Houses

Good Enough Homes & Destinations: What You Get For $240,000

The Grey Lady is packing bathing suits and plastic bags (to hold wet bathing suits) and towels and face sunscreen and body sunscreen and aloe and moisturizer and hardly has time for Great Homes and Destinations this week. Her magic number is $2,400,000, which is again and always hilarious. What’ll that get you?

The three-story house has an elegant foyer on the first floor. To the right is a den with chestnut paneling and a coffered ceiling; a flat-screen TV over the fireplace is hidden behind a painting. To the left is the living room. Ceilings on this level are more than 20 feet high. Updated kitchen appliances include a Wolf range and a Sub-Zero refrigerator. Both the kitchen and the dining room open to a terrace and a bluestone patio overlooking downtown Providence.

A rich lady in Beverly Hills once showed me how, at the press of a button, artwork on the wall of her bedroom rolled aside to reveal a flatscreen TV. She was so proud.

We’ll see if we can find some houses with secrets in today’s installment of Good Enough Homes & Destinations: What You Get For $240,000.

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Moving 15 Blocks To My Own Place Cost $2550+ I am THRILLED

+ Portable charger to keep my phone alive during viewings, $35.
+ Bottles of water grabbed between viewings, $3.
+ Emergency granola bar to keep from fainting one day in the August heat, $1.50.

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GOOD ENOUGH Homes & Destinations: What You Get For $500K

Gray Lady hasn’t had her coffee today and is totally over work because it’s August and settles for giving us a list of the totally ordinary houses you can buy for $1,500,000. Like this one in Shark Key, Florida:

Shark Key is a gated island community seven miles west of Key West. The island is about a mile long and only two lots wide, with a saltwater swimming lagoon in the middle. Community amenities include two tennis courts and a clubhouse. Shopping and dining are within a 15-minute drive, on the palm-lined streets of Key West. This house is on a peninsular lot near the southern tip of the island, surrounded by water on three sides. … The house is on about an acre, lush with mature banyan, coconut and banana trees. Parking is in a covered spot under the house. There’s space to pull a pontoon boat in and out of the water.

Yawn.

Let’s see if we can find something more exciting in this week’s edition of GOOD ENOUGH Homes & Destinations: What You Get for $500,000.

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Why SF is So Crazy Expensive & DC/NY Are Better

As we’ve established and you already knew deep in your bones, the same house will be more expensive in Greenwich, CT, than in Fargo, ND. What you may not have known, though, is that the difference in price is not merely reflective of the difference of costs, specifically land and material costs in CT vs ND. There’s an X factor too, or, as the experts call it, a “shadow price,” that makes San Francisco so absurdly unaffordable it might as well be Mars.

The price of a house or apartment, the authors argued, is more than just the value of the land plus the value of the building. There’s a third, shadow price, which represents how difficult it is to get something built given local regulations. In highly restrictive places like San Francisco, regulations impede the supply of new buildings, and so raise the price of housing.

So, like, for example, materials and land cost 2x the national average in SF, and yet a house costs 3.6x the national average. The difference can be attributed to regulations. You know, bureaucracy, red tape, all that nonsense. The Economist flatly states, “the [Bay Area] is one of the most difficult places to build in the country. Prices are therefore soaring and neighbourhoods are changing, touching off some occasionally nasty social conflicts.”

DC apartments, though nutsy, remain more reasonable than SF’s, in part because, after our nation’s capital went through crisis after crisis between 1969 and 2001, it decided to get back on its feet by investing in tons of new housing — for DINKs. If you build it, DC figured, they will come, “they” being single, sexy, spendy types, which represent more short-term gain for an urban area. And lo, the city was right

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A Midwestern Room of One’s Own

Scrolling through ad after ad for roommates with the single description, “we are young professionals.” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? Are you vegetarians? Do you have cats? A chore-wheel? Is there a compost??

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Let’s All Buy JD Salinger’s Old House, Have a Kegger

OK here’s a great idea: let’s all pitch in some cash, not too much, whatever we happen to have lying around, and buy the rural New Hampshire house where famous American hermit J.D. Salinger lived for a while. It’s for sale, according to Curbed, for less than $700,000, and it is super pretty.

As reported by the Valley News, Salinger purchased the place in 1953 after separating from his first wife, by which time he had achieved both critical and commercial success with the 1951 publication of The Catcher in the Rye. He made the move to Cornish from his apartment in Manhattan (300 57th Street), and it’s in the small New Hampshire town where his reputation as a recluse solidified, but according to a 2010 article in the New York Times, Salinger was a relatively active member of the community.

