Saturday, November 28, 2009


Chapter Five

Buying the Bar


Five years had passed since we bought our house. Including sweat equity, we've easily spent over a hundred thousand dollars in improvements and renovations. Alas, the neighborhood has not been improving at the same rate as our house. We kept hearing that a bike path would be built—the third leg of it, actually—across the road, following the path of the old Putnam railroad line. The first two legs have been finished for a while and this third part would really make life much more bearable for us. Walking anywhere in this town means you must have your insurance paid up for there is an excellent chance that you will be mowed down.

The residents of the rehab center, though their behavior improved after our efforts, continued to have a penchant for obscene language and decibel-splitting music. It was much quieter in Manhattan, actually.

More salt in the wound: three years ago, in 2000, I was surfing on a real estate Web site (the same one that handled the Garrison house) when what should I see but “the Garrison house.” Stunned, I note the asking price is almost double what it had sold for two years prior. Something, however, is not right. It lists only 1.8 acres instead of 2.8. I call the broker. The house has already been resold, I’m told, at nearly the asking price. The buyers (who had prevailed over us) had sold off an acre of property and apparently used the proceeds to make a few cosmetic renovations, subsequently selling the house at twice the price. I felt so badly for the original elderly owners who rightfully should have realized the enormous profit from the stratospheric rise in property values. And I was heartsick that the scenic property had been fragmented and reduced.

I told Dean about it. His philosophy, skewed though it may be, is that even though the house would be worth over half a million (land intact), he would never have sold it had we acquired it. He would have lived there forever. So . . . it wouldn’t matter how much it was worth on the open market. See?

No, I really do not since I am a clear-eyed realist. His sweet sentiment did not make me feel a whit better. That $31,500 price difference that once had me beaming had ballooned into a whopping $300,000 difference in market value in a mere few years. Ten times the original disparity. I kicked myself for the gazillionth time—the black and blues were piling up— and vowed never to let my husband forget our collective stupidity, for which he is somehow more responsible than I was. I’m happy to report that I’ve been fulfilling that promise over the ensuing years.

So now everyone is asking, why is she agonizing over a measly six or seven hundred thou when she could have made millions if she bought in Tribeca in the late 70s/early 80s and sold when the world went mad? Well, yes, that’s true but in the late 70s when I moved to Tribeca I was earning somewhere around $11,000, if that. Annually. So buying was not always an option for me. As time went by, it just seemed easier to rent. I had heard horror stories about co-op boards and the draconian personalities that get elected to those boards and I wanted no part of them. I had a friend who lived in a Soho building that had a monstrous shareholder. This person is a partner in a famed New York gourmet food store but he is such an ugly little person that when my friend or I would leave food for the stray cats in the neighborhood, he’d wait at his window and, as soon as we left, scurry down and throw away the food. I wished the building's rats well. Since he tried to eradicate the cats, I felt it fitting for him to have rats instead.

Anyway, Dean and I had seen the real estate prices rocket up in every neighborhood we ever lived in . . . almost as soon as we left. By no means are we trendsetters, though. We’re just poor and cheap and the areas we picked were always the most affordable ones available. At this point our New York City neighborhood, our Chicago neighborhood, and our L.A. neighborhood have all fallen prey to the tragically hip and affluent. I’m not sure about our Santa Fe neighborhood. Anyway, I picked the Garrison house that got away to suffer over.

This story is a cautionary tale for naive, fallible first-time home buyers. I figured, why not help others avoid our insane mistakes? What I wasn’t willing to admit, even to myself, was that other home buyers probably have much more sense than we had. How could two educated, experienced, older people—and by older I of course mean over 25—commit such careless, unthinking mistakes when making one of the most, if not the most, important purchases of their lives?

Well, we did. The adage about location, location, location holds a lot of weight here. Tis far better to buy the worst house in the best neighborhood than to buy the best in the worst. While most people do the former and set about making their abode a better place, we decided to buy a nice house and then change the neighborhood. A few points to clarify here: one, we did not buy the best house in a lousy neighborhood, simply a house, one that had potential but was still what is quaintly referred to in the real estate world as a fixer; second, the neighborhood wasn’t bad, per se, just not really our cup of tea, um, ideologically, let's say. And our house sat on a busy, ever growing busier, road. Very bad, unless you plan to sell coffee out of your living room (which we plan to practically do but I get ahead of my story).

So after having lived in some really rough areas—Dean in parts of Brooklyn and L.A., me in Hell’s Kitchen in the 70s—we have to move to Brewster, "the place where the country begins," to get up close and personal with a drive-by shooting. Yes, there was nary a freeway drive-by in L.A (where they were invented) when we lived there but in Brewster—well, we found one right next door.

The Shootout (2002)

Sitting on the living room couch one night, around eleven-ish when all of a sudden, boom boom boom. The loud sounds seem to come from right behind our heads somewhere. And they did since right behind our heads were our windows and out those windows was the bar. Dean immediately recognized the sounds as gunshots—I don't know why, now that I think about it. A few minutes later we saw the red and blue lights on the police cruisers outside and Dean went to speak to them.

Basically, the police gave him no information other than that there was a drive-by shooting at the bar, which we already knew. He told him to go back inside.

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