So, the first question our friends and family ask us when we say we are leaving our cosy home in Conroe and moving to a dilapidated building in Brenham is “why?” (although we’re pretty sure they are thinking WTF?). The truth is, we’ve been looking to move for over a year, though, the path that we are taking now certainly isn’t what we originally had in mind.
We live in a house that we love, in a neighborhood we love, with one of the top schools in the state just a bus ride away, wonderful neighbors, beautiful trees, etc. So why move? Several reasons. My husband has an excellent position with an engineering firm, but it is unfortunately located quite far from our current house, and will be moving even further west within the next year. We’ve been wanting to shorten his commute. Also, with three kiddos, our house is a bit on the squishy side. And lastly, it’s a good time to sell right now, as Exxon has recently opened up a huge corporate complex just south of us, and subsequently there’s a large influx of new residents needing homes in the area.
We looked all over the northwest side of Houston for a new house, but there was always a drawback or three with every one we looked at. Somehow, my husband stumbled across this old building in Brenham, Texas. He had a brilliant idea – retain the businesses currently located on the lower level, and split the top level between a home for us, and apartments for rent. After doing mountains and mountains of research together, we decided to throw our hat in the ring and put in an offer. We had some scary moments where we thought we might not get the Zeiss Building, but in the end, everything went through, and we sign on the building this coming Friday.
So why Brenham? Why not continue to look at houses in the Tomball/Magnolia area? Brenham is about halfway between Houston and Austin, but with his company’s move, and our move to Brenham, my husband’s commute will go from an hour or more to maybe 20 to 25 minutes! Family time is super important to us, and this move will give us more time together.
But why not a regular house in Brenham? I’ve been a stay at home mom since we left the US for Switzerland in 2008, lessening our income. We now have three little ones, and it is important to our family that I remain home for at least a few more years. The purchase of the Zeiss Building, after we go through the renovations, will generate income for our retirement, not to mention our growing family (growing, as in children that burst through their clothes and eat pasta like it’s going out of style, not the addition of another kiddo!). And it might be nice to set aside money for travel like we used to do.
How can you possibly afford this? We worked on the numbers like crazy, and things didn’t quite turn out as we planned. But it will still work. Right now the income from the businesses on the lower floor will cover the mortgage payment for the building, and my husband’s income will cover the mortgage of our house – more or less. Our plan originally was to talk down the seller on the price, leaving us funds to get started on the renovations, namely, the asbestos and lead paint removal. Unfortunately we were unable to do that. Now we have to wait until the sale of our house before we can have the funds to start renovation and/or get a construction loan. And we’re probably not going to put our house on the market until the spring so our eldest can finish out the school year. So we will likely move to Brenham this summer, and rent a house or apartment until renovations are complete.
Ok, what’s so special about the building? The property is called the Zeiss Building. While located within the historic district of downtown Brenham, and built in 1850, it currently is not officially registered as an historic building, so we have quite a bit of leeway as far as internal renovations go, with some restrictions on the external. Basically, we have to use the bottom floor as commercial storefronts, and we can use the upstairs for residential and/or business use. And once we get around to repainting/repairing the exterior, there will be some restrictions on that, too.
The Zeiss Building is called such because it was owned by William Zeiss, a German immigrant. The building has a vibrant history, used as a post office, saloon, bakery, Elks Club, and more. It originally was one story, with the second story being added later in three sections. The lower level is completely maintained by the businesses renting the space, so we pretty much will have nothing to do with any kind of renovations there. We’re excited about the upper story, since there’s a definite shortage of apartments in Brenham, with a college in town. And we will get to completely customize the loft to have everything we want and need in it (ok, within our budget, of course).
It is located just one block from the courthouse, which is also the county seat. There’s tons of shops, cafes, and even playgrounds located within walking distance. We’re also planning on putting a rooftop garden above us if we get the okay from structural engineers.
It will be a bumpy ride for the next year or two. But overall, this will be a fun, unique opportunity for us. Thanks so much for the continued support, prayers, and happy thoughts from our family and friends as we embark on our adventure!
And finally, a BUNCH of pictures of the inside, outside, roof, and more: