To have and to hold

In a co-op, you don’t own land, you own shares in a corporation that owns the land under a big building. So even though you “own” an apartment, you really own a piece of paper with a number of shares printed on it.

So this, which arrived last week, of course choked me up.


Now I just need to mow my land.

The sound of rain on the roof

Above my head is something I have not heard in many years. It’s amazing.

Another Friday evening, another Friday evening rainstorm. It seems to start at the very moment the BoltBus pulls up to the station, which is invariably an hour after it is supposed to. But you can’t beat the price, or at least the train can’t.

On the agenda this weekend: finishing the alarm system, the Ikea kitchen sale, more paint colors, and maybe a car test drive. Also, an Orioles game. I pulled out my O’s hat from when Camden Yards opened and they gave them to Harbor retail workers for free. But you know, cap styles have changed a bit in twenty years. It looks a little comical. Add to the agenda: new O’s hat.

Spring has sprung, the beds have riz

Sorry for the delayed update on the weekend’s efforts but I was utterly exhausted, plus, you know, life. But Mo and I got tons done, including putting together two beds (woot, no more “floor back” pain), setting up the alarm system (don’t rob my house, please), and painting several squares of paint on walls (I do not think any are going to work out, alas).

I had lots I wanted to write, but it mostly escapes me now. I did want to show you this:

Hey look, it’s spring! And this is my tree!

Apropos of that, my lawn is becoming a jungle. A truck drove around and a nice man handed me a card that said he did landscaping, but I am not sure this is the way to go. I need help. Botanical help. I have decided to think about this later.

Also, my mail carrier’s name is Oprah. Everybody wins some mail! Actually, she told me cheerfully that the neighborhood was great! Except for all those robberies. But she thinks they’re over because she hasn’t seen the guy who did them around lately. So… yeah.

But anyway, I believe the entire bed-building process can be well summed up with this:

Which I interpret to mean, “One person looking at a pile of crap alone is confused. Two people looking at a pile of crap are happy. Especially the guy with the pencil.” SO wise, Ikea.

Furniture arriving this weekend!

Some of it, anyway. All the beds and then some other master bedroom furniture. There will be no pictures, unless you like those flat-packed cardboard boxes from Ikea. I don’t know how much time I’ll have to put things together because Mo and I are looking for paint colors, too. Mo is my friend/decorator/person who knows how to light the hot water heater. She has very different taste than I do but listens to what I want and sometimes does it. No, I kid, it’s all stuff I like and want.

Two weeks ago when I was down there I maneuvered twelve large Ikea boxes onto two carts and actually got them to the checkout and subsequently the delivery counter. Soon they’ll actually be in the house.

I’ll be heading down right after work tomorrow. No car rental this time, so, people of Baltimore, it’s safe to get back on the roads.

Beige is the color of my true love house

As promised, here are some interior shots of the house. All my exterior ones have the house number. Oops. You’ll just have to envision that part for now.

These are mostly from the first time ever I saw this house. Here’s how it would go: I’d walk around a house and either

a. know right away that I hated it.
b. think it was decent and write something in my notes like “good kitchen!” or “great block!”
c. slowly begin to get excited and once upstairs, having seen the whole thing, start running around taking pictures.

That last one only happened three times and, clearly, this was one of those times.

How could you not buy this house?

The floors look nicer now, because I had them refinished, but otherwise, it looks much the same now, except with some stuff in it. This was in the middle of January, maybe the darkest month of the year. And you get a slight glimpse of the forest beyond.

Stairs. Glad I could help with that.

I am a sucker for stairs like these. When I was looking and I saw carpeted stairs in a house, I’d think, “Ugh, I’ll have to de-carpet the stairs and who knows what they look like underneath?”

Two thirds of the kitchen. There’s a pantry to the left.

This is the kitchen. One day, I’ll replace it. For now, there are some vague plans. Did I mention beige? Also, why is there that space between the upper cabinet and the microwave? Why is the microwave outlet so in your face? And that’s the only outlet on that side of the kitchen. Someone was in a rush and/or didn’t care too much. But I care, little kitchen, I care.

When I was looking, a galley kitchen was often a deal-breaker. I have one in NY and wanted a real one. But this house had everything else so I gave in.

That’s all she wrote about the Dining Room.

I don’t know why I didn’t take a better picture of the dining room. Maybe later. You can see the French doors to the backyard, though, which are awesome, and the door to the basement which constantly swings open, probably because there is no knob.

