Monday, April 27, 2009

My Mortgage Can Beat Up Your Mortgage

There are those who live in bizarre squalor, and those who bid for the privilege of settling in festering hovels for a king’s ransom and the delight of a non-conforming 30-year mortgage. It is, as realtors will remind the disconsolate first-time homebuyer of the greater New York City suburbs, a game of visualization. Do you have the foresight to envision this bedroom without the corroded toilet bolted illegally against the far wall? Do you have the ability to ignore the smell of animal urine (not to mention the cacophony of a kid practicing piano in an adjacent unit) pervading the bedrooms of this otherwise spacious townhouse with garishly mirrored walls? Do you posses the mental calm to pretend that you did not walk into the third bedroom of a labyrinthine former doctor’s office and observe a moustached imbecile (whether the owner’s socially inept thirty-something son or a dangerous vagrant) masturbating in his closet, before cautioning you, your fiancée, and your female realtor that he “needs a few minutes” to presumably locate pants or deflate his apparatus?

Unless one claims independent wealth from grandpa’s lockbox, young buyers in these bustling outskirts of Metropolis must eschew the “ideal” and focus on “potential.” In other words, the faster one realizes that “walk to commuter rail” is a fair swap for “1960’s-era kitchen slapped together by part-time handyman to minimize functionality,” the quicker all involved parties can assume seats at the bargaining table. Boasts implying that a marvelous time was spent trolling the overpriced tumble-downs festooned in crackhouse chic should always be met with suspicion, and generally dismissed as senseless drivel from the insane, or from those medicated to the point of waking coma. As you might guess, shoppers with greater imagination tend to delude themselves into making wiser choices. Because ultimately, wiser choices spawn wiser investments when eventually cutting loose of that former crackden-cum-colonial. After endless weekends spent eradicating the geriatric vibes (which taunt openly, mind you, lingering in floral wallpaper, shag carpeting, and abandoned Lawrence Welk VHS collections), one has finally earned the privilege of stratospherically boosting the asking price and trouncing a new generation of idealistic, soon to be dejected, newlyweds. And yes, it does feel good, in the same way that hazing your frat brothers by dropping them off in the center of town, pants-less without wallets, might have stroked the ego ten years prior.

A brazenly self-confident bunch, New Yorkers are not idiots. We realize we could sell our modestly-sized (but much better constructed) tax-saddled homes and trade-up handsomely for the fifteen garage, faux-sided, character-devoid, McMansion monolith with a space shuttle launching pad in the backyard, located in some bumfuck flyover zone near a culturally bankrupt city, to live comfortably amongst affluent rednecks and the town doctor. But unless we’re playing beer pong, most of us prefer our brew from the bottle; not to mention our teeth firmly in our gums, roadkill estranged from the skillet, the Yankees, unrivaled pizza, and the ability to ride elevators without some damn fool asking us about our day. We also believe in evolution, which prohibits our settling in certain states.

Imagine knowing that the condominium on which you are prepared to make an (astronomically high) offer – while part of a beautifully manicured Tudor-style complex in a quaint village with excellent schools – was actually a steaming hellhole masquerading as … a steaming hellhole. My wife and I could momentarily condone the stained carpet, Nixon-era appliances, and smoke-dulled walls by maintaining the foresight of “potential”; that survival mechanism tucked away in the mind’s recesses for instances demanding reinterpretive reality. Not only was the prior owner a crazy old crow who refused to descend ten stairs to her mailbox (although her gait was unencumbered) – opting for tête-à-têtes with the postman after said box had sufficiently exploded with catalogs – but she’d smashed to shit all four burners of the electric stove, for reasons known only to almighty God and possibly her ex-husband. On the flip side, she was kind enough to bestow two gifts upon a weary couple firmly in the throes of disillusionment and surrender: a wrapped box, with instructions to open on December 23rd, and a carton of eggs squirreled away in the oven; unexpired, for those taking notes. Beseeching my wife to keep the present untouched for nine months, I was hoping that our friend was loony enough to have bequeathed a surprise of gold bullion, or at very least some safe deposit box key holding a Caribbean timeshare. Of course, I was equally preparing to extract the head of Jimmy Hoffa, complete with “Merry Christmas New Owners!” stapled to the ear. Unfortunately, a set of “Twelve Glorious Angels” tree ornaments, while thoughtful, was not going to alleviate our debt service. At least we weren’t Jewish.

