The dilapidated house on 16th Street was empty except for a weird parade of characters in and out — a crack-house crowd.
Windows were boarded; plumbing was extinct. There were holes in the roof and floor and nasty mattresses littered the rooms.
But to home renovator Linda Kerr, the 1910 two-story shone with promise.
“I just kept thinking, man, I’d like to get my hands on that house,” said Kerr, who works as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines.
The history and opportunity of Galveston lured her to the island in 2009 to rescue and renovate three homes for short-term rentals. She scoured the Internet and garage sales, stalked the aisles of the Galveston Historical Foundation’s Architectural Salvage Warehouse and networked among friends to find solid wood cabinets, glass hardware and all manner of materials for the projects.
Local contractors were hired for the rehabilitation work. Kerr specializes in the finishing touches, recycling items ranging from cast iron sinks to old tile and dishes.
The results are updated, polished, brightly painted houses with an old-time beach cottage aura.
“I try to go for that,” Kerr said. “I want it to be comfortable, beachy and also look like it’s been there a long time.”
This has become a side career for Kerr, who grew up watching her father renovate homes in Liberty. She was a veteran flight attendant when she started renovating a home in Houston’s Heights in 1995. She lives in a 1910 home she renovated there.
“I’m always drawn to the old houses and the history that I imagine is there, whether it’s made up in my head or the truth of it,” said Kerr, who works around her flexible flight schedule. “I’m not afraid of it. I get a kick out of it.”
For the past five years, she has been hooked on Galveston.
“Galveston is just kind of a frozen-in-time gem of 1800s architecture, and it still has that atmosphere and ambience,” she said. “I never get tired of thinking about houses that been there all those years and what they have withstood.”
Kerr said she tends to be drawn to smaller properties.
“The older and more beat-up it is, the better,” she said.
Investing money in overhauling the houses inside and out, Kerr hopes to recoup her funds in five to 10 years.
Her most recent project on 16th Street was her greatest challenge.
Kerr first set foot in the dilapidated house in 2012 after searching out the owner through tax records and paying $50,000 for the three bedroom, 1,789-square-foot, two-story house. It took a year and some $85,000 to complete the project.
The transformation was so marked that the house was awarded the 2013 Landmark Commission Award for renovation.
“It was thrilling to bring it back to life,” Kerr said.
She sees similar stories repeated in short-term rental homes in many of the older areas.
“In terms of what short-term rental owners bring to the economic growth of Galveston, it’s one more person fixing it up, bringing a house back from a dilapidated state, or empty state — something less desirable for a neighborhood — and it becomes very desirable for the neighborhood,” Kerr said.
Her next project will be updating a small apartment building. Then, she’ll search for the next challenge.
“I love the hunt,” she said. “I drive around and see houses and think, ‘I’m going to keep my eye on that one because maybe, some day….’”
How to find them
Here’s a lineup of Linda Kerr’s short-term rental houses in Galveston:
- Sandy Feet Cottage on 16th Street: A 1920s bungalow with two bedrooms and two baths. Purchased for $103,000 with $40,000 in renovation, including replacing the roof damaged in Hurricane Ike and adding a bathroom and central air and heat. Completed in 2009. Rental costs start at $205 per night.
- Beachy Keen Beach Pad on 12th Street: A simple 1890 workman’s cottage with one bedroom and one bath, a survivor of the 1900 Storm. The house stood empty for a year. Purchased for $32,000, with $50,000 in renovation, including stripping out several layers of linoleum, moving the kitchen from the back to the front, shoring up the foundation, putting on a new roof and an extended porch and adding central air and heat. Completed in Fall 2009. Rental costs start at $160 per night.
- Sunny Daze By the Sea on 16th Street: A 1910 two-story with three bedrooms and two full baths. Purchased for $50,000, with $85,000 in renovations, including a complete tear down of the kitchen and upstairs bathroom, addition of a downstairs bathroom, an upper porch and central air and heat. Completed in 2013. Recipient of the 2013 Landmark Commission Award for renovation. Rental costs start at $300 per night.
The houses are rented through www.homeaway.com. Type in the name of the cottage and Galveston in your browser search field to view pictures. The houses are managed by a Galveston crew of workers.