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?”

Moving Blues

THIS MOVING BUSINESS is starting to get to me. I’m doing two simultaneous moves from my 2BR Boerum Hill duplex: one to a 1BR garden floor-through a couple of blocks away, and one to a cottage in Springs, a few miles north of East Hampton, Long Island, which I had hoped to close on by the end of this month.

I’m living amidst piles — piles for State Street, piles for Springs, piles for the upstate storage locker, piles for each of my kids. Fortunately, the stoop sale pile is gone after a successful sale (OK, it was more of a giveaway) this past weekend.

The leftovers:


The weekend was sunny and warm and festive and fun and friendly.

The next-door neighbors who jumped on the stoop-sale bandwagon:


Come Monday, it’s raining, my cat has been sick, I’m eating peanut butter and jelly for dinner and living in utter chaos (piles of boxes = lots img_0048of places for a sick cat to hide), and I just found out from my mortgage broker that we’re “shooting for the week of May 10” for the Springs closing, which means I’ll have to get a storage unit on Long Island (where the hell is Centereach?) and a man with van for all the stuff I would have liked to move directly from Brooklyn, upon vacating this apartment April 30, to the cottage in Springs, which I don’t own yet.img_0054


(By the way, I got two quotes for my intra-Brooklyn move: a guaranteed price of $1,463 from Flatrate and a “probable cost” estimate from Big Apple of $922, with a guaranteed cap of $1,100. Guess which one I’m going with?)

The delay in the Springs closing is due to the seller’s having to take care of some ‘open permits’ discovered in the title search. They added a shed and a screened porch in 1965, with proper permits, but they’ve expired. Oh, dear. I have a feeling the offices of the Town of East Hampton are going to become familiar to me. You need permits for everything and you can’t just fly under the radar like you can in New York City.

The illegal porch:


On top of which, I spoke to two very dear friends last night, one an architect in East Hampton and one an antique dealer in Sag Harbor, both single women who own their homes and have lived out there full time for the past few years. Both are struggling financially and BOTH are putting their houses on the market just as I buy one, which is rather disappointing.

Daughter from Hawaii

Daughter from Hawaii

Well, watch me turn negatives into positives: I’ll have ten whole days to settle into my new State Street home without the distraction of a cottage in disrepair. I’ll have my daughter (who’s arriving from Hawaii May 5) to help me:-) The rain is good for the gardens. I took my elderly cat to the vet today and he’s perked up a bit. And maybe my friends will change their minds about selling, though they seem awfully determined. Maybe they won’t be able to sell in this market, and maybe, as one of them warned me, I won’t be able to rent.

Old Leo

Old Leo

But here’s my rationale. While all the ‘luxury’ homes with pools go begging, my cozy, low-key, tastefully decorated, beautifully landscaped, underpriced cottage will be snapped up by someone who never really like that competitive ‘Hamptons  lifestyle’ anyway.

Detaching from Dean Street


AT THE END OF APRIL, I’m downsizing from a grand, 1,800-square-foot garden/parlor duplex to a more sensible garden floor-through a few blocks away.



It’s been 2-1/2 years, which flew, and I’ve loved living here. I’ve realized that my identity is very wrapped up in where I live — and this place has been good for my self-esteem.

Where I’m going will be appropriate and cozy, if not as splendiferous.

Having signed a lease last night, I’m starting the process of detaching emotionally from this house where I’ve been so happy.

It helps to know I’ll always have my photos.