Five years were enjoyed in that condominium, transforming it into a charming, and in turn very marketable, home. Hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, crown molding, fresh coats of paint, and smaller detailed renovations fully erased the spectre of decrepitude. So when the time arrived to draw market bids, I could only righteously smirk. After all, this was a perfect “walk to commuter train” gem; and if I was getting properly spanked by the eighty year old former owner of our current house, then my biggest paddle was making an appearance during condo negotiations, forearms tightened in anticipation of levying ‘Animal House’-type swings at lawyers, buyers, and notaries alike. If it goes around, it sure as hell comes around, stronger and longer, like an awful case of bird flu.

In this neck of the woods, when someone leaves you a dozen eggs, whether inside the oven, under the bedsheets, or cracked within the fuse box, you make omelets and smile


Theresa said...

After visiting New York this year, and living in SoCal my whole life, I can safely say that I would love to live in or around New York. Granted, I've heard that winters are cold and I know that summers are hot and muggy, but I'm so done with illegal aliens and no one speaking English. And guys definately have the BEST pizza, ever.

MVD said...

Hey Theresa - As a left coast resident, you can probably relate to much of this, noting that your real estate commands equally incredulous values. I actually enjoy the northeast's four seasons (minus the oppressive summer humidity), and gleefully anticipate the disruption of blizzards each year.

As for your immigration comment, well, as painful as it is to deal with people who respectfully refuse to learn the damn language, things would be a lot more expensive if you tossed a bunch of unemployed Caucasians into an orange grove. We can start with 401(k) demands and work our way down from there.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha!! What a great read. You captured the first time urban home buyer experience quite eloquently. A friend of mine wants to move to NY. She currently owns a house with 3 bedrooms, two bathrooms, a backyard and a garage. I asked her if she was ready to downgrade to a closet.

I love the city. You're totally right about the burbs being culturally bankrupt. Happens almost everywhere. I host a poetry slam in my suburb, and a lot of the people who come aren't even from the area. They're from the city.

The only reason why I don't live in Toronto, is because I can't afford a nice life there with my daughters. So I have to go West where I can have a backyard and a 3 story home.

As soon as I'm rich and famous though, I'll be moving back there!

MVD said...

Hey Lingo - On days where I'm asked to grab my ankles by the town taxation authority, or nights offering sudden bursts of anxiety related to overpriced assets, I can always depend on my ambiguously gay barber. You just can't put a price on that guy's head.

growingupartists said...

Focusing on potential, I said totally agree with you. Especially after the movie I watched last night, um vinyan? Not being a miltary dude, I hadn't quite pictured all those underground whorehouses, hadn't even thought of it. I'm especially concerned for the children.

I believe America is a leader, like Obama said. And we CAN act quickly and well to believe in each other's potential. It matters less if we are friends.

Jen said...

We experienced this buying a home in London where the astronomical prices for homes that resembled hobbit dens and felt like living in tree houses, for the only way one gained space was by building up or digging down, left us a bit perplexed. Luckily, we got in and out at the right time, making 20% in the course of a year and a half. Then we proceeded to throw that lovely gain away after buying a home in the Bay Area at the height of the internet bubble and then selling it after 9/11. You can see a glimpse of our lovely postage stamp London garden in my newest post. When you see the size of the dog in the photo imagine that inhabiting our English hobbit hole.

growingupartists said...

On second thought, which is my nature...I actually DO think New Yorkers are idiots, and I'd much rather go to my grave believing that, than feeding a bunch of oversized egos.

