Shithouse rat

I'm a bipolar writer in the Naked City. I'm not playing with a full deck. I don't have all my dots on the dice. My cheese is sliding off my cracker. I don't have both oars in the water. I'm a bubble off plum. In other words, I'm crazier than a shithouse rat. These are my stories. Comments--short or long, nasty or nice--always welcome!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Adventures in real estate, part 2: the lawyer who "phoned it in"

Originally uploaded by splorp.
Selling and/or buying a home can be an aggravating, time consuming, and expensive endeavor which typically involves working with a team of “professionals,” all with their hands out for their cut. There’s real estate brokers, mortgage brokers, and real estate lawyers just for starters. As in all professions, some are good, some are bad, and some are just plain evil, greedy bastards.

For at least the past 7 years or so, I knew where I wanted to move as soon as my ex-boyfriend and I could finally agree to sell our old place. It’s a great coop complex in the Bronx near my current boyfriend BG. I’d first seen it advertised when I picked up one of those free “real estate books” they had in a kiosk on Fordham Road. The two page ad blew me away right then and there.

A few years passed, and I became manic and almost bought a place there—even put down a hefty deposit and signed a contract. But I realized that paying a mortgage as well as maintenance, though do-able, would be more of a stretch than I’d feel comfortable about, and I was able to get my deposit back.

But S, the guy I dealt with at the coop’s management company, remembered me when I called him again after we’d finally put our Manhattan coop on the market last fall. He told me to call back when we went into contract, and call I did.

Soon enough S showed me the home of my dreams. I got all my paperwork in order. I was paying cash, so no mortgage hassle was involved. He did a credit check, and informed me that I had an A-plus score.

S had a list of several lawyers he worked with on contracts and closings, and gave me two names to choose from. I called B and we got down to business, or so I thought.

B’s fee was relatively modest, especially compared to the lawyer we retained for the closing of our place downtown. But that lawyer met with us in his office and sat down with us for at least an hour and went over the contract line by line. He was friendly, courteous, and a pleasure to work with.

No so with B. He, too, was pleasant enough at first, but seemed to need to justify his fees by exaggerating the importance of his role. In any case, I expected contracts to be sent to me in short order.

Unlike our lawyer for the sale of our place, B did not meet with clients for contract review. Rather, he would messenger me my copy, I would review it, we would discuss any questions I had by phone, and I would messenger it back to him.

Nevertheless, quite a bit of time went by with no contract in sight. When I told S a few days ago that I hadn’t received it as yet, he was, and I quote—“shocked.” Though B had told me that the seller’s lawyer hadn’t sent him anything yet, according to S he just hadn’t bothered to send a messenger to pick the papers up from the seller’s lawyer.READ MORE HERE

Monday, February 12, 2007

Adventures in real estate, part 1: the broker from hell

"Yonkers, NY. One bedroom, 900 sq. ft, 139 K. Lg. unit in luxury highrise; updated kitchen, 20 foot terrace, doorman, security, pool, parking, express bus. Deli and dry cleaners on site. Near shops, restaurants; 25 minutes from Grand Central."

My ex-boyfriend G and I have co-owned a one bedroom coop in lower Manhattan for the past 15 years. At long last, we put the place up on the market this past fall. Despite all the talk of a bursting "real estate bubble," after a few nail-biting months we found a buyer who came reaasonably close to our asking price, and we're all set to close on March 1st.

Though I've already chosen my new dream home in the Bronx near my current boyfriend and will go into contract this week, G-d willing, G is still searching. Time is of the essence--if he's not secured in a new place pronto, he'll have to hang at his sister's house in New Jersey while he continues looking.

This past year, G was diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy — a rare, congenital form of adult muscular dystrophy. His doctor told him he might not live past 65 and would probably need a wheelchair down the line. His condition is already starting to deteriorate — his manual dexterity is very bad and he has fallen many times because the disease affects his gait. He's now on social security disability, so his income is modest though sufficient to buy a place between 100K and 140K, tops. Maintenance has to be reasonable too, and the apartment must be wheelchair accessible, close to shopping and buses, and at least as roomy as our 800 square foot place in case he has to maneuver with a wheelchair down the line.

One would think that with the potential 5 or 6 percent commission to be made in a now-slower market that real estate brokers would be jumping at the chance to show G places, but some have been bewilderingly slow toeven return calls. So it was a refreshing change of pace when I responded to an ad for a place in Yonkers--just north of the Bronx and the city line--and the broker responded promptly and proactively to my inquiry. The
looked promising, and the photos looked good, so we scheduled an appointment to see the place last Sunday through the broker, Debby Frank of Century 21.

Debby told me that since at least one offer was already in the works, we'd best see the place or another like it ASAP since units, though somewhat plentiful, went fast. But when I explained the wheelchair access requirement, she said it wouldn't be suitable t for G since it was on a hill. (Later, looking again at the ad, I saw no evidence of any stairs, obstructions, or hills --and with a power chair, G would probably be able to maneuver just fine. Plus, the fact that the alternate URL for the ad included the word "teasers" might have meant something fishy was up, though perhaps I'm just being too jaded.)

