Illinois Couple Reclaims Greener Lifestyle with Craigslist Cutie

By Trish Holder

Ledbetter home shortly after purchase from Craigslist.

Would you buy a house off of Craigslist?  Not as an investment, but as an actual family home?

Adrian Ledbetter and his wife Becky did.

Two years ago the couple bought a 2-story, 1930s Craftsman style home in Villa Grove, Illinois for the bargain price of $14,000.00.  They’ve been lovingly restoring it ever since.

“If you’ve ever wanted to own a period house with sidewalks, alley ways, etcetera…well this was it,” said Adrian, a Project Manager for a large commercial construction company in central Illinois.

Within minutes of finding the house on Craigslist, Adrian and Becky made a phone call and went to see the home.  The next day, they bought it for what amounted to the price of a used Volkswagen.

The house isn’t “quite” move-in ready yet, but Adrian says it’s getting there.  The couple has been financing the renovation (more or less a total gut and partial rebuild) as they go, doing most of the work themselves on nights and on weekends.  Adrian estimates that they will be in a 33% equity position based on the taxable value at occupancy, which Adrian estimates to be at $80,000.00.  With upgrades made primarily through sweat equity he expects to have about 26,600.00 paid for by the time they move in.

“We are currently on track,” said Adrian.  “The purchase price of $14,000.00 allowed for a $39,334.00 Cost of Construction budget or $35.76 a Sq ft.”

Reclaimed Home, Reclaimed Lifestyle

Ledbetter home after major exterior upgrades, including low-E windows, formaldehyde-free insulation, vapor barrier, new siding, exterior doors, and architectural shingles.

The house had problems.  Let’s be clear about that.  But the self-described  “beatniks” were up for the challenge, and perhaps more importantly, were also up for lifestyle change.

“The Spruce Street purchase appealed to our ‘back-to-basics‘ desire to break from the wasteful excess of the past decade.  The house has become our do-it-yourself proving ground for just that,” said Adrian.

With a diminutive footprint of 1,100 Sq ft, the home has certainly put the couple and their two children on the path to greener lifestyle.

To date, they have dealt with a number of structural and exterior renovations, or perhaps more aptly put, rescues.  The house was under stress due to the fact that the internal load points were four inches below level elevation, necessitating a full demolition of the first floor flooring system and 50 percent of the second floor flooring system.  The original framing also had to be torn out so that new windows and doors could be framed in along with new roofing shingles.  Various mechanical and plumbing upgrades still lie ahead.

In terms of “being green” the next big challenge (one we look forward to sharing!) is the Ledbetter’s desire to use mostly reclaimed materials to return the home’s interior to livable conditions.  This includes incorporating salvaged cabinetry – an aesthetically tricky “mix and match” of separately sourced wall and base cabinets.  Adrian also got his hands on some salvaged trim and casement materials, which he plans to use around doors and windows and in other areas for trim.  The materials quite possibly contain lead paint and reusing them will entail bringing them up to current EPA/health standards.  With two children, including a son with severe allergies, making sure this old home is as healthy as a new one is a high priority for the Ledbetters.

“One unexpected benefit to the extended construction cycle is that it takes time to find recycled items. Since they are not readily available, the duration of the project has allowed us to conduct our diligence for items we acquire along the way, well in advance of when they are needed.  That has helped us stay on budget,” said Adrian.

Would YOU Buy a Home off of Craigslist?

Clearly, this isn’t a project for the feint of heart—or even the bravest souls if they can’t find enjoyment in the work itself.  After all, this has become the Ledbetter’s “downtime” activity.    No matter how green you or I would like to be, this is a recipe for disaster for many of us.  The fact that Adrian has quite a bit of construction experience, including being a licensed contractor and former member of a framing crew is certainly in his favor.   And I do get the feeling he’s having fun.

Stay tuned for more updates about the integration of reclaimed materials in the Ledbetter’s Craigslist Cutie.  In the meantime, I’d like to know how many of you would dare buy a home off of Craigslist.  I found one online posting that asked people to respond to the same question.  Over 850 people responded, with 55% saying NO and 45% saying YES.

What about Greenspiration Home readers?  Please comment below!


12 Responses »

  1. That is so Inspirational … my answer is YES I will buy it from Craigslist… I am completely touched by your ideas and work, very impressive, looking to see your future work too.

  2. Spruce Street for us is a step back to a time when conservation, ownership, and self reliance were what we remember as the classic ‘Americana ‘. Becky, myself and the kids all have learned valuable lessons in the past few months. We really got oversold during the past couple decades; buying into an ‘American Dream’ financed through the smoke & mirrors of what amounted to a government sanctioned Ponzi scheme. As a Contractor and Developer, I rode the wave until it crashed, leaving us zeroed out and pondering how little we really had in the first place. I wonder what our children and grandchildren will think of us too, leaving them to hold the balance due? Spruce Street has allowed our children to see that big things can be done while they are still small. To cherish and reuse what we have and not get lost in the manifestations of what we desire. We have weakened our ambitions and at the same time toughened our resolve. Maybe ….just maybe… we’re a little closer to our classic Americana.

