THE HAMLET OF BARRYTOWN, N.Y., on the Hudson River in northern Dutchess County, is kind of a cabinet of architectural curiosities (which makes Frank Gehry’s titanium-roofed concert hall on the nearby Bard College campus — one of the few recently built structures in the area — almost fit in).

There are a number of churches and houses, some of them octagonal, in Carpenter Gothic style, with carved wood trim that is an earlier and simpler version of Victorian gingerbread.

It’s worth a drive around. There’s lots more where these came from, and not a ranch or split-level among them.

Here’s a link to an 1880 Barrytown house on the market now, with an old-fashioned second-story balcony.

ONE YEAR AGO TODAY: Brownstone Myths & Mysteries

Undiscovered Milan: Oldies, Acreage from 519K

COMING TO YOU TONIGHT FROM MILAN, not to be confused with the Italian fashion capital. This Milan is pronounced MY-lan, and it’s in northern Dutchess County, N.Y. In the 19th century, there was a crossroads around here called Milanville, with a post office. Now Milan doesn’t have even that. A few miles northeast of Rhinebeck, completely lacking in useful amenities of its own like stores and gas stations, Milan shares a ZIP code and a school district with Red Hook.

What Milan does have are old farmhouses, Catskill views from many spots, long country roads, a few remaining sheep farms and apple orchards, and unspoiled rural character, which is good enough for me.

Today I checked out a few recent for-sale listings here in Milan. Instead of capping my search at 500K or 600K, as I normally do for blogging purposes (doesn’t it say ‘Affordable Real Estate’ in the header?), I threw caution to the winds and didn’t set an upper limit. As a result, I saw three very appealing historic houses with lots of acreage, all on secluded sites off Academy Hill Road (exit at Rt. 199 off the Taconic State Parkway, just under 2 hours from NYC). Click the links on the descriptions below for the realtors’ listings, with full details.

  • A vintage farmhouse on a huge pond, top, on 53 acres for $1.25million

I Wish I Had a Lot of Money

MY TO-DO LIST for 2010 is daunting.

In the past couple of months, I’ve come to a bit of a standstill on home improvements. Most of my list still lies before me. I wanted to do things fast when I first moved into this East Hampton cottage last May. On the other hand, it’s a good thing I waited on some of the projects, because I’ve changed my mind a lot.

Several months ago, I was thinking ‘stone patio.’ Now I’m thinking ‘wood deck.’

I was thinking ‘flagstone walk.’ Now I’m thinking….well, something else. I bought three 2’x3′ pieces of Pennsylvania bluestone and set them down to get an idea of how they’d look as a walk from the future parking court (still a priority) to the front door. Didn’t seem to work. Stone doesn’t have much place in this environment. There’s nary a piece of rock on the property, unlike upstate, where you’ve got massive granite outcroppings everywhere. This is sandy territory (well-drained, yeah!) Two feet of snow pelted by steady rain this past weekend got sucked right up into the ground, with very little puddling.

The wood fence for screening that seemed a must-do in high season, when there was a fair amount of road traffic, has faded in urgency (probably to return in May). I’d still like more enclosure, but I’ll try doing that with shrubs.

I’m glad I didn’t spend $4,000 on a deer fence, which seemed top priority a few months back. I haven’t seen any deer lately

Moments after I wrote the above words, I looked out the living room window and saw three large animals in the front yard. They were casing, if not yet munching, my newly planted arborvitae and holly. I rapped on the window. The rattling of the screens startled them for a nanosecond. I shrieked “Go! Go! Go!” One of them, a still-fuzzy adolescent, made eye contact with me. “Ohhhh, you’re beautiful,” I said.

Then I went and mixed up a couple of gallons of homemade deer repellent (cooking oil, dish detergent, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder) and went out and splashed the vulnerable specimens.

Instead of a deer fence, I’m embracing the challenge of deer-resistant gardening. So I won’t have roses. Or hostas. Or many other things.

Other items I thought were absolute musts turn out to be not so. Like the Malm fireplace I bought months ago that’s sitting uninstalled in my living room, through no fault of my own. First the roofer was going to do it; then he realized it was outside his “area of expertise.” Sag Harbor Fireplace came to do an estimate. I’m still waiting for the estimate. It’s their busy season.

