Ron Tanner could have just walked away. He could have ignored the sagging, condemned Baltimore Victorian, which was trashed by a decadelong college fraternity residency.
But he bought it, with the all-American dream of fixing it up with his girlfriend Jill, even though they had been dating only six months and had no do-it-yourself experience.
“I was desperate and in love,” says Tanner, who reads from his new book, “From Animal House to Our House: A Love Story,” at Booksmith on Tuesday, an event co-presented by the California Preservation Foundation and the Victorian Alliance of San Francisco.
The book is both a personal memoir and a resource for anyone interested in the DIY experience from the ground up.
“Everyone told us not to do it — my family, the Realtor. I risked bankruptcy, my mental and physical health. I was recklessly optimistic,” says Tanner, a professor and award-winning writer whose efforts ultimately paid off.
He and Jill were married in the house in 2003 and have been living there for 11 years.
Their DIY success story has drawn attention from the PBS show “This Old House,” bloggers and restoration aficionados. Before-and-after images in the book and their Houselove.org website reveal why.
Trash and rotting furniture on all three floors, as well as in the basement and yard, filled Dumpsters and was trucked away. They also dealt with graffiti, a bucket of human excrement and a rat infestation.
But the couple was determined to see the project through.
“One of the biggest problems is burnout,” Tanner says. “You have to pace yourself and take one full day a week to take a break. Jill taught me that. It’s easy to overextend yourself.”
Their experience just about gives them license to be marriage counselors and renovation advisers. Yet despite their shared vision for their future home, they had communication quirks to iron out at first.
“Nothing gets more emotional than a house,” Tanner says. “Your personality, your hopes and your dreams are bound up in it. You have to sit down with your partner and discuss your individual priorities and expectations, and make deadlines, so that you work in sync.”
Tanner’s most sobering advice is his “three times more” mantra, noting that “$500 always ends up being $1,500. If you think one project will take two months, it will take six. Whether it’s time or money, it’s always three times more.”
IF YOU GO
Where: The Booksmith, 1644 Haight St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Contact: (415) 863-8688, www.booksmith.com; www.houselove.org
From Animal House to Our House: A Love Story
By Ron Tanner
Publisher: Academy Chicago Publishers