Real Estate: At the rate we’re going

Rising interest rates are looming, inflation is inflating the cost of everything, and limited inventory is putting the Boston buyer in a pricing predicament. A pickle if you will, and not the sweat and sour kind that I adore with a turkey stuffed sandwich. This pickle is the prickly kind that warns you not to make an emotional decision. It would be so easy, and understandable, to attend an open house and run into swarms of other would be buyers, and think to yourself, this will be the only property. Look at all these people, they are validating my belief that its a good one, one that I shouldn’t let slip through my fingers. That’s emotion talking. It’s the evil voice in your head that has you placing offers that are overblown, on properties that you may, or may not, even like that much. It’s the voice that responds to the “Best and Last” offer request with an increase in your price.

That voice must be silenced. Try asking it: “What if I am only bidding against myself?” How stupid would I look then. It’s the voice that must be silenced with reason, with data, with an understanding that there is no more powerful a place to be, than to be in the place you are willing to walk away from. I am not suggesting that you don’t have any emotion at all. That wouldn’t even be possible, would it? A little passion, a little desire, is necessary to ensure you bring your best to the home, the investment, the property. You owe her that. She’ll likely have had lots of owners before you came along. Many will have neglected her, cheeped out on renovations, deferred her maintenance, when attended to it was what she really needed. There would have been bad design decisions for which she had no input. Some owners might have treated her better, but left her to start a family, and what she needs is someone that will both invest in her, and be invested in her. Emotion, you can’t get away from it, but you can’t let it rule you either.

Run the numbers, consider the supply chain issues, the cost of labor, if you can in fact get that crew to show up for you, and remember that inflation will make even the most mundane materials astronomically more expensive. You’ll long for the early days of the pandemic when you were only dealing with increases associated with the bottleneck when those inflationary costs start to land on your renovation spreadsheet. This is real, and I hope that you are a fan of Mies van der Rohe, because you will be getting a whole lot less for a whole lot more.

I’m not saying don’t bid. To the contrary, bid away. You’ll get so much more insight into the market by playing in it. I love putting bids in on properties. I put one in just this week. I looked at it once, went back again to take a harder look, to evaluate the cost per sf, the location, the amenities, the necessary renovations in the next few years, and put in a price that I was certain wouldn’t result in a win, but was more than fair for the property. I lost, but learned that there were eight bidders, and that an over ask, no finance contingency, and no inspection contingency wasn’t enough to seal the deal. That’s good data. It will make my next offer that much better.

I passed on two others that I took hard looks at. One needed the type of work that comes with a thirty year tenant, and nary an upgrade during that time, and the numbers didn’t pencil out. Too high a price for the assumed risk, for a property that I never intended to live in. You’ve got to be willing to live in it, or rent it, until you can sell it for a profit, or fish and cut bait so that you can free up your cash to make a smarter decision the next time.

The last property was dreamy. Needed the kind of love I could have given her, but was out of my price range. I knew it when I looked at it, but feel better knowing that she had three offers at over ask. How do I know, I asked. It was on the sunny side of the street, but if you are stone cold broke, no amount of sun will warm you up if you’ve made a decision that leaves you house poor.

The year is off to an exciting start. Stay warm this weekend.

Reflections of: A Real Year of Estates

27 Willow Bend . Chatham . SOLD!

I wonder what crypto currency smells like? I’ve started to dabble in it. An attempt to stay hip, to do what I am imploring my readers to do, to take a little risk. Of course the risk that I am asking them to take is tangible. You can touch it. Observe its lines and massing. Appreciate the ways in which it draws attention or detracts. It has an identity, a distinct style, a personal scent. Crypto is ethereal, celestial, ghostly, many would say that it’s not real at all. I guess that’s where faith come in. I’ve converted some of the “real” dollars I made on this years real estate transactions, into an idea, a concept, a different currency. Who knows if it will pay off, but I’ll always remain true to my first love.