Anyway, my little cottage is toasty. I know from experience that when you have a well-heated house, you don’t use the fireplace much. There’s one in the bedroom of the duplex in Boerum Hill. In the years we lived there, after spending thousands to line the chimney properly, we used it about twice.

Ultimately, it boils down to evil money, or lack thereof. My preference would still be to barrel through everything as quickly as possible. Of necessity, I have to do things in dribs and drabs. Which may not be so bad, if I’m going to keep changing my mind about them.

The Importance of Being Painted


THE OTHER NIGHT, a friend and I got to talking about how to stage a house for sale. Trying to sell a house while you’re living in it, as she is doing — the necessity to keep everything in tip-top shape at all times — gets wearing. She’s on a constant de-cluttering rampage, afraid to leave home without making the bed. And after months of prospective buyers parading through, she’s learned not to get caught up in discussions of her avant garde art collection.

At that point, it struck us why professional real estate stagers advise in favor of unchallenging, middle-of-the-road furnishings. My friend’s wild, abstract art is a distraction from the main point: the architecture and construction of the house.

For me, personally, whether looking to buy or rent, staging would make no difference. I pride myself on seeing right through filth, clutter, and ugly furniture all the way to potential. I even once bought a building that smelled really bad (turned out there was a dead bird above a dropped ceiling). Hell, having a strong stomach is a great way to get a deal in real estate, when those with more delicate sensibilities run the other way.

Many prospective buyers and renters can’t even deal with dingy walls, let alone decaying wildlife. I had this confirmed last spring, when tenants left my 1850s townhouse in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn . I showed it for 3 or 4 weeks, empty but without a new paint job, though it needed one. I was hoping (ha!) that people would see beyond the need for paint to what it could be, and then we would negotiate a paint allowance, or a touch-up job, or maybe even a full paint job. I just didn’t feel like painting a four-story house if it wasn’t going to be absolutely necessary.

I got no serious offers. So I caved, and had the whole house painted top to bottom, including the stair railings, window moldings, insides of closets, etc. Not a square inch remained unpainted. Boom. Next person to look at the place took it.


Coincidence? I think not. Just days later, my Cobble Hill neighbor two doors down called me for advice. She was trying to rent the lower duplex of her identical 4-story townhouse (with a garden, on a coveted park block, fairly priced) and having trouble. Again, it needed a paint job and had been on the rental market a few weeks. My neighbor had powerful resistance to the idea of painting. Like me, she didn’t want to spend the money and didn’t want to be bothered. She thought she’d make a deal, and the incoming tenants would arrange to paint or not, as they saw fit. Again, prospective tenants streamed through and no one bit. I said, you’ve gotta paint. She moaned, I don’t wanna paint. I said, I know, but you must paint. She did. Guess what? First person to look at the freshly painted place took it.

Paint. Paint. Paint. It’s not about the space, my friend and I decided, so much as the perception of the space.

Oh, and paint it white.


Want more insight into what it’s like to own and manage rental property? Take a look at one of my most popular posts, “So Ya Wanna Be a Landlady?”

A Jew’s Christmas


I love the lights and the wreaths and the smug sense that I don’t have to exert any effort.

Growing up, I once asked my father if we could have a tree. I didn’t really want one, I just wanted to see what he would say. He was one of the least religious people ever, but his answer was unequivocal. I never asked again. It was fine.

One year, wanting to be among Jews, I went to see Schindler’s List on Christmas Day. Another year, Dream Girls at BAM, with my kids. It was packed, and I got an insight into how Christians spend Christmas.

This year, I celebrated by having brunch with an old friend and a new friend at my favorite all-purpose drinking and dining spot, The Living Room, inside the always-festive Maidstone. At the next table, Kim Cattrall [I wasn’t going to bold anything in this post, but that is a boldface name if ever there was one] was having Xmas Day brunch with her father. She looked not a day over 35, in black pants and a black lace top, and spent a lot of time on her Blackberry.

My own efforts at holiday sentiments usually come out cheesy, but I like what my friend Jim L├╝ning said in his holiday e-mail: “Cheers to making new mistakes in 2010, and never repeating the old ones.” Thanks, Jim. I love going into the new year with permission to make mistakes, as long as they’re fresh and not recycled.