Home, Sweet Home
The year was 1980—and homes were being gobbled up like hotcakes. At the very height of that housing bonanza, my husband and I bought our first house, a small dilapidated Colonial with three teeny bedrooms, one horrid bathroom, and a ramshackle kitchen. We knew we were paying too much for it (which, given today’s prices, was laughably low; can you believe $94,000?), but we loved it. Besides, most everyone we knew told us—my father most loudly—that real estate is what every red-blooded, hard-working, smart-thinking American should own. “You can’t go wrong,” my father said. (He and my mother had bought their house, a brand-new three-family structure, nine years before we bought ours. The tab: $69,000. And it has a basement, laundry room, backyard, and a one-car garage.)
Eventually my husband and I, who went on to have three terrific kids, renovated our house, installing a much bigger kitchen, a master bedroom, a new office, two more bedrooms, and an attached garage. The upshot? We sold our house two years ago for more than eight times what we originally paid for it. So my father, whose three-family house is valued today at 14 times what he paid for it—apparently was right: with real estate “you can’t go wrong.”
Or was he right? Two years ago, with the money we made on that first house, most of our savings, and a bit more from a bank, my husband and I bought our second home—a profoundly run-down, three-bedroom apartment with misshapen floors, water-damaged walls, a dreadfully old kitchen, horrid bathrooms—a real dump. When my mother saw it, all she could say was, “Someone lived here?” And ofcourse we paid way too much for it (we, finance mavens extraordinaire, bought it at the height of the last real estate boom). When we showed our sons the apartment for the first time, our youngest asked,
“So where is the Picasso that comes with the apartment?”
This past year has taught us that you can go wrong in real estate, of course—if you are buying just to make some quick profit or if you buy a house you simply can’t afford.
Who knows what our place is worth now, but we’re getting by. And owning real estate does have one large additional advantage, which holds true whether you end up making a killing or taking a bath: you get to live in it. We loved our house. And now, after a year spent fixing it up, we love our apartment. We’re thrilled by the place we call home—even if, alas, there’s no Picasso on the wall.
In this issue we try to get away from the usual, and increasingly unpleasant, question of “how much it’s worth?” and focus on what you can do to enjoy your home more while you are living in it. We talked to numerous home experts—and share with you what we learned beginning on page 80.
P.S.: We’re pleased to report that Caitlin H. Krueger, account executive for Westchester Weddings, won the “Westchester’s Best Singer” competition that was held by the White Plains Performing Arts Center. “I was so nervous,” she says. “I’d never competed with anyone before.” As part of her prize, Caitlin will get to sing in front of an estimated 30,000 people at the Westchester County Center for White Plains’ New Year’s celebration. Come check her out!