2021 has some bad parts to be sure, but I’m not going to think about them today. The year resulted in some very big firsts on the wealth building front that are worth reflecting on here. First, 27 Willow Bend was transformed from a frumpy old lady into the hip new girl on the block, and I mean fly. Not as in flashy, but as in super sophisticated classy. She shines in all the right places. This first was a JV with my dear friends. While I was only a nominal investor, it presented an opportunity to do something I had never done before, like an actual budget that we followed, a whole house, and yard, and a schedule that we drove instead of being taken for a ride. When I say “we” , I really mean that I observed my talented friends as they made all of this happen. Gratitude and awe at your facility, determination, and heart, Tiffany, Jeanne and Al.

They doubled my little pile of money, which led to my second first. I got a kids seat at the development table for a commercial investment. This is a very big deal. Women are not on the call list for developers in search of investors. In fact, there is so much money out there, held by a few, that developers with a good reputation hardly need to break a sweat to raise the funds for their next venture. Getting in on the action was a result of an enterprising young gals desire to change the investor profile to look a whole lot more like her, or in my case, an older version of her. We share a similar ambition, and desire to help women build wealth. To my dear friends Lauren and Kristin, thank you for connecting me to Jen, for supporting me, and for making the slog silly fun.

My third first was the sale of 34 Lawrence Street. My fifth property – all these numbers, added up to a loss. That’s right. I sold the property for just under what I invested in it. That was definitely the first time that had happened to me, leading many, myself included, to ask, “does she really know what she’s doing”? Who ever can be entirely sure? I’m taking the long view. I might have lost this hand, but I’m still in the game, searching for the next deal, the next lesson, the next home.

Wishing you a new year filled with prosperity and plenty of firsts.

Not Nothin’: Another chapter closed

I’ve been as apathetic about the sale of No. 5 as one might be. I’ve been nervous, even angry about how the negotiations went on passed homes. I’ve conceded, and dug my heals in. I’ve been nasty, and gracious, and expectant. I’ve promised to be better, and do better, and failed, and tried again. Strong emotions all, but not this time. This time I said, buy it, or don’t. Agree to my terms, or not. I want to wash the taint of the pandemic off, but not at any cost. This property, I conceded, I would take a loss on.

Not exactly an exclamation point over the fireplace, but an end.

The loss would be nominal, $2500., but it stung more than I thought it would, or should. I wanted to place that blame on anyone, but on myself, and I certainly owned a part of it, didn’t I? I bought it after all, in all its ugly ducklingness, but that was just the outside. Doesn’t everyone always say the most important thing is what’s on the inside? She was ugly there too, but I didn’t know that when I bought her. She was abused and neglected, and I cared for her, when others had not. I can’t regret doing the right thing by her. I just wish the payoff had been greater.

As I prepared to embark on my next mini-chapter, I toured, and analyzed, new tower complex, after new complex, and went back to a few that I had visited before. What I discovered is that these places in the South End are outrageously expensive. I’d give back the dog shampoo station, the swimming pool, and the on-line match making service for residents, in exchange for $1500. off my rent a month, which got me thinking. I paid $4000. a month in mortgage payments over the course of 35 months. That’s $140,000. That’s not nothin’, and it made me smile, and think a little more kindly of No. 5. It might not have turned out the way I had hoped, but it wasn’t all bad.

Construction: from destruction to done in days

I’ve been around construction my entire life. Skeptical by nature, hopeful by design, it never ceases to amaze me, the miracle of the last three days of any project. I walk the site, head hung low, heart heavy, feet shuffling through piles of sawdust flecked with red and blue encased wire bits, the remnants the Electrician left behind. A bottle cap, a cigarette butt – violation – a greasy paper bag with a half eaten pastrami on rye. How in the Sam Tarnation was I expected to move into this place in just a few days?

Fun with Recycling . bringing detail where detail lacked.

I’d need a miracle it seemed. I’d need divine agency. I’d need something entirely unexpected, and desperately desired, and then like magic it would happen. I’ve been witness to this highly improbably happening so many times, you’d think I would have come to consider it banal, common, predictable even, but no. Each time I walk a site, the calendar with its red circled deadline date flashing in my minds eye, I feel sick with worry.

