The American Enterprise

It's a dirty wonderful life.(In Real Life: First-person America, purchasing of townhouses)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When my husband suggested we buy and fix up a dilapidated townhouse in Washington D.C.'s historic Mount Pleasant neighborhood, it sounded terribly romantic.

We didn't purchase your average fixer-upper, with out-of-date shag carpeting and cracked bathroom tiles. Our once-grand three-level townhouse had been tortured by its previous owners. They hid leaky pipes behind drywall, and boarded up broken windows. A back door no longer on its hinges was braced shut with a metal pole. Our "as is" purchase included a houseful of rusty light fixtures, several soggy rolls of rotting carpet in the basement, and a still-filled, but unplugged, refrigerator.

Like a student who enters college thinking of caps and gowns and instead discovers the reality of all-night study sessions, I quickly learned that painting trim and dusting walls comes only after months of grueling and filthy preparatory labor. …

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