California Heritage Council
Board of Directors for the California Heritage Council


Restoring the Sam Brannan General Store in Calistoga, CA.
by Curtis M. Winslow.

To those of you who aren't millionaires, and are considering buying/restoring an historic property, you might find the following interesting. We went pen to paper four times on this property, and ran into a lot of obstacles. I often told my wife during this process, that we if we had knowledge of what we're getting into and wanted to construct the most complicated buying scenario possible, this would have been it. We did learn a lot, and hopefully you can gleen some good information from what we went through.

Lessons learned:

  • Be patient
  • You can be a better expert than the experts
  • Don't be afraid to do it yourself
  • Use your computer
  • Stick to your guns
  • Get to know the people that matter.

NOTE: I'm in the process of filling all the important detail in below. So check back regularly. Right now, all the following information is in draft form.

August 2009—Lesson 1—Be aware of your environment

The off-and-on web geek for the CHC drank the preservation kool-aid a couple of years after working on this site. It all started in August of 2009 when we're perusing some on-line real estate listing and noticed an 8 room house for $350,000 in downtown Calistoga. Well, that got our curiosity piqued, and I went over the following day to go give it a look-see. Lo, and behold, the doors were open, and I did a mini-site inspection.

On first glance, the place looked like a wreck. There was as delapidated hand-carved sign reading "Sam Brannan Store, California Historical Landmark 684". Well, being from Calistoga, I knew exactly who Sam Brannan was.

more to come...

September 2009
($775 +10 hours in time into the project)
We contacted the selling agent and started process of buying it. We'd never done this before, so we took everything the selling agent said at her word. In retrospect, we learned that not everyone knows what they're doing. We started the qualification process, It was listed at 350K, we said 300K, and we got a price of 309K. We got a shore list of what we had to do ot buy this using a conventional loan. Paid for Termite Inspection ($495) and Arborist’s Inspection ($280).

Have to say that if you do this, GO WITH the inspectors—and make sure they're at least somewhat independent of the company providing remedy services. Our arborist was great, and didn't work directly for any of the numerous tree service companies here in Calistoga. He know what he was doing, and made the appropriate recommendations. The written reports from the termite company, on the other hand, were so sanitized as to be practically useless. For example, our termite inspection report said they're could or probably be up to $50,000 in termite damage. Fact of the matter was the inspector could not do any in depth inspection of the house at all. He also did not accurately take into account the age or construction details of the house. This report caused us a lot of problems with contractors and underwriters later. Had we known then what we know now, we would have ordered a more in depth inspection, and had them redo the report in a more accurate fashion.

October 2009—We buy our first house—ALMOST!
($1775 +50 hours in time into the project)

We found out we were at least qualified to buy the house. I went in to the house and measured it for floor plans, and created
existing and rehab floor plans. I also documented the house with video and photography.

Because it was a state historic landmark, I knew I had to get the blessing of the Napa County Landmarks commission, or at least notify them of our intent to purchase the property and what their expectations might be. I created an Apple Keynote presentation and a google Sketchup model. My wife and I presented this plan to Napa County Landmarks where it was favorably received. Now—don't kid yourself that you can do this kind of work quickly. My parents were both architects, so I group around this stuff. I know how to measure and make a floor plan, and read an architectural drawing. If you don't know how, go the library, take a course, or make friends with a contractor or an architect. Even though I know what I was doing, it took me close to 40 hours to get all the information together for that presentation.

A week after the presentation, we ordered a house inspection. only to find out the electric and water bills had not been paid been paid by the maintenance company. Turns out that local maintenance companies are basically non-existent. There's one big one operating out of texas which uses local agents. Our local agent, however was remiss in their duties. I had to meet with PGE, and I transferred the power bill to my name. This required a $500.00 deposit, which we did get back.

I was told by the listing agent that I could not get a hold of the Asset Management company. That just sounded like a challenge to me. I finally found our case manager and gave explained that I needed the water turned on so I could get a house inspection performed. He was exceedingly nasty at first, saying his company could not possibly be at fault, but became extremely apologetic in the end after reviewing file.

We got the house inspection done for another $500.

Both the house inspection and the termite inspection were not very favorable to our cause. We also paid another $400 for an appraiser to come out and appraise the property. With all this in place we were set to buy the place outright for $309,000.00 We put pen to paper for first time, and waited for the deal to close. Heard back a few days later that the underwriter nixed the deal. Our mortgage company suggested that we try for a 203K rehab loan, and told us to get a couple of contractor bids.

November 2009

more to come...

December 2009—Oh Well!

Things that aren't meant to be a

January 2010

more to come...

February 2010

more to come...

March 2010

more to come...

April 2010

more to come..

May 2010

more to come...

June 2010

more to come...

July 2010

Conditional Use Permit

August 2010

more to come...

September 2010

more to come...

October 2010

more to come...

November 2010

more to come...

December 2010

more to come...

January 2011

The fourth time was truly the charm

February 2011

more to come...

March 2011

more to come...

April 2011

more to come..

May 2011

more to come...

June 2011

more to come...




Jefferson Street Mansion in Benicia, CA Jefferson Street Mansion
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