When trick-or-treaters knock on the door of 227 North St. on Monday, they may be disappointed to find that one of Healdsburg's spookiest-looking houses is no longer so scary.

In fact, the once saggy mansion whose ancient electrical system had been red-tagged since the 1950s is starting to look surprisingly genteel.

As weary do-it-yourselfers Mark Goff and Phillip Engel report with a grin, a friend and ghost hunter came by with her detecting equipment and declared that the historic 1870 Marshall mansion showed no signs of paranormal activity.

They must be doing their job. If any spirits ever inhabited the house, they likely fled, put off by all the noisy power tools going seven days a week. And frankly, the place is starting to look way too inhabited for a haunting.

Goff and Engel bought the magnificent wreck two years ago for nearly $1 million, intent on bringing it back to its original glory with their own labor. They finally made enough progress with basic comforts to move in earlier this year.

Many of the once exposed walls and ceilings have been plastered. The kitchen is complete and now provides a safe place for entertaining. Period fixtures, some reclaimed from a Victorian mansion in Michigan, have been purchased, restored, rewired, polished and hung. An antique marble fireplace graces the wall of the main parlor. Bathrooms are functioning.

The pair are now racing to finish the first two floors in time to secure conventional financing before their short-term loan expires next June. The previous owner agreed to carry the loan himself for two years, buying time to get a real foundation under the house and basically redoing almost everything.

"It would be nice to be done by the end of the year or January. I don't think that's going to happen. There's a little pressure," Engel laughs. "It's really a matter of getting the house to a point where a bank will be comfortable with mortgaging it. They don't want it under construction."

Engel spends all day in "the library," doing online work for a New York-based nonprofit, while Goff toils. But after 5 or 6 p.m. he knocks off and a couple of nights a week puts in another few hours on his home-based construction job.

Of all the frustrating, aggravating and tedious tasks of the restoration — and rewiring 3,500 square feet of house using a manual from Home Depot was right up there — plastering the ceilings was the gnarliest. Once the wet mixture is applied, the clock starts ticking as ominously as Captain Hook's crocodile.

"It's painful. It hurts your back. I do all the mixing, and I'm bent over mixing all the time," Engel lamented. "Once you mix the plaster, you have 30 to 40 minutes to apply it to the wall, and then it gets hard and you can't use it anymore. You've got to work it quickly.

"But it's delicate work. When you first apply it, it's too soft. You have to smooth it as much as you can, but it's so soft it keeps moving. You need to let it set a little bit and then go back over it, and as it starts to firm, you keep smoothing it."

The ceiling in the parlor took nine hours of non-stop labor in 97-degree heat to plaster. And achieving just the right color has been challenging, with mixed results. The light gray they imagined for the dining room is more gun metal. and the light buttercream planned for the library came out, to their horror, Tuscan yellow.

The front fireplace, however, was a triumph.

They acquired the 200-year-old marble frame from a woman who had bought it for her Dry Creek home in the early '70s. She had it shipped from Maine but never installed it. It had remained in a crate for several decades.

"We didn't know what we were doing and we weren't quite sure how to support it, so it took a lot of asking and research," Engel said. "Basically Mark ended up building a metal frame with a cement board on it. So it's all good for heat."

Considering how much time they spend together — both work at home in addition to working on their home in every spare moment — the couple has suffered relatively few domestic tensions.

One of the only flashpoints came over the front staircase. Engel believed they could give it a quick cosmetic go-over, while keeping their energies focused on things he thought were more pressing for refinancing. One day Engel heard some banging, came out to investigate and found that Goff had gone ahead and removed all the stair treads.

He assured Engel it wasn't hard and wouldn't take long. But in the end it took five weeks. Nearly 60 spindles in the bannister had to each be removed, numbered, washed, stripped and scrubbed with steel wool. He had to cut, finish and replace all of the old treads and install walnut trim under each to match the floors. The sides of the risers had to be resurfaced with coats and coats of off-white, high-gloss paint.

In his blog, Goff decried it as "the torture of our lives."

Now that it's done, it does make an impressive statement.

"When one is looking at this home and comes in the front door, you need to have a bang," Goff said. "You need to be hooked in. You don't want to come in and go, Eeww."

At this point, there's no chance of that ever happening again.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg Mcconahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.