Saving Nashville’s past proves tough in fast-paced housing market

(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – It starts as an eyesore—the type of home that attracts crime to neighborhoods. But bring in the bulldozers and Troy Shafer shows up.

“When you at a project like this, what do you envision? When I look at this, I’m looking past the boarded windows, the Christmas lights, and I’m just thinking, ‘Why was this house designed like this? Why this big? Why these big windows, and why so close to the street?’ And that starts painting the picture for me,” he explained.

Shafer is part contractor, part historian, part small business owner, and a little bit of a TV host—but mostly an artist.

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And when the layers of old homes start being peeled back, the artist and historian step forward.

“It’s not really up to me. The history is already here. I just have to uncover it and bring it back,” he told News 2.

He took News 2’s Neil Orne inside the home. Suddenly they’re standing in the original log cabin the 100-year-old home was built around.

“I mean, this is 170 years old,” Shafer said.

It almost takes your breath away. This is the original Nashville. This went up about the same time work began on the Tennessee State Capitol.

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“It blew my mind,” Shafer told News 2. “We had a hunch some of the things we might find, but it wasn’t until we started uncovering and started realizing, ‘Wow. We are really working in a 17-year-old log cabin a mile from downtown Nashville.”

But in this new Nashville market, it is a challenge on several fronts.

Saving history is not for the faint of heart.

“When I started Nashville Flipped in, technically, 2008 … the first house I ever renovated was in East Nashville, and I paid $32,000 for it,” Shafer said.

“Now that same house, in that same condition, may be $130,000 or $150,000,” he continued.

No longer does Shafer own a bunch of houses waiting to be restored. It’s too expensive.

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It is a losing race. Properties are being sold, history torn down, and multiple homes go up—Nashville’s tall skinnies—and it’s happening really fast.

“The irony is people fall in love with Nashville. A big part of it is the history, and to see these houses torn down to make way for the new people to come in, that’s a scary thought because you can’t rebuild that,” Shafer told News 2.

The real estate boom has Shafer working more outside of the city in areas like Springfield.

“There’s these outlying areas—Goodlettsville, Lebanon, Hendersonville. They are kind of closer to what I felt good with several years ago. Not $30,000, $40,000, but you are finding them for $80,000 and $90,000, and there are a lot of buyers. A lot of people want to be in those areas,” he explained.

Skyrocketing prices Shafer can work around and his choices for preservation now have to be right every time.

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His biggest challenge, by far, is help.

“But workers, quality workers to get them, that’s challenging. I’m not used to an electrician telling me it will be three to four weeks before they can come finish that. You have inspectors and it makes it so difficult to stick to a timeline because everybody is so busy,” Shafer said.

And houses like this log cabin project sit, and sit, and history around it disappears.

In it, though, Shafer sees great irony.

“The irony of the love of old houses and the love of just history, and that’s what brings people to Nashville and then to make a place for all these new people. What do some people do? Tear down the history.”

It’s truly a race against time, saving the past for future generations.