That’s my bag in the shot, with my Giant Sheaf of House Notes.

Better view of entry to Dining Room. I like to capitalize Dining Room.

And more French doors.

Upstairs landing and hallway.

I love that there’s a window there. There are windows everywhere.

Master bedroom

Second bedroom

Third bedroom, where the child you don’t like as much goes.

View to Master and Bath

Bathroom, wooden toilet seat cover already changed.

And there you are! I think it was renovated six or so years ago. You know how I figure that out? I look inside the microwave to see when it was made. Usually, it ships and is installed that year. I can’t remember the exact date but it was something like that. And also the online listings for the house. There are two still online and they both look mostly like this. The bathroom was redone more recently and not all that well. But it’s pretty and can be fixed.

There is a cute backyard with a deck and a shed but there are no good pictures of that, either. As a kid, I did not spend a lot of time in the backyard as ours was small and I, well, liked to watch TV. So I wasn’t all that interested in this one and did not take pics. But I will, eventually.

As an aside, I am so happy to have this nice flexible theme which can accomodate all the pictures I could want. The theme on my old blog wasn’t made for that. It’s the little things.

More on decoration plans to come. Did I mention I do not like beige?

The Search

Baltimore_neighborhoods_mapI had this map up as a tab in my browser for ten months. Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods and even within them, a good block and a bad block can be separated by one street. But you begin with the neighborhood. I started with Charles Village, where I lived in college. I have such fond memories of the beautiful rowhouse we lived in then. That’s what I hoped for: something quiet and pretty in a charming neighborhood with good access to public transportation. And, of course, a rowhouse. The first time I took the train to Baltimore, I remember almost gasping at the view of all the houses attached to each other, wave after wave. That’s what Baltimore meant to me.

Well, that’s how I started. But houses in Charles Village were way, way too expensive for me. I moved outwards from there to houses in Harwood, Abell, and Remington. In my day, Hampden was a hillbilly neighborhood with cheap houses. Now it’s a hipster neighborhood with cheap houses at expensive prices. I did not really look there. Later, I looked at “The Waverlies” and Ednor Gardens. I did not find anything that worked at a price I could pay. Either it was beautiful and located on a terrible block or it was in terrible shape on a great block. And it was hard to do from afar because everything would look great and then you’d go and realize that it was utterly dead except for young men hanging around at two in the afternoon.

Of course I had a real estate agent, but he was less than helpful. He never once called me with any kind of lead. I would email him with a list of places I wanted to see and a date I wanted to see them. He’d add a few and we’d go off. He was faultlessly polite and would spend full days with me taking me from one place to another. At each house he’d stand back as I walked around and maybe make a comment or two. If I said, “I don’t think that’s the neighborhood for me,” he’d nod and we’d move on. For some people, this would probably be ideal. Not so much for me. He also didn’t seem to really know any of the neighborhoods we were looking at. Once, he suggested a house on probably the most dangerous corner in the area. I had to let him know that he probably shouldn’t suggest that house to anyone.

I did finally find a house I liked. With little guidance, I made a lowball offer and it was accepted. It was in Better Waverly, which is also called “Worse Waverly,” but it was a good street and a perfect location. It had a spacious kitchen and lovely sunroom. The inspection took over four hours and he wasn’t even done when I was forced to tell him to just stop. He found so many things wrong with it that it would have taken $25-$30k just to bring it up to a standard I could live in. Yikes.

My real estate agent had a family event and couldn’t come.

After that, I decided to get a new agent and wow, was mine amazing (as I said yesterday about my NY agent, if you need an agent in Baltimore, please contact me!). He sent me new listings pretty much every day. If I suggested something, he would say, “oh, I am not putting you there” or “we don’t live across from apartment buildings.” He also suggested neighborhoods I had never thought of, especially in Northeast Baltimore. There were houses he found that I really liked in Original Northwood, Lauraville, Hamilton, Beverly Hills, and Arcadia. One of the houses in Beverly Hills was literally in the parking lot of the Safeway. But that was because I had asked to be in walking distance of a supermarket. So there we were. But he taught me tons about the features of Baltimore houses, about the toilets in the basement and the Formstone and the history of the neighborhoods.

And we started to look at freestanding houses. In the beginning, as I said, I only looked at rowhouses. For one thing, they represented what I liked about Baltimore and the house I had loved so much in my college years. But I think as we looked, I started to remember what I had liked about houses growing up, and I dreamt bigger. I knew it would be harder to maintain from afar and probably more expensive. But if you are trying that hard to get away from an apartment, why stay attached to your neighbors?