Salinger, who sold the house in the ’60s but stayed in town, is said to have voted in elections, attended town meetings at the Cornish Elementary School, and been a mainstay at $12 roast beef dinners at First Congregational Church in nearby Hartland, Vermont. Locals, embodying what one resident once described to the New York Times as “the code of the hills,” have boasted since his death in 2010 of misdirecting the throngs of eager English majors that came looking for their resident writer. According to the owner of a local general store, just how far these misdirections took Salinger pilgrims “depended on how arrogant they were.”

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GOOD ENOUGH Homes & Destinations: What You Get For $490,000

This week the NYT offers us glimpses of “What You Get For … $4,900,000,” including a five-bedroom townhouse in Old Town Alexandria with heart-pine floors, presumably made with real hearts.

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“Secrets” to Buying a House Without Getting Hosed

Vox presents six secrets to getting a house without getting hosed. It’s an interesting read, but I’m not sure if their tips are actually secrets or even whether I agree with all of them, so YMMV. For instance:

Choose your realtor carefully. … When evaluating real estate agents, it’s important to keep in mind that their incentives aren’t aligned with your own priorities as the buyer. You want the best home at the lowest price — and you may be willing to wait quite a while for the right deal to come along. In contrast, agents make more money when they can close deals as quickly as possible — and they make more money when their clients spend more.

Yeah! Which is a good argument for not using a realtor. Partly because I’m historically anti-broker, we didn’t employ one when we were house-hunting; I had Excel and an obsessive nature and I put both to good use. Honestly though I’m not sure what a broker could have added to the experience? Doing the work myself wasn’t that onerous and saved us a good chunk of cash. We didn’t do a mortgage broker, either, or any other middleman. More relevant to our peace of mind was having a smart, kick-ass real estate attorney. Ours once answered the door in a robe and slippers, but underneath that terrycloth she was a shark. Hers was the only expertise we paid for, and it was well worth it.

I think the best advice in that Vox article is to buy less house than you can afford. It’s tempting to get pre-approved for the biggest loan you can and, once you see that amazing condo / horse farm / converted 1830s mill, go a litttttle over-budget because what’s the harm? But in a couple of years, you and your partner might both decide to DWYL, at least part-time. You might get laid off, or get sick, or develop an itch to learn Spanish in Ecuador. Having low monthly mortgage payments will allow you so much more flexibility and room for experimentation in your lives. The pleasure that room will give you will be more lasting than the rec room with a wet bar in the basement.

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GOOD ENOUGH Homes & Destinations: What You Get For $400K

The Gray Lady goes all Dr. Evil on us today and asks, “What can you get for … ONE MILLION DOLLARS?” But then she chooses the most boring places: California, Dallas, and New York. Wouldn’t you rather see what one million dollars would buy you in Las Cruces, or Toledo, or Indianapolis? Bah. Anyway, apparently six figures will get you a live-in history lesson in the Adirondacks:

a four-floor 1830s gristmill with two bedrooms and one-and-a-half bathrooms, and a one-bedroom guest cottage … The owners retained the mill’s open, airy feel, with exposed stone walls, wide-plank wood floors and beam ceilings. Original fixtures and mill machinery were left throughout, including roller machines, huge grain funnels, a drive shaft and winnowers to separate grain from chaff. … The skylighted master bedroom suite takes up the fourth floor. Here, a whirlpool tub overlooks the waterfall. A ladder leads to a small sitting loft. The room has a wood stove in front of an exposed stone wall. The daylight basement is used as a workshop.

OK that does sound pretty awesome, especially the tub overlooking a waterfall part. Makes it almost worth living on a mountain 75 minutes outside of Albany.

But what if you don’t have one million to spend, especially since we all know, anyway, that one million dollars isn’t cool? I’m so glad you asked. Herewith, this week’s installment of GOOD ENOUGH Homes and Destinations: What You Get For $400,000.

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Meet Me in St. Louis — or El Paso, Oklahoma City, or Little Rock

Guess what, America! Grab your bags; we’re moving inland. At least we are according to this hilarious NYT trend piece about the country’s fastest growing, affordable, non-coastal cities:

But of those who moved more than 500 miles, the share who said they were chiefly motivated by housing has risen to 18 percent in 2014, from 8 percent in 2007, the earliest year such data is available, according to the Census Bureau. The desire for a new, better or cheaper home and the opportunity to buy instead of rent were among the housing-related reasons people cited. … “A large percentage of Americans had to read ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ ” said Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City, referring to the John Steinbeck novel that chronicled the flight of Oklahomans to California in search of a better life during the Depression. Now the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those migrants are returning for the same reason. “It’s ‘The Wrath of Grapes,’ ” he said.

Ha! I’d move to Oklahoma City just to hang out with that guy. 

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