3-Acre Mini-Farm with Vintage Outbuildings in Dutchess County 110K

Fired up with enthusiasm after writing my first blog post in ages, I remembered why I started blogging in the first place, more than ten years ago.

My very first post, “In Search of the Perfect Beach House,” in December 2008, was the beginning of a quest to find just that, documented here in words and pictures. But my search only lasted three months. I found, purchased and renovated a 1930s cottage on the South Fork of Long Island, N.Y., and continued blogging as I discovered this new world of country living.

I still enjoyed trawling the real estate listings, even after I’d bought a house, turning up properties I’d theoretically buy if I had unlimited energy and borrowing power.

Turns out the house wasn’t perfect. Five years later, I sold it and bought a different one nearby, whose renovation I also painstakingly recorded. Along the way, there were other renovations, apartment searches and decorating juggernauts, but the original intent of casaCARA was as an inspirational nudge to readers toward the affordable real estate that actually still abounds within two or three hours of NYC.

Last night, for the first time in quite a few years, I went back to my favorite multiple listing site: the Columbia Northern Dutchess Multiple Listing Service, which, despite its name, lists properties in many Upstate New York counties. The site was just as I remembered, with the same Y2K-era user-unfriendly interface.

Nevertheless, it works, and by searching on properties in Dutchess County, older than 1900 and cheaper than $200,000, I came upon a listing worth sharing. (I’ve owned a cottage on 20 acres in the town of Milan since 2002, though I don’t live there.)

I saw its wide open fields and sunny aspect and immediately thought “flower farm.” For two reasons: one, I’ve been following Lisa Ziegler of The Gardener’s Workshop, a professional flower grower in Newport News, Virginia, who teaches seminars and publishes books on her joyful trade. I would gladly pursue flower farming myself, at least as a hobby, if I was at my Long Island property all through the growing season (I’m not; I usually rent it out in summer) and if I had enough sun (I don’t, though I daresay Lisa Z. would find a way to make it work).

The other reason I thought this property would be ideal for flower farming is that it’s located on Battenfeld Road in northern Dutchess, a few miles east of Red Hook and Rhinebeck, near the sole remaining anemone farm in the area. Called Battenfeld’s, they grow anemones in greenhouses and have a Christmas tree business in the off-season.

Did you know….? More than a hundred years ago, anemones, which one rarely sees at all anymore, were a craze among Victorian women who wore them on their clothing and pinned them to their hats. There were numerous anemone farms in the area, and their flowers were shipped daily down the Hudson River by boat to New York City.

Nothing as charming as that happens any more, but I’ll bet the land is still plenty fertile. Grazing sheep is another option, if you have any sheep to graze — there’s a Merino sheep farm nearby called Morehouse Farm.

About the buildings on this lot: there are many and they look dire, possibly unsalvageable. Given untold amounts of work and money, though, wouldn’t it make a great compound, centered on the tree-shaded vintage house, with a separate studio and two barns, one falling down worse than the other, and of course, the flowers and sheep?

The listing agent is Paul Hallenbeck of Rhinebeck and there is more info and photos on his site. Won’t somebody please buy it and fulfill my fantasy?

For Sale in Springs: A Long Island House as Old as They Come


THERE ARE VERY FEW truly old houses on the East End of Long Island, but those that do remain, like Mulford Farm in East Hampton, are among the oldest in the country, dating back to the earliest English settlers in the 17th century.

So it’s possible that this little house I’ve always admired, at a bend in Three Mile Harbor Road in Springs, about 4 miles north of the Village of East Hampton, is as old as the real-estate listing says. Though “1639” strains credulity a bit. As does the whole story that goes with it, per the multiple-listing sites:

This Property Situated On 2.3 Acres Has Amazing History. Built In 1639 Part Of The House Is Made From The Wood Of A Ship And Has The Original Wood Pegs Holding It Together. The Wood Is Numbered In The Event That The Ship Was Wrecked It Could Be Put Back Together. There Is An Operating Farm Stand On The Property. This Historical Home Is Truly One Of A Kind.

