NORWICH — The Norwich Home Beautification Contest committee has announced an additional winner for the 2021 contest. Bryan and Whitney McCracken were recently named co-winners of the Rental Property category after their multi-family entry was mistakenly marked as a residential contender.
The contest is co-sponsored by The Evening Sun and the Norwich Building Tomorrow Foundation, and aims to improve quality of life in the City of Norwich, as well as reward Norwich homeowners for improvements on their homes and rental properties.
Houses entered into the contest are judged on exterior renovations only, such as roofing, doors, windows, siding, shutters, landscaping, lighting, and painting. Emphasis is also placed on homes that undergo significant exterior transformation which not only improve appearance, but have a positive impact on the neighborhood.
Eligibility for the 2022 Home Beautification Contest began on March 1 and will go until November 15. Prizes for residential properties include $5,000 for first place, $3,000 for second place, $2,000 for third place, and $1,000 for fourth place. Two- to four-family home prizes include $5,000 for first place and $4,000 for second place.
To participate in the 2022 contest, review and fill out the application form on Page 7 of today’s Evening Sun.
"We would highly recommend doing renovations on the exterior of your house and entering the contest to anyone," said Bryan. "It’s been a nice process, and for us in particular, there was the recognition that we had gotten overlooked, and they reevaluated our application and thought that we were worthy of getting co-first place. I mean, that’s very exciting."
The couple first got into home renovation in 2010, when they moved to Norwich from Ithaca after Bryan completed grad school.
"He had just finished his Master's classwork at Cornell, and I was in the workforce, I was full time. I had finished [school], and we were struggling on one income to find a place that was decent. So that kind of started our idea," Whitney explained. "A realtor helped us buy a multi-family at the time and we lived in it by ourselves for a long time. But that just kind of got the ball rolling of, ‘let’s do this. Let’s try it out.’ So it started there a long time ago."
Since then, the McCrackens have converted their first home into a rental property, purchased a second house, and in December of 2020 they purchased the multi-family home that brought them the first place prize in the Home Beautification Contest.
"It was a tax foreclosure property, it had been abandoned for about four years, and we had been watching the house for the four years it was abandoned," said Bryan. "We bought the house from the city in December of 2020. The landscaping was all overgrown, the lawn had been mowed infrequently over the last four years. So we started that December by cutting down all the overgrown bushes and landscaping in the front, and just cleaning it up before the snow started to fly."
Then, in the summer of 2021, they completed all of the exterior work. Renovations included mowing, landscaping, moving meter boxes, replacing the flat roof and roofing for all three porches, removing and replacing rotten wood elements, and exterior painting.
As the Historic Preservation Planner for the City of Ithaca, Bryan said it was important to him to maintain as many historical elements and styles on the home as possible.
"We had to have new moldings milled to match the original, we stick built all the lattice that had to be replaced so that it matched the original. We kept some of the non-original stuff that was in good shape, but everything that had to be replaced, we replaced it to the best of our ability to make it look like it was the original," said Bryan.
"We buy older houses because we love the way that they look, we love the materials and their aesthetics," he continued. "I regulate changes to designated historic properties, so I’m constantly telling landlords what they can and cannot do with their homes. So it would have felt a little disingenuous if I had purchased an old home and then didn’t respect the historic integrity of the house and just did whatever we wanted. So that’s how we like to renovate, is to keep as much of the original as possible."
While the couple did most of the work themselves, when contractors and materials were needed they strived to keep their support local, such as hiring Norwich electrician Monty Westcott, Oxford painter Tim Ross, and Chenango County-based C&B Landscaping.
"We really tried to use local businesses when we were doing that. So having a local painter, using Root’s for the paint, and Curtis Lumber and Heartwood’s in Sherburne. There were some boards that needed to be replaced in kind, meaning we took something down and it was completely rotten, and Heartwood’s in Sherburne was the only place that had it, or Curtis Lumber is the only place that had those cosmetic pieces," Whitney said. "We all love Lowe’s, but we really strived hard last summer to keep it as local as we could, to try to help them and keep that benefit going for everybody."
The significant improvements and repairs to the home did not go unnoticed. The couple said several neighbors and community members commended their efforts and thanked them for taking care of the property.
However, Whitney said getting the house to where it is now took a lot of community collaboration.
"It wasn’t just us fixing the outside of the house. We had a lot of help doing that," she said. "It’s really cool to see it come all the way through because any house, whether it’s a single family home or it’s a commercial space or just a landlord owned property, I don’t think it takes just one person painting that or beautifying it. I think it’s multiple people."
They also received $5,000 in prize money for winning the Home Beautification Contest. Although they had planned on renovating the home anyway, Bryan said the recognition from the contest was a nice bonus, and the prize money will be put back into the house to finish interior repairs.
"It’s really exciting. I mean, to get the recognition for doing a good job I think is important," said Bryan. "It’s recognition, but it’s also our commitment to the community. We care about where we live, so it’s nice to get it and it’s exciting to get it. It’s nice to know that people appreciate it, but we would continue to do it anyway. We like to do the work that we want to see. We want to build the community that we want to see. So investing in properties is our way of doing that."
"We think Norwich is an incredibly beautiful community with a lot of potential, and it just takes investment, and patience, and pride of ownership to bring back some of the houses," he added. "It’s having people that have pride in what they own and the house that they live in. We feel that’s really important."
Since the contest was rebooted in 2019, a total of 18 homeowners have been awarded cash prizes totaling $46,500.