Greening of a Victorian gem, er, handyman's special

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It was a glorious Victorian house on a charming street in Dallas . . . well, admittedly, the structure was dilapidated and only sort of Victorian and the neighborhood was dowdy.

But the house, which we bought in 1977, was a steal at $13,000. We secured a loan for that, plus a $15,000 second mortgage. Our total investment was our 10 percent down payment: $2,800.

Then followed many months of ''sweat equity,'' composed of calluses and splinters, paint and putty, and pangs of despair.

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Over the next six months, while working on the house, we fell in love with it - in part because, although the architectural style was a bit mongrelized, it had beautiful lines. Also, we got to know the house by scraping its paint, replacing its shingles, shimming its foundation. We helped organize cleanup drives, gave tours of our work-in-progress, and cheered on neighbors as they, too, spruced up their property.

The neighborhood became interesting to others for its location, its good housing stock, its inexpensive prices. Soon it even became an ''in'' neighborhood that was attractive to young professionals. A year later we were transferred to another city. After paying the real estate commission and paying off the loans, we netted $10,000.

Not only was the investment profitable, enabling us, over the years, to ''trade up'' in housing; it was a tremendously satisfying experience, building do-it-yourself skills that still come in handy. It had a salutary effect on a neighborhood. It was an investment that became a part of our lives in a way that a stock or bond never could - giving a fuller meaning to the word ''appreciation'' than just the sense of profitability.

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