when they need to work on it. It’s going to need all new walls and floors. It has an upstairs, but you wouldn’t know it because it’s unfinished—it’s just rafters. We want to add two full bathrooms, finish out the upstairs and raise the roof on the back to add a bedroom. Right now it’s one bedroom and one bath, and we want to have three sleeping areas and three bathrooms when it’s done. The house is salt box architectural style, so we’ll call it ‘The Salt Box on Grange’ when it’s finished.”
The Gandys realize renovating the two homes on Grange Street is a major undertaking, but they’re not afraid of the work.
“We like bringing things that are old back to life,” Amy Gandy said. “We like seeing something reborn. We want to contribute to our city and the downtown atmosphere. Financially, it makes sense long-term wise for our children because it’s a good investment for us and them. It’s going to be hard work but neither one of us is afraid of that.”