Have fun at your frat party! I'm sticking with the creationists.

MVD said...

Actually, Growing Up Artists, I'm going to check out one of those underground whorehouses you mentioned in your first comment. I’ll assume that my dollar stretches a whole lot further in some illicit bordello than it does at my town deli.

MVD said...

Hey Jen - At very least, it seems that the cleanup for one's of Rocket's turds might've been easier on your brick-laid garden, as opposed to steaming out in the far grass of a yard, waiting to be squashed underfoot.

growingupartists said...

You know what, only a misfit would ever call a flyover city culturally bankrupt...or someone who's daily deceived by culture. Take a science class.

MVD said...

Um, this is satire. If you can't handle it, that's completely fine. But you've commented thrice in the span of three hours. I don't have any awards for that.

Jen said...

Not sure if dogs take on an affected accent like Madonna after moving from one country to another. And, yes it was easier to find the land mines in such a confined space. Unfortunately, the shit didn't smell any better in a trendier locale.
By the by, finding your back and forth with the creationist quite amusing. You sure got his knickers in a twist.

Ron said...

Your last sentence in the opening paragraph made me HOWL!

Ya know, having lived in NYC for five years, I agree...finding a residence is all about being able to project a "visualization." The place you and your wife purchased and fixed up, sounded wonderful! Can you believe that when I left the city in 1979, I had a beautiful studio on 65th between Madison and 5th for $280.00 a month????

I don't even want to know what's it going for now!?!?

I think I were to move back to NY now, I'd most likely be a "walk to the commuter rail" person. The city makes it so convenient to go back and forth, that it's really no effort at all.

Suldog said...

I have always rented, so much of this I only know about in the abstract. You have such a great way of stringing words together, however, that I enjoyed it thoroughly. I think I'd probably enjoy you writing about polishing dog poop.

(That may or may not be a quote you'd want to put on the back of a dust jacket. I'm not quite sure with you...)

MVD said...

Hey Ron - Good to hear from you again. That last sentence in the first paragraph wasn't exaggerated in the slightest, hence making it all the more disturbing. My wife and I still wonder why his presence wasn’t noted by the owner. Unless, of course, he was a vagrant squatter, content to wile away the hours servicing himself.

New York City in 1979 had rotted to the core of its once shiny apple. That said, a 65th and Madison address, even in those debaucherous days, would not have required its occupants to wear Kevlar armor upon entry or exit.

Of course, some would argue that the exponential rise in real estate drove the artistry and bohemian vibes out of Manhattan. To this point, I must sadly agree.

MVD said...

Suldog - If I ever decide to polish or bronze my feces, I'll be sure to give you a namecheck in the piece.

growingupartists said...

Congratulations on winning the mortgage bet off, you'd make a great Republican. What's that? You know. Of course you do, they always pretend to know something.

Pam said...

As for a toilet being bolted to the wall in a bedroom -- a comment from a real estate agent viewing the home to this first time home buyer was, "oh, look at that, you can just roll out of bed and the morning and there's your bathroom."

While it is a royal pain in the a$* to trudge my way down 12 stairs in the morning to use the bathroom, I'd much rather do that than to take a dump right next to my bed.

What's worse is that this home was advertised as having two bathrooms....this toilet bolted into the wall of the bedroom like a jail cell was considered the second bathroom.

MVD said...

"Oh, look at that, someone ripped out the doors of your refrigerator and installed a urinal. Hopefully it's not filtering through to your ice maker."

Ah, Pam, I knew you'd catch the "bolted toilet" reference. Reading your first hand account had me laughing out loud all over again. At least they had the decency to install a toilet. They could've gone "European style" and left you with the dreaded squatter's hole. In that case, you'd have had to ensure that the hole lined up directly above the downstairs toilet. And, of course, prayed that you ALWAYS remembered to keep that downstairs seat in the up position. Hiroshima all over again, courtesy of some ingenious architecture.

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