They, of the brilliant, marvelous, often maligned, construction professionals, GET IT DONE, and I adore them for it. I revere them. I want to know how they do it, but like the Free Masons, and other secret societies that drink blood from a skull, wear hooded robes, and meet by candle-light, they’d have to kill me if they told me, and I’d like to live a little while longer, so the mystery will have to remain in tact.

See – that wasn’t so bad, was it?

As the summer wraps up, and many decidedly difficult projects come to a close, I’d like to send out into the universe of construction professionals a huge thank you, for being there when the materials or the labor or both didn’t show. For having faith when I’d lost my own. For wearing your masks when it was 100 degrees, and for being the few, the proud, that create. Your building something, your making a contribution, and your contribution makes a difference to me, so thank you.

Every Ending is a New Beginning

Parables are among the best stories.

If I simply said that I was ready to put this year behind me, I would be missing an important opportunity to recognize the growth that I have experienced in this last, most interesting of years. I listened to a parable while meditating a few days ago. I’m not a practiced meditator, I’m flawed, my thoughts racing by, raging fire engine red machines snaking their way through the streets of Monaco. My brain is a frenetic place to house a calm guest, but I work at welcoming them anyway. This parable struck me, as they are intended to do, and I thought I would share it with you. – A farmer woke to discover that during the night his horse had run off. His neighbors said to him: “What misfortune to have lost your only horse.” Maybe the farmer replied. A few days later the horse returned, bringing with him three wild stallions. “What good fortune”, remarked the neighbors. “Maybe” replied the farmer. The farmers only son was riding one of the wild stallions and was thrown from the horse, shattering his leg, forever leaving him with a limp. “What bad luck remarked the neighbors..” “Maybe” replied the farmer. Soon after, his country was embroiled in war, and soldiers made their way through his village, identifying all able bodied boys to enlist them in the army. When the soldiers arrived at the farmers home, and saw that his only son walked with a limp, they moved on. “What good fortune” his neighbors proclaimed. “Maybe” replied the farmer.

This little parable got me to thinking about examining the coin more closely. So many of you believe that head’s up is the way to bet. I’ve always gone for the underdog, tails. More than a pretty face, a tail can wag and control a situation, it can distract, entertain, and in the end it has just as good a chance of landing on the “right” side as the other. Which is the point. Heads or tails, we can all even our odds by changing the perspective in which we view the events that happen – remembering that they are not happening “to us” – they are just happening.

The events in my little corner of the universe included my very first joint venture flip. This project like all the others I have done to date was purchased in one year, but will not be sold until the following spring. What good fortune, many have remarked. You found a home in Chatham for under a million dollars, an in town location, a walk to the beach. This little three bedroom Cape has expressed its dissatisfaction with its decades of neglect, again and again. It absorbing cash at the rate of a roll, or two of Hefty paper towels, which I am not begrudging the old gal. She deserves to be cleaned up, put to rights, but I did so want to adorn her in accessories that made her sparkle, and instead, the majority of the budget will be spent behind her walls, under her foundation, a ventilation system that will allow her to breath free and easy, winter or summer, spring or fall, and she’ll have new steps to ensure no one does trip and fall, which we can all agree is very important. I know I do, and felt a little bad that I was asked to do more with less for the portion of the project that is mine to make shine. Then I remembered all I’ve done with paint in the past, and it made me perk up a bit. Cape’s weren’t born into the upper class, attending premiers, and walking the red carpet at The Met Ball. No, she is happiest when she can throw a log on the fire, open her high gloss coral colored front door to the neighbors, serve them a nice bottle of wine that she found at Trader Joe’s – laugh not, the selection is incredible and very affordable. Welcoming, comfortable, cheeky, that’s what she of Apres Sea will be. Maybe it’s just what needed to happen.

