Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Sign

Yesterday we sold mom's house.  That house was built by my husband 35 years ago, on part of the land that was our first rental purchase.  It was the first spec house he'd ever built, and it sold to a family who didn't like that we built our house next door a few years later, and made no bones about showing it.  Their kids would literally take a stick and draw a line in the sand to show our 3-year-old where his property line ended and theirs began.  So we were very grateful when we saw a Realtor's "For Sale" sign on the lawn a few years afterwards.

Mom was up from Long Island visiting, and when I asked her "Did you see the sign?" she misunderstood me and exclaimed:  "A sign?  You saw a sign?  I was praying for a sign!".  And, without even going inside, my widowed mother bought the house, sold hers on Long Island, and moved next door to us, in the house that she and my father loved when it was built, but weren't in a position to buy at that point.

She helped raise our kids.  She would be home after school for them while we worked.  She later helped my sister and her kids when they moved in with her for a while after getting divorced, and she loved that house until the day, almost four years ago, that she landed in the hospital, and from there a rehab stint in a nursing home.

As many old people do, in her later years, she adamantly refused to allow us do any updating inside her house.  As a Realtor, I'd often go inside a house being sold by an estate. I used to wonder what kind of family would allow their elderly parent to live like that, in dirt and disrepair.  I came to learn that it's often the parent that's obstinate, and eventually the children get worn down and have to choose their fights.  The house often loses, when medications and proper eating are more urgent.

 So we took advantage of her rehab stint.  We went in without her knowledge and had the whole interior repainted.  We also installed new laminate floors, as the worn carpeting had become a major tripping hazard.  As it turned out, she never returned home, and for three years we kept the house vacant, awaiting a return that we, and she, knew wasn't going to happen.  We just didn't have the heart to sell it while she was alive.  It may have been false hope, but for a long while she harbored the hope that she would return to her beloved house.  She was allowed to keep a few thousand dollars in cash, and by judicious budgeting, we were able to pay the upkeep.  

I had judged we had enough money to keep her household bills paid through this spring.  I informed my sisters that we might have to kick in to keep it going after that.  As it turned out, mom passed away in February.  So in early spring, we donated her clothes and some of her furniture, and staged the house with her remaining furniture for sale.  I acted as the listing broker, put the house on MLS, Zillow, Trulia, and, and stuck my sign in the lawn, in much the same place as it was when mom bought the house over 25 years before.  Spring turned into summer into fall, and we had very little interest.  Then another agent brought a family, and the house was finally being sold.  Expecting a complicated mortgage, we were pleasantly surprised when the buyers came with a conventional mortgage, which made the whole process smoother for us.

Yesterday, November 26th, the day before Thanksgiving, in the middle of the first big snowstorm of the year, we closed on the house.  My two sisters and I had gone through the whole process without having any serious disagreements.  We agreed on the big things, and divided the sentimental keepsakes between us so that we were all satisfied with our portions.  My main goal was to get through the process with our family intact, so I was content.  The closing likewise went smoothly, and mom's checkbook had $40 in it at the end of the day.

Afterwards, as we were leaving, my youngest sister stopped to use the rest room.  The other two of us waited in the foyer for her because of the snow.  My phone dinged with an email alert.  The message was "Your For Sale listing on Zillow expired on Wednesday, November 26, 2014."

Another sign.  Thanks, mom.  For everything.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Taste of Hudson

We've become so chi-chi that we now have named our small sections of the city, a la NYC.  They have SoHo, NoLita and the Upper East Side.  We have BeLo 3rd and The West Side, and will undoubtedly have more hyphenated acronyms before we're done.  But I'm happy, thrilled even, to see the changing face of Hudson.

BeLo 3rd has a pretty creative and savvy group of organizers.  They took a decided geographic negative (being below Third Street) and turned it into a chic moniker.  Perception is everything, and soon what was a vast area of nothingness became the darling of the gallery set.  In fact, along with the antiques and art galleries, Hudson has become quite a foodie mecca, and BeLo 3rd has become Restaurant Row.

