Most students find temporary homes when they go to college, living in dorms or signing a lease for an apartment. For commuter student Rick Getts, a junior civil engineering major, renting a living space was never an option.
“For some reason, living in dorms was out of the question for me. My dad said I could either live at home, or we could find a house and fix it up. He would rather see me live in a house that we had worked on,” Getts, 20, said while sitting on the stoop of his soon-to-be home.
In September 2011, Getts, along with his father and uncle, bought a house in Fishtown.
The three men work on the weekends to make it habitable for Getts and his future housemates, taking only two weekends off since last September. The trio even worked on Christmas. They expect the house to be completed in the next few months.
The Fishtown four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom row home currently looks, smells and sounds like a construction site. Wet caulk clings to the walls, dust lines nearly every surface, and the bangs and blasts of different tools being put to work echo through rooms barren of carpet and furnishings.
Even though it might not look like much of a home, Getts’ future abode has come a long way.
“When we first got it, it was destroyed,” Getts said. “The whole back of the house had decayed.”
Getts said the previous owner had let the roof deteriorate, and rainwater was melting away the bricks. Getts and his crew put on a new roof and reconstructed the whole back of the house. Two of the three stories also needed to be knocked out and replaced. The budget for renovation exceeds $120,000, Getts said. The only parts of the house still standing from the original are the first floor and some of the bricks.
What would prompt a 20-year-old to want to drain his bank account and pour all of his free time into a project like this?
“Right now I’m just focusing on getting it done, but when I’m done I’ll be very proud,” said Getts, who has been doing construction since he was 5 years old.
His dad, who also grew up with a father in construction, studied pharmacy in college but decided he didn’t want to get stuck behind a desk, reverting back to building after graduation. He now owns and operates R P Getts Builders Inc., based in Huntingdon Valley, Pa.
Getts has the option of continuing the family business after graduation. For now, he’s studying civil engineering. He chose his major because it was in his comfort zone. His background in construction has given him a leg up in a few of his classes.
“I’m taking a surveying class right now,” Getts said. “I’ve already used a lot of the instruments we’re learning, and I’ve been doing a lot of that stuff since the summer.”
“I’d like to spend a day doing nothing, maybe watch some TV — sleep in past 7:30 [a.m.] or so,” Getts said.
While most students prefer to live a few blocks from Main Campus, Getts’ future residence is three miles from Temple.
The opportunity to buy the property arose when a man who lives on the same block — who has worked on houses before with Getts and his father — mentioned that the neglected house was for sale.
Located on the north end of Fishtown, the block is still mostly unaffected by the gentrification that has taken hold of much of the neighborhood. If Getts decides to sell his house a couple years after college, he thinks he could make a lot of money from his initial investment.
As a co-owner taking up residence in his own house, Getts won’t be a typical college housemate.
“I will never have a party or a house show unless I know everybody there,” Getts said. “If something gets broken, I’m not going to respond very nicely. I would crumble…do you realize how much time I put into this? That might make me mad, seeing that kind of stuff.”
Abi Reimold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.