And what of my main manse, my little condo on Lawrence Street in Boston’s South End? To say she was in rough shape when I found her in December of 2018 is an understatement. Hidden under her floor boards and behind the walls, was all manner of malfeasance. Like me, she was forced to undergo an operation, no little facelift for this gal. I had to rip her insides out and rebuild her, the best way I knew how, and now she is strong and thriving, but the market for little condos in the South End is not. Bad luck some of you have said, to have had her ready for sale during a pandemic. Too bad you couldn’t have put her on the market in summer, or the previous spring, when we all still believed this would end sooner, rather than later. I agreed, I felt sorry, I worried, I lamented, and then I thought, maybe it wasn’t the worst thing in the world that could have happened. I thought just maybe, there is something that I have yet to have predicted that will come of this. Maybe. We will see. Whatever will be, will be.

Fortune Knocks Once

Is it really true that fortune knocks once on every man’s door? What about women? What about A woman – more specifically what about me, and the “we” of the Willow Bend three? There are really four of us in this endeavor, but “we” rhymes with “three”, and all I can think for four, is shut the door, and I certainly don’t want our door to be shut. I want to open the door, and have song birds, and sunshine accompanied by a seersucker slacked, blue blazered, butler carrying a silver tray of cut glass coupes filled with bubbly come bursting forth. I want the guests to hear the pop of the champagne cork as their Gucci clad loafer crunches down on the bleached seashell drive and think – a party? For me? Yes, I believe the front door can say all of that – minus maybe the butler, but wouldn’t he look sweet in that outfit. Would I be going to far if I asked him to wear a blue linen pillbox hat and a coral colored bow tie? He’d have my utmost respect.

I do think a door says a whole lot more than people give it credit for. It’s no wallflower, well maybe there are a few demure dames in the door derby, but a door can, and should be so much more. This is the point we are arguing, not arguing right now. No one really wants to replace the front door – money, oh the money honey, it all adds up so fast, but a few of us, two of us, were secretly hoping that the old gal would get put out to pasture, and as it turns out – horray – she really does need to retire. She stood valiantly for decades, with her cherry red lipsticked smile, greeting passers-by, and she’s tired. Now the question remains, whoever will replace her?

We’ve been interviewing candidates. Some have hundreds of years experience – oh they’ve been around the door business for generations. We lean toward those first. There are side lights to consider, transom windows over the door, paneled, glass lights, mullioned, clear, tripled glazed, and it goes on and on. Every candidate makes a case for why their looks and experience really are the best, and that’s before we even consider adorning with jewels. They probably won’t be wearing Harry Winston to the ball, but I have my fingers crossed that we can get a little fancier than Kay Jewelers – no offense Kay, but not even the throbbing pain from the weight of the Harry Winston wreath diamond earrings would deter me from saying anything but yes, yes, yes please and thank you – a door deserves a little hardware that’s not hard to wear and easy on the eyes.

I do want it to look good in a wreath and I am leaning toward a happy pop of a color for her gown, after all, she lives in Chatham.

Merry Perfection.

I Did it My Way…but what if you couldn’t?

I am flummoxed by my friend’s flip – a beautiful property in Franklin. He is a terribly talented craftsperson, the kind I dream about having on my jobs, and has already transformed the living room, which is an extension of the open concept kitchen, into a showpiece. With its 18 foot ceilings, and grand gas feature fireplace wall, it’s going to be a show stopper.

Here’s where I’ve helped in the past – color. While he continues to learn more and get educated on all the nuances of hue and light, finishes, and the complicated language of warms and colds, and rules, and the understanding that to break them, you have to be really, really good – I have only just learned how to turn on the table saw, and successfully saw a single board. This single girl is woefully behind her friend.

Sticking to what I was asked – paint colors that pair.

The challenge for me is that I want to go into this kitchen and rip out that granite countertop. I hate it. I’ve told Eddie this already. He didn’t install it in the first place, so I don’t think I have hurt his feelings in revealing my nose wrinkling distaste for brown, black and tan, but Eddie is practical and knows that if that granite goes, so too will the backsplash. Remember, the hip bones connected to the thigh bone? You can’t just decide to do one thing without it impacting something else, and those something else’s can really cost you.

