HINSDALE, N.H. — For David Luebberman, rehabilitating a rundown house is an investment. He’s been flipping houses for about 30 years, most of them in California.
“The first time I did this in California, someone came in and said, ‘That’s a ghost house,’” said Luebberman.
Three years ago and 200 homes later, he returned to the Granite State, his second coming to New Hampshire, in a way.
Luebberman was born in Bogota, Colombia, and was adopted by a family in Peterborough, when he was just 5 years old.
He went to ConVal Regional High School and, after a stint in the Marines Corps, settled down in California, where he got a real estate license. By 2006, he was buying rundown houses, rehabilitating them and selling them.
In 2014, he returned to New Hampshire, married a girl he knew in high school, and together they started EWDL Home Improvements in Hillsborough.
“I love making a ghost house into a little mansion,” said Luebberman, walking up Church Street toward a shuttered Masonic Temple.
“All these buildings here are from the 1800s,” he said, gesturing to houses that rise along with the road, and most of these houses he has rehabilitated.
“We actually started with 16/18 Church St. in 2018,” he said, a home built in the 1840s.
Since then, EWDL has purchased five other properties in town, rehabbing and either selling them or offering them as rentals.
“David has acquired many parcels in Hinsdale, including the old Masonic Temple on Hancock Street,” said Kathryn Lynch, Hinsdale’s community development coordinator. “Most of the properties that David has purchased needed extensive interior and exterior rehabilitation.”
These are the types of investment needed in a small town like Hinsdale, said Steve Diorio and Mike Carrier, two members of the Board of Selectmen.
“The Masonic Temple is a big project,” said Diorio.
The town owned the building beginning in 2017, when the previous owner defaulted on property taxes.
“We didn’t know what we were going to do with it,” said Diorio. “It had a hole in the roof and was in horrible shape.”
Luebberman took the building off the town’s hands for $5,000 in 2020 and has been approved to convert it into nine apartments.
“Finding affordable apartments is hard,” said Carrier. “This is a win-win for the town, and something that benefits all of us.”
For the town, it’s important to get homes — some abandoned and others with tax bills that haven’t been paid in decades — back on the tax rolls.
But houses like that need work and someone willing to take a chance, both on the buildings and the town.
Luebberman said he had originally estimated it would cost $600,000 to convert the Masonic Temple into apartments. But with the increase in costs for building materials in the past two years, that estimate has been revised upward, to $1 million.
But Luebberman thinks he can make that money back in the long run, renting the nine apartments. It’s a bet he has made on a number of properties on Church and Hancock streets, a bet he appears to be winning.
He purchased 25 Hancock St. for about $65,000, according to town documents. He recently sold the two-story white clapboard building with dormers for $240,000, which is a pretty good price for a restored New England home built in the late 1800s.
“Most of the properties I buy are under a lead order,” said Luebberman, who is a lead abatement specialist. “We pick up the worst houses on the block and make them the best.”
Two of the houses he has restored are now rentals; he has a crew gutting 10 Church St. and he has his sights set on another home on Hancock Street.
But you can see he is most excited to get to work on the old Masonic Temple this spring.
“Someone said, ‘Why don’t you just rip this down and then prefab something here?’ No, I like to restore ... this building has been here since 1840. This thing would be like restoring a 1960 Mustang. Who am I to destroy something like that?”
The three-story building started as a Universalist Church and once held a bell tower, its bell forged on Jan. 28, 1828, by Paul Revere & Son in Boston. The bell was gone long before the Masons purchased the building in 1934, and there is no record of where it ended up.
The building also has a number of stained glass windows Luebberman would like to sell. He’s not interested in maintaining them and knows the sale of the windows could help cover some of the renovation costs. There are a number of other fixtures, including heating grates and hinges, that collectors have asked him about purchasing. He has an embossed tin ceiling he might want to part with, too.
“Anybody want a piano?” he asks. “I’ve got two of them.”
In the attic of the building, which he plans to clean up for mechanical equipment, you can see how the hand-hewn beams have been fitted together and secured with wooden pegs. The wood was chunked with chisels almost 200 years ago. Despite the ramshackle appearance from the outside, the peeling paint and the creaky floorboards within, those beams hold firm, a testament to old New England craftsmanship.
“It had an Estey Organ in it, too,” said John Smith, president of the Hinsdale Historical Society, of the former Brattleboro instrument company.
Smith and his father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all members of the Golden Rule Lodge.
“When we closed the Lodge, we gave the organ back. They sent a crew, and disassembled it over several months and took it back to Brattleboro.”
The town of Hinsdale is appreciative of Luebberman’s investment, especially if it means getting more apartments in town and getting falling-down buildings back on the tax rolls.
“These improvements will aid in the assessed values for Hinsdale and in turn help the tax base of the town,” said Lynch. “We appreciate David for all of his ambition and his pursuit to make Hinsdale beautiful.”
“I hope he’s successful,” said Smith. “It can’t look any worse that it does now. Anything he does will be an improvement.”