One of their more popular events is "Taste of Hudson", where Warren Street is closed off the street to traffic and numerous Hudson restaurants and caterers set up under a big tent, right in the middle of the street in front of my office.  Customers come from all over, buy "BeLo Bucks", and spend them on various small portions at different vendors' tables, so for $5 or $10 you can get a pretty good sample of what a lot of great cooks are doing.  And they are great cooks.  In fact, if you eat on Warren Street any given day, you'd be hard pressed to get a bad meal.

So here we were, sitting at cute tables under a billowing white tent, in the middle of the street in front of the Girly House, where not that long ago, for the same five bucks, crack was the main dish. And although the crack was also heated, it just didn't have the same panache as Taste of Hudson's offerings. At one point all those bad memories came rushing back, and between bites of tasty morsels, I turned to another old-timer and commented "Do you believe we're sitting here in the middle of the street, on the 200 Block of Warren, eating catered food with tourists?"  We were laughing so hard we nearly lost our lunch.

Ain't life grand?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Random Plantings

I happened to be wandering through my second home, Lowes, on the last day their garden shop was open. They were pretty much giving plants away, and I picked up a random bunch.  Since I had no idea where I was going to put any of them, I brought them down to my basement and left them to over-winter.  I didn't expect much, and, in fact, some animals managed to get in and eat a few especially tasty ones, but a bunch of others struggled through the cold season.

In spring, I saw that two little Rose of Sharon plants were still alive, so I decided to plant them in the front yard at the Girly House.  I only chose them because there were two, and I wanted to keep the symmetry of the building intact.  I didn't know much about the plants themselves, and was surprised to see them growing rapidly in a short time.  But as they grew and bloomed that first season, I remembered the Rose of Sharon in the front yard of a neighbor in Brooklyn.

And then my sister reminded me that Rose of Sharon was our father's favorite flower. So now when I see those hardy little plants, and remember what they survived that winter, they bring back smiling memories of the hard times we survived when I was a child on my beloved Brooklyn street.

Rose of Sharon is my new favorite shrub.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cheap Evictions

During the drug epidemic, every once in a while we'd get a tenant who looked good on paper, but turned out to be something else in real life.

Doorbells would be rung indiscriminately all night long, self-locking doors would be propped open, cigarette butts would be put out on hall carpeting, dirt, noise, and abnormal amounts of "visitors" would come and go all the time.  And I would get complaints from my good tenants, who gave me the heads up, but who also would move if the situation wasn't resolved.

Drug activity is easy to spot, but hard to prove.  And the courts take too long for law-abiding tenants to go without sleep.  So I devised a plan.

I sent a note to all the tenants in the building that we were having a problem with the exterior door  locks and the intercom/doorbell system, so we had to do two things:  disconnect all the doorbells until we could get them "fixed", and change the exterior locks.  Please come to the office for your new key, and I apologize for the inconvenience until we can get the doorbells fixed.  Your guests will have to call ahead so you can meet them outside to let them in until we get the problem solved.

Simultaneously I would send the bad tenant an eviction notice.

Oddly, I sometimes forgot to send the note to the drug tenant.  And they never seemed to call for a new key, or to ask why their building key wasn't working.  Guess they didn't want to come face the landlord. Inevitably, they would just quietly abandon the apartment for greener pastures, and in the meantime, my good tenants would get uninterrupted sleep.

Yes, eventually the doorbells were "fixed".

"A Good Talking-To"

Last year, within the span of two months, two of our long-time residents moved from the Girly House.  We had all developed a comfy cohabitation, and it was more distressing than I let on that the equilibrium of the house was about to change drastically with the introduction of two new tenants to the mix.