Might I make a suggestion.

I want Eddie to use his money on the installation of the 12′ glass wall that will look out onto the home’s glorious 2 acre property with its far from the city forest of a backyard, not on my Vermont Imperial Danby stone countertop. To make it all work I’ll have to do some color gymnastics. It’s possible, but will require a serious warm up and some stretching. Which of these would you choose?

Going for the Gold – if I did it my way 🙂

Demolition Derby: tales from the Willow Bend Flip

Scheme I

I’m not an Olympic Athlete, in case you were wondering. I wonder if it’s because I don’t love the pain of the challenge as much as the other gal. I can do it, do make myself do it, languish in the rewards of being on the other side of doing it. The sore muscles, the camaraderie, the sense of accomplishment, of doing something that someone else simply won’t do. I can do that, but I am old enough to know that I’ll never love it. Not like Michael Jordan, not like Billie Jean King, not like Danika, but hard work shows up in so many different ways, and I love and hate them all, and feel as neutral as a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a cold winter’s day, which is to say, I love ice cream anytime of the year, but I hate being cold. I like to celebrate my complexity like a rainbow.

Scheme II

This flip required 4 hard – like a hard rain’s gonna fall kind of hard – demolition. When you embark on a renovation project there really is something for every skill-set, age, and interested person to contribute. When I was really little I used to pick the nails up around the construction site. Later I striped wallpaper, and lead paint from the walls – check that box. Not being allowed to use power tools of any kind, I worked my way around the site (the homes that we lived in and my father renovated), hauling, cleaning, organizing, and staying out from underfoot and being very, very quiet. I’d work for a #6 Mason Jar sandwich – roast turkey breast with cranberry sauce, romaine lettuce, muenster cheese, mayo on a bulky roll with a half sour pickle – no chips or a drink, we were conserving money for the renovation.

Scheme III

As I peeled back the vines, the dilapidated wood picket fence, then the chain link, for which I was forced to cede my show of strength. I couldn’t even unearth a single concrete encrusted steel post from the ground, and there were many. I have nothing on Mother Nature – I bow to your beauty and strength.

Scheme I – II

Days 3 and 4 were all about the upstairs bath. Boy there are lots of parts and pieces to that structure. I’m reminded that the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone, the hip bones connected to the …. I had to dissect the connections to find the weak points and disassemble what someone or two, at times very thoughtfully, and later, quite lackadaisically with a scrap here, and an almost long enough board there, had carefully put into place those many decades before. It all gave me a run for my money, but as money is the point of this flip, and I am motivated by it, I refused to wave the flag until all the plaster and drywall – yes both, all the 2 x 4 – the real kind – the one’s that actually measured 2 x 4, all the offensive aesthetic elements were dispensed with – the vanity – holy ugly, the glass block window – holy heavy, the Italian blue ceramic tile, and the toilet – holy – holy. I stripped that baby bare. She’s as fresh as a new born entering the world, full of possibility. The sore muscles were worth it.

Scheme IV

Now I need your help. Long lead items are longer than they ever were before – oh Covid. The kitchen must be ordered and we cannot order the kitchen without a plan for the color scheme, and this Cape home will flow from one room to the next so we need to really LOVE the kitchen becaus all tides will rise with it, or fall, with crashing finality over the clashing disaster of colors. Which of these options would say to you – I’m ready to move in?

Joint Venture: Let the Female-led Flip Begin

27 Willow Bend . Look for the listing Spring 2021

I’ve been working since I was eleven years old. I know what hard work is, and still, as I sit here on – not my sofa- I am fully steeped in the meaning of the phrase “a hard days work”. I’m so tired from the effort of wedging, pulling, bending, breaking, berating the board, and the brick, and the bad ass bush that got in the way of my de-shuttering extravaganza, that I can barely command my fingers to lift and type – something they are very facile at doing, under normal circumstances.

Before the brush attack. It’s all gone now.