  3. There is a home out there for everyone, it is kinda like a glass half full or half empty proposition. I won’t knock someone from having a dream or vision and having the guts to put it on the line. BUT to answer your question I would have to say “probably not”. I did a quick search on Villa Grove and it is not the best positioned community, this house in this area is a firm “no” from me. It is a great story though and I am sure they will have it move-in ready in no time.

    • Good point Anthony. The business side of me agrees that based on demographics, comparative values, rentals vs. owned occupancies it is a hard sell at best. Words like ‘Green’ and ‘Sustainable Building Practices’ are, at their base root, what I grew up knowing as conservationism. The Conservationist/Green side of me offers a very different set of tests. The appeal of Spruce Street is that we ask…Is there benefit for potential home owners and do it yourselfers to take such buy downs? The answer so far is yes, if we can make home owners out of renters we sustain a community, especially if there is economic benefit as well for those who come through the process. I’m all for chasing short sales and flips, I’m just seeing a different purpose where being ‘green’ also includes socially responsible initiatives…. Peace.

  4. Having bought, renovated, flipped, and sold perhaps 250 homes in my life the purchase of a home comes down to due diligence-a home inspection, neighborhood analysis and a thorough title exam. Craigslist is a classified source and can be as reliable as the MLS. In fact, I have bought and sold many off of cl.

  5. Buying the house off of Craig’s list is no big deal. As Bud mentioned it is like seeing the house on the MLS and checking it out from there. If you are smart enough you will do your due dilligence no matter where you found the home offered. I am more interested in the quality of the renovation. Do the reused components match and create a unified design or style or are the just purchased because they are cheap and the casing on this window does not match the casing on the next window or door but we used it because it was cheap. Very impressed if care was taken in the selection and use of components. Disappointed if a hodge-podge of items were just thrown together because we got them cheap or for free.

    • Jim
      You and Bud are correct. Proper diligence should be used by anyone in the market to purchase a home. Most non-real-estate folks find this process unfamiliar and intimidating; however a good title search and professional advice from a good closing attorney are really not that expensive and are essential for a proper pre-purchase checklist.
      The quality of the renovation starts with structural elements and goes all of the way through finish. However, it is the finish work that is most interesting and challenging to me. On Spruce Street I had to mix and match new discontinued vinyl windows with rehabbed wood windows and still ‘bring it in’. The catalyst is certainly the cost savings; however, the challenge is to retain quality, aesthetics, balance, and retain the cost savings contribution at the same time. We purchased the windows at less than a third of new replacement costs and compromised very little in the balance. As far as interior, I believe that balance and proportion apply. Spruce Street is an atypical house in our community, the tear out revealed several decades of conditions, one built over the other, and little regard to for symmetry or product compatibility. The rule of thumb to me is that the finish should be equal to or better than a comparable new construction. After that, the world is your pallet. While I personally am more into balance and proportion, I have seen some very tasteful one offs in national magazines that illustrate one persons attempt to bring together anything they could find. The end result appeared functional, artistic, and tasteful. I don’t know if I am ‘that guy’….. But I do find the possibility challenging and appealing.

  6. Yes, I most certainly would. It is both wise Financially and Environmentally! I love the concept of small homes and more reasonable choices in our lifestyles!

    • I am hoping there are more of us out there and that we can hear from folks like you and others who are involved in, or contemplating, such lifestyle initiatives.

  7. Smaller homes and bigger gardens! I am amazed at some homeowners who have become self-sufficient growing their own food that includes chickens, goats and aqua-ponds for fish–and they do it on urban 1/4 acre lots.

    • Wow! I’d like to talk to some of those homeowners. I may have a green blog, but in my own family we can barely get tomatoes to grow. I truly admire those who can make this work and I so wish I was giving this kind of healthy food to my children.

  8. Would I buy a home “off Craigslist”? Of course. Craigslist is widely used as an online classified ad source in Western Mass. In fact, we encourage our FSBO home sellers to use Craigslist to market their property. We even provide an HTML ad creator for them to easily post to any online classified ad source.

    Adrian and Becky didn’t buy the home sight unseen. They merely saw a picture, mapped the area and called the owner directly. Craigslist is heavily used by real estate agents to promote their MLS listings and private home sellers can compete on a level playing field with similar results.

    The Internet is the great equalizer. In over a decade of providing for sale by owner advertising services we’ve had only one home sell totally from the online listing. The home was advertised in the $300K range and an offer was made from a couple in Colorado having only “toured” the property online. I’m sure that the sale was contingent on a satisfactory home inspection, but still……pretty gutsy move.

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