On TV, real estate pros remodeling Salem area's bygone homes
By ETHAN FORMAN
Oct. 23, 2017
BEVERLY, Mass. (AP) — The restoration of a First Period home featured in the fixer upper show on HGTV called "Restoring Salem" actually sits in Beverly Farms.
But those responsible for renovating this antique 1680 home — real estate agents Mike Becker, 44, of Salem, and Charrissa Vitas, 39, of Beverly — say that's just a technicality. Wasn't much of the North Shore part of Salem at one time?
"That's why we think 'Restoring Salem' isn't such a stretch, if we do something Beverly or Danvers, because that area used to be Salem," Becker said.
Becker and Vitas specialize in the restoration of old homes from a real estate brokerage in downtown Salem.
While they dated more than a decade ago, today their relationship is strictly business as they hope to become the next stars of a reality TV show focused on the ups and downs of restoring and redesigning properties some consider "tear downs."
The other star of the show is 86 Preston Place, a more than 3,000 square-foot antique that has been added to over the centuries, including a large addition with a gambrel roof on one side of the house.
In renovating the home, they faced a house with low ceilings and a choppy layout. Bathrooms and the kitchen were sorely in need of an update. An upstairs room had a maximum ceiling height of 6 feet. A ship's ladder connected the first floor to the basement.
Becker, trustee of Evergreen Realty Trust, paid $289,000 for the property, according to the deed.
Vitas and Becker then spent $300,000 on renovations, including adding a staircase to the basement.
"For what we spent on restoring and renovating this house, we could have very easily have knocked it down and built a similar size house, a new construction house, but then a 1680 house would be gone," Becker said. The four-bedroom, three bathroom home is listed at $799,000, and they said they have a potential buyer.
They did what they could to stick with the home's original features. If they couldn't keep a feature of the old house, such as boards from the upstairs, they would re-purpose the wood elsewhere, using them in a new staircase.
The large headboard in the master bedroom once served as the mantle to the antique brick fireplace, which has become the focal point of the living room, that has white walls and exposed, rough-hewn beams.
In the living room, they removed the floor to the second story, creating the feeling of space, but they left the exposed beams overhead.
They have also modernized the home's electrical systems and wiring, added foam insulation on the roof, installed a new roof, and put in two high-efficiency propane furnaces in the basement.
"When we come into a place like this, it's an older style home, and we look at something and we try to modernize it," Vitas said. "How do we make this space work with today's modern amenities yet keep the historic charm of the property?"
"We want to increase the functionality of it, but still respect the antique age of the house and the character of the house, and that's the big compromise," Becker said.
Like many homes of the period, it started small and was added to over the years, with the first addition coming in 1750.
"We were told that a brother owned this part, and the other brother built the addition on the back side of the home," Vitas said.
That would explain why the central fireplace has two different styles of fireplace on each side, with a big, open fireplace meant for cooking on one side, and a Rumford fireplace, with its shallow firebox meant to reflect heat, on the other.
"This fireplace to us is the major focal point of the home," Vitas said. "To us, it's really more of a piece of art. It's older than America. We talk about that in the show."
They called in a chimney specialist, and Becker does not recommend starting a wood fire in the shallow fire box because it sits too close to the pine floors.
The home's working fireplace sits in what the couple have dubbed the "Scotch Room." It's a concrete block fireplace that used to sit in the kitchen, which has been moved to another part of the house. The room is now the home's "man cave," and it sports a bay window with a view of the marsh.
Becker and Vitas moved the kitchen to the center of the home, just off the living room, and it features modern appliances, including a drawer style dishwasher, farmer's style sink and five-burner gas stove.
'LIKE AN OLD MARRIED COUPLE'
Unlike the plot point in other cable home shows, Becker and Vitas are not married, and they are all business, though Becker admits: "We are like an old married couple."
Vitas is married to Bryan Crosby and they have a daughter, Farrah Belle, 9 months, and they live in Beverly.
Becker and Vitas met about 13 years ago on the day Vitas just happened to buy her first property in Boston. It was Becker who got her into real estate.
They have been in a business relationship — Charissa Vitas and Mike Becker Quality Homes — for more than10 years. Becker is also the president of Atlantic Coast Homes, a brokerage at 22 Hawthorne Blvd. in Salem.
They started restoring homes in Salem in 2008, just as the city started to boom.
Back then, there were still condominiums that were considered affordable and fixer-uppers in good locations.
Salem's homes, many of which dated from 1800, served as a draw for Becker and Vitas, and so did the city's reputation.
"Salem is so well known throughout the country," Becker said.
HOW THEY GOT THEIR HGTV GIG
Becker said his Facebook page for his company attracted someone who wanted to produce a house hunters real estate show about them. Becker mentioned that he restores old homes for a living.
Becker sent off pictures of his renovations, and eventually they did a couple of online interviews. Some producers from Los Angeles came out to shoot mini-pilot, called a sizzle reel.
"Based on the strength of the sizzle, HGTV said 'we want to shoot a pilot with you,'" Becker said.
The show premiered Oct. 7, and now there are plans to air "Restoring Salem" on the DIY Network and to re-air it on HGTV. Vitas said they were one of 32 other pilots that were in competition for a show.
"It would be great for us," said Becker if the show were picked up, "but it would also be great for Salem."
And if you are wondering, the home also has ties to Salem due to who used to own it. It happened to be the former home of Michael Usovicz, the late brother of former Salem Mayor Stan Usovicz.
Information from: The Salem (Mass.) News, http://www.salemnews.com