I’ve been a Chamber Maid, and only slightly elevated my standing in life when I became a pot washer of a different sort, before graduating to sandwich maker. I am proud of the fact that I could make those sandwiches faster than the sandwich wrapper could wrap them. I was accused of gaming the system by setting up six to eight sandwiches for construction at a time. I was always thinking of ways in which I could change the work, make the work more fun – make it a game, win, compete, exceed, proceed. At that young age I didn’t give much consideration to the ways in which the work changed me, but it did, it has, its impression so deeply ingrained that I feel certain that the camaraderie, the laughter, the sweat, and the five gallon plastic pickle barrels that I would haul from the walk-in out to the kitchen and open with the sharp end of a French knife before sinking my hand into the frigid briny liquid to retrieve the spears, will never leave me. Just as surely as I could recite very word of Cat Stevens Greatest Hits album which we played day after day, after long summer day on the old cassette player.

Say good-bye to the dated kitchen.

It’s likely this early start, the experience of being around other people that also worked, that worked hard, that didn’t really understand hardly working, has given me the experience, or maybe it’s an understanding that I gave something to it, and in return it gives something to me. We might not be even. The scales tip in one direction, and then another, they vacillate in tiny dips and shudders, on that fulcrum of perfection, that represents sublime balance – if only for a moment. Those moments are worth the effort.

Don’t you love a little look back in time.

Today’s effort was the result of a full day’s demolition on my very first joint venture. A flip, which is my very favorite kind of real estate holding. Hard to get too precious over something you don’t plan to hold that long, and at the same time, I’ll do my best to take care of her, and so will my two female counter parts. It’s amazing to me that the women of ancient Egypt were allowed to acquire, own, and dispose of real property. How then did things get so off course for us. It wasn’t until 1855 in MA that women here reclaimed that right, but it’s woefully underutilized. I’m hoping I can change your mind about that. Nothing says real like real estate.

The Evolution of a Condo

It’s interesting to watch the ways in which different owners take the baton and run with it. 19 Milford Street, apt. 4, aka Flip #2 is once again on the market. When I bought the property in the late fall of 2013 it looked decidedly like a 1970’s ranch, inside a Phili-Duplex, in the city of Boston, and if I were to get even more granular, the Eight Streets District in the South End. It didn’t feel at all like a city apartment to me, and it felt even less like the glamorous apartment I had left in Charlestown.

I feel deeply connected to this idea of stewardship. I had a $40,000. budget from which to transform the property. That’s not a ton of money. It becomes even less when you consider the fact that it was revealed that the roof leaked, and the Southern Facade of the building was taking on water, and saturating the interior wall. My understanding of water infiltration increases with each unit that I own. While some lessons have been quick and relatively painless, others have been long-lived and ruthless in their pursuit of my financial and mental ruin.

Finding the source of that water at 19 Milford, and getting the building buttoned up was a challenge to say the least, but once – almost done, I was proud of what I had done to make that unit, and that building ready to take on another 50 years. I had redone all the electrical wiring that the previous owners had done – without a permit or a qualified electrician – and done it properly. This is important to the long term viability of a property. These brownstones are old and need love if they are going to be around for another 200 years or so —- and so I invest a significant amount in the infrastructure of the building, even though no one will ever see it.

I was proud of the design, but would have done more if my budget had allowed. In the end the new owner that purchased it was a bachelor and he hired an interior designer to bring a little grit to the girliness that I had so carefully imbued upstairs, downstairs, and throughout. He added back the breakfast bar that I had taken out – I can’t stand a breakfast bar, it makes me crazy. Who sits at it? He swapped out my beloved gray walls for a neutral cream, reworked the fireplace to include a wood surround atop my marble, tossed out my sea urchin chandelier (which was hugely expensive so I pray he didn’t throw it away) and painted my bridal rose bedroom a dark Hale Navyesque color.

I see some other touches that he left alone and while I feel nostalgic for the hard work that I put into the place, I got my price, and he got his roof deck. I guess we’re even.