Nevertheless, she assured me she had lots of other nearby units similar in size and price range to show
us. Although she seemed very proactive and responsive—good signs in a profession where some brokers are deadbeats just sitting back and waiting for the commissions to roll in, which plenty did during the recent real-estate boom — I soon found she was rather condescending and more than a little ditzy.READ MORE HERE

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Come on over to the DARK side!

Originally uploaded by LarimdaME.
My New York City/real estate obsessed doppelganger Elvira Dark has just launched a companion blog to Shithouse rat called All things New York--devoted exclusively to everything and anything about the city--real estate, neighborhoods, safety, 9/11 issues, things to avoid, must-see and off the beaten path attractions, one day and weekend getaways, insider tips, local news and politics, and more.

Generally, there will be several different categories of posts:

Detailed information about all aspects of New York City living, with plenty of features covering all five boroughs and points beyond with directions on how to get there, plus lots of useful links for further information.

Invaluable info from a born and bred New Yorker you won't find in the guidebooks--or probably anywhere else.

Culled from Elvira Black's "New York Stories," a regular feature column that can also be found at Blogcritics Magazine, along with plenty of fresh new posts for good measure.

Got a question about New York? Just ask and I'll give you the lowdown.

Suggestions for topics you'd like to see covered are welcome.

Comments, both naughty and nice, are warmly encouraged. So lay it on me, I can take it!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Happy days are here again!

Amsterdam - Prinsengracht
Originally uploaded by Mor (bcnbits).
Oh yes indeedy--and everything's comin' up roses too....

My ex-boyfriend and I found a buyer for the Lower East Side Manhattan coop we co-own, and will be closing the first week of March. I am all set to move into my new dream digs in the Bronx shortly thereafter--found a beautiful one bedroom coop in a gated enclave here. G, my ex, is looking at places in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Amazing what you can get for your money once you get out of Manhattan and into the outer boroughs--though many areas can be very expensive there as well.

I'm starting from scratch, so will be buying all new furnishings, which should be fun. I've got a place that is about the same size as my old one, maybe a tad smaller--750 square feet, which believe it or not is "huge" esp. by Manhattan standards. It's on the 17th floor with an amazing river view looking over into upper Manhattan. For the same space in "the city" I'd be paying at least 6 times more--though our Lower East Side digs are still a relative bargain, if you consider 450K to be cheap. (We got it for a song 15 years ago). And the cost of living in the Bronx is much, much cheaper all the way around.

Manhattan is rapidly becoming an enclave for the rich only. The middle and working classes are being pushed out in rapid numbers, and the borough is more crowded than ever. The outer boroughs can be more quiet, serene, even idyllic--and have retained a lot of their original character, whereas Manhattan is chock full of new high rises and gut renovated luxe buildings in every part of the borough, which means that it's rapidly losing a lot of its old-time quirkiness and charm. The few middle class housing developments still left seem in danger of dissolving as well.

So anyway, that's good piece of news number one. The second is that after I'm settled in, I plan to do some travelling with my boyfriend BG. First stop will be Amsterdam in the latter two weeks of May. The only foreign city I've ever been to is London many years ago, and I adored it, so I'm sure we'll be in for a great time!

Instead of a hotel, we'll be staying in a furnished apartment in the city center, overlooking a canal. The building dates from the 17th century, I think, but has all the modern accoutrements.

Here, take a peek:

I'm a lifetime New Yorker and still adore it, but I have to admit that I don't feel all that safe post-9/ll. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. So I have fantasized about living in another country, permanently or for awhile, and Amsterdam seems absolutely ideal. Virtually no violent crime, but very tolerant. Beautiful, historic, with great cultural treasures. Places galore to party on down. And most of the residents speak better English than many Americans. What more could you ask for?

BG has never been abroad, unless you count a visit to Mexico with his friend when he was about 17. They hitched around with very little money, but the few dollars they did have went far, and he loved it.

So I'm envisioning that by staying amongst "the locals" rather than in a tourist ghetto/hotel chain, we'll really get a feel for what it's like to live there. We can even invite new friends we meet at the pubs, bars, cafes, and coffee shops over to our flat--which will be luxuriously furnished, with internet access, books, CD's, DVD's, X-box games, a stocked mini-bar, a little "something something" to help us chill when we arrive courtesty of the apt service (lol), and so on. We'll be smack dab in the middle of it all too.

If BG loves it as much as I think he will, maybe we could talk about going again for more extended periods--or even moving there one day. Hey, why not? I just found a great ex-pat site with a treasure trove of terrific articles about living abroad. Apts and real estate are not dirt cheap, but you can get a lot more for the money there than in NYC for sure. And from what I gather, the cost of living is cheaper too.

In any case, I haven't been posting all that much lately since I'm so busy with the move, but that will probably change shortly. And I can even blog from Amsterdam--how cool is that?

In the meantime, I'd love to hear any advice, ideas, tips, etc from any of you who've been there. Thanks, guys!