As we looked, he got to understand me more and more, which my first agent really hadn’t. In fact, the first guy never emailed or called to find out why I had stopped contacting him, so I think he probably wasn’t all that interested in my business. But my new guy totally got me and thought looking for a vacation house in a nearby city was kind of darling. In the end, the house I bought wasn’t one my agent suggested; I found it myself. But I never would have even looked there had he not convinced me.

But this house grabbed me right away. It was freestanding on a block with all semi-detached and it was so light-filled that the first time I stayed there I kept thinking I had left the lights on in various rooms. It was on a quiet street across from a park and the front porch and master bedroom had a lovely view. And it had been foreclosed upon and was cheap. But earlier that week, I had seen another house I had loved in a highly sought after neighborhood. It had been lovingly maintained by a long time owner and had adorable touches and a back yard that resembled a wood. And it was a rowhouse with attentive neighbors nearby to look out for my house while I was gone.

So it was a tough choice. But in the end, it was the light that sold me. It took months of crazy wrangling (as I mentioned, it was a foreclosure) but now it is mine. I really wanted to cry at the closing but it was this dim room in a nondescript office park late on a Friday and I didn’t want to in front of the suits. Plus, I now realized that I was responsible for a house. With no super. Crazy!

And the craziest part was, this house really needed a car to make it livable. Did I mention that I haven’t driven more than a few blocks in ten years or daily in twenty? Good times!

Pictures and more on all this to come.

Country house in Baltimore

Here is how it usually goes.

Person: Hey, what’re you doing this weekend/summer/break?
Me: I got a vacation house!
Person: That is awesome! Where?
Me: Hey, how about those Jets?

Not really. I don’t care about the Jets. But this is hard to explain. So I’m going to explain here. Last spring, I started to get itchy. I had been having problems in my Manhattan co-op. The neighbor who smoked. The neighbor who sang to himself… loudly. The fights with the other people on the co-op board. But beyond that, it felt like time for a change. I still remember buying this place in 2001 and saying to the real estate agent, “I know it faces a wall and doesn’t get much light, but the closets! The location! The layout!” And that was all true. But last Passover, a year ago last week, I stayed at a house in the suburbs that was big and airy and filled with light. I had a corner bedroom, just like the one I grew up in, and in the morning, it was flooded with bright sunshine. As Liz Lemon would say, I wanted to go to there.

I got myself a real estate agent and I started to look (he was AWESOME, by the way. Are you looking in NY and need someone? Drop me a line!). My needs were simple, I thought. Lots of light. Maybe a view. Stay in my neighborhood, which I like. Good kitchen. About the same cost as my current apartment, maybe a smidge more. And boy did I look. I must have seen forty or fifty apartments. I would say that with 85% of them, I wondered how human beings could even live there, they were so awful in one way or another, or in all ways. With about 10%, they were kind of the equivalent of my place, so why move? And about 5% were better but not many of those were better enough to justify uprooting your whole life, paying your agent and the taxman, etc.

One Sunday, I went to eight open houses. Eight. At the last one, it was hosted by the same agent as the second one; that’s how long a day I was having. I was the only one there and we got to talking. He listened as I went on about how I couldn’t find a place better than mine, even though I had a lot of issues with it. About how I was a teacher and spent summers in my smoke filled apartment looking at a brick wall. He said, “it sounds as though you don’t really want to move. Why don’t you get a house in Rhinebeck for $150,000 and have all the light and air you could want? With all your vacations you could spend that time there.”

This was a revelation. Because I grew up in a house and lived in it my entire youth. I still miss it and have a hard time feeling at home in an apartment, even though I’ve been here eleven years. So I started to look north, to Dutchess County and thereabouts. But not only could I not find anything above the level of wreck for that price, I couldn’t imagine what I’d do there all summer. Even though I grew up in the suburbs, it was still a city. I have lived in cities all my life. So I started to think about where I would want to live. Somewhere where I knew people. Somewhere urban with a low-key feel… maybe even a suburban feel. Somewhere I could get to by public transportation. Somewhere I really loved.

And for me, that’s Baltimore. It’s the only other place I’ve ever loved and felt at home. I still dream about the time I lived there. Baltimore is quirky and unpretentious and fun. It’s got problems, too, but then so does New York. And unlike here, I can actually afford a house there. I started looking as soon as school ended last year. More on the search and its conclusion in the next post.