I guess I wasn't the only one stressed.  All of a sudden, for no apparent reason, the house started having problems.  First, just two weeks after we repainted, something leaked from upstairs into the newly-renovated downstairs apartment.  In another apartment, a window blew in during a windy night.  A bathroom faucet loosened up on the sink.  A kitchen cabinet's center post came unglued.  A kitchen faucet started leaking. A toilet stopped flushing. Another second floor leak ruined the ceiling in a first-floor bathroom.  And somehow, a feral cat managed to get into the basement, but couldn't get out, and meowed pitifully for days until we finally left the door open long enough for her to find her way out.  Our house was obviously crying and having a nervous breakdown!

So, one evening, around dusk, I decided the house needed a good talking-to.  I made sure everything was quiet.  I spoke calmly.  I reminded the house of it's inglorious past as a crack house, and how we saved it from that fate.  I reassured it that I loved it and wanted to keep it.  I reminded it that we were getting older, and couldn't do the physical work like we used to.  I told it that if we kept having problems, we would be forced to sell it.  And I wrapped my arms around the opening between the two rooms and gave it a big hug.

I told my son.  He thought I was nuts.  But so far, so good.

Don's Crazy Friend

Is that even a viable contact name?  Because that's what I had to list him as.  I don't even remember his name, but I needed to know it was him calling...

My excellent tenant Don called me, asking me to help him solve a problem.  Apparently he fell for some acquaintance's hard-luck story, and let him crash on the couch of his one-bedroom apartment for "a couple of days".  The days turned into weeks...and you know how those song lyrics go.  And now Don was calling me, asking me to compose a stern email saying he couldn't have another person living there or he'd be in violation of his lease, etc., because all of his efforts to get the guy to leave failed.  Maybe a firm email from his landlord would do the trick. Don told me the squatter was "a very good salesman", and every time he tried to reason with him, the guy would talk his way into staying another night.

But just from this short description, I really knew this guy was crazy.  And desperate.  Don't ask me how I knew.

So I told Don to forget about the email.  That would never work.  Is he in your apartment now?  No.  Are you home?  Yes.  OK, this is what you're going to do:  go to Lowe's.  Buy a new lockset.  Come back home and install it.  Pack all his belongings and put them outside the apartment door.  Then call me when it's all done and give me his phone number.  Then leave the house.  Do you have a place you can spend the night?  Yes?  Good. And under no circumstances are you to answer his phone calls, text messages, or emails.  Total silence.  We will be bombarded for a while, until he moves on.  And by winter, he'll be someplace warm. Got it?  Agreed?  OK.

Don calls back a few hours later.  The deed is done & he's leaving his apartment.  So I call Don's Crazy Friend, tell him "The locks are changed.  Your suitcase is in the hall.  Take your stuff and do not show up at this building again or I will call the police."

Desperate people always try to engage you in conversation, but it's futile to try to reason with a crazy person.  So when he kept asking me what he did wrong, etc., I just repeated "You're not my tenant of record.  I'm not having a conversation about it, nor do I owe you any explanation.  Just take your things and go." And I hung up.

But, as predicted, that didn't end it.  For weeks after I was getting voicemails and texts, some cajoling, some threatening, even some in which he thought he was texting Don (but was actually texting me) and told Don his landlord was "Crazy. Looney. Really nuts."  None of which I responded to.  All of which I saved.  Don was getting messages too.  I had to keep calling Don to make sure he wasn't capitulating, because that would undo all our work, and the end result (although I didn't share this with Don) was that I'd have to evict him...and I didn't want to do that just because he was too nice a guy to stand firm.

It's been a couple of months now, and it's been all quiet on the eastern front.

Laugh of the Day

In answer to an apartment for rent ad:

Me:  So, before I show you this apartment, as the ad specifies, we need three things:  good credit, work, and rental histories.
Him:  I work.  Renovating houses.
Me: Are you self-employed?
Him:  No, I work for someone.
Me:  OK, then, you'll be able to give me pay stubs...
Him:  I work for cash.
Me:  How about your credit.
Him:  Oh, I have credit.  It's pretty bad.
Me:  I didn't mean any kind of credit.  You need good credit to get through the screening.
Him:  Well, I guess this isn't going to happen.

No, I guess it isn't.