A Sheriff’s Sale is the Surest Way to Buy Two Acres in Six Minutes

I should start off by saying that cabins are a family interest, in that my father loves them and wants us all to love them, too. When I six and when Nora, little sister, was three, we started weekend trips to Hocking Hills. My primary memory is staying in a cabin, in which each of two bedrooms held a lamp ornately painted with a Sleeping Beauty–style fairytale. One lamp was pink, one blue, and I demanded my dad repeatedly switch their locations, as every time one left my bedroom it seemed the better. I couldn’t believe that lamps as good as these existed. If this was country living, I was sold.

As told by my father, without mention of the lamps, my passion for the outdoors on this trip helped cement the idea for my parents that it was time to buy a place of our own.

Newspapers: remember those? A man named Rick placed an ad in the Columbus Dispatch for a log-and-chink cabin that he built himself. Rick is a small guy who built the cabin’s first floor about one log taller than the top of his head. We’re a small family. We all fit. My parents purchased the place, on six acres with a stormy-weather waterfall, in 1994. Rick’s decor included deer hooves, still attached to a bit of leg, for hanging towels and coats. A half dozen jutted out from the walls until at least ‘96. Would today’s purveyors of ‘rustic chic’ home wares be delighted or appalled? The cabin became the location of my first Favorite Song: 1994's Baby Likes to Rock It, courtesy of one mean sound system and a CD by The Tractors.

Cut to the mid-aughts. My dad — professor, music-lover, social outdoorsman — developed an interest in real estate, and along with my mom, purchased a second cabin down the road, to rent to other weekenders. I started college at Ohio State, and Nora entered high school. The word “cabin” incited a frenzy in otherwise–laid back family dog Nickles. Once Nora entered college and I started working full time in 2010, family vacations in general trailed off. My parents rented both cabins in Hocking since we couldn’t visit enough to justify leaving them empty. House buying was the farthest thing from my mind. Cabin-buying, however, hadn’t entered my brain and therefore hadn’t been patently rejected.

I’m not sure how my dad convinced me to go 50/50 with him on a Sheriff’s sale of a dilapidated, unfinished home in Hocking, but by December 12, 2014, it was Our Idea. I borrowed a Carhartt from my dad and wore my hiking boots because I didn’t want to stick out, but I was the only woman there, and was 26, and I did. One of the bidders, an outfitter, tried to intimidate me by talking about frequent hunting in the area. Alternatively, he was convinced by the jacket and quite friendly as a result.

Auctions don’t last long. Mr. Outfitter tried to leave and make a phone call right at the last moment — turns out he had a backer but needed the OK to go beyond his pre-approved bidding threshold. But breaks don’t work with the auction style. (This is why in movie auctions, everyone is ALREADY on the phone! Of course!) We won by $500. When we traveled to Vinton County to sign the deed, no keys were exchanged, since the house had doorways but no doors. Not that it mattered; we razed the place as soon the ground thawed. If we could have saved something, we would have, but it wasn’t in great shape, even to my eye, which has reviewed very few home foundations or floorboards.

Now our goal lies in building a small, beautiful cabin from which people can enjoy Hocking Hills and, at risk of sounding jargon-y, the restorative quiet of the countryside. This goal, of course, has a trillion tinier goals attached — picking the perfect tile, orienting the view to the right angle of woods, not going bankrupt. I’ll be writing updates, at the rate of five one-trillionths at a time, give or take. You can sign up for updates if you want to read along! I’d love if you do! It’s my first-ever newsletter, and it’s here: https://tinyletter.com/dianagerber. Bonus: it’s a construction newsletter that will never sound confusing. I would have no idea how to make it that way.

Yours in woodpiles and hiring trusted professionals,