–Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? (from “Winter Wonderland” by Smith and Bernard)
So I may have found a house by eavesdropping. I’m not terribly proud of it, but an agent in my office was telling an investor about a too-new-to-be-listed rehab. And so I raised my hand: “If he doesn’t want it, I want it.”
Now I’m sure the most logical of you are thinking: Why didn’t an agent in her office already know she was looking for rehabs?
The answer, of course, is politics. Rather than make a big announcement about the rehab initiative (and therefore wound the feelings of whichever agents might have felt like they wanted to lead it) my firm has left me to explain it to fellow agents one by one – eavesdropping, if I have to.
This agent, luckily, was a strong producer who was pretty secure, and didn’t care who the buyer was as long as he got the best price for his client. The client was in a hurry, he said, so we went to see the house the next day.
It was a three-story, three-family in the South Ward of Newark, N.J. – an area famous for its riots four decades ago, but slowly stabilizing now. Half the houses on the street were boarded up, while half had new doors or siding or some other sign of love and care.
Getting in was like entering Encyclopedia Brown’s clubhouse: the agent snapped some locks off a sheet of plywood and then swung it upwards so we kinda duck-walked in from the side. Then, pitch dark . . . duh. Where’s the light in a boarded-up house supposed to come from? We switched on our flashlights, the serious mineworkers’ jobs that are about six inches across, and went through the house.
Crap everywhere – abandoned mattresses, fast-food wrappings, in one case actual human waste where someone had squatted like a dog over a piece of plastic, and then wandered off again. I had seen a crèche display on someone’s lawn the day before, and what stuck in my head was, “I wonder if conditions in the manger were this bad.” At one point, my partner moved a refrigerator, and a yowl and a streak of escaping black-and-white fur revealed that he’d surprised a cat. My first thought was that I was glad it wasn’t a gigantic rat; my second, that I was glad we hadn’t run across any humans (we were yelling, “Realtors, Realtors” just to be on the safe side) and my third thought was a prayer for the people who had lived in such sordid conditions.
Interestingly enough, the house didn’t smell bad, it just looked bad – cleanup needed here, falling plaster there, let’s see, how much would 40 new windows cost?
And of course the nice, hardworking people who had to live next to this eyesore probably paid $300,000 for each of their houses. The agent, of course, put the best light on the place, explaining that you could put an Ikea closet in each of the house’s three dining rooms, making each flat into a Section 8-approved three-bedroom.
Was it only two months ago I was talking to flipper Steve Berges about the magic of carpet and paint? This place needed carpet and paint, plus cleanup with a dumpster, new siding, new windows, a new heating system, three new kitchens and three new baths. The next step will be to bring in a general contractor to get his repair cost estimate, since it would be perfectly easy to spend six figures on this restoration without batting an eyelash.
Tune in next week; we’ll see what the GC thinks.
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