Historic Rhinebeck under 400K

512113186(2)THE CHELSEA CLINTON WEDDING EFFECT on real estate prices in Rhinebeck, N.Y., if ever there was to be one, seems like a non-starter. As we head into the best time of year for house-hunting — the dead of winter, when only the most serious shoppers are on the case — the mid-Hudson Valley is still very good value, especially compared to eastern Long Island, where for $400,000 your choices are nil but for the dreaded ranch.
In the Rhinebeck area, venerable architecture is not too much to ask for 400K. Were I in the market for an upstate place at this moment — and gosh, maybe I should be — I’d look at these two, a rare brick Federal-style farmhouse for 379K, above, and an 1830s Carpenter Gothic, offered at 399K, right. The listing agent for both is Paul Hallenbeck.

Brick houses are fairly unusual in this part of New York State (most are frame). To find a stately 1849 farmhouse on River Road, very near the Hudson River and the Bard College campus, is a double-whammy (there are no ‘bad parts’ of River Road). The 1.1 acre lot is high and open; the house has 3BR, 2baths, and original details including woodwork, floors, doors, and built-ins, with updated mechanicals, baths, and windows (pics below). Period barn and wildflower meadow included.



Rhinebeck village has almost exclusively old houses, many with some pedigree. The 3BR, 2-1/2 bath on Montgomery Street (all pics below) is an 1830s Carpenter Gothic reminiscent of Washington Irving’s Sunnyside in Tarrytown. It’s on 1.4 acres, with mature trees and a fenced garden; the house has 9-foot ceilings and a large porch, and there’s a classic red barn. The taxes are high for the area at $8,306/year (twice that of the house above), which is a drag.


For more pics and info on both houses, go here.

Note: I am not a real estate broker, nor do I have any financial interest in the properties mentioned on this blog. I just like spreading the word about old houses on the market and what I feel are viable investment opportunities.

1840s North Fork Farmhouse, 23.6 Acres, $1.2million

LOOK WHAT’S STILL ON THE MARKET: one of my favorite houses from last winter’s house-quest. Only now they’re advertising it for $1.2 million; last winter it was $499,000. How can that be?

Oh, well. The new pricing, less disingenuous than the old pricing, includes 23 acres attached to the house — acres which cannot be unattached, ever, nor sold for profit. That’s because a previous owner cashed in already, by selling the land in perpetuity to the Peconic Land Trust, which insures at least some part of Eastern Long Island will remain forever farmland. The land can be used for agriculture, or rented to farmers, or turned over at break-even. It can’t be subdivided or built on.

It’s a treasure of a house, in Southold on the North Fork, a few miles west of Greenport and a mile from Sound beaches. One of those square Italianate houses you see a lot in upstate New York, with a side porch and a small barn – I’m guessing 1840s – in near-original condition (not to say good). It needs a heap of work, but the architectural character hasn’t been messed with.

More info is here.

Why I Love Philadelphia, Part 3: Trinity Houses

“TRINITIES,” IN PHILADELPHIA PARLANCE, are three-room, three-story houses — one room per floor — built between the 1790s and 1840s.  They’re cozy, charming, evocative, historic, and, some might add, un-livable.


Rear unit of my ‘double trinity’ in South Kensington, above. The property consists of two back-to-back trinities under one roof.

Trinities are not for everyone, especially those with bad knees or king-size beds. The smallest are only 100 square feet per floor. There’s a lot of going up and down stairs — narrow, twisty stairs at that.


They’re cherished archetypes in Philadelphia (I know there are some in Baltimore and probably other cities, but Philly abounds in them). I’ve never seen or heard of such a tiny house in New York — correct me if I’m wrong.


You can see very early trinities lined up on Elfreth’s Alley in Old City, but trinities are not just historic curiosities. They’re all over Craigslist, and real-estate websites, for 249K and up in the very best neighborhoods.


I’ve owned a trinity in South Kensington since 2007 (all pictures in this post). In fact, it’s two trinities, back-to-back under one roof. The rear unit was vacant; I fixed it up nicely, but it still took a while to find a tenant. One woman said the stairs gave her vertigo. Someone else used the word claustrophobic. But when an agile young man bounded up and down those stairs with a big smile on his face, I knew I had the right guy.


Trinities are found throughout the city, in Fishtown, Kensington, Queen Village, Graduate Hospital, Center City and elsewhere, often on narrow, cobbled alleys.



As of this writing, there was a trinity for sale for 299K in Center City, and one for 249K in Queen Village. This greedy old-house fanatic wants another Philadelphia trinity!

Brownstone Mysteries Explained


THE parlor floor of the 1850s Brooklyn row house where I live is pretty intact, with moldings, mantels, an elaborate plaster arch in mint condition, and a 3-foot-wide rosette in the center of the ceiling, from which dangles a gilded chandelier (and some people think I’m a strict modernist!)

Shortly after moving here in November 2006, I noticed that the rosette had dark spaces in the scrolly plasterwork that looked like deep black holes.  Turns out they ARE holes.  According to the handy reference Bricks and Brownstone, the New York Row House 1783-1929, these were vents for the fumes that came out of the gaslight that once hung from this fancy centerpiece. The holes trapped the fumes and carried them into the chimney flue, then outdoors.  It is startling to see something so obsolete and low-tech still in place, and I wonder how many others have them.  Are they rare or a dime a dozen here in Boerum Hill?

The same book revealed why such a classy house has such crummy floors. Instead of the 150_5038patterned oak parquet you get in a lot of later 19th century Park Slope houses, this house has simple 4″ pine strips,  none too fine looking.  Why?  Very simple: the fashion in the 1850s was for wall-to-wall carpets!

Power looms invented (by Erastus Bigelow) in the 1840s enabled cheap production of woven tapestry carpets. “By the 1850s,” writes Charles Lockwood, “nearly every middle-class family proudly put a thick floral-patterned carpet in the parlor.”

The floors were never meant to be seen.  Today, they are, and they look oddly rustic, especially stained yellow-orange, as mine are <ugh>.