Working Through the Weather Whiplash

  • March 24, 2015

This weather is giving me whiplash. Its warm. Its cold. Its raining. Its snowing. The ground is thawed. The ground is frozen. When I stumbled downstairs to make my coffee this morning, the deck was covered in a thin coating of snow and temperatures had dipped into the twenties. By Thursday, the weatherman is promising seventy degrees and another soggy spring shower.

Its times like these when I’m reminded of how I survived the terribly long winter… staring at old maps and driving around knocking on doors. For those of you who are still trapped indoors and suffering from this weather whiplash, I wanted to share some of my therapeutic remedies and permission tactics.

I’ll have you know that I’m not originally from South Central PA. I lived in Massachusetts, Kansas, and Rhode Island before my parents settled about twenty minutes from Gettysburg. I feel as though this puts me at a disadvantage, because I didn’t grow up around here. I can’t tell you who grew up in the yellow house on the corner, when the old post-office was converted to apartments, or when they knocked down the stone house on Baltimore Road to make way for a charming little housing development.

I learned about the town by pouring through old maps from the eighteen-hundreds, searching eBay for antique postcards and photographs, and talking to old timers at the local coffee shop and around town. I visited my local historical society, reached out to members of the nearest metal detecting group–which I plan to join when funds are available, and I even plan to attend a meeting at the private fish and game club that neighbors my property. I never thought about it before but hunters are in the woods all the time. They must happen upon old foundations and forgotten trash pits all the time.

In my opinion, research and networking are two of the most important precursors to obtaining permissions. I spend more time researching than I spend swinging the coil these days–though I hope that changes with the weather. (And my AT Pro is on its way!)

stonefoundationI am a fan of research, but I will sometimes sweep my kids away on epic adventures to nowhere-in-particular. These grand adventures consist of driving around searching for old homes. Some homes wear their age, but others require a peek under the skirt–now I know that sounds horrible, but bear with me. I’m talking about that space between the clapboards and the ground. Here in PA, I look for a stone foundation to determine the approximate age. This method is pretty reliable, even if the homeowners recently slapped on some new siding.

Once I’ve found my target, either through research or driving around aimlessly, I determine whether the home is occupied or vacant. If the home is occupied, I recommend personal interaction. I prefer catching people while they are working outdoors or getting the mail, but sometimes you have to knock on the door and hope that you’re not interrupting something important–otherwise you’re setting yourself up for rejection.

I usually start by introducing myself and explaining what I do–I pursue tangible history. This is harder for me than you might imagine, because I am not very debonair–I’m pretty awkward. Sometimes after my initial introduction, I catch myself spitting out as much information as possible before the homeowner has a chance to reject my proposal… then I remember to bite my tongue.

I’ve found that sometimes the most valuable talking points aren’t really talking points at all. Everybody loves show-and-tell. Sometimes bringing along something that I’ve found at a nearby permission helps grab the interest of the homeowners and saves me from having to talk too much. Also–and this is where that research comes in–knowing the area and being able to explain why you want to search the property is very important.

You need to realize that the property owner has no incentive to let you search their property. You really need to sell yourself and your calling.

Now, if the home is vacant, there are a couple options. 1) If there is a For Sale sign staked in the yard, call the realtor. They may be able to pass your information to the homeowner. 2) Scope out the neighboring properties and take a guess. If you guess wrong, the neighbor might be able to point you in the right direction. 3) Get the address and call the township or county. They can usually give you a name or address associated with the person who pays taxes on the property.

Remember that a epic permissions are the key to a epic finds. All the time you put into researching and networking and looking up skirts–the architectural variety–will pay off.

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