Despite its proximity to a tank farm, South Portland’s Pleasantdale neighborhood lives up to its name. The streets are pleasantly quiet, the houses are pleasantly maintained, and locals pleasantly stroll, jog and bike on the Eastern Trail, which runs along its northern border. Even the property at 7 North Kelsey St., our subject this month, is pleasantly dumpy — at least at first glance.
Located at the northern end of North Kelsey, adjacent to the trail and overlooking the tanks, the place doesn’t appear half bad from the outside. The first clue I had to its condition was a piece of paper taped to the front door that announces the house is vacant and requests that the mortgage company be notified if it’s not. The second clue was the satellite dish dangling off the roof.
The grass is being mowed with some frequency, but as you walk farther into the yard you find piles of trash, including one under an apple tree that contains a disintegrating armchair and a chandelier-style lighting fixture. The rickety garage behind the house is missing its upper window and its roof is becoming increasingly concave.
A peek inside the house reveals more detritus (including, intriguingly, some poker chips) and evidence of restoration work begun and halted.
Reached via e-mail, the property’s former owner agreed to tell her story in exchange for anonymity. She said she and her husband bought the place in 2008 and had grand plans to convert the house into a two-unit apartment building, with a three-car garage out back topped with an additional rental unit. But the property was in worse shape than they’d been led to believe.
“The building had so many hidden problems that the inspector didn’t find or was too lazy to look into,” she wrote. “Basically the foundation was crumbling into the basement … there was a massive bathroom flooding from a pipe burst (per previous tenants) that was never disclosed, the roof was leaking by the chimney, a bay window started cracking above, so it was obviously not supported properly, [and] all the apartment windows were not framed out and sitting loosely in the walls.”
In the midst of these revelations, her husband lost his job. The couple, who live in a duplex they own in Augusta, fell behind on mortgage payments for the Pleasantdale property, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection, and ultimately had to let the lender foreclose.
Through it all, the mortgage company, Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., was actually pleasant to work with. “During our time of struggle, the bank (unlike most) was as accommodating as they could be, lowering the payments,” the former owner wrote, “but it still wasn’t enough.”
The mortgage has subsequently been sold to Central Mortgage Company, of Little Rock, Arkansas, which did not respond to my request for information before deadline.
South Portland’s code-enforcement office has no record of any complaints about the property, and the former owner still thinks it has potential. “I believe someone with passion could make this place into a wonderful home,” she wrote.
— Patrick Banks