Barn house decision, smart over emotional

The barn house called to me, from reading the listing, to descending the street down the large long hill, and into the driveway. The front of the house faces a large housing development of single family homes, all traditional style 3-4 bedrooms on 1/4 acre lots and above. The barn house sits in front of two other farms, one large, one smaller which actually has a driveway easement across the barn house front lot. They both share river bottom land along the Shenandoah River just outside Front Royal Virginia. In my picture here, taken from the driveway across the front porch you can nearly see the river in the distance across the flat fields. You can see interior pictures in my previous post.

That wide front porch with the sweet blossomed pear tree welcomed me and I couldn’t wait to get inside. I had low expectations because there were no interior photos listed and because we had recently looked at some homes needing a lot of TLC. I was pleasantly surprised. During the building development of the houses around the barn house, this served as the sales office and sort of a model for the builder. Once all the lots were sold, the barn house went up for sale and has been rented.

The living area is less than 900 square feet so it’s small but has plenty of opportunity to expand within the existing footprint. For the artist in me, and my hobby woodworker husband, the space seemed more than perfect. Yes, the living quarters were small but scaling back was our original goal, and the workmanship was very nice and thought out for expansion. I had no qualms about the idea of adding another bedroom, a family room, and studio space for me. The existing “house” area barely took up 1/3 of the space on that level in the barn.

Down below, a room had been started that could have been studio or workroom. It had great windows and nice light. The rock foundation was charming…I fall in love with rocks, you should know this. But the most awesome part of the ground level was the more than double car garage. In fact, I’m pretty sure you could park 4 cars in the space, which means it would be awesome for a workshop. I know Bob was going to love all the mortise and tenon joints and of course he did.

Through all this our realtor was surprisingly quiet. She did point out all the things done right in adding living space to a barn built in 1900, from the new electrical and plumbing to the correctly shored up foundation, and insulation work. “Remember,” she said, “you wanted to have resale value. This is very non traditional.” I wanted to explain that was a good thing, to me.

So my mind was off and running and mooning for the barn house. I started to design rooms and gardens and the home based business I’d have, maybe even opening a shop right in the barn. This house just sang to me of opportunity. But then we went back for a second look. The rooms seemed even smaller. We found out there wasn’t just one easement but two, and that the half acre we thought it was on, was mostly driveways in front and back, leaving little space for gardens. Plus there is the flood plain to consider. I had questions. Logically, it began to make less and less sense. Bob was the first to say he was over it, reasoning there was too much building to do, and too little living space, that although we said we wanted smaller space to take care of, this was too small. I felt deflated.

So, to help myself get to the same place Bob was in, or to be able to arm myself with an argument to change his mind, I started asking questions.

Would it be possible to have a business in the barn? No, zoning is strictly residential.

Seller & history? I got to talk to the seller personally, and he is very personable. He knows a wealth of information about the history of the area and lives on the big farm behind the barn house. He’s also the developer/builder of the homes there. He had been told of my interest so was excited to talk to me and he called the house mine as he talked. He told me how he had thought ahead to how someone who lived in the house may want to expand so the utilities are able to be expanded. Nice.

What do the easements mean? Those areas have to be left alone, one for access to the farm behind, the other for future water and sewer utility expansion. but garden? “You can garden all you want,” he said. “I don’t mind if you want to plant. I’ll share my berry patch with you too, he said.

500 year flood plain? Yes, the doorstep at the back door is at the 500 year flood plain level. But, the sellers theory is it would never get as bad as the 1946 500 year flood, because at that time the mountains were deforested, due to supplying wood for war time power needs. He said he built his house at that same level.

Financing? The nitty gritty. No, it’s likely this house couldn’t be financed. I talked with our mortgage guy, Aaron. He said, “Unless there are 3-5 barn houses that have sold locally within the last 6 months, your property will be classified as “unique.” The trouble here is that an appraiser is going to have a really hard time figuring out the value, and most lending institutions will not accept this kind of property for that reason.” He went on to suggest I talk with our realtor to see if there were other “unique” homes for comparable. Her answer, nope. Aaron then said a cash sale would be the way to go if we really wanted the house. This was the tipping point for me.

My theory is, ideally, this would be a great weekend home, or a home for a artist or poetical writerly type. Someone who could live in it just the way it is, and pay cash to overcome the financing issue. It’s smack dab in the most beautiful area so inspiration is right off the front porch deck, or a short drive to Sky Line Drive, or a canoe trip down the Shenandoah river. If I were a younger single person, and had the funds, I’d jump on this house.  It’s got all kinds of geeky and arty possibilities. And I’ll be right down the road to help take care of it when you aren’t there.

Interested? Here are some weblinks for more info:

Barn house at

Barn house at


About Robin Arnold

Reader, writer, gardener, geek, maker of homes in several states, now settled in Virginia with husband Bob, and Hazel and Wilson the tabby cats.
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One Response to Barn house decision, smart over emotional

  1. Maureen says:

    Sounds as though you made the only decision you could. Good luck as the house-hunting continues.

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