Crazy Hamptons Prices and a Few Bargains

SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO LAUGH. Like the time my sister and I were having lunch at Babette’s in East Hampton, home of the unremarkable $18 omelette, where the menu of ‘extras’ includes a side of raw organic phytoplankton for $60. You can also choose any fresh herb you want to jazz up your bland food, at $4 per sprinkling.

Or the time I went into General Home Store, a housewares shop that bills itself as “style merchants,” looking for a cheese grater. They had three, including a work of art in teak wood, for $110. The least expensive was $20. Thank god for Target.

I’ve had $19 hamburgers at East Hampton Point and 1770 House. The going rate for blueberries is $7.99. And just try to find a pair of rubber flip-flops under $20.

That makes bargain-hunting, one of my favorite sports, all the more fun here. This is end-of-summer sale time. Last week, my friend Mary-Liz and I hit Roberta Freymann in Southampton, a store selling lovely Indian-made clothes in exuberant prints that I love to look at but find hard to wear outside the house. (We bought gorgeous cotton kimonos for $25 apiece.) The next day we checked out the legendary annual Shoe-Inn sale, held in a vast American Legion Hall in Amagansett. From tables lined with shoe boxes three deep, and more on the floor, I chose a pair of open-toe suede flats by Francesco Morichetti. Even on sale, they were $70, but I love them.

Yesterday, because of the rain, there were fewer yard sales than usual, but I made it to a couple. When you’re at a yard sale, you generally assume things like the laundry detergent atop the washer/dryer and opened bottles of booze are not included. That was not the case here. Someone picked up a bottle of Bombay gin and was told “Five dollars.” At that point, a half-dozen other people, including myself, made a beeline for the liquor cabinet. I got a half-full bottle of Grey Goose vodka for $2 and a brand new pad of Rhodia graph paper for a buck.

Here in the Hamptons, you take your bargains where you can find them.

You might also like this post, “The 99 Cent Banana.”

1880s Farmhouse in Springs 750K

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IF I COULD FLIP the postwar cottage I’ve owned for three whole months now, and buy something like this cedar-shingled 1884 farmhouse , I would. That would be premature, but it’s much closer to what I originally set out to find.

The house is on 3/4 acre on Old Stone Highway, which has been the winding backroads artery between Springs and Amagansett for three centuries, and still has a few 18th century houses on it. It’s a short stroll to the best kayak launch site on Accabonac Harbor.

Cedar-shingled, turn-of-the-20th-century houses like this one were going for around 950K a few years back, a local broker told me (that’s corroborated by a Zillow graph at the link below). It’s all in how you look at it, right? This could be a great recession bargain, or else it’s triple what it would have cost if I, we, you had had more foresight ten or fifteen ears ago.

UPDATE 12/27/10: The house has been sold, but you can see more pics here.


Southampton Sojourn

I LIKE SOUTHAMPTON. I hadn’t been there in 25 years till the other day, but now that I have, I’ve been back twice. Retail-wise, it’s pretty much a replica of East Hampton. Jobs Lane (now home of Diane von Furstenberg, Ralph Lauren, et al) goes back to 1640, when Southampton was first settled, which is pretty impressive.

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It also has the Parrish Art Museum, above, which I’m saving for winter. And an old-fashioned department store called Hildreth’s, still in its 1842 location with interior cast iron columns, full of useful, tasteful, sweet-smelling things. Haven’t seen anything like it outside of London.

There’s a major building restoration going on next to the First Presbyterian Church at South Main Street and Meeting House Lane. Last year, the 1843 church and its clock tower were stripped of paint for the first time in a century and repainted.

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Now it’s the turn of the building next door, above, a c.1825 bay-windowed mansion once the minister’s home, but since the early 1980s, split into rental apartments.

So far, they’ve stripped off the vinyl siding (horrors!) to reveal the original pine planks underneath, which were set at an angle to overlap each other and nailed to studs with no sheathing. The pine will be covered with a penetrating white stain and the house insulated.

It’s also getting a new foundation; the back half of the house never had a foundation at all. Right now, the house is raised several feet above the ground and those who are interested can peek underneath, with no fence or security to stop them.

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Above, the former Rogers Memorial Library, now an annex to the Parrish Art Museum — an outstanding Arts and Crafts building. Love the cloud-pruned yews and junipers.

If it’s Friday, it must be time for the Hooked on Houses blog party!

To Roundup or Not to Roundup?