Yes, the property (240 Three Mile Harbor Road) was well-known for years as the site of the Pig Pen farmstand, with a battered pink pick-up truck serving as signage. The house’s red shutters and the farmstand’s pink truck have always been a cheering sight for me when, arriving after a long drive from the city, they herald my return to Springs.

The house always reminded me of England, sitting at the bottom of a rise, surrounded by a usually very green lawn.

The farmstand never opened this season, which was a great pity — we need all the farmstands we can get — and then a For Sale sign appeared on the property.

The four-room house on 2+ acres is priced at $1.869 million, with annual taxes of $5,500. What’s odd is that it went on the market in July at $1.2. The ask was raised considerably in September.

It would be nice if whoever buys it reinstates the farmstand, and I certainly hope they don’t tear the house down.


Anyway, thanks to the real estate listings, we finally get to see the interior of the house, below. Now I believe that story about the ship’s planks.


Ongoing Philadelphia Renovation Still Ongoing


HAVE YOU EVER DREAMED of opening a door and finding an extra room you hadn’t known was there? I have (mainly during the years I lived in too-small New York City apartments), but last fall, I had it happen in real life. And it was not just one room, but two.

When I bought an early 19th century Philadelphia row house in 2005, it had undergone a ’70s renovation and been converted to three one-bedroom apartments, one on each of three floors. But I always knew there was an attic at the top of the house that had been sealed off for years, though I’d only glimpsed it once, through a small hatch in the ceiling above the public stairwell. And then only from below, with a flashlight. At that time, I saw baseboard molding and an old panel door, enough to realize it had once been living space.

There was no other access to that level, and so it remained — forgotten, for the most part, while I rented out that third floor 1-bedroom, most recently to a tenant who stayed six or seven years.

When he moved out last November, I decided the time was right to incorporate that attic space into the apartment below it, which would create a pretty special duplex. It would necessitate a new interior stair, of course, and new windows, among other things.

I knew there was originally a dormer window there, which could be seen from outside the rear of the building, as well as a half-round window, its filled-in silhouette still visible on the side of the building, below.


On November 1, the contractors I planned to hire (who had done other work for me in Philadelphia) set up an extension ladder and we entered the attic space through the small hatch.

It was quite the eureka moment. There were two very decent-sized rooms up there, with sloping ceilings — but plenty high enough to stand up in. The plaster walls were actually in semi-decent shape, as were the old cedar floor boards. There had never been any electrical wiring, and there was no heat source. But overall, I was astounded by the condition and possibilities of the space. Below, photos from that first look.


I also made plans to do a basic renovation of the apartment bathroom, cosmetically upgrade the kitchen and lay a new wood floor in what would become the lower level of the duplex (it was wall-to-wall carpet over plywood).

The job got underway around Thanksgiving. Four months later, it’s still underway. Much has been accomplished, including a new stair opening, new windows, a new staircase built by my son Max, electrical wiring upstairs, new electric baseboard heating units, a new tub and tile floor in the bathroom, new wood flooring downstairs, and a great deal of plastering and spackling.

There’s a fairly lengthy punch list still ahead, including a railing for the stair and stair opening, finishing up the bathroom, new kitchen cabinets, sanding the floors upstairs, polyurethaning the new floors downstairs, new trim and molding as needed, and painting the whole place.

Progress photos below.

First we cut a small hole for access in the general area of the stair to come and measured for stair construction. The stair comes up in a room that measures 15’x20′, some of it sacrificed for the opening, which eventually measured about 5’x12′.


The other room is clearly a bedroom, with a dormer window. Below, before and after installation of a new window in the existing opening. 


Below, the view at the top of new stairs, with a new half-round window looking south over rooftops.


Below, a peek into the half-renovated bathroom and the kitchen, awaiting new cabinet fronts.


Stair under construction, below. The stringers are poplar, painted gray, the treads maple.


That’s where things stand. My hope is that it will be finished in April, rented in May, and occupied by June. I’m pleased with the quality of the work, if not the speed.

Vintage Cottage on 2/3 Acre, East Hampton, N.Y. 580K


IF THIS HOUSE HAD COME UP when I was in the market a few years back, I would have seriously considered it, even though Sotheby’s is advertising it as a teardown. (The address is 110 Old Stone Highway, East Hampton, NY. You can Google it.)

