Every Shitty House Is Shitty In Its Own Way

So given that Brooklyn was proving too expensive, and given that we were faced with the prospect of living in an uninhabitable place in an OK neighborhood or a passable place in a marginal neighborhood, we decided to reset and focus on Queens.

Not that it would be so simple. At some point I realized that we would be very lucky to live in any neighborhood west of the BQE, no matter how far away from the subway it was. I held out hope that there would be some really convenient, really wonderful, really remarkable, woefully underappreciated, criminally overlooked street that folks would visit and think, "Wow, what a nifty, remarkable, wonderful place they found on such a conveniently located, criminally overlooked street!"

Jen and I took a long walk from Long Island City up to the northern reaches of Astoria. Nothing jumped out at us in terms of really remarkable, criminally underappreciated blocks or streets, but we did meet Cathy.

Cathy was a buyer's representative, meaning that she would do all the heavy lifting of making appointments, negotiating a contract and taking half the real estate commission from a sale.

We met Cathy when we happened upon her office and began looking at the fliers in the window. She immediately popped out of the front door and asked us what we were looking for. I supposed business had been slow. She invited us inside her office.

What followed was an extended treatise on all aspects of Astoria real estate, from the low-lying blocks (damp basements) to the "desirable" streets, the wisdom of buying north of the Grand Central (rezoning that preserves the three-story maximum character of most of the streets north of the Grand Central) and the lack thereof in purchasing south of 37th Avenue (an agreement with the federal government to build thousands of new hotel rooms) (Cathy told us this last part several times, especially when we said we were interested in places closer to Queens Plaza, thinking they might be cheaper and "up and coming"; I can't find anything online that would confirm this, but the federal government has been especially interested in this part of Queens).

She seemed excited to help us and we were excited to have her on our side. With Cathy, we would get the best deal possible. She would anticipate every issue with a house, from the electric to the plumbing to the structural integrity. She would look at that asking price and effortlessly back the seller into the perfect price for us. And the best thing is that she was confident it could happen. With Cathy, our ballpark would be as spacious the Polo Grounds.

Cathy's philosophy was that you never buy the first house you see, so she took us to see some places that we definitely wouldn't put an offer on, not necessarily because they were bad but rather because they were neither in our price range nor in a neighborhood we would ever consider buying in.

"It's important just to get a sense of what is out there," she explained.

This was back when looking in people's houses was still a novelty. The young man's basement apartment and his stereo equipment. The older couple's family pictures in the top apartment. The expanding foam sealant puffing out of where the carpet met the baseboard in a three-family building. As much fun as it was to spy on people's lives, it was tiring to travel back and forth in Astoria viewing houses that we were never going to live in.

We got our hopes up when Cathy told us about this "fixer-upper" in a convenient location just off of Ditmars Boulevard, the three of us excited about the first house that might be something we actually might have wanted to live in. The price was right in the ballpark, it was on a very "desirable" street just off of Ditmars and it needed some cosmetic work. This last detail was perfect for us — early on, we decided that we would be happy to trade cosmetics for price.

The house had just gone on the market and while it wasn't technically a two-family, inasmuch as the Department of Buildings was concerned, it was set up as a two-family house. As Cathy explained, that was good for us, since we were a single family looking for a two-family setup. This particular house was in the same family for many years and the siblings it had been passed down to were ready to unload it.

Now you might think, as I did, that houses that were protected by loving families for years were preferable to houses that were rented out to callous tenants who came and went and had no reason to want to maintain the residence. This first house proved to us that this logic didn't always hold.

Sometimes the problem with a house that stays in one family for many years is that no one thinks to fix it, and over time it starts looking like a piece of shit. Was it Tolstoy who said that every shitty house is shitty in its own way? In this case, the bottom unit was almost entirely dark, and when we walked through it, there was a lone man watching the 2010 Mets (a terrible team) on one of those ancient floor-unit console televisions with all the shades drawn (although I see they actually beat the Orioles that day, 3-1, though the Orioles were also a terrible team in 2010). Meanwhile, the top unit was packed in about as packed with stuff as you could possibly pack it. Oh, and the entire house reeked — reeked! — of cat piss.

"How easy is it to get the smell of cat urine out of a house?" Jen asked.

"I've been meaning to look that up," Cathy said.

The answer, by the way, is that it is rather difficult if not impossible, at least judging by this thread, which includes talk about removing the subfloor or this primer, which includes talk of "demo":

In short, not something you want to undertake lightly . . .

Funny thing is that if it weren't for the fact that the bottom unit's main bathroom was in the basement, I would have suggested we put down an offer on it. Suffice it to say, that didn't happen.

Posted: December 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.