So, it’s no secret, but Vin and I are looking to become home (or most likely, apartment) owners soon. It’s no easy task in this neck of the woods, and we sometimes question our sanity when we have to crunch numbers and look at how much we need to save for a down payment to stay here in our beloved Astoria. This neighborhood is not elite, but it’s growing in popularity by the day. Hip restaurants are opening every week on every corner, and while we sure enjoy them (brussels sprout pizza with truffle oil for everyone!), we realize they are also a harbinger of expensive things to come. Cool your jets, Astoria. We need you to stay within our price range.
So last Wednesday while taking a long walk around the ‘hood, I stumbled on a very interesting property on a quiet, off-the-way street. It was a two-story house with an actual backyard, and it was unattached on both sides which means nothing in the midwest and everything in the northeast. To say it was in poor shape was a bit of an understatement, as it was clearly a burned-out shell of its former self, and had probably been occupied by a family of rats and squatters over the past some-odd months. It looked like it had undergone some kind of severe trauma–maybe fire–but there was something about it that scratched an itch I didn’t know I had. The idea of a project, finding an old house in bad shape and fixing it up, sounded really challenging and fun to me. Clearly, the hope was that it would be sold for a song because of its horrible condition.
I texted this picture to Vinny with the caption: “Our money pit/dream home?”
He was immediately on-board with the idea, much like I thought he would be. Vin has the hands of a craftsman, the mind of Bob Vila and the patience of a saint. He’s been subscribing to This Old House and The Family Handyman for the past five years and hoarding old issues beneath his bedside table. He’s been waiting for this house for years. He’s had ideas for projects just drifting around his brain with nowhere to go. This house was his port in the storm.
We made a plan to take a walk to the house on Saturday and eat a fancy Astoria brunch right after. We were both really excited about the house’s potential, and continued to hope it was within our price range. In my mind, I could see myself knocking out the tiny windows up front and replacing them with really big ones, the light streaming so bright into the kitchen that I’d need to wear Ray-bans to chop vegetables. I didn’t know it then, but Vin revealed later that he pictured himself hammering nails and hanging drywall with his father, the rough edges of the house becoming something they could sand down together. The idea of a father/son reno gave me the vapors. It was gonna be just like that Kevin Kline movie, only way less depressing.
So Saturday came, and we took a walk over to the house. There was a yellow ticket on the fence as the owner had been cited for excessive garbage strewn about the yard just the day before. We took a walk around the side, careful not to step on the empty vodka bottles and shards of broken glass that had been blown out of the jagged windows. The damage was much worse than we had expected, but it was also much bigger than I’d realized. This probably looks like a tiny nightmare if you’re reading this from Florida or Iowa or Texas, but to two Queens people in a two-room apartment? We’re talking brokedown palace.
Sure, the windows were filled in with concrete and the siding looked like it had been blasted with a stungun, but this place had a lot of raw potential. And, as it turns out, it sat squarely on two plots of land. For the right price, maybe we could see ourselves turning this dump into a diamond.
Uproot some of these funky little trees, put down some grass, plant some flowerbeds. This could be a very pretty garden.
And that there looks like a high-quality item. How much that set ya back, Clark?
And while we had to admit that fixing up a place this wrecked was just a tad ambitious for two novices like us, we made contact with the realtor nonetheless.
Our hearts dropped a bit when she wrote back and explained that someone scooped it up last week, and it was no longer on the market. This was now someone else’s fixer-upper. Someone else’s dream. Probably someone who knows a lot more about what to do with a place like this. This house was a no. We took ourselves out for lunch around the corner. Truffle oil and goat cheese crostini. Damn this neighborhood.
And so our search for our first home purchase continues. And like every person with an iota of taste before us, we will do all we can to avoid living a life behind the ubiquitous Queens shiny fence.
PS: For a fun little game, come over to my Facebook page and place your bets on how much this wrecked house sold for. If you don’t live in NYC, it will probably blow your minds. If you do, I’m sure it won’t. But it will make you consider moving to Florida.