Chip Off the Old Block


WELL, I HOPE I’M SLIGHTLY MORE DELICATE THAN THE PHRASE ‘old block’ implies. But I use the expression because my 25-year-old son and his girlfriend just closed on an old house in Philadelphia, following my lead in acquiring vintage real estate. It’s in Fishtown, an old working-class community just north of Center City — a wonderful corner building that once housed a shop selling newspapers and cigars, according to an elderly neighbor. I’m guessing from the decorative brickwork around the cornice and the Eastlake-style fireplace that the house is from the 1880s.


I encouraged this purchase all the way. In fact, I looked at the place myself back in ’06 when I was shopping around for an investment in the area, but it was too expensive for me. The owner was asking 360K at the time, with one rental unit. I ended up buying a smaller, much cheaper place in nearby Old Kensington.


Then, when my son and his girlfriend were house-hunting this past winter, hoping to take advantage of the Federal first-time home buyers $8,000 tax credit, the Fishtown house was on the market again (same seller). They got it for nearly 100K less, with a 3% down payment and an interest rate under 5%. Extraordinary opportunity, and one that some of their friends in Philly also took advantage of.


The house is in very decent condition, with a new heating system, though they’ll need to totally renovate the kitchen and bathroom.


They’re moving tomorrow. Very exciting for them and for me.

A Done Deal

I SEEM TO HAVE BOUGHT A HOUSE today. It was very unceremonious. No fanfare. No champagne. Just signing papers. At one point, I said to my lawyer, ‘Did I buy the house yet?’ She said, ‘You signed the deed, so, yes.’ That was it.

Things have leafed out since last month, when this picture was taken

Things have leafed out since this picture was taken

The seller wasn’t present at the closing. Neither was her attorney; he sent someone. Someone else represented the bank. The title closer was there; not even a hello.

I had hoped to meet my mortgage broker. She wasn’t there either. I did get to meet my lawyer. These were both women I’d been talking to and emailing for months and was looking forward to meeting. I like my lawyer a lot. She’s my neighbor in Springs and invited me to dinner Sunday night. How d’ya like that? A dinner invitation my first night.

I like my interest rate a lot, too: 4.875%. Makes me want to re-finance everything. With taxes ($1,500/yr) and insurance ($717/yr), my monthly nut comes to $1,508. Not bad for the Hamptons.

Below: Jackson Pollock, Springs’ most famous resident

Jackson Pollock's home and studio are down the road

Pollock's home and studio are just down the road

Approved! The Latest on Springs

BACK IN DECEMBER, I started this blog with a post about my search for the ‘perfect’ beach (or country) cottage, and took you along on some of my house-hunting forays to the North Fork and Hudson Valley.

In January, I saw a 1950s cedar-shingled cottage on half an acre in Springs, a hamlet a few miles north of East Hampton on Long Island’s South Fork. I went to contract on it in early March, applied for a mortgage, and while I was waiting, shared my doubts and what-ifs in another blog post.  (There are a few pics of the interior on that one, and also a couple here.) I finally got mortgage approval Friday  — it took more than a month — and I expect to close soon, perhaps within the week.


Now I’m told that someone is waiting in the wings to pay more if I back out for any reason, and it’s been implied (by my lawyer, no less) that the seller would like me to.


Over the winter, while the house was unoccupied, the plumbing pipes, which had not been properly drained by the owner (who is elderly and lives upstate), froze and burst. The plumber, whom the seller’s broker hired to repair them, stole the only furnishings of value from the house — an antique gate-leg table, a filigreed metal mirror, and a Victorian etched glass lighting fixture. The contract of sale stipulated that all furnishings be left in the house.

The broker called the police. The plumber confessed to having taken the items; he said he thought “everything was going in a dumpster.” The items have been returned, but the antique table is now broken.

Below: My new garage, oy


Anyway, I’m going through with it. I still love the place. When I was there on Friday with the boiler inspector and then an arborist (there are several huge dead trees that need to come down), it felt good to be there. It felt right. It felt me.


I can see myself painting there (walls, not art), decorating, gardening, listening to music. I met my next door neighbor, and he’s nice. I seem to be surrounded by middle-aged couples from Manhattan, weekenders, who bought their places 30 years ago (and are still there, a good sign). I’ll feel safe.

It was quiet. Quieter than it has been on my previous visits, maybe because it was Good Friday. Very little traffic on the road.

Best of all, the arborist pointed out all the trees and flowering shrubs on the property. It’s very early spring there; the forsythia are not even blooming, and it’s hard to tell what’s what. I have five enormous rhododendrons that my neighbor says bloom magnificently; a rose of sharon hedge; a ginormous burning bush (I always wanted a burning bush!), stands of ferns and juniper; several specimen conifers with twisty trunks and droopy needles.

Everything is heavily browsed by deer, so many trees and shrubs are bare below the four-foot mark. On the plus side, that’s because the property backs up to town land; it’s very woodsy.

I wanted a project, and now I have one.