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OVERWHELMED AGAIN as I contemplate all that needs doing, landscape-wise, here at Green Half-Acre. In rough order of priority, this is what I hope to accomplish this fall/winter:

  • Board fence and gate across the front of property (80 feet) to create a feeling of seclusion and perhaps block traffic noise┬á — which no longer bothers me a fraction as much as it did when I first moved here in May. (It’s true what my neighbors said: “You’ll get used to it.”) I’m allowed a fence 4 feet tall without a Town of East Hampton permit.
  • Eight-foot-tall deer fencing around the other three sides of the property.
  • Gravel parking court in front, outside the fence/gate, big enough for 2-3 cars.
  • Removal of 4-5 large trees to allow for more sunlight and expanded gardening opportunities in backyard.

Last, possibly not until late winter/spring:

  • Construction of a patio. I haven’t decided on size, shape, or material yet.

Then and only then will I begin planting. I’m inspired by an article in a recent special issue of Fine Gardening magazine, called Green Gardens, about preparing garden beds without tilling. You just (“just”) outline their proposed shapes and start heaping fallen leaves, manure, etc. Composting on the spot, as it were. It takes time but saves digging. I hope to outline and prepare some of these beds in late fall and start planting next spring.

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When I feel overwhelmed, it helps to remember all I’ve done so far. Above, my overgrown backyard in May ’09, before a major clearing of the property. The more I remove, the better I like it.

Meanwhile, I’ve created a monster in my attempts to do away with the rampant wisteria that invades the entire property. It’s bad throughout, but I’m particularly bothered by one area near the driveway, below, that measures roughly 10’x40′. I spent several hours in June digging and pulling and cutting the roots of wisteria (intertwined with lily-of-the-valley, which made a lovely fragrant bed in May).

Wherever I cut, apparently, fresh new sprigs of wisteria have sprouted up. For every one, there are now ten. I’m at a complete loss what to do. This particular area will be part of my new gravel parking court, so a backhoe will be coming in to excavate and break up existing asphalt. That ought to go a long way toward eliminating the pesky wisteria.

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But the situation is almost equally dire elsewhere on the property. Digging and pulling wisteria is a losing game, like trying to stop the ocean from making waves. To Roundup or not to Roundup? That is the question. Besides disliking the very idea, would it even work?

A Landlady’s Woes

LEST YOU THINK it’s all done with smoke and mirrors, let me re-cap some of the things I’ve had to deal with in the past two months as the owner of four very old houses (two in Brooklyn, two in Philly) and a landlady with 10 rental units:

  • Finding tenants for a very special four-story, 6-bedroom townhouse in Cobble Hill. (Actually, they found me, via this blog.)
  • Painting the interior of that house ($6,000), removing several years’ growth of ivy from the back wall ($1,400), and otherwise getting the place spiffed up and ready for the incoming family.
  • A punch list of additional repairs with which my new tenants very politely presented me, requiring the services of plumbers, appliance guys, and a handyman.
  • A late-night call from tenants in Boerum Hill who’d blown a fuse while trying to air-condition and microwave at the same time. (Yes, a fuse — the only apartment in the building that doesn’t have circuit breakers.)
  • Next door neighbors in Boerum Hill who are convinced their basement floods in heavy rain because of the placement of my drain pipe. (Unresolved.)
  • A notice from the City of Philadelphia telling me of a leak in the water main from the street in front of my South Kensington house to the building’s water meters. Cost of repair, which is my responsibility (as it would be in New York): $2,800.
  • Vacancy in rear unit of the Philadelphia double-trinity house, but not for long: it’s on the verge of being rented to someone who lived in that very unit years ago, when the building was owned by the woman who sold it to me. He saw my listing on Craigslist, recognized it immediately, and is excited about moving back to the same space, renovated and under more responsive management.
  • Persistent roof leak at my 1810 Queen Village building, now reaching down past the top floor apartment to the apartment on the floor below. Tenants tired of catching rainwater in pots. $4,000 estimate from the roofer.

It seems that a lot of old-house maintenance issues occur in high summer and the dead of winter, when extreme weather causes flooding, freezing, and so on.

Then there are the problems brought about by extreme economic conditions, or perceived such conditions. The latest doozy is tenants in Brooklyn asking for a 20% rent reduction in mid-lease because they’ve heard there’s been a softening of the rental market. (Would a landlord ask a tenant for a rent hike in mid-lease because of a bullish rental market?) No doubt there’s a glut of product in some parts of town: mostly unsold, newly built condos now being marketed as rentals. There’s no glut of unique 4 BR brownstone duplexes.

I said an unequivocal ‘No.’