The house needs work. So what else is new?

But what an upside this property could have: it’s a 1950s cedar-shingled cottage with great interior spaces (as seen in my through-the-window shots, below), on a flat, sunny .6 acre that would be terrific for gardening.

There are two outbuildings: a freestanding summerhouse (screened porch) that looks to be in good condition, and a guest house that reeks powerfully of mildew and needs to be gutted ASAP. That’s the one potential deal-breaker, as far as I can tell from my trespassing, if the house itself smells the same (only the guest house was unlocked).

It’s located on the historic Springs-Amagansett Turnpike, AKA Old Stone Highway, where a number of avid gardeners and high-profile people make their homes.

See the full listing here, with a photo of the pool in season.

It won’t last long. Don’t say I didn’t tell you!


Philly’s Kensington Yet Again

BEHOLD THE TRANSFORMATION of a neighborhood before your very eyes. That’s what a walk around parts of Philadelphia’s Kensington is like. Whenever I visit, every two months or so, there’s new development, and it’s spreading fast.


In 2008, when I bought a tiny row house (above right) in the area, it was bleak. Neighboring lots were vacant, nearby houses were falling down. Now, on my one-block block, there’s a new condo building on the corner, the weed-choked lot next door has been cleared for 17 new townhouses, and foundations for two more new townhouses have been poured directly across the street. My house has become the most rundown on the block, and I hope to address that come spring.


Fan out to neighboring streets, and there are warehouse conversions everywhere (that’s Oxford Mills, above). In the 19th century, Kensington was a district of textile mills called Little England. Those that have survived are being converted to housing for an influx of mostly young people (some priced out, perhaps, of New York City).


Frankford Avenue, which divides the neighborhood from further-along Fishtown, has been in the throes of commercial development for a few years now (La Colombe, a coffee roaster/cafe, and Fette Sau, a Korean barbecue restaurant, are two of the big-capital investments).

More recently, Front Street, along which runs the El, has become a desirable location for restaurants, too (Good Spoon Soupery, Front Street Cafe, above).


The architecture of the new residential construction is not much to my liking, but for some reason this same look has taken hold all over north Philadelphia. Wherever there’s a vacant lot, Mondrian-esque low-rise buildings comprised of colored boxes seem to fly up.

Kensington is currently in the running for the grand prize in Curbed Philadelphia’s (pretty silly) annual best-neighborhood contest. Here’s how they describe Kensington’s advantages:

Kensington (7)—This North Philly neighborhood—which encompasses a series of sub-neighborhoods, including East, Lower, and West Kensington—is feeling the heat from Fishtown. As housing prices continue to rise in that hipster haven, more first-time home owners have looked to Kensington for more affordable options. And developers have noticed: Postgreen Homes has established plenty of their projects in the mostly industrial area, filling once-vacant lots with modern homes. Other signs of revitalization: The opening of New Liberty Distillery in the Crane Arts complex, the continued growth ofGreensgrow Farms on E. Cumberland St., and the annual Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby & Arts Festival.

The neighborhood still looks pretty bleak, as these photos taken on a gray Sunday after Christmas attest. The main pocket of greenery is Norris Park, a square of majestic trees. The surrounding streets are full of small row houses, used as workers’ housing 150 years ago, bearing ‘For Sale’ signs. Some have been renovated, perhaps well, perhaps in a slapdash way; others are being offered as-is.


The double-wide beaut, above, on East Norris Street, has been converted to condos.

On a single block of Martha Street, I counted at least four houses for sale, at prices Brooklyn hasn’t seen for years, but a lot more than they would have asked a while back.


#2031 Martha St., above, renovated, 229K


#2061 Martha St., left, 159K; #2059, right, 339K

I’m not as confident a real-estate investor as I was a few years back when I started this blog. I’ve over-stretched, had to do more repairs and renovation than anticipated on all my properties, and rents are a bit soft.

But my experience as a landlord in Kensington has been good. It’s been relatively easy to rent my two units, and it’s getting easier. And I love being involved, in a small way, in something that’s so tangibly happening.

Related posts:

Ambling Around Kensington

Investing in Philly? Consider Kensington